FastBill is a web-based solution to get your paperwork done the easy way. We talked to Christian Häfner, Co-Founder of FastBill about his startup and his entrepreneurial journey from the age of 18.
Who are you, and what is your entrepreneurial background?
I am Christian Häfner and have been a passionate entrepreneur since the age of 18. Today, I am 32, have built several companies and worked on different projects (both successfully and sometimes less successfully).
At the age of 18, I tried to earn money by re-selling stuff on eBay. My first online business Happy Coffee – a platform to connect coffee growers and consumers – started in 2009. During this time, I was working as an IT project manager at the Otto group in Hamburg, Germany.
Then, in December 2010, I resigned from Otto and went into business with my Co-Founder, René, to build FastBill. Our goal is to supply the world with a simple, web-based and easy-to-handle accounting software that takes the pain out of paperwork.
What is your startup FastBill about?
A clear, paperless accounting system is the dream of many self-employed people and companies. In fact, the accounting process can now be done mostly paperless, both legally and by common business practice.
Today we have two products within FastBill:
FastBill Plus is an award-winning invoicing and accounting solution for small businesses. The main features are creating invoices, archiving receipts, managing financials and handing stuff over to your accountant.
FastBill Automatic (currently in Germany only, English one-pager click here) is a solution to automate recurring billing processes in a fast growing and scaling businesses. Our clients are SaaS companies, marketplaces and subscription commerce businesses. There’s a huge trend in which we offer an out-of-box solution for (complex) subscription management, payment and billing.
How did you come up with the idea to found FastBill?
We saw a lot of people who loved what they were doing each day, but who were also struggling month on month with paperwork. Even I had trouble to get the formal paperwork done right. It takes a lot of effort to get all the knowledge; you need to handle your clients, your own financials and your tax accountant.
We wanted to change that, and I realised that my co-founder and I had a great team already. He could develop the first version, I was able to sell it. We quit our jobs in 2011 and just began our journey, even if it was not in the best set of circumstances. We were 500km apart, and we had no financing. We knew each other by a mere handful of events and phone calls. But it didn’t matter because we had a common goal and we understood each other well. In the end, I lived for about a year off of my savings, and a small governmental stipend.
What are the core beliefs and values of your business?
I believe that doing business does not only work through hard sales, pressure and deadlines. I believe that focusing on a good team and a nice product is what really works. We try to deliver real value to a customer instead of playing the marketing bullshit lingo.
In the last three years, FastBill has grown to more than 20 team members, and every single one is doing a great job. I believe that enabling each team member is worth more than pushing them into formal structures.
I also believe that everyone can be a successful entrepreneur, even if he or she is part of an existing team. Doing business is nothing that you need to study or read in books. It’s about understanding, listening and aligning a product or service to a market. If you have created something that brings value and is delivered from the heart, people will buy it.
How do you drive acquisition and growth for your business?
This is not an easy question, and there is not the one answer that works for everyone, unfortunately. There are a lot of people out there working with all their passion on a product or a service but are not having success with it. It takes some knowledge about your customers to place your product in the right way at the right place. The second hurdle always is to scale what works.
Together with René, I have built FastBill to the extent that we nurtured it and saw almost immediate growth from the beginning. Yes, we also did some extraordinary stuff like our startup tour in 2011 that gave us an immediate boost.
Today we focus on hard marketing KPIs and align our campaigns each day and week.
The rule is easy: Put more money into those channels that work, and stop the others that don’t. In the end, it is always a mix of performance, content and branding. There is never just one channel that works.
What are the next steps with FastBill?
After the successful launch of our second product FastBill Automatic, we are now focusing on making both products even better each day and expanding into further markets. In a few weeks, we will start FastBill in Brazil. Also, the English-speaking market is on our short-term list. We still see a lot potential there.
Which other success stories from other startups inspire you?
In general, I’m a big fan of bootstrapped startups, like Basecamp for example. I think these businesses did something right by deciding each day where to put effort and resources. It’s harder to get anything out of nothing than burning VC money.
However, I also like businesses like Airbnb, which not only focus on hard numbers but on customer experience. They disputed a whole industry by not making a process cheaper or faster, but better. It´s a completely new experience which no hotel could ever deliver.
How would you convince me to start using FastBill within 50 words?
We know that you love what you are doing in your business each day, but not your paperwork. FastBill is the mobile, professional and painless way to get your paperwork done on a level that fits the rest of your lifestyle. We finally made accounting easy and took out anything that you don´t like.
Are there any other projects you are currently involved in?
Besides FastBill, I’m working on several other projects with a small team. One is Happy Coffee, another one is my freshly started blog LetsSeeWhatWorks.com, with which I want to share my entrepreneurial experiences and mistakes I’ve made on my way. To me, it is fun and important to not only write about what was not working but also about failures in business.
Besides these blogs, I’m also involved in projects that are about to start in the next months. Unfortunately, I can’t tell any details about it now, but I would love to when we are ready.
What is one thing every entrepreneur must know?
There is no magic formula or black box, no methods or lucky punches to success (OK, sometimes there´s a little bit of luck attached), but everybody can be a successful entrepreneur. It’s all about the team, discipline, and the ability to understand the market and align your product with it. The rest is what you will learn on the road.
To leave the stressful paperwork behind is something every entrepreneur wished before. FastBill is a great way to make accounting more hassle-free and easy. We are excited to see FastBill grow and curious about Christian’s new projects.