At CodePole we’ve started a thing called tech talks. Informal chats during our all-hands meetings with people who we work with, have worked with or who are simply doing cool stuff - anyone that inspires us. This week we had a chat with Alexander Engel, founder of LucidERP. Being self taught in programming and having built a fully fledged ERP system he is pretty freaking cool and has a good story to tell :)
Hey Alex, great to have you with us. Let’s hear the elevator pitch - what is LucidERP and what value are you creating for whom?
LucidERP is a simple and all-round tool to help you with everything from time reports to invoicing and automated bookkeeping. It’s built for professional service firms - firms that sell “hours”. The system enables them to save time spent on administrative tasks and enjoy automated financials. At one end employees enter the time that they have worked on various projects, and at the other end the system generates financial reports, invoices and automated bookkeeping.
This might not sound very difficult, but imagine you have a team of +30 consultants, working on multiple projects simultaneously, with different rates per role and project - handling time tracking, financial analysis, invoicing and accounting can quickly become a nightmare. Already with a handful of employees - firms that are looking to do this correctly, begin to feel the strain. Adding to the complexity, these things are often managed in multiple separate systems. LucidERP has combined this into one system and made it simple.
Sounds like there is a lot of value created by simplifying tasks and processes.! Obviously, there are multiple ERP & accounting systems on the market, so what is it that makes LucidERP stand out in the crowd?
Looking at fully integrated ERP systems, they tend to be costly and oversized in the sense that any given customer only utilises a fraction of the provided functionalities. Furthermore, a lot of functionality tends to be crammed into one view, in which case the user gets the feeling of managing a flight cockpit when they only want to perform a simple task.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have actors that specialize in a specific function, say time and expense reporting, and these tend to be more user friendly. But they don’t cover accounting, so you’ll need a separate system for that, and then you need to make sure these systems talk to each other and so forth.
LucidERP is closer to the latter in the sense that the system is user friendly whilst it provides the customer with the extra functionality and automation that is needed to manage the resources and finances of a professional service firm.
Good positioning of your offer :) Getting into the background of LucidERP, how did you come up with the idea?
The way I see it, it’s difficult to offer an abundance of functionality without introducing complexity and a complex application is rarely simple to use. Looking at fully integrated ERP systems, I began questioning whether this complexity was really necessary - especially considering that any given customer only utilises a fraction of the provided functionalities. I figured that less is more and that ERP systems, both from the perspective of customers and vendors, would benefit from being simple, lightweight and powerful.
I can imagine your first hand experiences having worked with these types of systems must have provided you with some of these insights. . Talking about building things, how does one start building an ERP system? It's quite an undertaking to get started with.
In simplified terms, I started with looking at what output I wanted from the system; invoices, accounting and project follow-up. Next, I would look at what minimum input I needed to create these; employees, hours, prices, items and projects. Having that defined I started to draw up a blueprint of the computations that needed to happen for the input to generate the required output. Then the only thing I had to do was to roll up my sleeves, code brick by brick and iterate until the system started to take form.
Makes a lot of sense when you explain it like that :) Getting accounting and financial calculations to work with 100% accuracy is not an easy thing to achieve, how have you built the engine that runs all the bookings?
Yes, there are a lot of things that need to be 100% correct when handling accounting and financials. The good thing is that there tends to be a right and a wrong way of doing things in this area. Financial reporting standards and other common practices provide me with a framework and I just need to make sure that I adhere to this framework when building the system.
This wouldn’t be a tech talk without asking what tech stack you are using. Could you share it with us and why you chose that particular one?
I use a “LAMP” stack which is a group of open source software, with Linux as the operating system, the Apache web server, MySQL for the database and PHP as the programming language. This stack is commonly used for web apps, it is well documented and happens to be the stack I feel the most comfortable working with.
Last but not least, what are some of the next cool features you are working on?
Although I love working on new cool features, my focus now isn’t so much on adding new ones but rather improving and simplifying the existing ones. Well, one cool thing I did recently was to build and release a mobile app for the system using the same codebase as the web app.
Sounds like we should consider changing how we are managing our time reporting, accounting and financial analysis ;) Thank you so much for participating in the tech talk Alex and we are wishing you a lot of success on your continued journey making LucidERP the top choice for professional services firms!