A serial entrepreneur and former Visiting Partner at acclaimed startup accelerator Y Combinator, Rujul is deeply committed to using technology to solve complex business problems. Prior to Zip, Rujul co-founded FlightCar, where he served as CEO through the company’s acquisition by Mercedes Benz in 2016. He also served as a Product Manager for Airbnb.
M.R. Rangaswami: Can you please explain your journey of founding and scaling a fintech startup in just 18 months? What have been the challenges and the successes?
Rujul Zaparde: In previous roles, I experienced firsthand how frustrating it is for business users to navigate vague, complex financial processes inside their companies. It leaves people wondering not only how to begin business purchases, but also how to secure all of the necessary approvals to get what they need to properly do their jobs. My co-founder Lu and I launched Zip in 2020, the world’s first intake-to-procure software to solve this ubiquitous problem.
We provide an easy-to-use “concierge” experience for any employee to request a business-related purchase. Companies use our software to orchestrate any purchase through complex approval workflows with complete visibility for all stakeholders throughout the process.
Starting Zip and scaling the company from fintech startup to fintech unicorn in just 18 months has been an amazing journey! We recently announced $43M in Series B funding at a $1.2 billion valuation. Our more than 100 customers include industry leaders like Canva, Snowflake, Roblox, Coinbase, Airtable, Toast, Webflow and Databricks. I believe one of the keys to our success is that unlike many other financial software applications on the market, we started with a consumer-focused lens so our business-class product genuinely appeals to end-users.
This has helped us grow quickly. One of the biggest challenges we faced has been cultivating company culture as a fresh team in a remote-first environment during the pandemic. We’re figuring out how to be the most successful we can be in a hybrid, but mostly remote, work environment. What’s worked well is going the extra mile to over-communicate, in particular between sales and engineering teams, to ensure that a remote workforce doesn’t get in the way of engineering having true empathy with customer pain.
M.R.: How has the SaaS explosion and decentralization of purchasing decisions impacted modern businesses? How will it continue to impact modern businesses in the future?
Rujul: More companies are increasingly buying new software as part of digital transformation initiatives. Accommodating remote and hybrid workforces has also accelerated the SaaS explosion, which really started over the course of the last decade prior to the pandemic. This is true for all businesses, whether they’re a small tech startup or a Fortune 500 company.
Given current economic turbulence, it’s more important than ever to have a clear vision of a company’s spending and procurement processes. However, this is more difficult now because many departments inside of companies have invested over the years in a wide array of SaaS products, many of them being point solutions that do not necessarily solve long-term problems.
The SaaS explosion and immediate fixes to long-term issues combined with decentralized purchasing decisions have complicated and disaggregated the process of buying software and services. What once was the purview of IT and purchasing departments is now often dropped in the laps of line of business employees who are forced to spend significant time navigating outdated purchase order processes and complex vendor request approval workflows.
This leads to delays that hamper productivity and innovation. Current manual procurement workflow processes also create visibility challenges for finance and executive teams. Businesses need new solutions, now and in the future, to keep up with the rapid adoption of technology and services driven by digital transformation as purchasing decisions become increasingly decentralized and employees take on greater agency in the procurement process.
M.R.: What are the necessary steps needed to improve outdated procurement processes? What advice would you give to business and technology leaders looking to implement technology to solve the issues that have arisen with the SaaS explosion and decentralization of purchasing decisions?
Rujul: Legacy procurement tools and processes often only focus on procure-to-pay – from the point where a purchase order (PO) is generated to payment – without considering the challenge of initially requesting a purchase and getting the approvals required for generating a PO in the first place.
By contrast, an intake-to-procure approach, which is how Zip operates, provides an easy-to-adopt experience for employees to initiate any procurement request – no training required. Without Zip, typical procurement processes require 3-6 teams and disparate systems, 5+ hours of training just to know how to initiate a request, and 25+ emails.
I advise companies to seriously consider investments in technology that automate manual processes and replace or supplement the legacy software that their employees dread using. If we expect people to be more productive and efficient we should be making people’s work lives simpler whenever possible. We owe it to the employees who are persistently trying to solve business challenges and innovate. Employees are being severely underserved, having to make business purchases through scattered, outdated processes. Implementing modern intake-to-procure technology provides a unified, long-lasting solution to the SaaS chaos every organization is experiencing.
M.R. Rangaswami, Co-Founder, Sandhill Group