Monday, June 8, 2009
Interview Eric Sikola, ExpenseBay
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Eric Sikola is CEO of ExpenseBay (www.expensebay.com), a Los Angeles-based, online, software-as-a-service startup which has created an online application which uses Web 2.0 technology to make submitting expense reports extremely easy. The firm has taken the ease-of-use, interconnectivity, and other features we take granted from modern Web 2.0 finance software such as Wesabe and Mint, and applied it to the corporate expense area.
What's your company doing?
Eric Sikola: We found that the world has tons of tons and products build around expense reporting, but at the end of the day, they all required lots of manual entry, and were really designed for the CFO to go through approval processes, to look at compliance, and to make sure there was some pretty reporting to give information if you drove more Hertz cars than Enterprise, so you might negotiate a better rate. There was nothing out there in the market which would be the personal assistant, or the personal finance tool to do expense reports. The idea really came from a lot of the online personal finance tools--like Wesabe, Mint, and Quicken Online--where the world has adopted pulling in credit card data, and you can use it, you can categorize it. My thought was, why couldn't you do that with expense reports? We built a product that was really, really deep, meant for the business traveler, got rid of manual entry, allowed for cash transactions when you're out in the field, records receipt images from your Blackberry or iPhone type of camera. And automatically, on a Monday night or Sunday night, creates an expense report which shows up in your inbox, and I don't have to fill anything out--I just need to review it, make sure things are cleaned up, and submit it. That was the concept.
Who are the types of companies who might need this?
Eric Sikola: There are still thousands and thousands of companies which still turn in expense reports based on an Excel spreadsheet. In our beta testing, we had a company that was a billion dollar company, and they were still using Excel spreadsheets. At first we thought it would be 99 employees or less, but it ended up all over the map--5 employees, 25 employees, 400 employees--even Wells Fargo has four different expense management systems. There's a bunch of SaaS products, like NetSuite, with nowhere with the breadth that our tool has, but companies are using that. The next thing is there's a new crop of SaaS companies for time management and professional service automation (PSA), thinks like OpenAir/bought by NetSuite, and a handful of others. Again--another place where expense reports are being turned in. When you look at the whole market, they are using all these different tools - but there is nothing stopping the manual entry and painstaking effort employees have to go through. Let's build a product, which automates all these expense reports and exports to all those systems.
So do you sell to employees, or to companies?
Eric Sikola: We architected the product so that an individual can sign up, even though they've got 50 people entering expenses manually into NetSuite, that one person can sign up and use ExpenseBay, the other 49 don't have to use it, or the entire company can sign up. It's meant for the business user--we're not going to be competing against the Concurs, the NetSuites, that software that deals with approval workflows and processes. What we will tell you, is this is how much the company owes you, on a daily basis. And, Bob--you're resubmitting this expense report again, there's an error there; or, you flew into JFK and had a lunch meeting here, but we don't see a transaction here between--are you missing something there?
How did decide to start a company on focused expense software?
Eric Sikola: My entire career I've been an executive at software companies. Forte Software is where I got my career started, Webmethods, so I've been and lived the road warrier mentality, and I've used Concur and a number of the the other ones out there. I've never had an assistant, and it's always been something where at the end of the month, I get screamed at by the CFO, and I sit there and spend an entire day trying to piece my life together. I stack the receipts by week, four fire drills happen before that is done, the next thing I'm doing is I'm manually entering stuff, and by the end of the day I've gotten maybe one of the four weeks I need to done. I just really felt market demanded this and it's a productivity tool that could be used by an entire organization or individual.
How big is the firm now?
Eric Sikola: We've got seven people full time, and all our development is offshore, our CTO is onshore, and we have people doing graphical design locally plus others helping part time.
How did you end up here in Southern California--it looks like all your experience has been up with Bay Area companies?
Eric Sikola: I was born and raised in Southern California. I was born in Palos Verdes. I went up to San Francisco for awhile to get my career started, and I've been able to run worldwide sales for Systinet, where I was director of sales, all here from Los Angeles. The other thing is that there were not that many software companies in LA, though there are starting to be more, and I'm on a mission to get more and more and more here as possible.