Image: AccountingPod co-founders XingDong Yan and Judith Cambridge
Chartered accountants Judith Cambridge and XingDong Yan had noticed that business school graduates, though well trained, appeared to lack real world knowledge of technology and the Kiwi business environment. That discovery was the genesis of AccountingPod, a cloud-based tool designed to provide the ‘real world’ financial experience new graduates require for employment in 2017.
We spoke to AccountingPod co-founder Judith about edutech in New Zealand, the importance of mentors and using rejection to sharpen your offering.
Idealog: So how did you come be a part of the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator?
Judith Cambridge: As accountants, we’d identified a particular knowledge gap, especially with the international students we were talking to. There was lack of knowledge around the digital business tools used in the SME marketplace, including Xero and it’s four or five hundred add-ons, plus, we’d realised that students, international students particularly, didn't have an understanding of the business context of New Zealand - they don't read business news, for example. Out of that came the idea for AccountingPod.
We ran a couple of pilots with two universities - Waikato and Otago Polytechnic - and from that point we realized that we needed to do something to really test what we had discovered. So we saw the Fintech Accelerator, thought we would fit and applied. And the rest is history.
So imagine we’re on an elevator. Give me your 30-second pitch.
Accounting Pod has redesigned financial education for today's business student. We've spoken to hundreds of business students who are struggling to find relevant job, so our online platform gives those students the real financial experience needed to kickstart their career. That’s about elevator length, isn’t it?
Close enough. So what kind of benefits does a startup get from an accelerator programme like this?
For us, especially coming to Wellington, the first thing we could see was the new ability to really build out a network, which is so much harder to do down south, particularly in fintech.
We had a lot of people we got to go and talk to about what was happening in the business education space, so for us, that was an amazing networking opportunity. It was like being taken on a curated journey to really prove out your thinking, the customer problem, the solution fit, and whether the business could be repeatable and scalable to really find success globally. There’s a really high bar to be able to do that, but we had wonderful mentors and met all sorts of people that have really helped us define the essence of AccountingPod and the direction we need to go in.
You’d done a lot of research before coming to the accelerator, was there still more to learn? What was a key takeaway for you?
We've really learnt how to see through the lens of a lot of different people and discern what is right for the company. In an accelerator like this you're faced with a lot of ideas and the skill is to find your way through that and make the best decisions for your company. And building the resilience that you do going through that process.
Resilience? So you're talking about resilience in the face of rejection?
Yes. That happened many times. Because sometimes the person you’re talking to who says ‘no’ has a particular need that you haven't addressed, so it's understanding where they're coming from and thinking, ‘well maybe we just haven't communicated our vision properly’. It’s learning from that and being able to really hone in and clearly communicate the AccountingPod mission.
In the accelerator they really are testing you. Testing your resilience. Testing your leadership and ability to make decisions. And people do say no of course, but if you think they should have said yes, then you just ring them again. And you do that until they give in.
Why do you think the time is right for AccountingPod?
Education technology is in its early days in New Zealand. What we've done is come up with is a proposition that uses real financial, business data and its context and presents that as an learning experience. We think that’s never been done before. If you look at how tertiary teaches business education, it hasn't changed in a long time. It's textbook-based - American textbooks - and sure, you have some case studies in there, but what we’re proposing is a place for experiential, event-driven learning using the latest cloud business tools. That’s unique.
So when you're speaking with educators around the country, what's the reception like? Is there resistance?
When you speak to lecturers, basically what they say is 'This is the tool that we need'. These days teachers have much larger classes than they've ever had before - a lot of that’s to do with the size of the international student market and the way those classes have been growing based on New Zealand's education export sector - but they have less time and they need new tools to teach business in the digital age and we represent that.
So what are the next steps?
Well, we've got some good investor interest and we are planning to grow Accounting Pod into a global multi-million dollar company.
The work has only just begun, but that need we've found - that pain point around needing to be more job ready - that's definitely a challenge for many of our students, so it's exciting to be able to do something to really help them.
Kristen Lunman - Programme Director, Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator at Lightning Lab:
“The Future of Work is looming; technology is automating work at an unprecedented rate. AccountingPod cares deeply about supporting students entering the workforce and professionals displaced by automation.”
“The AccountingPod platform is akin to a flight simulator for pilots. It takes real data and story of SME business, obfuscating and turning it into a ‘real financial learning experience’ for every student in the world. Founders, Judith Cambridge and XingDong Yan, both experienced Chartered Accountants are our Co-CEO team. They were the first in the building, and last out at night - in fact, I’m not clear they even went home! They show absolute dedication and determination to realise their vision to ‘provide real financial experience to everyone in the world.”