Starters

1 December 2017

Joris Van Der Gucht of Silverfin: focus on turnover

The Ghent-based company Silverfin offers accountants a digital platform to quickly and efficiently follow-up accounts and automate reports. Over the course of four years, the tech start-up has evolved into a company employing more than 50 people, which is active in multiple countries. "From the beginning we have always been extremely focused on turnover, such that we quickly had the confidence of investors", says CEO Joris Van Der Gucht during the ING Inspiration Tour. A remarkable success story of disruption, commercial focus and excellent teamwork.

Silverfin is a digital accountancy platform that largely automates the follow-up and reporting of accounts. This saves accountants and financial service providers a great deal of time and allows them to focus on actively providing their services and advice to clients. "The accountancy world is traditionally a sector in which service providers operate very reactively", Van Der Gucht tells us. "If as a client you want advice, you have to ask for it. Assistance is centred on the quarterly declarations and year-end reports, such that companies are not helped with the problems they face on a day-to-day basis." Silverfin wants to disrupt this pattern. This will enable accountants to evolve towards a central role as business coaches, supporting and advising businesses throughout the year.

Recurrent business with a commercial focus

"I come from the accountancy world myself," says Van Der Gucht. "I observed that there was still a lot of manual work involved: copying numbers, transferring data from one software to another, creating different spreadsheets, etc. I figured this could be done a lot more efficiently." When he came into contact with developer Tim Vandecasteele, things quickly started to take off. "We got to work and after six months Silverfin was starting more and more to take shape", recalls Van Der Gucht. Silverfin's immediate success proved that there was demand for their online platform.

Growth based on turnover
The success of Silverfin is not built on a foundation of external capital investors but on the basis of turnover

In early 2016 the company received a limited amount of financing with the participation of Jurgen Ingels, among others. Less than eight months later they were invited to London by the renowned Index Ventures. A successful investment round raised Silverfin 4 million euro in capital. "Because we were already able to show positive figures with regard to revenue and profit, this stage was surprisingly easy", Van Der Gucht reveals. "A great many new start-ups spend a lot of time toying with an idea in the hope of attracting the necessary investors. We deliberately opted to establish a strong foundation of clients as quickly as possible based on a recurrent business model. We soon saw a rise in sales and yearly growth." The success of Silverfin is not built on a foundation of external capital investors but on the basis of turnover. Not a typical route for a start-up.

Tip for company leaders: question your own role

At the end of last year, Silverfin had a turnover of 2.4 million euro, tripling their revenue from 2015. You could say things are on the up and up for Silverfin. In four years they have grown from a two-man company to a firm employing more than 50 people. Such rapid growth brings with it many challenges. "The last four years have been extremely intense", says Van Der Gucht. "From the start we had a good foundation and ensured that our structure and the platform itself were flexible and scalable. When you add a strong team to the equation, this leads to this unexpectedly rapid growth. As a company founder and leader, you have to continuously re-evaluate your role within the company. In the early days I was on the road, day in, day out, visiting clients and prospects. These days I'm mainly communicating with people in the organisation."

Starting is easy, scaling up is hard
I have found that starting a company is easier than scaling it up

Sooner or later, a new company faces growing pains. It is the task of the company leader to come up with solutions. "As a fast-growing company, you're confronted with issues and challenges almost on a daily basis. If you want your people to stay engaged, you need to address these issues. Transparent communication is so important. I try as much as possible to listen to the concerns of our people, including those who are not so vocal."
"I have found that starting a company is easier than scaling it up. You have to learn to delegate. It's ultimately your employees who scale the company. As such, it's important that they have the freedom they need."

Investing in strong management

Maintaining control is crucial in any company. Van Der Gucht noticed that the rapid growth of his workforce made it more difficult to keep everyone focused. "At the start of this year we still had 20 people working in the same space. Tim and I knew each other very well. Today we have more than 50 people spread out over two locations in Ghent and London. Now it's a challenge to maintain control, which is why we have invested in a management team this year. We have injected a number of experienced people into our organisation to help improve communication and guidance. This was possible without threatening the existing corporate culture, or any future opportunities for ambitious employees."

Tips for entrepreneurs
  • Try to start generating revenue as quickly as possible.
  • Listen first to what clients have to say before you roll out your product or service on a large scale.
  • Continuously re-evaluate your own role as company leader.
  • Focus on good communication, both internally and with respect to clients and partners.
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