How investment banker Anurag Mohta and friend Neeraj Jain, a CA, bootstrapped a cloud-based accounting software, acquiring 5000+ users

  • Hi, I am Anurag Mohta co-founder of Realbooks a cloud-based accounting software that has bootstrapped its way to a 5000+ user base.
  • In 2014 to serve clients more efficiently, Neeraj and I put our heads together to develop Realbooks. 
  • Created initially to meet an in-house need, Realbooks is now out in the market – a successful product that offers accountants old-world comforts with new-age technology.
  • We have no tech degree but we still managed to build a pretty awesome product. Our message is Finance guys can build tech products and make an impact in this space!

Starting off as an outsourced accounting firm

I worked several years in investment banking and derivatives trading in the UK but always had entrepreneurial aspirations, possibly because of my family background.

Neeraj is a CA and a childhood friend. Once I returned to India and we caught up, I found he shared a similar vision.

So by around 2011 we decided to set up an Outsourced Accounting Services company to help Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Kolkata, though now we count many listed companies as our clients too.

When we started we opted for the popular accounting software Tally, because of its simplicity and cost effectiveness for accounting services such as MIS, book-keeping, and compliance.

The walls we came up against were:

  • As a desktop-based software, data could not be accessed remotely
  • To provide services we had to deploy manpower on-site, otherwise, there was no way to control the quality of the deliverables. But this added to cost
  • In terms of scaling and efficiency, the accounting software available back then did not seem very ideal

What next? 

Developing a cloud-based accounting software out of necessity

We looked for an alternate tool to serve our clients efficiently but couldn’t find one. So Neeraj and I brainstormed and came up with the idea of creating an accounting software that enabled us to provide services irrespective of the client’s location.

As an MBA I did not really have a higher level of understanding when it came to technology. Neeraj on the other hand had a natural fascination for technology. 

With that added advantage, we worked on building the technology stack in-house without any external dependencies.

Funding was, fortunately, covered by our accounting services vertical and some family members.

Finally against all odds, we bootstrapped Realbooks, a cloud-based state-of-the-art accounting software, in 2014. 

A quick new business as a byproduct - mainstreaming a second venture

For the initial 2-3 years, after bootstrapping it in 2014, we used our product Realbooks for internal use and for those clients to whom we provided accounting services. 

We still considered ourselves an outsourced accounting firm and had no intention of launching it in the market as cloud-based software.  

But the feedback that we received from our tech-savvy peers was phenomenal and unabated. They had nothing but praise for our platform and our choice of technology.

By 2016 we were convinced the Realbooks could help out a large number of finance professionals and businesses.

Challenges on the way

Acquiring new customers after the launch was the most important step, and this was quite a challenge.

Telling a new customer to switch from one accounting software to another, is no easy task. It is not something you go around looking for a change. So from that point of view, it was not very easy to switch from the accounting software they are using to ours. 

Secondly, there is general inertia in the accounting space and as a result people usually do not bother about other accounting software available out there.

Fortunately, most of our new customers came through referrals from clients to whom we had provided accounting services earlier. Once these new clients came on board they never left, which sort of establishes the fact that our software delivers on key accounting and finance requirements.

We grew significantly since our official launch with 5000+ paying customers. 

There are of course other competitors in the market, going neck and neck with us but what gives us the upper hand is our pricing structure.

Realbooks’ basic monthly subscription costs a nominal ₹500 making it more accessible to MSMEs. Now they can manage their accounts as effectively as any other listed company.

When I look back now, we could have done certain things differently. We should have capitalized on our company much better in terms of the availability of funds to build a strong online presence through marketing activities.

We could have also introduced a channel partner network. That would have definitely helped in the customer acquisition and I think these 5k+ customers would have grown to 100k customers by this time easily.

But nevertheless, we have done well and now looking at scaling. 

Timeline of our growth 

2016: Went mainstream with Realbooks. 

2017

  • Realbooks is the first accounting software to automate GST-reconciliation for all our clients’ inputs, and this has given us a boost in the market.
  • Our Paperless Office, allowing for document signing and attachment for all entries, the simplicity of managing the documentation and online accounting with a digital filing system, has made this feature very popular amongst users and set us apart from our competitors in this space. 
  •  In fact, that is probably the most used feature of Realbooks. 

2018-2019

  • We have clients who have lakhs of records annually and that normally was a very big struggle for them, so that is something we worked on in 2018-19.  We provided clients the ability to manage lakhs of records without any difficulty.
  • Typically if clients were using desktop-based applications, after maybe 100K or 200K records used to really hang and the system would become very slow. With our software, they were able to manage even 30 lakh transactions easily without the system slowing down. They could manage 200+ concurrent users as well, all through Realbooks. This sort helped us create that niche wherein larger clients who had outgrown desktop applications could now work on Realbooks. 

2020

  • Realbooks played a really special role when the pandemic struck in 2020.  
  • The pandemic impacted MSMEs the most, but our MSME clients found it easier to make smarter business decisions. Our easy data migration process helped them move their data from the current accounting software to Realbooks. Because of this, they were able to manage their accounts with little to no difficulty. 

Today we have successfully built a strong 5000+ user-base and want to boost that to 100,000.

We are gradually upping our marketing spend and adding to our team of around 60 professionals to speed up the development process.

To Wrap up...

We did not really set out to build an accounting platform, nor did we have much bigger plans, to be frank. From our perspective, ours was just another accounting software among others.

Our vision today is quite different, compared to when we begun our journey. We are planning to transform Realbooks into an all-out platform that will grant us complete control over collections with payments and compliances.

We are also in the process of onboarding Channel Partners and closing a round of funding to make a bigger splash in the upcoming years.

Finance guys can build tech products and make an impact in this space!

 

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