Role models and rule breakers: I sold my house to create my own accounting software business

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Two years ago, Karen Lowen was an experienced accountant with her own practice.

But she wasn’t exactly well-versed in software development — it wasn’t useful for her job. At least not until clunky accounting software started making life difficult for her clients. Two years ago, she turned her frustrations into action and created her own accounting software firm, Dod-dle.

“I looked at everything that was then currently available in late 2015. I looked at all the big names, Sage, Quickbooks, and the little names too,” she explains. “There wasn’t anything that was simple enough for the bulk of my clients to use, and I thought if there’s nothing for the clients that I know and look after, then there’s going to be nothing for the rest of the country.”

Going her own way

Dod-dle is cloud-based accounting software that enables users to manage their books anywhere at any time. The system makes firms’ accounting data accessible from phones, tablets and computers without having to manually transfer files. Lowen had to bring a team of developers on board to make her vision of accessible accounting a reality. However, she soon realised that translating her ideas into software-speak was going to take some negotiation.

“My development team had very little prior knowledge of the accountancy world and I had no prior knowledge of the software development world,” she admits. “We had to find a way of communicating with each other that works.”

While the software was designed to make life easier for small businesses, creating it also proved to be a financial challenge for Lowen. Accountants are used to solving money conundrums for other firms, but their own businesses are another matter.

“I sold my own house to fund Dod-dle’s development,” she says. “I spoke to my husband and said: ‘I really need this money, I can’t raise it from any other source, so I’m going to sell my house and build this software’. As you can imagine, this didn’t necessarily go down well to begin with, but he’s incredibly supportive.”

Lowen’s family have had to be understanding, as launching a new business takes a toll on her free time. She works most days, most evenings and most weekends, which doesn’t leave her time for much else. Despite her busy schedule, Lowen always ensures she sets aside time to spend with her loved ones — even if it’s only an hour.

“I don’t see much of my family, but we have a meal together every evening,” she says. “Our evening meal is the time when we all sit down and we review the day, though I’ve been more or less banned from talking about Dod-dle during meal times. I think it’s important for the unity of the family to have that time of the day when you’re all together.”

Bumps in the road

Funding and family time aren’t the only difficulties Lowen has had to navigate in her quest to bring Dod-dle to life. Sometimes new companies can run into administrative barriers beyond their control. But after making sacrifices in her personal life, Lowen wasn’t prepared for a third-party company to stand in the way of her ambitions.

“We had enormous problems integrating our payment system with our payment processing company. I’ve never known stress like it,” she says. “We waited weeks and weeks before we received a response from them. It eventually went on for months so we’d done everything from our end but they couldn’t fix what they’d done their end. That was horrendous and delayed us launching by some time.”

From maintaining a work-life balance to actually bringing the finished product to market, starting a software company was an uphill battle. When Dod-dle went live in March of this year, Lowen’s dream of easy to use, easy to understand, accounting software was fully realised. And she’s well aware of how important her support system has been to help her through the rough patches.

“I could not have created Dod-dle without the support of my family. There’s no way I would have been able to. They’ve been brilliant, consistently supportive and so helpful,” she says. “Whether that be my husband supporting my financial decisions, my daughter helping with design work, or just all of them bearing with all of my last minute panics.”

Someone once said that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. But that someone hadn’t met Karen Lowen. If anything, the creation of Dod-dle shows that you need to surround yourself with people who can help make your best ideas happen — and keep you grounded along the way.

Lessons from Lowen

  1. Do it yourself. If products or services that are currently available are not sufficient, or perhaps don’t even exist, you don’t have to wait for someone else to create them.
  2. Learn from your collaborators. Don’t hire people to help you and not get involved in what they’re doing. There’s so much to be learned from others, and so much they can learn from you. You’re paying for their expertise, use it to gain and expand your knowledge.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make tough decisions. Finding funding to start a new venture can be very difficult, or near impossible. Sometimes hard decisions have to be made to self-fund your project, but it can pay off.
  4. Keep your chin up. You will experience setbacks, especially when working with other businesses. They can be irritating, and they can push you off schedule, but it’s not the end of the world. Believe in your project and persevere, and it will become one bad moment in a sea of great moments.
  5. Lean on your loved ones. Never underestimate the importance of a good support system. Whether they are your family, your friends, your coworkers or business partners, having people to back your venture and help you through tricky times will make success even sweeter.

This is the first story in a three-part series about Dod-dle. In the second part AAT Comment will speak to Karen Lowen about what it means for a business to diversify and balance risk with opportunity.

Sophie Jardine is an editorial assistant at Flibl. She writes, researches and reports stories about finance and technology.

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