Startup BarBooks demonstrates there is value to creating platforms for small niche communities

- June 12, 2015 4 MIN READ

As a general rule, I would argue that Australians wanting to create global technology companies need to think bigger. Although there are a growing number of home-grown companies that do just that like Atlassian, Campaign Monitor, Canva and 99designs, we definitely are far from reaching our national potential when it comes to high-growth businesses. Having said that, one area Australians do excel at when it comes to creating technology products is building premium solutions for niche verticals that may have less of an addressable market to go after, but are strong performers financially and deliver impressive profits.

Doing one thing and doing it well – like targeting one specific industry vertical – has worked for many Australian startups. Companies like Safety Culture with its iAuditor product for OH&S personnel is a classic example of this, and now Sydney based startup BarBooks, founded by Joshua Knackstredt and Pouyan Afshar is looking to dominate the accounting software space its own specific niche: barristers.

BarBooks’ accounting software has been designed to make it easier for barristers to manage and keep track of their bookkeeping. The platform has been created in a way that allows users to record specific information that they need to record and manage; features that big box business solutions like Xero, Quickbooks and MYOB don’t have. For example, it allows barristers to record their time within the platform, meaning they can do their administrative tasks in real-time like invoicing a solicitor or direct client straight away as well as chase up fees that have not been paid. The mantra of the platform is that it is simple to use, intuitive to the needs of barristers and reliable for users who are mostly solo practitioners that may have a secretary or admin support person working with them. 

“Barristers are sole practitioners, we run as sole traders,” said Knackstredt, a barrister by profession. “We can’t form companies. We do the work, we provide an invoice which sets up all the time that we spent on the matter and time is characterised as either an hourly, daily or for some specific applications a specialised fixed amount. Then we invoice it and we give them a particular amount of time to pay. We invoice to the solicitor most of the time.”

“What you’re selling is your time and your experience. The key point in that context is for you to be able to get your time down as accurately as possible and then have the tools to send invoices and record your time in a way where the solicitor can see what you’ve done so that they can discharge their obligations to their clients by being as detailed as possible with how their clients’ money is being spent.”

Across NSW and most of Australia, individual barristers are usually responsible for their own bookkeeping and administration. It is therefore important for them to minimise the time they have to spend on these types of tasks to enable them to work seamlessly each day. Having software also saves the barristers money on hiring support staff.

BarBooks is a product of the CENSEA Software Corp of which both Knackstredt and Afshar are owners. The reason for this entity being the owner of the BarBooks asset is because in the long-term, the founders plan to build and create a number of products targeted towards barristers and other legal professionals.

This first product is a classed as a premium service by the company and will set barristers back around $60 per month which can also be purchased as an annual payment. The startup is pushing the latter payment preference by giving all those new clients that sign up paying the annual amount up front an iPad.

In Australia, there are between 5,000 and 6,000 barristers that are actively in the profession; and while that puts limitations on the revenue potential – it is still well into the millions – it allows the company to market itself in a very strategic and grassroots manner.

“We’ve actually taken a tiered marketing approach,” said Afshar. “Basically, we have been working through our own contacts to get people onto the platform. Barristers is a small niche profession, so we have also started to work with a lot of clerks, who are the people that run the administration side of things for many barristers at their chamber based offices and who spend a lot of wasted time dealing with the issues arising from other accounting programs.”

“In addition to that [grassroots strategy], we are doing some high level marketing activities showing [the industry] that this accounting software works, that it does what it’s supposed to do and that it does this in a really easy and effective way.”

Although the platform only launched a little over a month ago, BarBooks currently has 120 barristers actively using the system right now, many that have migrated away from other accounting packages. From this pool of users, the founders have begun to discover things that is now shaping the direction of the development of the platform, such as the resounding feedback that the application should be available for both mobile and tablet as they are two tools majority of barristers use on a daily basis.

Though the startup is focusing on local dominance, both founders told Startup Daily that in places like the United States, barristers operate in a very similar fashion from an administrative perspective to Australia and New Zealand. As such, there does exist the potential to scale the business globally, with slight iterations to the software so that it suits local markets.

“At the moment, we just want to make sure that we’ve got a product that works, that does it well and is not trying [to service 100 different markets at once] and not executing in any of them well,” said Afshar.

To get the execution right and migrate BarBooks’ target market of barristers en masse, the founders said that a small round of seed funding in the vicinity of $250,000 to $350,000 is something they will start to have conversations about. These funds will most likely be used to explore markets beyond the borders of Australia.

Expansion plans aside, what BarBooks shows us is that there is a trend towards creating more specialised solutions for niche industries, especially in the business-to-business sector. It is not just applicable to SaaS products either; we are seeing it in publishing with products like Tablo as well as many other verticals. 

“Businesses want something that works exactly the way they want it to work,” said Knackstredt. “Instead of providing a whole suite of things that customers don’t necessarily want or need to use, startups can focus on addressing specific needs in order to capture a particular niche.”