Co.Design

From An Ex-Googler, An App To Kill Expense Reports

Abacus lets you file your expenses—and get paid back—in real time from your phone.

Ted Power had just gotten his dream job at Google, but the first thing he experienced with the company was more like something out of the movie Office Space. "I was based in the New York office, but my manager was in California and she asked me to spend a month out there for orientation. I had to pay for the flight and the hotel out of pocket, which I couldn’t really afford considering I was fresh out of college," Power says. "It was a couple months before I got reimbursed through their nightmare system. Considering how much companies like Google focus on employee happiness and tech, it was amazing how backwards the process was."

Now Power wants to kill expense reports for good so no one else has to suffer. His new mobile app, called Abacus, lets employees ping a la carte expenses to their employers in real time, right from their phones. Managers can approve the reimbursements quickly, and then Abacus directly deposits the funds to the employee’s bank account. "The money is usually in your account within one to two business days," Power says. "People love not having to wait weeks or months to get paid back."

From an employee’s perspective, it sounds too good to be true. No saving receipts or filling out paperwork. Need to take a business trip? As soon as you buy the ticket or book the hotel, just ping the dollar amount to your boss and wait to get paid back. But what about the other side of this user experience—the boss "on the other end" of Abacus? Won’t he or she be getting spammed every other minute with piecemeal charges to approve?

"Sometimes managers new to Abacus worry that these notifications will get annoying—we worried about that, too," Power says. "What we’ve found is that managers usually like the transparency of knowing what their team is up to, and it’s a great opportunity to send a little love to your employees by getting back to them quickly. You can turn off the notifications, and only do it once a week or once a month, but most people do it daily or every couple days."

Turning an irritating administrative chore into something more like personal messaging sounds like a brilliant mind hack indeed. But for giant companies like Google with a lot of existing accounting infrastructure, Abacus probably won’t be able to come to the rescue. "Right now we’re really focused on smaller companies, ~5-100 employees," says Powers who cofounded Abacus Josh Halickman and Omar Qari. "This seems to be where the biggest need is—these companies need something better than a spreadsheet, but they don’t yet have super complicated Oracle-type accounting tools."

Still, Power says that "a few big companies" are test driving Abacus with internal teams, and Pinterest is using Abacus specifically to reimburse prospective employees’ travel expenses when they’re flown out for job interviews. That’s exactly the pain point that inspired Abacus’s creation in the first place, so Power and his team must be on the right track.

[Read more about Abacus]

[Images: Courtesy of Abacus]

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