From XU Magazine, 
Issue 21

An interview with Caroline Plumb on entrepreneurship, AI and why it’s so hard for businesses to manage their cashflow

We caught up with serial entrepreneur Caroline Plumb to understand her journey of “falling in love with the problem” of cashflow management for businesses…
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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The financial worries associated with being a small business owner

After yet another sleepless night worrying about her business finances and a fruitless search for an effective cashflow forecasting tool, Caroline Plumb decided to do something about a problem that affects scores of small and medium-sized companies.

“As a business owner, I was fed up of wondering whether I had enough cash to make payroll,” she says. “And sick of wondering how much VAT was going to be. I knew that cashflow management is the biggest pain point for small businesses.

In fact, of all small business failure, 80% is due to poor cashflow management. But I couldn’t find any useful or practical solutions on the market.”

A serial entrepreneur (Caroline co-founded consultancy FreshMinds), she set about establishing Fluidly to, as she explains, “take financial stress away from business owners and their accountants”. In just three years, the firm has been named in the Fintech 50 and won ‘Forecasting, Planning & Analysis Software of the Year’ in the Accounting Excellence awards, among other accolades. At Xerocon 2018, Fluidly was named ‘Emerging App Partner of the Year’.

Using data to power a solution to the cashflow problem

“When I began Fluidly, I was very clear that I wanted to create a solution for businesses that didn’t just answer the question of ‘what’ is going to happen in the financial future, but also ‘so what’ and ‘now what’ – showing what the next steps are to improve the forecast. I had a concept of an intelligence wrapper around businesses that would automatically inform business owners about what they should do next. Up until that point, the solutions in the cashflow space had been focused around modelling what was going to happen based on assumptions. None of it actually used historical financial data in an effective way. I thought there must be a way we could leverage data to shortcut the process.”

And so Caroline got to work on developing what became Intelligent Cashflow, with the ultimate goal of helping business owners to sleep better at night by providing control, confidence and certainty around cashflow.

While her first business was funded with just £500, Fluidly began with £375,000 of angel investment, money which was used to establish a team, find customers and construct the product. A year after launch, the company secured a £2 million seed round led by Octopus Ventures, Anthemis and VC Nyca. Meanwhile, during her search for an experienced leader in the world of data science, Caroline met Johnnie Ball, Fluidly’s chief data scientist.

Since then, Fluidly has provided Intelligent Cashflow for hundreds of accounting practices and thousands of businesses. But what does Intelligent Cashflow mean and it is different from everything else out there?

A new category of Intelligent Cashflow

“It’s a new category of cashflow management,” explains Caroline. “We see the space very broadly. It’s not just about producing a model that shows you what is going to happen, it’s a more holistic business solution. So it’s not just about forecasting but also about understanding what is affecting the forecast; the real things that are driving cash inflows and outflows, and specifically how business owners can improve their finances.”

Caroline realised early on that the ability of artificial intelligence to handle big volumes of data in an intelligent way was the solution for the problems encountered by businesses. It meant that a forecast could be produced in minutes instead of hours, which freed up time for accountants and their clients.

From the off, she was thinking about what problem she wanted to solve (“they say you need to fall in love with the problem, not the solution”) and, coming back from maternity leave after her third child, was keen to do something different and to build a new business.

It was a good decision. Thanks to the hard work of Caroline and her team, Intelligent Cashflow allows accountants to provide cashflow services to their small business clients at scale, by having regular and structured conversations about cashflow and what matters most. Fluidly’s cashflow forecast is generated instantly and updated live.

Meanwhile, Caroline has been recognised for her endeavours. She was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours List in 2016 for services to Business and Charity and was one of the Prime Minister’s Business Ambassadors, representing the Professional Services sector. As a kid who loved to take broken things apart (hoovers, microwaves, TVs, computers), in her adult life she continues to enjoy figuring out how things work and how to improve them. She studied Engineering at Oxford University and was a sponsored software engineer for GCHQ during her summer holidays.

A strong partnership with Xero

As for the future, Caroline is looking forward to Xerocon.

“We are great partners with Xero and love working with them. This year we’ve travelled the country with the team as headline apps of the Xero roadshows, and Gary Turner recently spoke at our third birthday party. Our engineering teams work closely on improving the integration between our two pieces of software. Due to the number of businesses we are helping, we’re dealing with very large volumes of data and this represents some technical challenges that we’ve worked together to overcome.”

With that in mind, Fluidly is launching a host of new features at Xerocon 2019. “A few months ago, we announced our migration to Google Cloud Platform. One of the huge benefits of this is that we can now launch new features faster than ever, and I’m excited to show what we’ve built at Xerocon. We’re focusing our efforts on equipping accountants with the information they need to provide effective advice to help clients grow their businesses.”

Why leave it there?

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