A few days ago, we had the chance to do a short interview with Christian Häfner, co-founder and CMO of FastBill.
FastBill was founded in 2007, and offers a leading web-based solution in the field of digital invoicing for services and products. Along with a feature-rich system for recording and billing, FastBill provides an integrated invoice dispatch service. In other words, this SaaS startup offers a professional compact solution which contributes to the ‘paperless office’.
How did the founding team come up with the idea for FastBill and what were the main stumbling blocks during the first years?
The idea of FastBill was born in 2007, when the founding team realised that especially small companies spend a lot of time an effort on daily tasks that are not part of their main business. Tasks like tracking working times, creating invoices and sending them out, monitoring payments and reminders and more. We realised that these tasks are very time consuming and bothering, especially for self-employed people, small agencies and freelancers.
We were looking for a solution and didn’t find anything easy. At that point, the idea was born to build a web-based software that is easy to use and makes all the bothersome tasks as easy as possible for a fair price.
What makes FastBill unique or better than other providers of online invoicing solutions out there?
There are more than a few invoice and CRM systems to choose from in the market, which proves the idea behind FastBill. However, in most cases, operating those tools is a challenge. In some cases, the software does not make your work easier. They complicate managing invoices, etc. because they focus only on one special aspect of the daily tasks. In some cases, you’ll need some third party tools to cover all your needs regarding your business software.
FastBill was developed to offer a simple and fast alternative for managing invoices, customers and working hours, without investing hundreds of euros in a far too expensive and over-sized software. Our main advantage compared to other services is a complete process coverage for small businesses. There is no need to make use of a second or third tool for tasks like time tracking, project management, and more.
What is your main target group or who benefits the most from FastBill?
We target small companies like freelancers, small agencies or startups with up to 20 employees. We think that our positive impact is strongest among this group. Usually our customers do not have a full time CFO, nor can they afford a financial consultant. FastBill helps with all kinds of standards, laws and regulations and this helps saving valuable time with those tasks and questions. The calculation is pretty simple: Save 6-7 hours a month, on average, for just 5€ a month. This is valuable time that everybody knows can be invested into better things.
What kind of marketing strategies do you use to promote FastBill?
Of course we’re using the classical stuff like affiliate marketing, SEO/SEM and Facebook ads, which is good but not sufficient. In our experience bringing useful information to our target group is even more important. We tell people about things that make their lives easier. This is why we have a lot of partner platforms where we can share such information with good articles, newsletter mentions, Facebook campaigns, etc. We want to be close to our market in order to share, but also to learn from them.
Right now, FastBill is available in English and German. Do you have any plans to support additional languages, or enter additional markets within or outside the EU soon?
Yes, we do have plans to develop into more countries, but I can’t talk about any schedule yet. Internationalisation is more that just translating our website; we’re currently talking to potential partners in different countries. Furthermore, one of our main challenges is to understand our markets before going there. There are differences between a Spanish, an Austrian and a German invoice, for example. If we don’t know the countries’ specific habits and processes, nobody would buy our product. So the answer is “yes”, we’re planning to develop into more countries, but we’re doing our homework first.
What are the mid-term future goals for FastBill, and where would you like to see the company in about 1 or 2 years?
We’re on the way to strengthening our current leading position in the German market and to gain a wider international reputation within the next few years. However, our main goal is to keep on building great software. This is why we’re launching a brand new set of features (such as FastBill Plus) soon that will enable freelancers to handle all their bookkeeping documents and more in a paperless office. We believe that the freelancer market is becoming more and more mobile and flexible. Our goal is to support these people with the right software, and to make our vision of the paperless office become true.
How many people are working for FastBill at the moment and how do you support the corporate culture?
We’re currently a team of 6 people that are working and living in different cities all over Germany. We are practicing the virtual office as our customers want it, so we can understand them even better. Another advantage is that we can spread our ‘offline’ activities all over the country at the same time.
However, it is also important for us to have a team culture, in which everybody takes their own responsibility. This is why we regularly come together for a week or two in our developer’s office to have fun and enjoy the time together. It’s a good mixture and a very nice experience with our team.
What has experience been of Essen (Germany) as a location to grow a young company?
As I described in the previous answer, we’re actually not sitting in Essen most of the time. We do have an office there, but I must say that it is easier to run a small online company if you are closer to Berlin or Hamburg, where I live. Nevertheless, there are also important contacts for us around Cologne and Frankfurt. But again, it’s better to be at many cities and not just in one place.
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