At Startup Weekend Melbourne in 2013, Leigh Sherman pitched his idea for a disruptive tech business that would bring a digital product solution to a manual ordering process in the hospitality industry.
The idea, which went on to win at the event under the name Pan-Tree, was born when Leigh experienced just how complex managing suppliers can be for café and restaurant owners who already have more than enough on their plate as it is, under massive pressure to manage menus, staff and customers in such a competitive market.
Business-minded Leigh knew there had to be a better way to manage orders, pricing, invoicing and sales, and therefore build stronger relationships. RMIT alumnus and computer programmer from age 11, Josh Chittick, believed he could help create it.
Now less than two years later – after countless coffees, sleepless nights, months of unpaid work and many prototypes – pantree.co is here.
Started by the two serial entrepreneurs, pantree.co is a unique cloud-based sales and service platform that centralises communication between hospitality buyers and suppliers to create a more efficient, profitable and collaborative way of ordering, addressing the underlying problem that marketplace commerce happens over multiple channels.
How does pantree.co work?
Leigh and Josh’s brainchild basically address two important problems.
For the buyer, managing supply relationships is a fragmented and inefficient experience. There are many suppliers to keep up with and each has to be kept up with differently.
Similarly, for the supplier, building their own ecommerce platform is pretty capital intensive and neglects the reality that communication will still happen over other channels.
Buyers can access pantree.co on any personal device using their mobile number, see all their suppliers in a list and even contact them directly through the in-app messaging.
The supplier can control the product list, and buyer accounts are updated in real time. And if a supplier is not using pantree.co, the buyer can control their own stock list. It will therefore still work for a buyer independent of their supplier being on the platform.
Suppliers can manage their orders in the app or confirm them direct from email or SMS. You are also able to keep customers connected to product list updates and network announcements and can customize the system around your customer segments.
pantree.co also offers suppliers the power of integration. Orders can be plugged into accounting, EPR software and inventory management software while customer data can be plugged into CRM and helpdesk tools.
The back story: learning from past mistakes
While relying on their ‘day jobs’ at Telstra Digital and eNett respectively, Leigh and Josh built pantree.co part-time for a year.
With next to no savings, they quit corporate life in December 2014 and worked tirelessly to secure seed funding and prepare for launch in May 2015.
Both founders already had start-up attempts under their belts and used their learnings to develop solid foundations for pantree.co.
They engaged directly with customers in a test and learn strategy to improve product design and functionality, leveraged technology to streamline operations and drew on the support of the partnerships they made in the Startup Weekend Australia community.
Adventure Capital (one of the partners was a judge at the event) went on to give them their first round of seed funding and General Standards (one of the event sponsors) and helped pantree.co close the deal. They also provided guidance on company setup.
Managing finances has also become a top priority.
From winging it to winning it
Like many Aussie start-ups, Leigh and Josh have a history of organising company finances with Excel spreadsheets. But with pantree.co growing, investors on board, and Leigh having lost $50,000 in his first venture, the team realised they needed to get serious about their accounts.
They turned to cloud accounting. Leigh and Josh decided to partner with the Intuit QuickBooks Online team to help keep their finances structured as a young start-up.
“With limited resources, we constantly need to be on top of cash flow, budgets and performance, and we need to know what’s going on in real-time,” Leigh highlighted.
“With Intuit QuickBooks Online, we can login whenever we need to and the dashboard always gives a clear view of the important stuff,” he said. “It also helps us create dynamic reports that provide good insights and keep us looking professional.”
Intuit QuickBooks Online is a Startup Weekend sponsor too and pantree.co returned to this year’s Startup Weekend Melbourne event with them as mentors.
Working on the go
Based at the York Butter Factory in Melbourne (another partnership they made at the Startup Weekend event), pantree.co is, like many emerging Gen Y businesses, mobile and nimble, with Leigh often on the road engaging with prospective customers while Josh develops at the office.
He says they often need to work collaboratively and from different locations in real-time, but fortunately their Intuit QuickBooks Online account lets him record expenses and invoice on the go, saving heaps of time.
“We now have better insights into the business and integrated payroll which is a major bonus for us as it helps with compliance,” Leigh pointed out.
“Ultimately we didn’t start a business because we love the financials,” said Josh.
“We did it because we are passionate about our idea and believe it will transform the hospitality industry. Cloud accounting is helping simplify the books, letting us get on with building pantree.co.”