Cloud computing powering business growth


Like every great story, “it all began in a pub”, says Doug Johnson, on the beginnings of Futrli, the business prediction and planning software company of which he is chief technology officer.

Futrli’s founder and chief executive Hannah Dawson had bought a pub in Devon in 2003 and soon found herself encountering serious cash-flow issues. In the first six months, a brown HM Revenue & Customs letter landed on her doorstep containing a £40,000 VAT bill, which she hadn’t properly accounted for, and as a result she nearly lost it all.

Futrli was born a decade later in 2014 out of a need and a want to ensure no small and medium-sized enterprise feels as helpless and alone and terrified as she did on that morning. Today, the Brighton-based company, which has received £4 million of venture capital funding, employs 50 people and offers three products.

Its products include Flow, which helps small businesses identify hidden late payers and calculate the right time to pay bills, for example if a business needs to pay a supplier or if they are owed money from a customer, and Advisor, which includes features such as integrated three-way cash-flow forecasts, scenario modelling, management reports and dashboards, and has been used by 1,500 accountancy firms supporting 65,000 small businesses.

More recently, Futrli launched Predict, a new type of financial prediction software for small and growing businesses that supports them as though they have their own team of advisers. The new release couldn’t have been more timely, explains Johnson, as businesses need all the tools at their disposal to help them weather the cash-flow storm caused by coronavirus-related uncertainty.

As we expand into new global markets, the knowledge that AWS has a presence in every market gives us great comfort

“Our revenues have gone up during this time as there is an increased demand for our services,” he says. “We couldn’t have launched Predict at a better time because there’s a desperate need for businesses to have this information at their fingertips.”

The launch has gone smoothly, with Predict immediately becoming available not just to UK businesses, but to the company’s clients in 130 countries around the world. This is thanks to Futrli’s collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud services provider.

Johnson prizes the opportunity “to work with an infrastructure partner that allows us to be able to bring a product to market, scale rapidly, without us having to worry about purchasing hardware and predicting how much hardware we might need, and then avoiding the long lead time which would be involved in getting it all set up”.

The relationship dates back to 2017, when Futrli moved its services to the AWS Cloud to help it grow. Access to AWS’s international regions and the Amazon Aurora regional database, a relational database which runs in the cloud, was a key driver for the collaboration. This was especially valuable in the southern hemisphere where the company had been expanding, but where it was proving difficult to maintain the speed and quality of service customers had come to expect in Europe.

“There was a time when we didn’t have any software or anything running in the Asia-Pacific region. The customer experience was pretty terrible because everything felt slow. As we expand into new global markets the knowledge that AWS has a presence in every market we potentially want to move into in the future, or even multiple presences, gives us great comfort,” says Johnson.

Although the collaboration with AWS pre-dates his tenure at the company, Johnson says he has taken further steps to embed cloud technology into Futrli. “I could see when I joined that the team had gone down the path of building software in the cloud, but we are now all in with AWS,” he says.

Despite the rapid growth of the company, Johnson has been able to keep his internal technology operations team lean and it still consists of only two infrastructure engineers reporting to him. “I’m of the view that if there’s an AWS-managed service for something, we should use it, and we should use AWS as an extension of our own operations team. [This way] we can keep our own team as small as possible and maximise what we can get from the experts on hand at AWS.”

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