When Jordan Menashy and Ian Crosby graduated with BComs from Sauder, they knew they didn’t want to be confined in spreadsheet cells.
While Crosby and Menashy worked as strategy consultants, Crosby at Bain & Company and Menashy at Blackberry, the two friends regularly brainstormed business ideas. A few months in, they spotted an opportunity for a start-up.
“We realized that only large organizations could afford the high end technologies that automate manual bookkeeping processes, something that no individual small business could pay for. There was this huge opportunity to bring these efficiencies to small businesses by delivering it to them online,” says Menashy.
In 2011, Bench was born, offering cloud-based accounting services to small businesses, freeing clients up to roast coffee, design clothes, or build video games – i.e. do more of what they need to do and what they’re good at.
Clients connect their bank accounts and credit cards, automating their transactions through the Bench mobile app. Receipts and invoices are photographed via smartphone and emailed in. Meanwhile live bookkeepers are always on hand for support.
“Hopefully Bench will transform the way accounting can be done for millions of small businesses across North America and eventually the world.”
- Jordan Menashy, Co-founder of Bench
To date Bench has processed more than $160 million in bookkeeping transactions for small businesses across North America.
But success didn’t come easily.
“Our vision was ambitious in that it incorporated actual bookkeepers into our solution. This broke the conventions of a traditional software business.” says Crosby. As a result, when they started looking for investors, the pair hit a wall in what the pair says was a somewhat more risk-averse Canadian venture capital market.
“In Canada, there’s ultimately a lack of venture capital compared to the U.S.,” says Menashy. “The amount you can raise and your valuation tends to be much lower. Because of this reality, we were being advised to reduce the scope of our vision.” Their highest investment offer when they started out was $500,000 in funding, too low for their company goals.
Not content with this, Menashy and Crosby, along with their two other founders - Adam Saint and Pavel Rodionov – decided to up their game and try to fund raise in the U.S.
Needing more direction and support, they applied to several business technology accelerators and were accepted by one of the top two in America – TechStars.
“It was extremely competitive to get in, and we were thrilled when we got accepted into the New York program,” explains Menashy. “We were this out-of-leftfield company from Vancouver that broke through.”
From March to June 2012, the Bench co-founders received intense coaching on how to navigate the challenges of a start-up, from development to acquisition. They were paired up with mentors including Barry Silbert, CEO of Second Market, and were connected with influential tech journalists and investors.
“We ended with what they call Demo Day – a big unveil of our product to an auditorium of over 500 investors and members of the media from across the U.S.,” Menashy. This propelled them into the start of their official fundraising process in the U.S.
The accelerator program led to an investment round that generated $2.1 million - four times more than the amount offered by Canadian investors.
“Raising this sum enabled us to move out of the beta phase of our company and focus on product market fit before scaling up,” says Menashy.
After spending a year and a half building their U.S. network, Bench moved home to Vancouver, where the team found it much easier to hire and retain great talent. “We still work with our community in New York, and retain our network, but also get enjoy the benefits of being based in Vancouver,” says Menashy. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Since re-launching their service in July 2013, Bench have been growing by 30 per cent month over month.
“Our goal and vision was always large scale, and we’re glad we stuck to our guns,” says Menashy. “Hopefully Bench will transform the way accounting can be done for millions of small businesses across North America and eventually the world.”