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10 years of Ignition: Transforming how professional services do business with clients

February 15, 2023

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In 2013, Ignition Co-Founders Guy Pearson and Dane Thomas set out on a vision to transform the way people in professional services and their clients do business together. That vision was born out of Guy's own personal experience running a successful accounting firm and strong belief there was a much better way to run his business.

Fast forward to 2023, over 6,000 accounting and professional services businesses around the world use Ignition to operate more efficiently, improve cash flow and grow revenue. Ignition has helped its customers do business with over 1 million clients, and processed approximately US$2.7 billion in client payments.

We sat down with Guy and Dane to ask them about their journey, from the initial idea that sparked Ignition, to today, 10 years later.

Q: Tell us how it all started…

Guy: Ignition (then Practice Ignition) was born out of first-hand pain. It was 2009, I was running an accounting practice, called Interactive Accounting at the time. eCommerce was ramping up and I was looking at my eCommerce and software clients wondering how they could be so automated, envious of how smoothly their businesses ran.

Meanwhile in our practice, we were going back and forth with new clients and chasing existing clients for payment. We were using the old method of ‘print/sign/scan’ for proposals, with different tools for different jobs – Word, Xero, Workflow, online payments – but with no automation. So, we were just going in and out of these different tools, wasting lots of time on routine tasks, over and over again.

"I was asking myself, ‘How can I scale my business when this massive admin burden is growing at the same pace?’ So, Ignition really started as a way to solve that problem for my business."

- Guy Pearson, Co-Founder and CEO at Ignition

Dane: And once you solved that in your practice, it became about unleashing the potential of the industry.

Guy: Exactly. In my accounting business we had already achieved a lot by moving to predominantly fixed fee, recurring services, and we’d won awards for our own innovation in how we were growing our practice. When we started solving the admin burden with Ignition, it was an opportunity to help other practices achieve the same efficiencies. In doing that, we could help accountants to add more value to their clients and make it easier for them to do business.

Q: Was there a magic drinks coaster or napkin as there so often is at the start of good business stories?

Guy: There was a drinks coaster while shooting the proverbial with Stuart McLeod [Co-Founder and CEO of Karbon], who helped seed the idea to MVP. It was a side hustle for Matt Allen [now Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Tractor Ventures] and Julio Ody [now a Senior Developer at Supernormal] who got us ready for the initial launch.

We had a soft launch at Xerocon 2012 with a Practice Ignition proof of concept. Big shout out to Agus Echagüe [Founder of Capocha Marketing] and Matt Allen for jumping on the stand for day one. I knew Ignition could solve these big pain points for accounting practices, but I had no idea how customers would respond or how to sell software.

At the time, I was still running and working in my accounting firm, but that would all change in 2013, when we went from a ‘side hustle’ to a legitimate business that we’d ‘bet the farm’ on. That’s when Dane joined as teammate #1 and took ownership of the product. From that day, we set our sights on getting our first customers and moving on to bigger things. So, we celebrate Ignition’s official birthday as the date Dane joined the business.

Q: How did you get involved, Dane?

Dane: Guy and I met for breakfast at Cafe Giulia in Sydney, and I had no idea what he was talking about but there was so much conviction in the way he spoke about the problems Ignition could solve that it was clear there was lots of opportunity. Guy had just gotten a small angel investment from friends and family and the business was ready to step up a gear.

It was a really exciting time, because we had this great combination of having a product to solve the admin burden of accounting practices – we now know this pain impacts not just accountants but most professional services businesses. And the timing was great. The world was starting to ride this wave of change that cloud technology was bringing.

Starting out, it was scrappy in a fun, startup way. As well as being the people that pitched to investors and developed the product, we were also the marketing team, the sales people and the janitors. To this day, Guy sign’s off internal memos as ‘The Janitor’. We had to get really creative to find ways to stand out, make a strong impression and get people wanting to learn more about this new software they’d never heard of.

Q: What are some of the highlights of the past 10 years?

Guy: It’s just awesome to see this tool that was created to solve problems for my practice come to market and help thousands of businesses in the same way. And it continues to add more and more value to customers and the way they run their business all the time.

Dane: Ignition has come a long way in 10 years. In 2014, we introduced payments to help our customers get paid and take control of their cash flow in a whole new way. Professional services is one of the few industries where you deliver the service upfront and only get paid for the work afterwards – often well past the invoice due date after chasing clients for late payments. With Ignition’s automated payments, our customers can collect payment automatically on an agreed schedule for all the work they do, giving them confidence they’ll get paid and saving them from wasting time chasing clients.

"Since launching payments, we’ve facilitated over 6 million payment transactions."

- Dane Thomas, Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer at Ignition

Stripe has underpinned our payment capabilities and it's hard to believe that we’re now one of Stripe's biggest customers globally [case study].

Another highlight was the launch of Proposal Options. This has been a critical feature for customers to expand the value they offer to their clients. In the accounting industry in particular, we see a growing demand for accountants to become advisors who are engaged year round by their clients. Proposal Options facilitates that by enabling them to show clients different service packages they can take advantage of to upsell advisory services. I’m really proud of the way our team observes industry changes and trends, and then translates these into Ignition functionality that helps our customers better serve their clients.

