‘Just do it . . .’
Paul Grey grew up in Ormond on a citrus orchard and went on to have a career in e-commerce software. Matai O’Connor spoke with him to learn more about how he got into that field of work.
Paul Grey went to Ormond and Makauri School, then took the bus to intermediate and then Lytton High School. He finished high school and decided to go straight to the University of Auckland when he was 17 years old.
He said he regularly visits Gisborne and his parents.
“It was a bit tricky at the time as for most courses they really only took people who were north of Thames.”
He completed two degrees at the University of Auckland, a Bachelor of Science in computer science and a Bachelor of Commerce.
“I found the studies challenging and interesting,” he said.
When Paul was young he saw an ad in a magazine and saved up to buy his first computer.
“It was one of the very early home computers, one that used cassettes to load software before floppy discs were widely used.”
He thought to himself “what am I going to do with this?” so decided to teach himself a bit of programming.
“It's remarkable how many people in software and programming started out like this.”
When he went to university he learned how to do it properly. In 1988 he co-founded Peace Software based in the United States and was a part of the company as Chief Technology Officer for 19 years.
The first half of his career was with Peace Software, which was an enterprise scale product for the utilities industry.
“It was doing billing and operating call centres. Thousands and millions of electricity and gas bills were handled. There would be up to 1000 people using the software at one time.”
After the company was sold to a Fortune 500 company, Paul came back to New Zealand and thought to himself “what on earth will I do next?”
“Rightly or wrongly I decided to start again. I knew people working at Amazon in Seattle — everyone knows about Amazon now but it wasn't quite like that in 2007.
“Amazon was just starting to make software interfaces available that would allow people to write software to connect into their systems to automate things to do with e-commerce.
“There were so many products at the time that weren't coming into the American market — it was just too hard for many local manufacturers.
“That was what ExportX was founded on — this idea where we could create a sales and distribution channel into big markets that would harness the power of Amazon and its systems and software.
“I thought to myself ‘I could build software that would hook into that'.
“New Zealand and Australian products would be able to reach customers in America by bypassing the conventional distribution channels — that's what ExportX was about.
“In a way it was always about the software we were building to enable that. ExportX continues to represent 30-40 products from Australia and New Zealand.
“Out of that, one of the systems we built became the software product that is A2X today.
“The software automates accounting for other businesses that sell products on Amazon and through Shopify stores. It takes all those streams of e-commerce transactions and makes sense of it for accounting purposes and posts it automatically through to Xero accounting or, for America, Quickbooks accounting.
“What it does is solve a challenging problem for all of those thousands of businesses that sell online. It gives them confidence their e-commerce financials are correct because when your sales numbers match the cash that's in your bank account then you know your numbers are right in your financial statement — that is what A2X does.
“It's a big messy stream of transactions and data coming out of the Amazon and Shopify e-commerce systems. A2X makes sense of that and puts it into the right financial periods and summarises it for accounting.
“A2X has the ability to connect into Shopify systems and Amazon systems. On behalf of our A2X customers we are able to load in e-commerce transactions, which has sales, fees and all sorts of transactions that happen on those e-commerce platforms.”
Paul said the transformation in the back office of businesses selling products online was phenomenal.
“Without A2X they will be getting payments straight into their bank account and not knowing if the transactions were from last year, last week or whenever, or what fees had been deducted.
“What a lot of businesses were doing was fudging it because they couldn't make sense of it or they had some poor accountant tearing their hair out trying to load things into spreadsheets that didn't make sense.
“There's nothing worse for a bookkeeper who can't get things to balance out — they can't sleep at night and spend hours trying to figure it out.
“With A2X, that nightmare turns into five minutes a month where you look at the numbers and balances, make sure they are correct and press the ‘yes' button. People love it for that reason.”
Paul said he had never had a software product people loved as much as A2X.
“Some even say it changed their life.”
The name of A2X can be interpreted to mean different things to different customers, he said.
“For the person selling on Amazon and doing their accounting in Xero they would say it stands for Amazon to Xero.
“For the person who's using Shopify and doing their accounting in Quickbooks it could mean anything to anything, X standing for anything.”
A2X is a company that is in the fintech (financial technology) and e-commerce (electronic commerce) industries.
“It intersects between those two segments. A2X is one of the most prominent in those industries in America.”
Paul has advice to people wanting to get into the software industry.
“I think the software industry is exciting and challenging. It is a cut-throat business. It's very fast moving but if you're good at it, it's exciting. It's a great career.
“One piece of advice I would give is that the software industry is about creating software products that are valuable to people all around the world.
“It's different from IT. Software is about identifying a need and solving it with software.
“You need to understand there's the marketing side of it too. But for those aspiring software developers, I would say don't just use other people's software but figure out something you want your computer to do and start coding something — whether it's useful for you or someone you know. The tools for getting started in software are unbelievably better than when I was starting out.
“I would say just do it. There's no substitute for jumping in and using software to make your computer do something useful.
“Software engineers in one way or another got started by doing something with software in their own computers and building on that experience. Don't wait on someone to tell you how to do it, just do it.”
In December Paul was awarded the YES (Young Entrepreneur Scheme) Distinguished Alumni Award.
“It's great to get that recognition. I didn't even know they knew who I was.
“There were some Campion College boys at the event in Wellington. I think that if young people either start their own small business to see what it's like or get involved in a Young Enterprise scheme through their high school, it is a tremendous way to understand what's possible. You can do things yourself, there are alternatives to working for someone else. It's not for everyone but what a great way to develop the entrepreneurial spirit and coach future business leaders of New Zealand.”