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UK SaaS accountancy, payments and incorporation - can anyone share advice/experience?


#1

I’m in the process of launching a B2B SaaS product from the UK and am trying to figure out how to get started with all the boring but high-risk stuff around accounting and company formation.

From the makeup of the launch list, I think my product is likely to sell most in the US (if it sells at all!). On this assumption I’d like to price in USD rather than GBP. The EU is also significantly represented so I’d also like to be able sell there too.

Based on the excellent talk @rachelandrew gave at LTV Conf last year, a combination of Xero for accounting (good automation support and VATMOSS calculation) and Stripe for payments/subscriptions seems a sensible way forward, initially (for simplicity’s sake) using a GBP bank account and letting Stripe do the forex heavy lifting.

What I’m missing and would really appreciate some input on is:

  • Am I best off incorporating a ltd company straight away? Is there anyone who I can pay to help with this and take away some of the ongoing admin burden? Is there anything specific to SaaS type ventures (that sell internationally) I need to consider when creating this?
  • How do I find an accountant who can handle this stuff? Or better still is there one you’d recommend?
  • Am I missing anything? Are my assumptions wrong?

I’d love to hear any stories you’ve got to share about setting up a SaaS company (or similar) in the UK from this POV.


#2

Consider getting 10 letters of intent or 10-presales* on gumroad or 10 alpha testers who commit to paying once they like it enough, then deal with all this. Right now, this will just be a major distraction from sales/marketing/product.

* you can always return the money if it’s not working out


#3
  • Am I best off incorporating a ltd company straight away? Is there anyone who I can pay to help with this and take away some of the ongoing admin burden? Is there anything specific to SaaS type ventures (that sell internationally) I need to consider when creating this?

I recommend asking your real-life friends and acquaintances where you live for recommendations for an accountant. Meet with at least two different accountants, tell them what you are planning, and get their advice. Go with the one with whom you feel a better rapport.

  • How do I find an accountant who can handle this stuff? Or better still is there one you’d recommend?

Almost every accountant in the UK will be able to help you with this.

Being able to meet a couple of times a year in real life with your accountant is valuable.


#4

You can backdate most durable (e.g. things like computers but not things like subscriptions which have been and gone) expenses paid 6 months before formation I believe so perhaps no rush to incorporate - though I personally believe if you’re going all in your … all in … and might as well get setup right from the start.

Formation is cheap - no need to get bespoke and expensive (unless you’ve got complicated partnership/investment going on) - I’ve used these before but there are others - https://www.companiesmadesimple.com/ - don’t bother with the upsells (you really don’t need a wax company seal for example!).

You will want a company bank account - again unless its complex go for basic free one. If your selling B2B in the US you WILL need to deal with USD cheques at some point. You can put them in pretty much any bank account but you get stung for fees and it takes months to clear - so think ahead if you’re going to accept them whats the minimum value you will accept.

You will also need to register HMRC / VAT yada yada yada - been a long time since I’ve done this so don’t have a good guide to hand. You may be able to put this part off until you’re actually selling - unless you are buying some things that you want to claim the VAT back on in which case I think the 6 month thing applies.

You can’t hide from the paperwork totally - but some things make it a little easier (think systems) - http://www.informdirect.co.uk/ for the Ltd company paperwork.

Word of warning - as soon as you take on one UK based employee your paperwork requirements go through the roof. Everything from insurance to pension to HR policies and on and on and on and on.

Finding a good accountant - dammed if I know! Its just as hard as finding good developers! It was look for me and even though I am happy it still bugs me that they are just not interested in doing anything other than the year end accounts. (“Hey - I want to pay you cash money!”, “Nah… not interested”. (not talking about random stuff here, all related to ‘accounts’).

To keep paperwork down you will also need a book-keeper once a month or quarter and they need to be able to work in a way that will feed into the Accountant at year end - though they don’t actually seem to want to talk to each other to set it up that way in the first place. <sigh…>


#5

@dtrejo I’m working on making some pre-sales at the moment, but I’m trying to plan a step ahead just in case things go well. I’m a concerned about what would happen if I actually start taking money off people and don’t have any bookkeeping/accounting processes set up to deal with it.

Can you elaborate on what you’re recommending I do with Gumroad?


#6

@SteveMcLeod so you don’t think there’s any degree of specialisation involved in accounting for (internationally selling) SaaS type businesses?