Every time we hit a new proposal or ‘payments processed’ milestone it’s exciting. We recently passed 2.3 million accepted proposals. That’s 2.3 million times we’ve made it easier for our customers to do business with their clients.

I also have fun memories of us doing those early trade shows in space suits; which were actually a stroke of genius. People always came over to see what the crazy astronauts were up to. They took photos with us and they always remembered us.

Then there’s being fortunate enough to get to come to work with a team of really talented and motivated people; and talking to customers and seeing how Ignition makes a difference. Those things are always highlights, too.

"We’re also really proud of our Women in Accounting awards, which launched in 2017. It gets better and better every year and continues to celebrate outstanding women who are leading the way for future generations."

- Guy Pearson, Co-Founder and CEO at Ignition
Founders, Guy and Dane making a strong first impression in space suits at early trade shows as Practice Ignition.

Guy: The rebrand from Practice Ignition to Ignition in 2021, was a really exciting time, too. It felt momentous for the business entering a new phase and really bringing the brand inline with the product, and with the value it brings to our customers.

Talking about our highlights, I just want to call out the critical role played by the people who backed us and believed in Ignition from the start. The early days were funded by family, friends, colleagues and industry stalwarts like Ron Lesh [Founder and Managing Director of BGL Corporate Solutions], David New [Managing Director, APAC, at Ignition] and Craig Winkler [MYOB Co-Founder and former Non Executive Director of Xero]. Our first institutional capital came all the way from Canada’s largest seed fund, Real Ventures via an intro through their FounderFuel program. Thank you Nick Muldoon [Co-CEO of Easy Agile] and Sylvain Carle [former Partner at Real Ventures] for the intro and John Stokes [Co-Founder of Real Ventures] and the Real Ventures team for backing us all those years ago [2014].

I still remember when we went to San Francisco for our first ever pitch to venture capital firms, we slept on friends’ couches in the evening while doing our best to impress VCs during the day.

Seed capital was hard to come by for our little scaling business. A huge thank you to Adrian Di Marco [Founder of TechnologyOne] and Craig Winkler, as well as our existing investors and family, for supporting the company as we worked towards our Series A milestone.

Capital was a little easier to come by as we closed our Series A, B and C from 2017 to 2021. This allowed us to scale up our efforts overseas and really build a global company.

Dane: Total funding we’ve raised to date is US$75m. That’s allowed us to continuously invest in the product, grow an amazingly talented team, and expand our reach geographically. It’s been a busy 10 years, but that won’t change and we have heaps in store for the next 10 years!

Q: What will the next 10 years look like?

"We’ll continue reimagining the way professional services do business with their clients, helping them meet increasing demands."

- Dane Thomas, Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer at Ignition

Dane: eCommerce is conditioning consumers to expect ease and transparency. You get certainty on pricing and arrival time when booking an Uber, so why should engaging your accountant, or other professional services, be any different? We’ll continue to help our customers meet those client expectations for a seamless and transparent engagement experience.

Throughout COVID, many small businesses looked to their accountants to help them navigate the uncertain economic headwinds. With record-keeping and tax services more digitized to varying degrees around the world, accountants have more capacity to offer value to their clients beyond their typical annual tax engagements. So, as the role of accountants evolves, we’re really looking at how Ignition can facilitate that transition and help early movers take advantage of that opportunity.

We’re also expecting to see more rigor around Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer within the process of engaging new clients. For our accounting customers in particular, it’ll continue to be important to keep pace with that ever-changing regulatory landscape. Our role is to make it as easy as possible.

Guy: While our focus for most of the first 10 years has been on accounting and bookkeeping industries, the fundamental problems that Ignition solves and the opportunities it unlocks for growth are not unique to accountants and bookkeepers. We want to help all professional services businesses get the same success as our accounting and bookkeeping customers.

"When we speak to customers about the impact of introducing Ignition into their businesses, they single out efficiency and time-saving, along with how easy it is to get paid."

- Guy Pearson, Co-Founder and CEO at Ignition

By reducing the admin burden and improving cash flow, our customers are able to invest in finding new business and focus on growth. And once they’re using Ignition they often benefit from new revenue opportunities – they use proposal options to upsell and expand services; they manage scope changes effectively; and impress clients with their proposal experience.

So, the next 10 years will see us continue to innovate and develop new ways for Ignition to drive efficiency and help professional services businesses grow and succeed.

"We’re working every day to make Ignition better and better."

- Dane Thomas, Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer at Ignition

Dane: Our core focus remains on helping professional services businesses save time through automation, improve cash flow by getting paid on time, and grow revenue.

We'll continue to look at ways to provide greater clarity and automation around all your client agreements; take the admin burden out of compliance requirements; use our unique data to offer business insights and intelligence to help your business grow; and make it easier for your clients to do business with you.

It's been a wild ride for the first 10 years and we’re just getting started.

Why leave it there?

To find out more about Ignition

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