As part of our Founder Focus series featuring conversations with up-and-coming SaaS companies, we had the pleasure of interviewing Hanan Shpungin.
Hanan Shpungin is the Founder and CEO of Chartd, a B2B SaaS platform that helps owners of small businesses make faster and better decisions by simplifying various aspects of financial management and planning. Hanan realized that the lack of financial planning remains one of the leading reasons small businesses fail, and set out on a quest to change that.
Since graduating with a PhD in Computer Science, Hanan has been on a mission to develop his software skills to one day launch something of his own. His last full-time position as a Senior Software Engineer for Cisco allowed him to bridge the gap between marketing, customers, and software engineering—setting him on the path of success for the launch of Chartd.
In our latest Founder Focus article, we sat down and chatted on how to pitch your SaaS to investors from a financial perspective, the power of hiring students and how to set your company up for longterm success.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to know more about your backstory. How did you get started on the path you are on today?
I’ve changed my career a couple of times, so it all started with me completing my PhD in Computer Sciences, I was a total computer science guy. During my schooling, I was doing quite a bit of research in combinatorics, optimization, and general mathematical modelling. From there, I switched to software and now I feel like I’ve been in the industry forever. I wanted to get away from theoretics and turned my attention towards architecture and software development.
To take things to the next level, I decided to pursue an MBA. Once I got into the program, I really became fascinated by everything relating to business—business modelling and how businesses operate. The number one thing it taught me was all the different components that go into a business and so naturally all three passions combined to lead me to where I am today.
During my MBA, I worked on a project which was doing financial planning for a company. I had to come up with a financial plan, or financial model, for their particular business and to help them project their financials for the next couple of years. I did that and really dived into it. From there, a couple more companies joined in and wanted to have the same planning done.
That is how the whole idea started for Chartd. I realized that companies really value having a good financial model for their business, but it is not something they necessarily want or can spend time on developing.
At Sonan Digital, we love chatting with founders from across the globe. Can you share where you and your team are currently located?
I’m a solo founder, so in that sense, our home base is here in Ottawa, Canada. But I also leverage student power by hiring co-op students that make up my team. There is usually three to six students helping me on a rolling basis. I’m leveraging all my connections with universities to get this done, but it’s great because the students get quite a bit of experience actually developing the product—they’re on the front lines. They’re not stuck somewhere in the back, they’re doing the actual bulk of the work alongside me. I am genuinely blown away by their dedication and professionalism so early in their careers. There is some really great talent out there, waiting for the opportunity!
Share a little bit about your previous experience. Have you been involved with any entrepreneurial ventures in the past?
Chartd is my first startup. I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time. I’ve been in the entrepreneurial mindset before, but I’ve never really went after the startup model myself. The pandemic actually played a role in me making the jump because we’re already stuck at home, so there’s not much change in leaving your job and the office behind—there’s no office to go back to anyway. It was time to make the shift.
What is the ultimate problem you are trying to solve with your product and what was the “aha moment” that led you there?
We want to help business owners understand their numbers, past and future, in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand, so they could make informed decisions and build financial trust with lenders, investors, and their partners.
As business owners—they know their product, they know their customers, and they’re good at it, otherwise they wouldn’t be in business. What sometimes may be a challenge is building a comprehensive decision-making model for what-if scenarios and real-time financial monitoring. These models are typically hard to make and even harder to maintain. That’s where we come in. We want to help businesses get away from Excel spreadsheets and introduce them to our tool that empowers business owners to understand their financials better.
One thing we noticed is that business owners just don’t have time. Most companies in the early stages are in survival mode. The mindset is typically “if we can survive the next month, it’s not that important.” While this is true, eventually financials need to become a habit to continue for long-term success. If Chartd can help business owners spend the minimum amount of time possible on finances during the month and make it a habit—I’d call that a win.
Acquiring your first customer is something most never forget. Can you share how you acquired your first few customers?
Currently, we are still in the beta phase, implementing different tools and modeling the software. We just released our beta back in October 2021, so we are really just getting into the nitty-gritty now. We have been growing our user base organically through word of mouth and have quite a symbiotic relationship with our early adopters. They get free access to our financial planning tools, providing us with valuable feedback, which we use to keep developing our application to have a perfect fit when we hit the market.
It’s a competitive world out there. How are you positioning yourself against competitors?
Our main competitor is “doing nothing”. Maintaining and overseeing your finances is hard work. So quite frankly, most people just don’t do it. For us, it’s not really even about being better, having more features, or being cheaper— it’s more about just offering an easy software to manage and predict your finances. Our next competitor would be Excel, but almost everyone complains that it’s overcomplicated and you need a course to understand how to complete complex equations. Chartd is so, so much more user-friendly.
What is the biggest hurdle you’ve faced so far? How did you overcome it?
Our biggest hurdle so far has been identifying the core challenges of our customers in terms of financial management. There are just so many pain points when we talk to them! We want to offer an effective solution to many complex problems, and I think we just cracked it!
Another hurdle was the actual technical implementation and doing so on a limited budget. I know this is a big hurdle for many tech companies. As a solopreneur, I cannot implement everything myself, I just don’t have the time. So I turned to local co-op students to help me with the technical aspect—it was honestly a huge breakthrough. There is real gold to be found in students, especially if you know how to dig it out. I’m really proud of my students, they’ve learned so much. It’s been a real win-win situation for everyone.
The future is looking bright! What are your plans for the growth of the company?
My only goal is to be there for small businesses, helping with decisions, making sense of numbers, and charting their short- and long-term business trajectory – being their DIY CFO. I want there to be real value for customers, so in the meantime we’ll be listening to beta users, getting more ideas, putting ourselves out there, and getting more feedback. When we help our customers grow, we will grow alongside them. It’s an exciting time!
How can people find and connect with you?
You can check us out at gochartd.com and you’re more than welcome to join our beta testers group for free. I would love to speak to anyone that wants to chat about their financial management and how Chartd can help them, or even just hear their pain points. As always, you can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
Learn more about Chartd, a financial planning tool helping SMBs grow revenues, increase profitability and build trust amongst investors and partners.
To read more Founder Focus interviews, check out the series here.