Afirmo, an innovative, cohesive Software as a service (SaaS) app, is making small business ownership and success more attainable for thousands of people in New Zealand, regardless of business background and skill set.

The software is a one-stop-support-shop for small businesses, offering tools and assistance to give the best possible start to people venturing into business.

The web-based app helps aspiring business owners set up a business from scratch (sole traders, partnerships and limited liability companies) including all the necessary business and tax registrations such as IRD, GST, NZBN, BIC, ACC Cover Plus account, and also register as an employer and stay on top of tax obligations.

The app also provides marketing tools required in the early stages of starting a business like creating a website, designing a logo and registering a domain name.

The software then supports businesses to scale up using Afirmo’s integrated tax, insurance, and money tools, along with business insights.

Afirmo is a business dream come true for Auckland based cofounders and partners, Robert Rolls and Mary Fitzgerald. The company’s Chief Communications Officer, Mary Fitzgerald, says CEO Robert Rolls had the vision for Afirmo over many years.

“Rob recognised that aspiring business owners, in the past, before Afirmo existed, had to spend too much time “getting their ducks in a row – having to go to the end of the internet and back again in search of all the information required to get their business started,” says Fitzgerald.

Rolls says in other roles he has held in business he recognised “there was absolutely a gap in the market for small businesses wanting to efficiently and effectively set up and scale up”.

Covid-19 lockdowns inspired Fitzgerald and Rolls into action.

“We were, like everybody, dumbfounded by Covid-19 and the impact it was having on personal and professional lives. Even more so, people who were losing jobs and looking for new opportunities to stay afloat with income but didn’t have the right support they needed through that period of time to spearhead their own business opportunities effectively,” Fitzgerald says.

Back in 2020 there wasn’t a customer-care-driven one-stop-small business-support-shop to do everything.

Rolls and Fitzgerald decided in 2020, small business enterprise needed a specialist place to go to that would iron out the friction of starting and scaling business.

More people are choosing to start their own business after Covid-19. Afirmo solves a critical piece in the puzzle for such people, says Rolls.

“[We want] to get as many people into self-employment and bettering their lives as possible,” he says.

“We’d like to think that Afirmo removes a lot of the friction points for small businesses so they really can get on with the stuff that they need to commit to such as acquiring and keeping their customers.”

Cofounder and Afirmo’s Chief Technology Officer, Ertan Sarikaya, joined Afirmo in 2021 and has been instrumental in the software development of Afirmo’s app.

Rolls, who comes from a finance, accounting and technology background, says the two-year app build process has “culminated in a highly specialised and customer led piece of technology” thanks to Ertan Sarikaya and his team of developers.

“Part of our service involves importing the banking transactions of our customers into the app, to help create business insights, and calculate GST liabilities, income tax liabilities, and power other embedded features including insurance recommendations.”

Rolls says the “sheer mission” of what the project is achieving is huge. “Afirmo provides a never-done-before solution to a problem experienced by thousands of businesses across New Zealand.”

It is designed for the small business market [0 – 19 employees] representing some 546,000 small businesses in New Zealand and 97 percent of all firms.

“If you have to pay a tax or are due a refund, then Afirmo’s probably suitable for you,” says Rolls.

“We cater to three business entities. So that makes us different from our closest competitor on tax software, who only caters to sole traders. We’re different. We cater for sole traders, partnerships and limited liability companies – because all business entities need support in this area” says Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald and Rolls are life partners but have not been business partners before.

“We’re both strong, successful people in our own right and we have this idea and decided together we wanted to progress it,” says Fitzgerald who comes from a marketing and journalism background.

The couple began working on the project in October 2020, and launched the business with the first iteration of the app, their minimal viable product, ready to market in August 2022.

The uptake since then has been “exciting”, Rolls says, with 3500 customers on Afirmo’s database to date.

“At this stage we’re delighted with the uptake. It’s a real endorsement of the vision of putting these integrated tools together.

“Mary and I feel very lucky indeed to have this opportunity to help change people’s lives – getting a business up and running is not for the faint hearted – it’s challenging, but we don’t believe it needs to be as complicated or hard as it has traditionally been.” – Robert Rolls

“We continue to innovate and have product feature releases each month. Customer feedback is very positive and we have very low churn rates,” says Rolls.

“As part of our offering we provide undiluted access to the app for 30 days, and if the users like it, they can subscribe and pay for the service by way of one of our pricing plans.”

The business has grown from three full-time staff to ten since launching. It is now made up of Fitzgerald and Rolls, Ertan Sarikaya, Joachim Schoss [cofounder, director and investor], and seven other full-time staff.

Rolls says it was challenging early on – when the business was just an idea – to have the necessary clarity, knowing what the scope of practice was, what it was that they were building and what benefits the customer will receive.

“For me [the hard part] is around planning, scoping, budget and finding the skills required in order to execute,” he says.

When it comes to doubts, and whether Fitzgerald and Rolls have any, the answer is no. Fitzgerald says she absolutely believes in the market need and the product.

“Self-doubt hasn’t been a prevalent concept for us. People in small business are isolated and under a lot of pressure to succeed, and it is our mandate to help them in their quest to be confidently progressing in business – there’s no room for doubt in what we are doing, because we know unequivocally that Afirmo is needed out there.”

“If you’re on your business journey and you’ve got doubts, identify what the doubts are and get clarity around how you can work through them, don’t just give up because it feels overwhelming. Speak to other people in business and build your network for added support and get in touch with us at Afirmo”, says Fitzgerald.

Afirmo continues to innovate, providing entrepreneurs new sets of tools and services to get them from set up to scale up without hassles, helping them feel more confident and successful.

“Mary and I feel very lucky indeed to have this opportunity to help change people’s lives – getting a business up and running is not for the faint hearted – it’s challenging, but we don’t believe it needs to be as complicated or hard as it has traditionally been – Afirmo is here to make business ownership easier and less complicated” says Rolls.

Story by Mina Amso

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