A career change can seem like a daunting thing for many people, but after James Williams and his business partner, Xavier Wilders, spotted a missing piece in the finance market they had to take the plunge.
Here James tells us about what that gap in the market was and how their company, Beyond, was able to fill it.
What gave you the idea to launch Beyond? Beyond is a real-time, collaborative budgeting platform - enabling businesses to get control of their finances and stay agile as they grow. Prior to starting Beyond, my co-founder Xavier spent time building tools in the finance and accounting domain. He was hired to build a collaborative budgeting system for a multinational pharmaceutical company and when they searched the market for such a tool – they found that it did not exist. Xavier and I met at the start of the Entrepreneur First programme and quickly realised that my background working across organisations of different sizes and Xavier’s experience in building modern budgeting software was a great fit. Beyond grew quickly from there!
What roles do you and Xavier each play in making the business a success? Xavier is Beyond’s CTO, so he has the crucial role of designing and building our technology stack. We certainly see our innovative use of modern technology as a real differentiator of Beyond. My role as CEO focuses on the other aspects of the business such as managing clients, investors and our broader commercial strategy, plus all the operational workload that comes with running a company. We are actively involved in the future product roadmap, defining and prioritising the exciting features we are building.
Tell us how Beyond is benefiting clients? Our mission is to help our companies quickly plan and react to their business needs – instead of waiting for the next drawn-out budget cycle. We believe empowering employees is the most efficient way to operate. Beyond enables all people in a company to track their work and update their budgets with ease and transparency. And of course, by engaging people across organisations, we can see much more complete and accurate data, in turn showing managers what’s actually happening within their businesses.
You previously worked at Barclays Investment Bank, how long were you there and what was your role? I was at Barclays for almost four years, initially based in London then moving to Singapore. I joined as part of their technology graduate programme so got the chance to move around the company in a few different roles. This included time as a software developer, project manager and a stint in the office of the CIO (Chief Information Officer).
How are you utilising what you learnt at Barclays at Beyond? I learnt a huge amount in my time at Barclays. I picked up a range of technical and project management skills, while building real-time trading systems. I also learnt about what makes organisations tick at different levels. My time with the CIO office, where I was assisting with the management of budgets across the company, proved particularly enlightening. Seeing just how inefficient, political and ultimately ineffective the process of allocating resources can be, was really eye-opening.
Was it difficult taking the plunge in leaving your job and making this career change? Not really. Working for a large firm can be great, giving you access to some amazing resources and letting you work with talented people. However, it became clear that working on my own ventures was the best way to make a real impact without being encumbered by the politics and inertia that is so widespread in large corporations.There is also some incredible support available for budding entrepreneurs. I was fortunate enough to gain a place on the incredible Entrepreneur First programme, which has really accelerated the growth of Beyond through its access to talent, mentors and crucially, investment.
What advice would you give anyone who is considering a career change? If you are wanting to embark on an entrepreneurial journey, it may sound obvious, but you have to really think about where your passions lie. Starting a business requires a huge time (and often financial) investment. There is no way you can meet those needs if you are not fully committed.I would also advise people to consider the future impact of technology on jobs, and on the wider world of work. In my mind there is no doubt that Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence will transform whole sectors of our economy. So it’s important to consider what a potential career will look like in a decade or two and where the opportunities for fulfilling work are.
What can we expect from Beyond in 2017? Big things! We have some incredibly exciting plans in the pipeline. We are working on a new ‘Budget Explorer’ feature, which lets people visually examine the finances of their organisation using live data and an intuitive, graphical interface. We’re also very excited about our machine learning features, which deliver more accurate forecasting and powerful personalisation. Next year we will see Beyond becoming not just a powerful budgeting platform, but a smart financial assistant, able to proactively identify risks within companies before they hit the bottom line.
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