Ecommerce businesses, like all businesses, should maintain accurate accounting records. But many entrepreneurs dislike accounting. Many are confused by it, and prefer to avoid it.
Steven Aldrich wants to help those entrepreneurs. He's CEO of Outright.com, a hosted, simplified bookkeeping system that tracks revenue, expenses and provides an overview of a business's health.
We recently spoke with Aldrich about Outright, and the accounting needs for small businesses.
Practical eCommerce: What is Outright.com?
Steven Aldrich: "Outright is targeted at small businesses and brings all of the small business owners' finances in one place. So, we bring in revenue and expense, without having to have the business owner re-enter data or download it into spreadsheets. We bring your business finances into the Outright application on the web, you can access it online or via a mobile device, and it tells you how your business is doing and prepares you for your taxes."
PEC: Who owns the company? When was it founded? Where are you located?
Aldrich: "We are in Mountain View, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. It was founded in 2009 by a group of entrepreneurs, who were small business owners, and many of us have spent decades working with small businesses and other software businesses. The company is owned by employees and venture capitalists."
PEC: There are many good accounting packages, of course. Why should an ecommerce merchant consider Outright?
Aldrich: "Outright has been built for ecommerce businesses whose data is already digital. One of the things that we do is, as soon as you sign up for Outright, you literally enter a username and a password, and we begin pulling data into the Outright application. So it is really easy to get up and running. The time to getting value from using the Outright application is literally minutes.
"And as you use the product you discover different features and functionalities. So the learning curve is built in. There is no having to go study accounting or having to set up charts of accounts or having to set up permissions. It is aimed at small business owners, who wants to get over the hump of getting on top of their business and wants to maintain their understanding of their business."
PEC: Is it safe to say that Outright is an accounting package for non-accountants?
Aldrich: "That is a good way to put it. And when we talked to small business owners they tell us they don't want to be accountants. They want to focus on sourcing the next interesting product, merchandising their product, deliver great service to their customers and spend less time on the accounting and bookkeeping aspect of their business.
"But they still want to be on top of how their business is doing and they still want to not have a painful, end of year tax time, either doing it by themselves, with a tax prep product, or with an accountant, who ask for all that data that you may not be ready to give it to him or her."
PEC: You alluded to the process of syncing Outright to a shopping cart. Our readers are ecommerce merchants. They all have shopping carts. How does Outright link to shopping carts?
Aldrich: "There are several ways that we bring data into Outright. The simplest and easiest way is to direct connect the APIs that we've already built, for the small business customer to literally point and click on one of the marketplaces, like eBay, Amazon, Etsy, or a payment processor like PayPal. Big Cartel is a recent addition on the shopping cart front.
"If we don't currently support the shopping cart by a point and click addition, you can download data via CSV file and then import it into Outright. It will recognize the data as you import it and keep that up to date for you with the categories intact, and will allow you to manage that data inside of Outright, going forward.
"So the main methods of getting data into Outright are two: Direct connect to our point and click partners, or download via CSV and then bring that data into Outright. You can always manually add a transaction. Some people do that as well."
PEC: What carts do you have an API link already established?
Aldrich: "The main carts that we have are still under development.
"Down the road, you will see Big Cartel being added. We have a number of others in the pipeline, but since they are not up and running yet, unfortunately I can't announce who'll they will be."
PEC: Is your API publicly accessible, if merchants want to tackle it themselves, or if they have a developer that wants to access it?
PEC: An ecommerce merchant will likely have inventory, if he or she is selling physical products. What is the inventory capability on Outright to track many different SKUs?
Aldrich: "We focus primarily on the sales and cost of goods that are being created through online account access and selling through the web. So we don't have an inventory module, where you would enter all your SKUs in and track the number in inventory and the number that are left over. The concept of a balance sheet is built in to Outright but we don't track inventory on a piece-by-piece basis.
"Our inventory capability is today purposefully quite light and it is aimed, again, primarily at folks who are trying to track their revenue. It is a light-weight inventory solution."
PEC: What about standard financial statements: balance sheets, income statements?
Aldrich: "Our reports are primarily driven around income and expense. You can look at current balances of accounts, such as bank accounts, your PayPal account if you have one, as well as money that you might owe on credit cards. We don't track significant other assets or liabilities, if you had a loan for example.
"You get a robust set of reports on best customers, states where you are selling, current taxes due, your biggest vendors, your spending over weeks, months, years, sales by state, types of income."
PEC: How much does it cost?
Aldrich: "The product is free today. We have a version of the product of Outright Plus that is $10.00 a month. It is currently being offered for free to customers through the end of September, at which point you can continue to use the product in its free version or you can upgrade to Outright Plus. Outright Plus has additional capabilities in tax and long term data storage and reporting on that data storage."
PEC: Ecommerce is typically a complicated business. There is inventory to track, and multiple sources of revenue. How can a simple accounting package such as yours fit a complicated business?
Aldrich: "Complicated businesses still need a level of easy-to-understand actionable data. So when I think about what is important for an ecommerce business owner to know, it is 'What channels are working well today? Have I had repeat customers? What's my trend been over time? How am I doing in buying additional materials for the business? Is it tracking to my revenue trend?'
"Those types of questions are critical to staying on top of a business owner's day-in day-out life. Often those questions are hard to answer, if you are using a manual tool like Excel, or if massage that data yourself. Something that is intimidating with a learning curve causes you to not use the product, and you can't get the data out of it that you need, in real time. The solution that Outright provides is one where people will use it and continue to use it because the data flows automatically. It gives insights into the business that allows the small business owner to make decisions. Those are the types of things that I think are really important."