NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Pawel Piejko one of the developers of the Apps.com app arbitrue.
In February 2017, we went to London looking to take a take a stab at imagining the future of accounting. We had a solid team and an exciting idea to build and pitch at the hackathon so the hopes were high. And we did it — we snapped up the first prize at the #SmallBizHack London 2017. Here’s what happened next.
We’re the cloud accounting whizzes
The team behind arbitrue isn’t new to the world of cloud accounting. Our parent company, inFakt.pl, is one of the largest online invoicing and accounting providers in Poland. And thus, we handle software-related issues that accountants face today on a daily basis.
Teamwork #smallbizhack @IntuitDev pic.twitter.com/jazxxCMvAk
— piotrek bryniarski (@piotrekbry) March 4, 2017
Our team at the #SmallBizHack included experts in the fields of AI, Ruby on Rails, Python and mobile apps. It was just the right mix of talented people who could figure it out how to combine the power of Alexa, QuickBooks, and a data extraction algorithm. We were well poised to build something unique.
The winning pitch
Accompanied by a catchy tagline “AI-based virtual accounting assistant”, our project was based on three components:
- A simple mobile app that scans expense-related documents, such as receipts and invoices.
- An OCR-based data extraction algorithm that integrates with QuickBooks.
- An Alexa integration with bookkeeping-focused voice commands.
After #hacking is #presenting #smallbizhack #london pic.twitter.com/z7y7WsKSX1
— Sebastian Bobrowski (@sbobrowski) March 5, 2017
We put together a simple pitch, which, at the same time, seemed a bit like a magic trick. On the stage, we scanned a receipt with a mobile scanner, extracted data from it, and asked Alexa to categorise it.
And then — poof! — the expense went directly into a synced QuickBooks Online account.
Both the jury and the crowd applauded. We stole the show and soon found out this was the winning project.
And the Grand Prize goes to Arbitrue!! Congrats!! @QuickBooksUK #smallbizhack pic.twitter.com/bf03uvQUid
— Intuit Developer (@IntuitDev) March 5, 2017
A few days later, at QuickBooks Connect London 2017, we saw a keynote presentation from Intuit that proved we headed in the right direction. It depicted something very close to what we pitched calling it the future of accounting — a virtual accounting assistant.
After celebrating the win, we shipped the massive cardboard cheque for £5,000 to Poland.
Then, we started working on how to make arbitrue a real product that can change how bookkeeping is done — forever.
The bookkeeper’s biggest pain point
Here at inFakt, we work with hundreds of accountants who use our software to manage their clients’ tax records. Collecting and posting expense documents can take them up to several hours per client each month. We learned that in most cases, this process relies on the good old manual data entry, either through rewriting data from paper documents or copying and pasting from scans.
Great to see our hackathon winners @arbitrue at #accountex! @IntuitDev pic.twitter.com/dP7ZTTVa61
— Intuit QuickBooks UK (@QuickBooksUK) May 11, 2017
To get even a better understanding of how these processes are handled in other countries, we decided to exhibit during the UK’s largest trade show for accountants, Accountex 2017. After interviewing many professionals and having lots of inspiring conversations at the show, we were certain that data entry is the headache accountants face in every country. First of all, we need to figure out how to extract data and sync it with QuickBooks.
Therefore, the primary deliverable for 2017 was an AI-based data extraction tool that is super-fast and integrates with QuickBooks in real-time. All data we extract from expense-related documents must be ready to be exported.
We’d love to tell you how smooth it went, but that wouldn’t be entirely true.
We soon realised that what we’re building is not just a data extraction app but an app that fully integrates with the QuickBooks ecosystem. First of all, we had to fully understand how this ecosystem works. The biggest challenge was to make sure we didn’t duplicate what is available with QuickBooks but offer our users a seamless system that either retrieves data or pushes data depending on their needs. It was 100% worth it because it was our path to Apps.com — an amazing source of new users that can access arbitrue through the “Get App Now” button and the handy 1-click “sign-in with Intuit” login.
Another challenge was the fact that arbitrue was one of the first apps to integrate using OAuth 2.0. For this purpose, Intuit’s documentation was extremely useful.
The certification process was a tough one too, bringing us loads of tips on how to improve our app from technical, marketing, and security perspectives. The feedback we received was priceless.
During the process, we also learned that we needed a lot more expense-related documents so that our machine learning logic had enough data to train. We had to find a way to collect data by acquiring early adopters, data partnerships, and using the existing inFakt’s database.
First early adopters are already testing arbitrue beta programme. Would you like to be one of them? #earlyadopter #ai #arbitrue pic.twitter.com/lYV73PxOvA
— arbitrue (@arbitrue) September 1, 2017
Arbitrue at Apps.com
Despite these challenges, we accomplished the initial goal in November 2017 when we successfully launched our integration with QuickBooks and submitted arbitrue to Apps.com.
Delighted to see #arbitrue pass technical review by @IntuitApps Getting closer 👍👍👍 pic.twitter.com/Eb57fRAI0O
— arbitrue (@arbitrue) December 13, 2017
After the certification was complete and all feedback responded to, in February 2018, we were happy to present a fully-working version of arbitrue available to all Apps.com users.
We made it! arbitrue listed at https://t.co/RLAkMHTmlD 🙌 https://t.co/t5shPVtytE #QuickBooksOnline @IntuitApps pic.twitter.com/BS1JJlAvaY
— arbitrue (@arbitrue) February 22, 2018
The future: A truly intelligent bookkeeping assistant
While we’re thrilled to become available via Apps.com, we also understand that what we have built is just the beginning of the long and exciting road ahead.
Our plan includes adding a lot more functionalities, such as a Gmail plugin that scans your inbox searching for invoices which you can export directly to arbitrue, voice activation, and, most importantly, an enhanced AI algorithm that understands what the expense documents contain.
arbitrue will be a smart virtual assistant that learns based on what documents you book and how you book and categorize them to determine the patterns. The more you use it, the better it will become.
We’re building an intelligent bookkeeping assistant capable of doing what we presented during the #SmallBizHack with unmatched speed and accuracy.
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