While Google has already pointed out that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the next big thing in the world, the technology has already been integrated in almost every aspect of our lives. Now AI is also being used to simplify one of the most complicated industries, accountancy.
Leveraging AI based tools, the Swedish startup Bokio is using AI to simplify bookkeeping tasks for small businesses, freelancers, and traders. Founded in 2015 by CEO Viktor Stensson and CTO Mikael Eliasson, the Gothenburg-headquartered tech startup has raised a total funding of €7.1 million so far. In an exclusive conversation with Silicon Canals, Stensson reveals more about the company, what drives its workings, further investment plans and more.
Bokio: How did it all start?
Bokio’s founder Viktor Stensson was not always in the bookkeeping business.
“I used to run orienteering at a very high level. I was not in the national team for the sport, but held 13th position in the Swedish championships, Mikael and I; we were in the same club. At that time, I was also studying at business school at the University of Gothenburg, and then I got a job offer from a traditional management consulting firm. But then, we had different plans and not the usual destiny. Mikael was working as a freelance engineer, and he wanted some help for his taxes. I bought an accounting system, but it was complicated, and that is when we started discussing and realised that this could have been done so much better. And that day Bokio was born,” says Stensson.
With Bokio, the founders took a different approach where they realised their job needs to create more successful companies.
“I would say that we’ve done a good job and what we’re doing now, is helping companies level up further. We are making sure companies are correctly insured and in case something happens to their owners or their business, we can help them be more successful. So, in essence, that’s the core of what we’re doing. That’s the goal of the product.”
Bokio: One stop shop for admin work
Bokio follows an automatic onboarding process, which means one simply needs to go online and sign up for its services. In case you want to import data from Bokio’s competitors, it will enable you to do that as well, along with re-registering invoices, handling open invoices or bills. Bokio is also certified by HMRC to submit VAT returns, and it can also help out with self assessment, tax filings and much more. The software is more of an end-to-end solution or a one-stop-shop for administration work, which is an unavoidable necessity for businesses worldwide.
Bokio is fully operational in Sweden and it recently commenced its operations in the UK. The company currently employs a team of over 50 people from 12 different nationalities. Stensson says that the company is looking to branch out but after building a “European fortress.”
They are also looking to expand their operations to the US, which is an expensive market. Bokio will need to raise more money in order to do so and they need to hit certain milestones along the way to be able to raise more money. The company has also set quite optimistic targets, like acquiring 100 million customers globally.
Bokio’s core strategy
Bokio, at its heart, believes that its core strategy is to help its customers. “If you help the customer in a good way, they will love you. If we can get every customer we have to love us, they will automatically spread the word. At the end of the day, Bokio objectively accomplishes boring tasks that are akin to punching in your accounting. No one is waking up every morning thinking they will do this!” explains Stensson.
What Bokio assists in might sound boring but the way it is done is most certainly not. Owning and running a business is no easy feat and there are a multitude of elements one needs to take care of. While entering information in the Bokio system, a machine learning algorithm kicks in to read and analyse it.
Then, it suggests VAT handling, which account should handle the particular transaction, and more. Additionally, the software displays feedback in the form of charts and graphs so that it’s easier to understand how the business is performing every month.
“Today, a lot of businesses are run by feeling how it’s going and most of the time it feels like it’s going very well. Then, all of a sudden, one is being taxed with, let’s say 100,000 pounds and the feeling is not so great anymore, especially when you only have 80,000 pounds left in your account to run a business. Thus, we try to help block such things from happening with our offering.”
Key challenges faced by Bokio
When you have an offering like Bokio that operates globally and is capable of handling business requirements, regulations pose a challenge. Stensson, however, says that this hurdle can be easily overcome since regulations are static in most regions and rarely change in a short span of time. The bigger challenge is to break through the noise so that customers know about Bokio and how it is capable of helping users further their businesses.
There are other smaller challenges along the way as well. These challenges include replicating the vibrant community suite that Bokio has built in Sweden for the UK market. “How do we stick to our values and serve the customers to help them be more successful? There can also be cultural differences across regions, so, how to implement something in the UK as compared to Sweden, the Netherlands or Germany?” explains Stensson.
100,000 active users worldwide with over 90,000 users from Sweden
Bokio is rising through the ranks with over 100,000 active users worldwide. Out of the 100,000, over 90,000 active users are based out of Sweden and an interesting bit of information is that the company has three people handling the support for the entire user base. This is because Bokio’s system is said to be built to help users resolve their problems by themselves with the help of videos or via FAQs.
It’s not easy for companies like Bokio to do right by its customers while generating revenue. However, the startups’ business model is quite clear on this front as Stensson explains Bokio will not make money off from someone who doesn’t need its services. “Once in a meeting, someone came upto me to purchase our services. However, listening to his requirements I said I’m not sure if we can deliver the best type of service for your needs. While he was confused, I explained to him that he didn’t need our current services,” says Stensson.
“After paying for our service, we will earn money in the short term but over time, the customer will feel ripped off and angry. However, by actually trying to help you, we earn their loyalty. Later, at some point when the customer feels the need for additional services, they would reach out to us,” adds Stensson.
Current funding and future plans
To-date, Bokio has raised €7.1 million in funding, including investment from Creandum (one of Spotify’s first investors) and the majority of it is being used to extend its product’s capabilities. This includes tweaking and upgrading the service, along with expanding it to other markets. The startup is also looking for additional external funding to reach its current goal of 100 million customers. As for the next round of funding, it is most likely to happen in 2020.
As for Bokio’s future plans, the company believes that its UK expansion will be a key focus point. The company’s growth in the UK is apparently comparable to the exponential growth curve it observed in Sweden.
Main image picture credits: Bokio
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