Date posted: 25/03/2020 5 min read

CA in Residence Serena Irving helps innovators turn ideas into viable businesses

CA Catalyst CA in Residence Serena Irving CA from public practice JDW Chartered Accountants says the right data helps businesses be more sustainable.

In brief

  • Automation of data checking processes can be a big cost saver
  • Focus on customer retention as much as acquisition
  • Technology is readily scalable for export

Helping innovators turn ideas into reality

"Who doesn't want to be Ironman's Tony Stark, multi-millionaire, innovator, designer and superhero?" muses Serena Irving CA when sharing her enthusiasm for guiding startups and innovators.

Irving's passion for helping innovators turn ideas into reality is right at home in Auckland's The Icehouse startup hub, where as a CA Catalyst CA in Resident she spends a day each fortnight helping startups find sustainable business models and viable paths to success.

"Using our brains to do exciting things is really good for the economy," Irving adds. "One of the growth areas for New Zealand is exporting technology around the world isn't reliant on moving physical objects."

CAs help innovators focus on the right metrics – and find investors

Since March 2019 Irving has worked a day a fortnight at the Icehouse start-up hub in Auckland as part of the CA Catalyst CA in Residence program, where she's using her expertise to help start-ups build sustainable businesses and secure funding to grow.

The program has linked Irving with start-ups such as First AML, a business automating customer identity verification as part of Anti-Money Laundering compliance regulations.

The business offers an outsourcing solution for clients that need to run customer due diligence and AML/CFT audit processes, applying its technology to reduce the amount of effort and input required to complete such tasks.

Irving reports that First AML already has some great clients and plans to gain more with its new advertising campaigns.

"They're saying to chartered accounts, law firms, and real estate agents, 'All you have to do is give us your client's name and email address and we'll deal with the rest," Irving explains, adding that as a potential customer, she has given First AML insights into what clients will want from the tool. "I know what my pain points are when it comes to doing that stuff in the office."

It may not save the world superhero-style, but Irving says outsourcing the verification process will save directors 20 to 30 minutes for each new client – time that could be better employed on other tasks.

Irving is teaching First AML, and other Icehouse startups, the skills to measure business performance more effectively, including a commitment to stay focused on the right metrics. She's also teaching them how to qualify and apply for research and development grants.

"Funds are available if you're the right sort of business - if you are an innovator you have a really good chance of being able to tap into some of that money."
Serena Irving CA, Director, JDW Chartered Accountants.

Moving from quarterly to daily financial reports

Irving clearly enjoys one-on-one mentoring, though she's equally comfortable when hosting startup financing workshops during the CA in Residence program.

She says that teaching startups the fundamentals of using funds wisely can help them survive on that difficult runway toward revenue.

Irving will run a workshop covering, among other topics, research and development funding – something she had to learn about herself.

The workshop will also guide start-ups on picking metrics that will help them attract investment and survive until their next cash injection.

For some startups the focus may be less on immediate questions of profitability and ROI, and more on measuring conversion rates from free to paying customers. These are the new key metrics that indicate long-term viability to potential investors.

"An annual reporting cycle is too long. Even quarterly reporting may be too long if funding is tight," Irving says. "Some metrics need to be measured daily so that founders can show investors they are tracking well."

Ultimately, Irving hopes her efforts will contribute to establishing a profitable and thriving tech sector in New Zealand. She is proud that through the CA in Residence program she's supporting tech start-ups in bringing their ideas to life.

Lessons for startups can also be applied to older businesses

Thinking about metrics for start-ups has inspired Irving to consider how she could use these indicators to benefit established businesses as well.

"With my traditional business clients I probably wouldn't have looked at repeat customers quite so much, but something we could look at is: What is the worth of certain types of customer in terms of recurring revenue? … Which customers are coming back? Which ones are you not getting back? And why aren't you getting them back?"

With questions like these, Irving's contribution to her client businesses moves far beyond the basics and into that important domain of being a critical trusted advisor, whatever the business may be.

CA in Residence Programme

The CA in Residence Programme is specifically suited for CAs in public practice, but is open to all CAs with two or more years’ experience who demonstrate a spirit of curiosity, entrepreneurialism, innovation and an openness to share knowledge.

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