The paper shredders

The paper shredders

Call it death by a thousand paper cuts. The never-ending, spirit-sapping, creativity-crushing burden of admin hits small businesses especially hard, consuming up to one-fifth of their work hours.

With small firms making up well over 90 per cent of companies in most countries, there is a massive market for technologies that can shred their paperwork, handling tasks like invoicing, employee scheduling, payments or keeping accounts. And Canadian companies are stepping into the breach.

They are creating cloud-based technologies that let users perform previously time-consuming tasks with a tap of a smartphone. Plooto, for example, lets companies pay suppliers anywhere in the world over email and reconciles payments to invoices automatically.

Corey Gross is co-founder and CEO of Sensibill, which creates receipt-tracking technology used by millions of entrepreneurs and microbusinesses in North America and Europe. He says small company owners don’t have time to learn complex software to do their books—they need technologies that are as intuitive as Instagram.

Sensibill’s platform uses artificial intelligence to extract more than 150 pieces of information from a smartphone photo or digital version of a receipt. It logs data such as item information, tax codes, dollar amounts and tracking numbers, and then structures it for use with tax-filing or accounting software. Sensibill is white-label technology, integrating so seamlessly with dozens of banking apps that it is barely noticeable to the customers that use it.

However, come tax season they feel its benefits. Self-employed people are up to eight times more likely to be audited, and having digital records in a tax-friendly format can save them thousands of dollars in time.

These services have been embraced by younger, digital-native entrepreneurs, but Sam Pillar, CEO of Jobber, a business-management platform, says that in the last three or four years, older business owners have also jumped on board.

“They may have been working with pen and paper for 25 years, but now they’re realizing they have to adapt to stay competitive,” he says.

The reason: Admin-busting technologies do more than just remove headaches for business owners—they make companies more agile and improve the customer experience.

Jobber, for instance, is used by home-service companies like landscape gardeners or heating maintenance firms. Its platform handles job quotes, invoicing and scheduling systems that ensure teams turn up to the right house and do the right work. It has functions for clients to change their work order or leave notes such as how to access the property, and for teams to message customers if they’re running late.

Pillar is bullish about the future of his company, likening its prospects to that of Shopify, Canada’s superstar startup. It’s easy to see why. Companies like Jobber, Plooto and Sensibill are building the invisible infrastructure for a hidden market—but it is a huge market. Jobber’s customers already deliver $4 billion in services a year with its platform, but the company estimates it has tapped only a fraction of one per cent of the market that runs to some three million home-service companies in North America alone.

“We have only begun to scratch the surface of the opportunity that’s in front of us,” says Pillar.