ApprovalMax XU Magazine - Issue 17

ApprovalMax helps Firefly signal the future of education

Firefly_Alvaro Arranz
Written by Álvaro Arranz

Find out how a revolutionary leader in digital education established much- needed spending and revenue control…

A cloud-based transformation story by a leading UK EdTech startup. By using ApprovalMax, Firefly Learning’s spending was brought under control, revenue was proactively managed, and productivity and fraud prevention were significantly enhanced…

Suddenly, thanks to the digital revolution, the way something has been done for the better part of a century can be turned upside down. Just like that. Never to be the same again.

Education is the perfect example. Digital technology now enables a radically different approach to the way people learn, deepening and enhancing knowledge and understanding, and improving communication between teachers, students, and parents (google ‘Flipped Classroom’ to see how).

One of the companies leading this particular revolution is the UK-based Firefly Learning. Founded by two GCSE students, co-founders Joe Mathewson and Simon Hay, the first version of Firefly was developed to help their teachers and fellow students access school information online and outside of the classroom.

Soon after, Firefly was being used in several schools across the country, and in 2009 Joe and Simon set up the venture as a full-time business. From that moment on, Firefly has grown rapidly, with teams based in London, Brighton, Singapore, and Sydney. In 2016, they secured the largest Series A funding for an EdTech company in the UK – £4.5 million. And as of 2018, Firefly is now firmly established in 35 countries worldwide, with almost 500,000 students using the software.  

Overcoming a major spending control problem. 

As a high-growth startup faced with a spending control challenge, we opted for Xero as our accounting platform. This greatly simplified things for us, but it didn’t quite solve our problem.

Due in large part to our investor’s requirements (and made all the more challenging by our rapid growth), we needed a way for different budget holders (many of them not Xero users) to review and approve the bills related to their budgets. This would allow us to carefully monitor and control spending, and demonstrate to our investors that their money was not being spent irresponsibly, or unnecessarily.

Enter: ApprovalMax. Pre-integrated with Xero, and providing us with multi-step and multi-role approval workflows, ApprovalMax was the natural choice as our cloud approval system. The setup process was a breeze and now all of our managers can approve their bills via ApprovalMax, without requiring access to Xero.

But that’s not all.

In addition to standard company spending, we’ve also used ApprovalMax to review and approve training budget requests – a major part of modern IT, and in EdTech especially.

The way this works is that every employee has an annual training budget that they can request to spend on specific training sessions. Our employees have the opportunity to develop their skills and grow professionally, and the entire request process has now been streamlined thanks to ApprovalMax.

The unexpected benefits of proactive revenue control

Having successfully dealt with our spending control challenges, we soon discovered another use for ApprovalMax: revenue management. We could control, and even increase our revenue by generating, reviewing, and approving sales invoices, either for new customers or for renewals with existing customers.

In the case of renewals, the request to generate sales invoices comes from our sales team. Once a sales invoice is generated, it’s then reviewed and approved by a sales representative and the head of sales, before being sent to the customer.

However, it’s our account management team who approve the invoices, and this would prompt them to contact our clients and have valuable discussions – even upselling before the renewal was sent. This allowed us to increase our revenue from existing customers, as well as enhance the satisfaction of new customers thanks to the correct, approved invoicing.

Quick wins: enhanced team productivity and fraud prevention 

From the outset, one of the clear benefits of using ApprovalMax was the quick and comprehensive adoption and usability of the software, which vastly improved internal productivity.

The product is very user-friendly, so we didn’t have to spend too much time explaining our new automated approval process. Soon, our employees were able to login and submit approval requests. And since ApprovalMax allows users to include a description with their purchase order and approval requests, it made everything a great deal more streamlined.

What’s more, those making the approval decisions can receive email notifications and approve requests from directly within the email. And if they want to reject a request, they can leave a message explaining their decision, making it easier to correct and reissue the request.

ApprovalMax also helped us to pass an external audit, allowing us to address some points raised previously. This gave us the opportunity to focus on more productive issues, while minimising the time spent on audit preparation.

Finally, ApprovalMax provided far tighter controls around fraud prevention. In the past, approvals were often carried out via custom emails, without a well-defined approval workflow to safeguard the process. This resulted in emails being received impersonating people from within the company, requesting payment be made. Now, these fraudulent emails can’t impact the company as they won’t be accepted by ApprovalMax.

For Firefly, Xero and ApprovalMax has been a match made in heaven. We’re now very excited to see what the future holds with this cloud-enabled software at the heart of our financial controls and revenue processes.

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About the author

Álvaro Arranz

Is Financial Controller for Firefly Learning Ltd (‘Firefly’) Álvaro studied law in Madrid where qualified and worked as a lawyer.

He launched his own startup and then he decided to change career to finance. Firefly is an EdTech company that is revolutionizing the education sector through technology.

Firefly became a member of the Future Fifty in 2018, a group that recognizes the 50 most promising growth-stage digital firms based in the UK.