It was, Chris Strode admits, among the least proud moments of his career.
After working for Macquarie Bank as a software developer for almost a decade, he was given his marching orders following “a few too many drinks at a work cocktail party”. “I was basically pushed out of my job due to bad behavior – but it was actually a blessing in disguise,” explains Chris.
Indeed, he had found himself in a situation most entrepreneurs can relate to. He’d just begun working for Macquarie Bank as a freelance software developer in 2002 and was preparing to send his client an invoice, when he became disappointed with his options: between either a basic, unprofessional-looking Word invoice, or an expensive accounting program.
“I thought I’d just go on the internet and find an app to help me create an invoice, but there was nothing available that worked the way I wanted it to. The accounting packages were expensive and fully-featured, but all I wanted was to create a simple invoice,” says Chris.
With few affordable, suitable options to choose from, Chris did what any software developer would do: he set about creating his own convenient invoicing app.
“That’s when I came up with the idea for Invoice2go, but I didn’t have a lot of time, as my job was full on,” says Chris.
“Literally the only spare time I had was during the commute to and from work; I was living with my in-laws in western Sydney and commuting into the city for at least an hour each way, so that gave me some time to play around with my idea.”
Chris quickly recognised that his little idea – a mobile app that helps sole traders and small businesses manage their cash flow through easy-to-use invoicing, expense tracking and simple reporting tools – had serious legs.
But it wasn’t until his unceremonious firing from his comfortable job that he was forced to see just how successful his idea could actually become.
“I was never sure if the business would take off and I had a really good job, so the hardest thing was how to get out.
“It’s scary to let go of that regular income. I kept waiting until the business was generating the same revenue as my job, but I was under a lot of stress trying to manage my full-time job and trying to get the business off the ground.”
As it turned out, being ‘let go’ was the best thing that could have happened. Today, the business that was born on a train commute over a decade ago is worth more than US$100 million, after securing US$35 million in funding in 2014 from two top venture capital firms, Accel Partners and Ribbit Capital – the backers behind the likes of Facebook, Spotify, Dropbox and Angry Birds.
“Ever since that happened, it has been full steam ahead,” says Chris. While opportunities to secure investor funding had come along many times before, Chris says he avoided that path for as long as possible.
“At one point, there were 20 of us working away. We’d lock ourselves in a room every day and just kept building and iterating until we had the product right – and we had to get it right on multiple platforms, across Android, iPhone and the cloud,” he says.
“We iterated so many times to figure out the best subscription model, while also keeping on top of all the functionalities people were asking for. With such an intense focus on creating the best possible product, we didn’t want that early pressure from investors to be profitable; we really wanted to focus on getting that market set right.”
This approach may have delayed the business’ journey towards becoming a $100 million success story, but Chris says staying small was the best decision.
It stayed that way until about five years ago, when he hired his first staff member. Today they have around 100 employees and are sold in 50 countries.
“It really doesn’t matter where you are located. I launched Invoice2go out of my in-laws’ spare room, which wasn’t very glamorous. We hire the best people we can find, whether they’re in Palo Alto, Sydney, Jakarta or the Philippines.
With the right idea, you can kick something off from anywhere,” he says.
“Focus on building a nice product that people want to use and be persistent.” Chris points out that Invoice2go’s biggest competitor isn’t all that technical.
“Our biggest competitor isn’t an app, it’s the Word doc and pen and paper. “People don’t want to pay big bucks for a software program only to use 5 per cent of the functionality; they want all their invoices tallied for the month or the year, and [to] have nice-looking branded invoices that make it super easy.
“There are around 100 million small businesses worldwide, so we’d like to become the invoice solution for as many of those as possible. That’s the goal!”