From XU Magazine, 
Issue 22

Meet: Zahara

Martin Peirce started his business Click2Scan in 2007 initially to provide scanning services. Having worked for Canon for a few years at the start of the noughties, he quickly took a keen interest in document management, scanning, and everything that encompassed going paper-less...

Click2Scan soon progressed into selling document management software to compliment the scanning services. Document Management is a catch all title that really means virtual filing or doing away with paper. When you are digitizing thousands of documents for clients, you have to provide them with a way of finding them again in the future, and our go-to solution was a great tool called FileDirector.

The next step on from Document Management is intelligent capture and this was the start of the journey that lead to Zahara. Having become resellers of ABBYY FlexiCapture, and at one point being ABBYY’s biggest European reseller, it was their launch of the invoice recognition version that had a profound effect on the direction Click2Scan took, and the later design and launch of Zahara.

Martin explained “We really liked the idea of creating something repeatable, so we set out to become very competent at invoice processing. We signed up as Sage developers and wrote integrations with Sage 50 and Sage 200 which isn’t easy. We focused all our energy on joining up solutions with FlexiCapture and FileDirector. But what was fascinating was that the larger the companies we demonstrated to, the less likely they were to have a purchase order system.” Martin recalls a turning point back in 2014 when an IT manager said, “I just want to have a budget and know whether I can buy something or not”.

Having looked at the market and the systems that existed, Martin was confident there was space for something new. He designed Zahara and remembers fondly saying to colleagues “we should write this; how hard can it be?”. Several years on, he now knows the answer. Very hard and incredibly expensive!

Zahara launched in 2016 with a chain of care homes being the first customer. We set out to create something simple to use that could make it easier to creat purchase orders. We had all of the tools for scanning or recognizing invoices and the integrations with Sage. We had approvals capability in FileDirector as well. Zahara soon became more though than they ever anticipated. Today it is a complete platform for controlling and managing corporate spend with everything built-in to the cloud-based platform.  Zahara’s customers have a number of similarities. Many of them operate from multiple locations, and all of them can be classified larger small businesses or departments of larger enterprises.

Martin explained “We are so grateful for the early adopters who trusted in us. We have some amazing logos in our customer base, with a top 10 global brand onboarding right now. We are a small UK team and are all incredibly proud of Zahara”

Zahara integrated with Xero back in 2018 and is an alternative solution for those customers who want multi-step approvals or a better way to control spend. “It’s great when you get to hear from the customers why Zahara is different or better for them. One thing people often comment on is the departmental and project budgets but also the ability to send out a purchase order and then record multiple invoices against it so you can always see the balance”.

Martin thinks empathy is the most valuable skill that’s needed to write great software. “Being a small team in the lovely city of Bath, I enjoy the customer contact and as the business grows I’ll always find time to do demos. I hear the same problems over and over and what I enjoy most is then seeing that problem coming back as a feature. The one thing that I often hear, that I have experienced myself, is that finance teams don’t like surprises. There is nothing worse than receiving an invoice for an eye-watering amount that nobody in finance knew anything about, that not only turns out to be real but turns out that it’s now overdue. If there is one thing that Zahara does and does well, it’s taking those surprises out. If every spend requests follows an agreed workflow with management approval, there are no surprises. In fact, month-end becomes much smoother because you can accrue for things easier and faster”

The team at Zahara got off to a flying start in 2020. “We are really positive about the next few years. Our challenge now is to refine Zahara further so it’s providing our customers and our new customer with the automation and functionality they need for the future with things like automated payments and of course fraud prevention. We are keen to build up a partner network around the world. Zahara integrates with a number of finance systems like Xero and although the team appreciate, they aren’t for every Xero user, for those customers that are expanding rapidly, controlling overheads and expenses is a big part of maintaining the profit margins.

Why leave it there?

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