Starting up — Nowdue ️for Slack
Building a super fast invoicing bot for teams
In late 2013, I created a PDF scanning app called Scanify Plus. Some 74,569 people installed the iOS app, converting some 303,330 images to PDF format, with most uploading invoices or expenses.
The crazy thing to me was, the product wasn’t designed with accounting in mind. I thought, if all these people were using this app for bookkeeping, then there must be something very wrong with the accounting solutions out there. Until that moment, I hadn’t really thought about how rigid and somewhat fragmented our current bookkeeping conventions are.
Although a shift from expense recording. Some of the insights learned helped me craft Nowdue for Slack. A nifty little invoicing bot designed to change the way freelancers, small business and teams feel about accounting tasks. 👨🏽⚡💸
Since leaving the security of a full-time job, I’ve worked on countless consulting gigs and, as many do, done the leg work of creating and sending invoices online. I’ve used varying tools, from Xero to Harvest and MYOB. I found these to be somewhat standardised. Yes, they get the job done, but if you hate keeping up with invoices and accounting admin as much as I do, you want something easier. With the evolution of communication predominantly through messenger apps, there has to be a better way to quickly create, send and manage invoices.
Recently, changes to operator regulation road blocked progress on a mobile payments startup I’d co-founded. This gave me a much needed moment to think about Nowdue, which had been floating in my creative thoughts for some time.
At first, I looked at Nowdue as a side project, an idea that could generate extra income. The original concept was to automate debt collection, it seemed like a problem worth solving… but I soon discovered TrueAccord and others were doing something similar, while regulation and compliance could pose another roadblock, and what did I know about debt collection as a business? Not that much.
The idea was shifted towards something more achievable, a concierge receivables service for small business and startups. Consulting had me chasing money all the time anyway, so why not do it for others?
This pivot involved avoiding any likelihood of a costly debt collection scenario occurring in the first place. Kind of like a digital mafia, who wouldn’t want a kind version of Tony Soprano chasing payments for you?
After a few calls to prospective clients, I realized there was a demand for such a service. It seemed everyone hated chasing clients and loved the thought of getting someone else to do it for them.
I was excited. This could potentially work! I spent the next few days, making call after call in the effort to validate the new direction further. To do this at scale, I was going to have to figure out how to generate a steady stream of warm leads through email marketing tactics and set up a call center. I sat and pondered, what would be the best way to get this done? Is this the kind of business I really want to build, is this undoubtedly worth pursuing? If so what would that business look like?
After considering the complexities surrounding such a business, I pivoted the idea once again, this time towards intelligent messaging. I’d been using Slack to communicate with my team and came up with the simplest of ideas. Automate the invoice creation process from within the Slack user interface. Nowdue would now allow teams to automatically generate and send invoices in literally seconds with natural language commands.
Moving ahead, a very basic prototype was hacked together and linked to Stripe’s payment processor. Again, validation was required before delving any further, so I jumped into SSG — Slack Startup Study Group and asked if anyone wanted to give it a go. (SSG is a very handy community of like minded individuals. If you need advice on your Startup, I highly recommend it!) Immediately two willing testers stepped forward. I asked them to connect their Stripe account to Nowdue and use Slack’s UI to send me an invoice for $1.
The request was actioned, and a few moments later, two invoices landed in my inbox. The first from Ireland and the second from Norway. Both invoices were paid. It was the moment of truth, excitement was high, the tension could be cut like an axe-wielding barbarian from Norway (one of the testers of course.)
Then, it happened. The transactions appeared in the logs, the payments had gone through smoothly, and both confirmed receipt. Okay, so epic, it works. Now, what? How does one take boring sales admin and invoicing and make it feel seamlessly streamlined into daily tasks? Slack of course!
Firstly, Nowdue had to be more fun than other out of touch accounting processes. It had to save people time and feel invisible like it was magically part of what you just do. Most of all, Nowdue had to be accessible and useful for modern teams, beyond just sales and accounting. I always felt that although accounting software is meant to be for all users, it still feels like most are intimidatingly designed for accountants. In addition, I’ve always been an advocate for inclusion and transparency across business performance, so Nowdue had to be straightforward enough to give everyone the superpowers to know exactly how a business was performing at a glance.
Most of all Nowdue had to be accessible and useful for modern teams, beyond just sales and accounting.
Lastly, Nowdue had to contain insights and data that would help people do their jobs even better. In essence, a hipster version of a superhero’s X-ray vision tailored to look at the core of a business to reveal opportunities to drive it further.
With clear focus and perspective through intense X-ray vision. The project was broken down into 5 key goals, giving teams:
- The ability to quickly generate, send, and look up invoices on demand.
- A frictionless way to accept and monitor payment.
- Reminder automation on late invoices.
- Engagement around payment wins.
- Transparency across sales and growth related metrics.
These five simplified goals, help define functionality and acted as a guideline to establish the core processes needed to envision and build a practical and enjoyable product for users. The next step was to look at other bots with similar payment and accounting features.
First up, Stripe already had an invoicing solution and because we were processing through Stripe’s payment API, I had to try it out and see if our solution was too close to what was already on offer. Stripe is great but, with a quick peek under the hood, it was discovered that their invoicing bot was not exactly user-friendly, nor did it feature a specific use case for creating invoices from Slack. In addition, non-techie users are expected to understand and set up webhooks. It’s often hard enough setting up a printer.
Zoho is another who has ventured into the land of bots, but again our specify use case was not present. Zoho seemed to be more focused on pulling data from their platform rather than establishing two-way intents. Other enterprise bots, such as Birdly and Troops play in the sales, expenses and customer service space, but with no direct similarities to Nowdue.
Nowdue was coming to life and the product vision was starting to take shape. The question now was, how do we truly differentiate Nowdue from the mass of payment products and new accounting bots entering the market?
From my own experience with sending invoices, when finishing up a consulting gig and it came time to adding the due date to an invoice. I’d always find myself putting 14-day or worse, 30-day terms even if I’d already completed the project. Over decades of human habits, we’ve traditionally allowed additional time to receive payments due to old ways of thinking and the once physical method of processing money. It wasn’t that long ago that some of us had to wait for a cheque to clear, or for banks to reopen after weekends. We’ve since simply carried archaic thinking over into the mobile age. Why can’t invoices simply be now due?
As such, we wanted to invent a neat way to modernize invoicing and align it with this modern age, so we did something interesting. When creating an invoice, you will notice we set all invoices to display as Nowdue from the day it is sent. We also created a Nowdue date allowance, which can also be optionally set from 0 to 30+ days before the invoice due date status becomes overdue.
It was almost product launch time and coming into beta, it was pointed out that the UI was a little heavy, and the product-side UX? Clumsy. It had to be cleaned up. A decision was made to pull out unnecessary features and to strip the whole dashboard design back, virtually to a blank canvas in an effort to rework it.
What we stumbled upon was that although hardly perfect, the web user experience felt leaner and the minimal design felt better bare-boned, so we decided to roll with it. Nowdue looked cleaner, designed for today’s digital screens, rather than a printed A4 paper invoice that most accounting products focus on.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll also aim to sort out the responsive mobile experience with a more native interface.
It really is early days for us, so we won’t be boasting that Nowdue is the best or fastest way to create and send invoices online. In fact, we are sure you will encounter a few bugs and user experience woes, but in time, with your feedback, we’ll make improvements across the board.
You will also not find any airy-fairy summarizing statements or claims that clients will pay you days faster, or that they will be more likely to pay because we are spamming them to pay up. In all seriousness, just try Nowdue if you and your team want to get the upper hand in getting other shit done.
Plus we’ll give you superpowers… well, kind of.