#7

If you just get started, you can substantially simplify accounting and VAT by using a reseller like fastspring.com. This means you don’t have to do VAT in the UK, you don’t need stripe or xero.
It is easy to get started, and when your Saas grows, you can switch if necessary.
I think bugmuncher.com 's @mattbearman is uk based and uses fastspring. I’d recommend to ping him.


#8

Not really. It’s nothing so complicated that most accountants can’t figure it out pretty quIckly.


#9

+1 for a service like FastSpring. I solely used FastSpring for the first years of my business. I received just one payment per month, which made bookkeeping so easy. FastSpring acts as the seller of record, meaning they took care of all the sales tax issues too.


#10

@unboot thanks, I’ll look into that


#11

@TomAkehurst
I hadn’t heard of fastspring, cool! Gumroad handles VAT, and while I haven’t had to refund anyone, it can refund people I think. You can send the money to whatever bank account makes sense. You could make the pre-sales on gumroad, and make it clear in the description that it is a pre-sale, and you might return it if you don’t hit 10 sales by . You can make whatever agreement you want with your alpha testers since they probably trust you and/or want the product :slight_smile:


#12

No point in all the palaver of setting up payment processing until you are sure there is some demand. Try to get someone to use your software for free for a limited period before you try to sell it. This is harder than you think! I did this for Hyper Plan for a few months before switching to paid. More details at:

I recommend you set up a company and get an accountant once you are ready to sell something.

Setting up a company is pretty straightforward and your accountant can help you.

It used to be that you didn’t have to worry about VAT until you reached a certain threshhold. But that has got a lot more messy since VAT MOSS and you might be better of registering for VAT immediately and using a reseller such as Fastspring or Avangate to handle the VAT for you. Talk to your accountant.

Probably best to get an accountant who is reasonably local and through recommendation. They don’t need to be a chartered accountant or an expert on Saas/software. But they should have some experience with businesses that sell outside the UK (VAT is a mess when you sell outside the UK).

I have had the same UK accountant for >10 years now and found him to be easy to get on with and and reliable. Drop me a line if you can’t find anyone fitting the above criteria.


#13

@Andy - thanks for the tips and helpful article.

Good to know your experience with a non-specialist accountant has been positive.

I’ve already got a closed beta going with handful of companies using the product and a launch list of about 700, so I feel like I’m getting to the point where I should put things in place to support a sale or two.

I’m planning to try and snag a few buyers by approaching a sample of UK-based people from the list. If that works I’ll let them pay via invoice, so I agree that payment processing isn’t an absolute priority immediately.


#14

The one thing I’d mention about small-business accounting: make sure you get an accountant who is capable of playing ball with you with your working style, which will likely involve e.g. Dropbox and email in preference to shoeboxes of receipts, etc.

Both of my accountants (US and Japan) are more-than-minimally tech savvy, but I still have a fair deal of frustration with one of them on should-be-routine things. They’re ASTONISHINGLY higher than the bar here, though, so I put up with it. (The market expectation is having to explain what SaaS is every single time it comes up – “So it’s software except it’s not software?!”)

Professional service fees are wonderful and you should be happy to pay them, but you should not pay full freight for someone to learn how to operate Dropbox.


#15

On a related topic, I’m looking at Stripe Atlas but haven’t found an accountant to do the USA tax side of things. Does anyone have any accountant recommendations?

Preferences:

  • Understands software businesses and tax requirements for electronically delivered software
  • Someone who can work and communicate well remotely (I’m in Australia)
  • USA west coast would be best timezone wise.
  • Reasonably priced for simple work (had an accountant here propose a $3000 scoping study so they could give me a quote!)
  • Conservative in their recommendations - I have better things to do with my time than argue with the IRS

I have enough trouble finding a good accountant locally, in another country feels like rolling a dice. Any recommendations would be appreciated (via PM if preferred).


#16

(I work on Atlas these days.)

We can introduce you to an accounting firm to handle the US side of things. We have a few options; at least one meets your requirements. Can give you details over PM or email if you prefer; mine is username @stripe.com

(If anyone has Atlas questions ever feel free to ask me directly; I’m sensitive to not wanting to perpetually be That Guy on my Internet hangouts.)


#17

Thanks, replied via PM.