Danish ERP entrepreneur sees gap in cloud
Uniconta founder Erik Damgaard is a Danish software engineer and entrepreneur who made international headlines when he sold his software company, Navision, to Microsoft in 2002 for EUR1 billion. It became part of Microsoft Dynamics.
After turning his attention to other spheres, he has returned to the area he is most passionate about: building enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, but this time in the cloud, targeting a niche market that has been ignored by the traditional vendors and new cloud players alike.
"What about small businesses with five to 10 user installations? Where do they go?" he asks. "When it comes to ERP software, there's nothing in the cloud for them. There's high-end software and basic bookkeeping software, but nothing in the middle."
Damgaard was in South Africa recently to promote Uniconta and explain the rationale behind its development.
His ERP journey started 35 years ago when, in 1984, he developed accounting software for a standalone PC, followed by software that could work across the LAN. "Then, in 1987, we built Navision."
Following the Navision windfall, Damgaard left the industry in 2004. It would be more than a decade before a curious development in the Danish software market prompted his comeback.
"I heard that in Denmark, a successful low-end product I had made was being pulled out of the market and Microsoft had an offering for users to switch to Navision," he said. "I was thinking: why on earth would somebody go from one old system to another?
"In the '80s I had experienced a wave of LAN solutions coming to market and now I was seeing small companies showing up with a surge of cloud-based software. But I didn't see the likes of Microsoft doing something like that for the lower end of the market."
That was Damgaard's opportunity to return to ERP and his real passion, working closely with partners and talking to businesses about creating real solutions for real problems.
"The ERP systems in the '90s didn't focus much on connectivity outside of the company and not a lot has changed since then." They were cumbersome, he adds, and while they offered as many functions as possible, maintenance and upgrades were a big problem, especially if they had been customised.
"The old software packages are inadequate. They have been running for 15 years."
And at the other end of the spectrum, the new born-in-the-cloud solutions that had been developed such as NetSuite and SalesForce were "systems for big companies and very expensive".
Recognising the prominent players in the industry were still focused on selling to big business, Damgaard got to work catering for the small folk. Uniconta, a software-as-a-service system designed to be easy to use and purchased on a pay-as-you-go basis, was launched in 2016.
It allows for modifications, so small businesses can have a customised invoice with fields not found in other ERP systems, notes Damgaard. "One of my clients sells animal food. He needs special, unique fields in the software. We can adapt the software to any industry and the built-in connectivity means orders can be placed from various locations, including e-mail, Internet or by travelling salesmen."
Uniconta, he adds, is free from any legacy restrictions.
"Today it's all about connectivity. Uniconta users have access through openness and APIs. And there's no cost for traffic, or storage. You just pay per user - in rands - and then you have access to everything."
As it's based in Denmark, Uniconta originally focused on neighbouring European countries such as Germany, Holland, Norway and the UK.
South Africa was not an obvious market but Keith Mullan, who used to be a Navision channel partner and authorised distributor for SA, saw a gap for Uniconta in the local SME market. He has been appointed as the distributor for Sub-Saharan Africa.