To say that Quentin Pain has not had the most obvious career path would be something of an understatement. From budding rock star to motorcycle courier company owner, he returned to the music industry as the founder of a recording studio before becoming a computer programmer and launching a software business. It has been – he readily admits – quite a journey.
For the founder of Accountz.com, an accounting software company, it all started in the long-haired days of the late 1970s.
Pain had been performing up and down the UK, but apart from a stint backing the Waves – who, as Katrina and the Waves, would later win that pinnacle of musical achievement, the Eurovision Song Contest – his music career was not taking off.
While flying up and down the M11 on his motorbike, however, he had noticed a curious phenomenon: London was full of motorcycle couriers, but there were few outside the capital. So, at the age of 23, with his wife answering the phones, QPL Express Couriers was born in Cambridge in 1979.
This business ran for almost four years before
it was hit by a tragic accident that led to the death of one of the company’s couriers, aged just 18.
“Within a year of the accident, I really couldn’t stand it any more,” Pain says.
“I was riding myself and the astonishing thing was the fact that I was still alive – I had no end of accidents. I didn’t break a bone, but I had lots of high-speed slides down the road.”
Pain sold the company to his business partner, who subsequently sold it to Securicor.
Having paid all the tax and made what he calls “a nice sum of money”, Pain and his wife decided to have another stab at the music business, and founded a recording studio: Apricote [sic] Studios. They ran it for a couple of years before finally admitting that it was not going to be the dream business they had envisaged.
“We started to run out of money and we weren’t getting anywhere financially,” Pain says.
The solution? Pain had pretty much “learnt computing from scratch” while running QPL, and his brother – who worked at Acorn Computers, one of the first British computing companies – recommended that he look at one of the company’s early models.
“So I wrote the accounting system,” Pain says. “I had no accounting knowledge whatsoever, but just looked around and asked people. It just seemed straightforward – money going in, money going out.”
This natural aptitude had not shown itself earlier in life. “I left school with two O-levels,” Pain laughs. “I was entirely self-taught. I absolutely loved it, and took to it like a fish to water. I just found it very, very easy.”
He realised straight away that he could leverage these skills into a business.
“The number one thing about business in a capitalist society is that you will never get rid of taxes, and taxes require forms. It is a very captive audience.”
It took a couple of years but, by 1987, Pain had written Acorn’s first commercial piece of software, which had the wonderfully unimaginative title, the Account Book.
Accountz.com, which grew out of Pain’s early forays into software, was born partly out of necessity.
“First of all, Acorn was sold off. All of my customers had disappeared and, really, for the last few years, the writing was on the wall – no new customers and no new income.
“So I thought: ‘I have no choice. I either get a job or I rethink the company.’ So Accountz.com was born.”
His company’s name came about partly because his bid for the website domain name Accounts.com had been pipped at the post.
Even then, before the dotcom bubble burst in 2001, domain names were relatively cheap and Accountz.com only cost Pain about £50 to buy in 1999.
With the domain name secured, the first task of building the business was to ensure that the software was in place and that it could run across as many different platforms as possible.
For that, Pain says he needed a “genius”. He came in the form of Arek Stryjski, a programmer who joined Accountz from Poland, and was given 5 per cent of the company in recognition of the importance of his role.
People were a big part of the start-up expenses. Between £10,000 and £20,000 was spent at the outset on staff costs and software licences. However, Pain had bigger ambitions for Accountz than his previous ventures.
“I took the decision that I didn’t want to be just a little business any more,” he says. “I wanted to see if we could grow the thing.”
Accountancy software market has been a difficult market to crack, though. Sage, the enterprise software company, dominates the market and Pain had to convince accountants, who would recommend which product to use, to switch to his unknown company brand.
He also had to convince retailers, including Amazon.com and Dixons, to stock Accountz software – a long, difficult and expensive process. Pain estimates that liabilities since the company started have run to £2m. That sales channel is only now starting to pay off, he says.
Accountz is yet to prove whether it is a viable dream, having failed to turn a profit, but Pain expects the company to enter the black in 2012.
He says the business is now “going live all over the place” – having persuaded Apple to stock the its software across Europe and getting on to Amazon’s global website after five years on its UK site.
“I’m really hoping our turnover will go into the multimillions now,” he says. “This year has to be the year where we have a massive change around.”
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