Jessica Mah learned a great deal about business before graduating from UC Berkeley in 2010, but it's what the 21-year-old learned about business owners themselves that helped her launch inDinero, which provides financial analytics for companies wanting to easily track their cash flow online. Alongside inDinero's co-founder, fellow computer science alumnus Andy Su, Mah took an interest in campus entrepreneurial clubs while attending Berkeley, particularly in the needs of its members.
"We were hanging out with a bunch of entrepreneurs on campus, trying to figure out a common problem they all had, and I realized that they were all really focused on their businesses, but virtually none of them thought at all about their money," Mah says, noting that most told her they didn't have accounting software or a bookkeeper. "They basically had either an Excel spreadsheet or referred to their bank statements."
That was during Mah's junior year, and by graduation in May 2010, she and Su had worked tirelessly to create the groundwork for a web-based financial dashboard business owners could use to monitor cash flow, track accounts and identify trends. Along the way, Mah often sought the advice of others, but also learned the value of market data from the field, versus hypothetical input and conjecture. This helped her ignore skeptics who felt inDinero wouldn't work for small to medium-size businesses and instead visit directly with small-business owners to find out what they really needed.
"I went to their offices and asked [them] to try to use inDinero right in front of me," she says. By driving from office to office "for weeks on end," Mah succeeded in getting several dozen people to do just that. And before she left, she'd ask those potential clients what she would need to change in order to get them to actively use and pay for the service. Their answer, on the whole, she says, was "very little."
Mah had gained so much ground while still in college that a month with seed-stage venture funding firm Y Combinator was all the inDinero founders needed to take the company live--which they did in July 2010. Backed by $40,000 in grants and $17,000 from Y Combinator, inDinero hit the ground running, and by the end of August had attracted 2,500 customers and tracked $230 million in transactions.
Mah acknowledges that inDinero isn't a replacement for CFOs and tax accountants, but rather a way for owners to stay active and informed about their cash flow without taking time away from their focus on business strategies.
"We have bookkeepers and accountants working with inDinero to file our taxes," she says. "But I use inDinero so that I know everything that's going on, because you can't really outsource the most important part of your business, which--other than your product--is your money."