Suppliers and business owners rejoice. Finally there’s an easy, paper-free trade credit application process. 1Centre – the brainchild of Miriana Lowrie – is a start-up business platform that’s reinventing, streamlining and de-stressing an essential everyday business process.
If anyone in New Zealand was going to tackle the somewhat frustrating way businesses and suppliers go about processing trade account applications, it was Miriana Lowrie. It’s almost as if her career was engineered towards developing a time-saving online trade credit applications process.
It’s called 1Centre, and already the business community is abuzz.
So why Miriana? For a start she has 20 years’ experience in the banking industry, for the latter part engaged in strategy for the ASB and researching emerging fintech technologies.
She accumulated stacks of knowledge in the SaaS/cloud space, and has helped family and friends digitise back-office business functions. “Tradies especially, while good at their crafts, struggle to get their head around the digital tools to transition from paper-based processes.”
This became obvious when her builder brother and his wife approached Miriana to assist them with their strategy, business plan and operating model. While still working her day job, she helped them migrate their manual processes to digital platforms. Then, after landing a lucrative contract, there was the not-so-small task of setting up supplier accounts.
All the suppliers had different methods for both initial credit applications and ongoing management of credit relationships. Some still relied on faxing; others relied on personal visits. “It was a headache; in a short space of time we opened around 30 trade accounts – all requiring the same information,” recalls Miriana. “Would you believe that 83 percent of the information on trade application forms is identical?
“This is when the light-bulb moment happened; I thought there should be a software application that can automate this process.”
It was time for some serious research. Over 18 months Miriana got in front of as many business customers and suppliers as she possibly could; attended trade fairs and asked a lot of questions.
“It became really obvious that this was a major friction point between suppliers and customers.”
Customers find filling out application forms painful, she says. And from a supplier perspective, with paper there can be a lack of visibility especially for larger, geographically-disbursed companies.
“There’s a real disconnect between what technology can deliver, and what suppliers are currently doing for their customers. Suppliers need to think more about their customers’ experience when reviewing their trade credit processes.”
When NZBusiness caught up with Miriana in early April, 1Centre had been officially on sale for three weeks. There were some high-profile suppliers trialling the product, including a major retail building supplies brand.
The platform will launch offshore in six to 12 months – and already there’s progress on accounting software integration, PPSR registration and other product features suppliers are asking for.
Miriana’s under no illusion about the platform’s impact. “Not only are we managing the integration of a new system, we’re also managing a complete change in mindset. A trade application can touch from three to eight people in a business, so digitisation will have a major positive effect.”
She says the software invokes trust between supplier and customer – providing the ability to trade confidently. “It’s live, it’s transparent, it’s visible – both suppliers and their customers can track progress of an application in real time.” When suppliers register with 1Centre they can elect to access real-time business credit checks, ID verification, guarantees, trade reference checks and other risk management features.
“From a customer’s perspective, once you’ve registered you only ever have to fill out the application form once, as all your information is pre-populated.
“It absolutely frees up people’s time so they can do more important business tasks.”
“I’ve no doubt 1Centre solves a major pain-point for business. My goal is to be the next Trade Me for Business Suppliers,” Miriana says. “We’re going to open up the marketplace towards the end of this year. 1Centre will become a true B2B platform; a community of suppliers for businesses to easily connect into without the friction of trade application forms.”
The 1Centre team was recently welcomed into the Flux Accelerator programme, which is a new accelerator at The Icehouse Business Growth Centre.
“Coming under this blanket of knowledge and experience is the best thing that’s happened to 1Centre,” Miriana admits. “I highly recommend applying to be part of an accelerator or incubator.”
Miriana describes the whole start-up process as a massive rollercoaster ride. There’s also that sense of obligation to those people who have confidence in her ability and the 1Centre vision, and have invested. The most recent investor being her own iwi Nga Rauru.
That investment is a real watershed for 1Centre – being the largest ever investment in a company during a New Zealand accelerator programme.
It’s a massive vote of confidence – and humbling – she says. Investment in technology start-ups is new ground for most Maori-based investors, and Miriana believes it’s largely due to new investment-savvy boards being appointed by iwi. She’s thrilled that her whanau stands to gain from her venture’s success. And 1Centre will be a huge success – of that she has no doubt.
Miriana’s advice for other tech start-ups is to brace yourself for the journey and surround yourself with a support network. Learn to manage your emotions through exercise and diet, and most importantly, believe in yourself, she says.
“You’ll get people who don’t get it and that’s ok – just carry on.”
Her advice is to read about other people’s journeys – Geoff Ross’s Every Bastard Says No is a great read, she says, not to mention the plethora of online journals and YouTube videos of highly successful tech entrepreneurs.
“Be realistic about expectations and how much you’ll need to learn. You’re not just rolling out a product, you must really understand your customer, their pain-points, and what your product is solving for them.
“That ensures trial customers will progress to a paying customer, then
a staying customer.”