Zeni: Powering High Velocity Decision Making for Start-ups and Small Businesses

Zeni is proving how artificial intelligence and machine learning can democratise the traditional bookkeeping industry.


How does the proposition of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for $299 per month sound like? Unrealistic and confusing, right?

There is a twist. To understand this, you need to move the image of this top professional sitting in a boardroom in a suit and tie to a one inside your computer – An ‘AI-powered CFO’ which will manage all your financial functions, including bookkeeping, payroll administration, invoicing, monetary statements and beyond.

The proposition doesn’t end here. Now, it is one thing to know your expenses have increased, and an entirely different thing to understand why. Does that mean I still need to hire a CFO to analyse that for me? With technology at helm, the answer would be no. 

This is what modern bookkeeping fintech start-up Zeni, founded by twin brothers Swapnil and Snehal Shinde, has brought to the table of innovation with its artificial intelligence (AI) – powered financial concierge service for start-ups. We dig in deeper into this two year-old start-up’s evolution, the product offering and how it is here to mark a change in the financial world.

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In its first year itself, Zeni processed over $300 million in transactions and is now managing $200 million in finances each month.

What is Zeni platform all about?

In simple words, Zeni offers an integrated platform to business owners that performs daily bookkeeping besides consolidating all the financial flows like spend, payments, accounts and more. At the same time, the tool connects firms to dedicated teams of finance professionals to provide guidance and deliver insights based on real-time data. It’s a blend of both AI and human finance experts that together manage every financial need of a company, especially a start-up for a flat month-to-month charge. The platform integrates with a company’s bank accounts, credit cards, payroll providers, or expense management system section. It is like Zeni is running your finance department.

The services include:

● Invoice Pay and Invoicing

● Expense and Receipt Administration

● Monetary Projections, Budgeting, and Financial planning and analysis (FP&A) Assist

● Payroll Administration

● Actual-Time Reporting through Zeni Dashboard

● Month-to-month Monetary Statements

● Yearly Taxes and R&D Credit score

Given the speed and the accuracy of this approach, Zeni is able to provide its clients with a real-time access to key financial insights via the Zeni Dashboard – including burn rate, operating expenses, cash/card balance, revenue by product, month-end reports, and more.

In its first year itself, Zeni processed over $300 million in transactions and is now managing $200 million in finances each month. It is on track to process a total of $1 billion in transactions in the next 12 months and is expecting to achieve 300% growth in 2022. Zeni claims to be specialising in technology start-ups and has over 100 clients on board since inception.

Twin Power

Shinde brothers Swapnil and Snehal always had a knack for AI and Machine Learning (ML). Swapnil worked in the technology industry for over 15 years and worked as the Vice President (VP) of Product for international markets at Rdio and also spent four years at Yahoo! as a Senior Product Manager. Snehal also worked in the technology industry for 15 years and worked at both Yahoo! and Rdio as the VP for Emerging Markets. The Shinde brothers both have master’s degrees in computer science from the University of Southern California.

Following their technology-concentrated careers, the brothers ventured into the world of start-ups with the launch of a Bollywood music streaming music service called Dhingana, which was purchased by Rdio in 2014.

This was followed by their second venture Mezi, an AI-powered Travel-As-A Service platform, that was acquired by the American Express (AMEX) in 2018. The duo spent 5 years building this human assisted AI-powered platform which today serves more than 10 million AMEX card members across the U.S. and U.K.

In between the hustle, the duo never stopped building on AI and ML technology. Even when they were dwelling on the proportion of selling Mezi to American Express, the duo brainstormed on how the later had set a Gold Standard for providing high-class personalised concierge service to its Platinum and Black card customers, but is unable to give it to all its card members because it was too human intensive and very hard to scale. The only way to democratise what American Express was doing was by using Artificial Intelligence.

Post the acquisition, the duo wanted to invest more and more in AI and ML and apply the same in different markets which were fragmented and complex. They understood exactly how a similar platform like Mezi could be effective in the world of start-up bookkeeping and accounting markets. This inspiration came from the duo’s first hand experience as start-up owners.

The brothers met with Nexus Ventures in May 2015 and showed them a mock design of how they wanted to build the product. In 20 minutes, the investors decided to fund the company.

In 2019, Zeni launched its AI – powered financial concierge service for start-ups, with founders Swapnil and Snehal taking charge as Chief Executive officer (CEO) and Chief Product Officer (CPO), respectively. The company is headquartered in Palo Alto, California, United States and has a team of 40 and growing.

