Posted on December 21, 2018 by staff

‘Tech start-ups don’t need MDs’


One of the co-founders of an award-winning R&D tax relief claims platform which doesn’t have a managing director says the lack of a sole figurehead allows them to “get things done”.

Richard Edwards, 39, is product director at WhisperClaims and has a shared vision with fellow founders Mike Dean and Jen Smeed, sales and operations directors respectively.

The software as a service start-up, based at Codebase in Edinburgh, recently won the Best Use of Innovation category at BusinessCloud’s UK Business Tech Awards.

“It’s traditional that you have one founder that carries the badge of MD, but we don’t and it works really, really well,” Edwards told BusinessCloud. “It wasn’t a conscious decision – it just happened.

“We’d all worked in environments in the past where we’d dealt with big egos, and we set out to avoid the problems that come along with that.

“That can have an adverse effect on a business… how we make decisions now is very much as a team. We get things done extremely quickly – it’s a shared vision, not one person’s vision, and a very positive way of working.”

The WhisperClaims system generates comprehensive R&D tax relief reports from 70 questions, which are mostly checkbox or slider in nature with very few free text entries required. The process takes little over an hour, according to Edwards, whereas going through the traditional consultancy route can take months and prove costly in terms of both finance and time.

“When you work as a consultant, you should be asking a very consistent set of questions and you’re always looking for the same types of evidence and activities,” he explained.

“There are a number of tech-enabled systems out there which gather information from the client but sitting behind them will be a consultant reading that text and then going into the traditional consultancy cycle – that isn’t an especially smart system. It’s just a nice front end.”

The WhisperClaims tech also gives feedback at various points about eligibility and the implications of the answers being given, something which hundreds of pages of online guidance from HMRC on the scheme fail to do.

“Our technology adds value to the market in general because this shouldn’t be a torturous process,” says Edwards. “Our technology is very low-cost to our customers, who are consultants or accountants. That enables them to be more competitive about how they are pitching and bring down the cost of consultancy overall which ultimately helps the claimant.”

Edwards, who studied software engineering at university around the turn of the century, joined the Royal Navy for six years before helping build Jumpstart from an initial idea into a company which employs 50 people.

He describes his nine years at Jumpstart as “fantastic” and says the four-month CodeClan coding academy course which he then completed was “really useful because it gave me insight into modern techniques and practices as things had move don massively since my degree”.

He joined WhisperClaims in 2018 and, like his fellow founding directors, is yet to take a salary as they build up the new venture. “We are investing as much as we can in the business so we have been unsalaried,” he revealed.

“This financial sacrifice meant the business was able to win paying customers in its first year, which for a product-based tech start-up is pretty impressive.”

The lean company also has a technical director in Rick Henry while a developer will become its fifth full-time employee in January. There are plans to employ marketing staff in 2019.