It doesn't matter whether you deal in digital or physical goods, the connected processes of sourcing, holding, distributing and getting the bills paid on both sides of the economic equation are the same. And while volume matters, the headaches are no different.
It's arguable that the advent of digital methods of presenting the business and having an online store have made the process landscape more complex, even while leveling the 'shop front' environment.
What at one moment seems like a window upon the world quickly turns into a management nightmare, especially when the business is simultaneously successful in digital and meat spaces.
Very few vendors have shown an appetite for addressing the end-to-end problem at the SMB part of the market. It has long been the purview of niche players picking off pieces of the puzzle.
Even now there are huge gaps in a market that has been long dominated by the accounting centric approach of Intuit. To that point, Intuit's stranglehold on the market, supported by a marketplace of add-ons keeps it so far ahead of others that until recently, it has been inconceivable that anyone might knock them off their perch.
VersAccounts wants to change that. Never heard of them? Nether had I until I took a a call with CEO Sunil Pande who recently recruited ex-Epicor founder Kevin Riegelsberger to the board.
The company talked a great game but then so do many others and even though the pitch sounded compelling, I wasn't prepared to follow up with them until I'd spoken with customers. The first one they offered was The Gravity Cartel, a small business that sells bike parts, mostly into the cycle retail distribution market but which also has an online retail presence. The company principally sells the Spank and ISX brands of parts.
As a side note, I enjoy speaking with SMB executives because they often come from a no-nonsense background where getting the job done is not only critical for their success but where the tolerance for failure is extremely low.
Even though these executives often have a deep understanding of the problems they're trying to solve, they don't have the depth of digital technology background found in large organizations. They are rarely wedded to vendors though many find it hard to move away from the familiar. Most - if not all - have been on the 'spreadsheet-Intuit-something-else' (SISE) journey and found themselves struggling but with little idea where to turn for help. The Gravity Cartel is no different.
My call with Victor Sandrin, US Sales Manager was fascinating across multiple dimensions.
First, the company had been through the (almost) predictable path of Intuit, bolt-ons, kludges and other 'stuff' they had stumbled upon. Sandrin describes it as a 'nightmare' and all too familiar refrain.
We had Agiliron for ERP and we were just having ... it was just a nightmare. We were having lots of issues with it and so I had been looking probably six months at different ERP softwares out there. And you know, everything from really expensive stuff to really cheap stuff but none of them really did what we were looking for.
A chance discussion with the company's local book-keeper led to a meeting with VersAccounts.
We did a demo and they were still quite new and some things they didn't have but Sunil said, hey, whatever you're looking for, we can do. And that's kind of how it all started. It was a bit of leap of faith but the basics of Versa all seemed to do what we needed to do so Pick Pack and Ship was something really, the biggest probably hurdle at first but that one came online pretty quick.
Another selling point was the VersAccounts integration with Shopify, a popular online commerce presence aimed at SMBs, along with support for outbound package scanning that kicks off the dispatch process once orders are received.
I wanted to understand how the project implementation progressed. This is always a dangerous time because any issues with data cleansing can derail expected delivery timelines. In this case, The Gravity Cartel went for a fairly vanilla approach that has been tweaked and improved over time but which meant waiting for Pick, Pack, Ship:
We started around this time two years ago. We went live January first of 2016 and we're still working through some things but the bulk of everything, it was probably about April when we finally got 95% of it, I would guess, done. Pick, Pack and Ship were the big ones we had to wait for and we needed some workflow changes to reflect how we do business. Over the last year and a half it's been things that you never think about when you are trying to think of all the things that you need in an ERP system.
At first, Sandrin felt that VersAccounts was more restrictive than other systems. Over time, he learned that working with processes that ensure errors are picked up early while not compromising the business process requirement makes a lot of difference. That requires a two way conversation with the vendor.
Before, there were always workarounds. Nothing worked quite the way we wanted it to so we had to work around it. And with Versa when we come across those things we worked around them for a little bit but they've always found a solution for us. I think they've been pretty good as far as servicing how we need Versa to work for us instead of us trying to do work arounds Versa where it is impractical.
All SaaS companies know that super responsive servicing is the cornerstone for success. Here, Sandrin cannot speak too highly of VersAccounts. As an example, B2B processes need work but the timing has not been good, largely because the main selling season runs March to August as, as with most small firms, bandwidth for IT related projects is almost zero.
The B2B site is the next one we're on the docket to tackle. It works okay right now but it's not great. Sunil and I have talked about that one and that's the next development step. We're going into a little bit of our slow season so we now have time to focus on it. Sunil's team have been incredibly responsive so I have no doubt we'll get that done pretty soon.
Being an early adopter is fraught with risk and can go horribly wrong. You're not quite the product in the sense of a 'free software for data' system but you are the test bed for new functionality. That's very much the case for The Gravity Cartel although to be fair, much of their ability to do business hinges upon the external Shopify commerce system. VersAccounts is applying the essential support system that makes doing business easy and flexible.
Sandrin believes his company have a genuine partner who will work through next steps where it makes mutual sense to do so. That reminds me of the early days of Workday where lighthouse customers were critical to understanding market needs and were coddled accordingly. The up side is that early customers get the best experience and can use both their depth of knowledge and the relationship to accelerate their business.
Is VersAccounts the 'face' of the next iteration of an ERP for SMBs? One swallow doth not a summer make as the old saw goes, but this raw account of The Gravity Cartel's experience gives me hope. I have other VersAccounts cases in the pipeline so watch this space.
The last word goes to Sandrin:
I know that word future proof gets thrown around, but I really do feel like we have something that is scalable and adaptable as we grow. If our needs change slightly here and there, we've got somebody that can work with us. Doesn't matter if we're doing 20 orders now and we do 200 orders next month or 300, 400 orders next month. We can keep our heads above water with the system we got.