Lessons from SEA Founders #4: Christian Schneider and Clare Leighton of Bluesheets

Q1: Hi Christian and/or Clare, thanks for taking the time to have this interview. To start us off, could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Hey, sure - Christian and Clare here - happy to provide a quick intro.

Christian: After starting a career in investment banking, I made the move to tech and never looked back. As part of the Rocket Internet Group, I worked foodpanda’s Southeast efforts to establish and expand data science capabilities across SEA markets. After a while I settled in Singapore and launched a B2B tech venture with a group of like-minded founders. That’s where I started working with Clare and the start of Bluesheets followed shortly after.

Clare:   I studied Finance and Environmental sciences before jumping straight into tech startups with Uber. After working on the go-to-market launch of UberEats in Australia I worked across regional people operations, before joining Christian’s then startup to launch their Australian business.  

Q2: How did your career lead you to becoming the founder of Bluesheets?

Data has always been a passion of Christians and coming from the financial sector saw firsthand how necessary this solution was. After venturing into tech, it was clear the problem was widespread and while new technologies helped bring companies into the digital age - each new tool just added to the headache.  

By the time we started working on the MVP for Bluesheets, financial digital transformation was trending, and we saw an immediate opportunity to fill the gap left by interoperable digital tools and the slower-adapting, offline systems.  

Q3: What challenges or pain points does Bluesheets solve and what made you decide to launch a startup that addresses these problems?

Every business needs to keep their accounts in order, most also need to use that data for financial reporting and decision making. To get it consolidated, categorized, properly coded, and digitized is a timely and costly process.  

Bluesheets provides end-to-end automation that allows businesses to ‘plug in and go’ with ready-built integrations that allow them to operationalize their data however they wish. We save users hours in gathering or double handling data in order to have it digitized and processed. Best of all, automating the process with our AI-driven engine provides a real-time view of these numbers, and companies can benefit from timely insights.

Q4: What are comparable solutions to Bluesheets regionally and how is Bluesheets different/unique?

Bluesheets leverage the latest technology in natural language processing which, combined with our proprietary algorithms, sets us apart from other solutions in the market. Typically, if a business is digitizing, they are using OCR. Unfortunately digitizing the data is only part of the solution, and OCR cannot learn or improve over time as Bluesheets engine does. The result is an output that still requires a lot of double handling and manual editing. We pride our solution on its market-leading accuracy and ability to provide hands-off processing.  

If your systems are already online, another route is building integrations in-house; which is a costly venture and unfortunately never-ending; once built, the teams that can establish integrations between their systems must then work to maintain them. For example, we have a client that has abandoned a multi-million dollar integration project to connect via Bluesheets instead. The convenience of simply being able to switch on new integration and send your data immediately is incredibly valuable.

Q5: What did your first prototype look like? How did you test it?

There were layers to the first MVP, as you can imagine the engine does a lot before producing an output for the user. The first MVP we tested was a very basic, spartan design front-end portal that simply allowed direct uploads of files. The data processing, however, was similar to what we have today. The system has now processed millions of data points to train output and has undergone many iterations of improvement. But even in the first version, you could upload a file and quickly receive the digitized and categorized data on the portal.  

We worked with contacts in our network, those that understood the cost of processing financial data, and tried to gather as much feedback as we could to start iterating

Q6: I see that you have been recruiting new team members for Bluesheets, what are the key traits you look for when you are hiring new team members?

There is a commonality between all our team members; for want of a better word, it’s curiosity. We love working with people who are curious and eager to learn, improve, and find a better way of doing things. There is usually evidence of this in their work or the way they talk about their experiences and that’s something we’re always looking for.

Q7: Would challenges have you faced throughout this journey and how did you manage to overcome them?

While our solution has applications across organizations and industries, we are passionate about making it available to the masses. Making Bluesheets scalable for SMEs has required us to first acquire SME users to test and make improvements. Given that we launched during the pandemic when most of this target market was operating as lean as possible, if not shutting altogether, was certainly a challenge. That said, it also presented an opportunity for our growth, and we are pleased to have launched and grown the business during this period. The forecasts and industry commentary tells us, now more than ever, coming out the other side of the pandemic business will be investing in automation like Bluesheets. So, while it was challenging, we believe it couldn’t have been better timing.

Q8: What do you envision for Bluesheets in the next 5 years in terms of product and market reach? What other milestones do you hope to achieve in that time?

We have big plans for Bluesheets over the coming years. In 5 years, we will have grown from our current user base in 5 countries to be a global solution with hundreds of thousands of users all around the world. The key to that is going to be scaling, and we’ll get there by building a world-class product.

Q9: Could you tell us about your funding journey? (How did you get started, where are you now and where are you heading?)

Funding can be a difficult and energy-consuming process. We feel very fortunate that our early investors Antler and Plug and Play expressed their interest in participating in our pre-seed round during our participation in the Antler program. We have now closed a Seed round and welcomed a shortlist of VCs on board. It was important for us as founders to connect with the team and understand how each fund would partner with us to add value to Bluesheets during its journey.  Having just closed that round we are focused on building and growing.

Q10: What changes are happening in the financial industry that you feel will lead to an increased adoption of machine learning and AI-powered systems to automate bookkeeping tasks in the future?

There is a lot happening in the financial sector right now; we’ve passed a tipping point and there’s been a shift in the level of urgency to adapt and digitize. An increasing number of solutions are moving towards the Cloud and more companies are digitizing, investing in solutions to do so. While this means more digitized data, there’s still a missing link that is connecting that data - so we’re excited to play a part in both transforming offline to online and then connecting that data. In the wake of the pandemic, many businesses don’t have the luxury of being slow to adopt these technologies. Industries and workflows like finances that are prime for automation are an expense to companies that can’t afford to indulge if they are running lean. The efficiency gains continue past recovery, but the pandemic has added pressure, and we see this reflected in the increasing investments into machine learning and AI-powered systems that are forecasted to continue into the coming years.

Q11: What are the key lessons you’ve learned along your entrepreneurial journey? What would you share with other aspiring founders of start-up businesses?

To pick a couple; investors have a lot to offer beyond the actual investment; user feedback is invaluable; there will always be options and new opportunities to pursue but sometimes you just need ruthless prioritization to stick with your roadmap.

Bluesheets have recently made an announcement that the company has raised US$1.5 million in a funding round to further expand its business by entering new client segments

We would like to thank Christian Schneider and Clare Leighton for taking the time and share their journey, inspirations, and lessons with us! And thank you to Marwan Shagul for helping me prepare this article.

Bluesheets was founded in 2020 and is now helping thousands of companies worldwide reach new heights with real-time financial automation using AI-powered technology. To learn more about Bluesheets, visit their website.

kipleX is an Innovation Studio and Venture Capital firm in Kuala Lumpur. We invest early in startups making a difference in the Financial, Property, Mobility, and Health sector. To learn more about kipleX, visit our website.