To date, Zeni has raised a total of $13.5 million in funding over two rounds. Their latest funding was raised on March 9, 2021 from a Series A round. The two year-old start-up has a line of as many as eight marquee investors, including Sierra Ventures, Liquid 2 Ventures, Saama Capital, Firebolt Ventures, SVB Financial Group and others.

The first paid client came in January 2020. By March 2021, Zeni had managed over $200 million in funds each month throughout over 100 start-up clients. Lockdown also worked in the company’s favour as the majority of businesses were working remotely and looked at Zeni as their remote finance team.

Start-up Zeni real-time financial dashboard

Saving the Burnouts: Single Pane of Glass for Start-Ups

Zeni aims to solve the real-world pain points of start-ups. Despite having a number of tools online to manage finances, the process remains highly fragmented. There are payroll platforms, accounts receivable (AR) and accounts payable (AP) flows, expense management tools, etc.

On the human talent side, there are part-time professionals, perhaps even a CFO, to oversee various aspects of these financial flows. The process is both complex and expensive. A CFO generally comes at the growth stage at a high cost, leaving the start-ups with too many complex tools and independent financial experts to choose from.

Start-ups are in a need of a single tool that can streamline financial management across a variety of functions and offer them something beyond accounting. This is where Zeni’s product offering makes sense, especially for early-stage start-ups with no finance team at place.

The single platform, as mentioned earlier, handles all end-to-end finances of start-ups with both technology and human experts. In a traditional accounting model, there is a scope for human error with manual crunching, starting from data entry, transaction categorisation, and attaching transaction documentation in the accounting software etc.

What takes hours of dedicated human resources, takes only a few minutes with Zeni. Plus, nobody has to wait till the end of the month to know what is brewing in the financial cup. This is important for start-ups as real-time visibility, management, and skilled help with a finance resolution will help them maintain a tempo with their rising enterprise.

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The integrated dashboard offered by Zeni to early and growth-stage companies is a unique offering as it is updated on a real-time basis.

How Financially Healthy is my Start-Up?

Zeni offers real-time bookkeeping, which means founders can see exactly how the financial operations of their start-ups are performing in real-time, access the transaction-level data supporting the high-level reports, and use this information to course correct as issues arise.

Majority of the start-ups fail to keep their business alive as they remain unaware of the financial troubles building up or where they are going wrong with the finances. They fail to keep their business financially viable and sound and soon run out of cash, calling it quits. 

This problem can be eliminated with real-time check and analysis which cannot be done without technology. The Zeni dashboard is able to generate those insights highlighting the key contributing factors affecting changes to the monthly finances.

This also saves them the effort and resource to dig through the spreadsheets to understand what is going wrong or what went wrong. Zeni literally spells it out for them! This could save start-up from scrambling or burning out.

Pitch it Right!

A lot of start-ups do not have their finances in order which is extremely important during a pitch. Having up-to-date, accurate and readily available financials is a must to reflect to the investors that you have a strong hold over the same. This is also important so when investors start the due diligence process, the business is in the best possible position to gain the investment a start-up needs.

Zeni made a smart move by offering experienced professionals for the same as well to help start-ups manage and track the goals as they move through the funding process.

Success story of AI Bookkeeping startup Zeni

Is Zeni Placed Uniquely?

The answer would be yes. Zeni is placed uniquely as its offering goes beyond simple automation to advanced FP&A and CFO grade presentations and reports.

The integrated dashboard offered by Zeni to early and growth-stage companies is also a unique offering as it is updated on a real-time basis. This gives the necessary transparency to both the executives and the decision-makers. Hence, breaking the silos of information that is created within each software as the company’s existing financial accounting software is integrated and provides an across-the-board view into the company’s financial position.

The B2B fintech market is blooming with a growing number of digital finance platforms readily available for start-ups. But just because the tools exist doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs’ financial woes are over.

Understanding from this point of view, Zeni is uniquely placed as it aims for consolidation and simplification. Plus, with its proposition of in-house financial experts besides the AI-driven tools, gives the full package comfort to business owners.

Looking at a $19.59 Billion Industry

The accounting software market was valued at $12.01 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $19.59 billion by 2026, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.5%. The future of AI-powered financial concierge has the potential of becoming a must-have for all the start-ups where all the financial services are consolidated into one single platform and the offering goes beyond that.

There has been a complexity around the finance world and it’s about time that the area is simplified for the start-up world. Zeni is definitely a step in that direction. Moving forward, the company is gradually coming out of its stealth mode to double charge its growth numbers with investment in team and sales.

Naina Sood
Naina Sood
Naina was former staff at Dutch Uncles, she writes on business-life-cycle, funding, small businesses and start-ups.

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