Friday, September 24, 2010

How to Count Beans when you don't have QuickBooks

I still recall the sense of relief when I mastered (well, sort-of) the art of start-up accounting during my first CEO gig. Our accountant (who visited us twice a month) gave me a crash course in QuickBooks, taught me how to read PNL, Balance Sheet, A/P, A/R - and also how to make entries for money coming and money going out. I have never been good at accounting, but I got QuickBooks - and pretty soon, I was dangerous enough to keep track of the business via these wonderful reports that QuickBooks could spit out on-demand.

But then came the two companies that I set up in Nepal, so far away from QuickBooks land. The first one is a software company, and we hired an accountant, an auditor (and also a lawyer to complete the triumvirate) -- and they were able to concoct something in Excel that let me get the reports I needed -- so far, so good. However, the second company we set up in Nepal last year - our solar energy company Gham Power -- now that totally threw me off.

For starters, there's more retail activity compared to software business - lots of client transactions, inventory to track,  VAT calculations, import tax, custom clearance, supplier credit lines, etc. etc., and I was very afraid. So I asked our team to get a decent accounting system in place - "it must be computerized, and we need to have up-to-date data each day", I said. 

Taking a cue from my startup experience in the US, I first suggested QuickBooks, but our accoutants found the interface too weird - "this is made for people who don't know accounting, we are accountants and we do direct ledger entries, dammit!". Well, you have to pick you battles, so I let them figure out the right course.

First - they brought in a software called Tally, I think with a trial license (the actual license cost was about USD $1,000 plus yearly support fee - yikes! higher than my beloved QuickBooks). Then they took about a month to set it up, and then told us it still wasn't right, and probably will not be right until we bought the actual license AND got a consultant to set it up.  Phew!

Meanwhile, I needed our numbers, so there was a parallel system in place using good old Excel, which takes 2 full-time staff to maintain - one to record each financial transction on paper and compile paperwork, the other to make entries in Excel. Needless to say, it is far off from where it needs to be, but sort of gets the job done.

Now I'm at a point where I'd rather just have someone scan all the financial paperwork and send it to a QuickBooks consultant who'll at least get me what I need. But one would think there's gotta be a better way - right?

I'd love to hear from fellow startup entrepreneurs in this part of the world (Nepal, India, China, etc.) on this. What has worked for you? Anyone use QuickBooks, or found a QuickBooks for this part of the world? Is Tally our only option as far as software goes? 

Until then, we keep counting beans using Excel, while dreaming of QuickBooks.