Zgodba: Simon Kolenc

SAVING THE WORLD ONE RECEIPT AT A TIME

A large consumption of paper receipts affects society, both positively and negatively, in different ways. Positively, for example by helping to prevent tax evasion and to create jobs within the paper industry. Nevertheless, a large consumption can arguably also have negative effects, such as excessive usage of natural resources as well as human and environmental exposure to the hazardous chemical Bisphenol A (BPA).

Electronic invoicing is a current alternative to traditional invoices distributed on paper. There are reasons to believe that electronic invoicing is environmentally preferable to traditional invoicing and Noprintz is one of the companies, tackling that problem.

Can you tell us a bit about your company? What’s your mission and what do you do?

Our idea was to create a platform for digitizing receipts and guarantees since the main issue we wanted to tackle were printed receipts. Receipts are usually printed on paper, for instance in Slovenia – we create approximately three to five million physicalized receipts every day. In the whole EU that would account for about one billion per day. For those, we utilize a lot of resources, like water, oil, and trees. We also shouldn’t forget about transportation pollution and cost as well as BPA – an industrial chemical that can affect our health. Bisphenol A (BPA) has been already banned for use in baby bottles. Some manufacturers have also removed it from water bottles and food containers. However, the thermal paper used for cash registers and other receipts is another common source of BPA.

Digitized receipts and guarantees also have other benefits – they’re easy to store and find when needed. I usually store printed receipts in a shoebox and there’s a high chance that the text will fade away due to BPA. Besides taking care of the environment we also wanted to simplify and digitalize the interaction between manufacturers, merchants, consumers, and financial institutions – the same way as Amazon does. Our focus is a better user experience.

We already have a functional platform, but we are developing additional features. For example, our aim is that when you pay and leave the store, the receipt would automatically be saved on your phone. At the moment, when you sign up in the app you get a code that has to be scanned in order for you to receive the receipt. You can also link your noprintZ account to a merchant’s loyalty card. The idea is that everything you need for a better user experience is in one app – spending analysis, loyalty, payments, guarantees, and others.

So, if I understand correctly. Let’s say I go to Zara, I have already paid for my clothes, but I would like to receive the receipt on my phone. I just show them my code in the app and they scan it. What happens then? Do I get a notification on my phone?

Yeah, when they scan your code you get a notification, and the receipt is automatically saved in the app. We use a code for identification, so users can remain anonymous. This was based on a study in the UK carried out by the Consumer Association about the preference between digital and paper receipts. The results showed that people would prefer digital receipts, but they do not want to give emails or phone numbers to everyone and get spammed. So, with anonymization, this is what we are trying to avoid – spamming our users with unnecessary notifications.

What’s the next step in development, besides the additional features?

We must get more merchants on the platform. At the moment, we have around 14 partners offering our services in about 200 locations. Unfortunately, the app does not work everywhere, because the cash register has to implement API for digital receipts. Technology itself is not much different from now – a cash register sends the data to the printer and the receipt is printed out. So, our goal is that the data is sent to our app instead to the printer – of course, we still need to implement the technology.

All printed receipts require a code by the tax authority, which makes the receipts longer and more expensive. For that reason, merchants are happy to work with us since it is much cheaper for them.

One of our bigger achievements is that we presented our solution to the Tax authority, and they confirmed that there is a section in VAT regulation, stating that digital receipts and paper receipts have the same value. Hence, they did not oppose to our solution.

What about the end-users – are they hesitant? How will you convince them to use your app?

Most of them are incredibly positive when they hear about the idea – their usual response is “finally”. Some even wonder why digital receipts are not regulated or even required because paper receipts usually get lost or are thrown away.

There is a long and persistent path from idea to realization – it requires a lot of work and patience. Let’s go back to the beginning; how did your entrepreneurial journey actually start?

I was an auditor and a consultant in one of the “big four” companies for many years. I also worked in finance and accounting. Since I can remember, I was always dealing with receipts and numbers. Then about three or four years ago, myself and my co-founder Boris got to the point in our life thinking “We have all this knowledge and experience, and we want to do something meaningful, something good for the environment and for the consumers, and most importantly we want to enjoy while doing it”.

We wanted to build something from scratch and at first, we had a different idea. But then one day Boris video-called me and showed me a “50 centimetres” long grocery receipt he got and said, “Do we really need this”. And that was the moment our idea started to see the light.

We gained a lot of experience while working in insurance, finance, and auditing so we knew that digital receipts are possible and legally permitted. We presented the idea to the IT expert and a designer and they were on board with us. In the beginning, it all seemed so easy – we designed the app and were sure we could cover the entire Slovenia in one year. However, we soon realized it was not that easy. When we first entered the market, we realized that we do not have a proper business model. Luckily, we got feedback and some ideas from the merchants. With their help, we were able to launch the app in February 2020.

We have already talked a bit about the challenges. Is there any other challenge you would like to point out and how you approached it?

There were quite a few challenges, I mean, let’s be honest there will always be challenges. We had some advantages in the beginning because we were all seniors with 10, 15, or 20 years of experience, so we were able to predict some of the obstacles.

For example, my wife is a CFO and has already worked with a couple of start-ups. It is always a problem when you want to expand – you need the money. We started fundraising from day one, even though at that point we did not need the money. We submitted our proposal to SME instrument call at Horizon 2020 to get the grant funding as partial reimbursement for the development costs. We started with a roadshow to get funding from angels and seed investors. It took us a year and a half to get the first angel investor and two years until we got the first grant from the government. Later in 2019, we signed another grant and got a strategic investor. In 2020, we received additional funding which allowed us to employ people and start expanding further.

One other challenge is on the other hand also our main advantage. We want to be one place for all – for the merchants as well as the users. Which is an advantage, but also a huge obstacle. On one hand, the merchants want to know how many users we have and on the other the users want to know how many merchants are on the platform. 

Let’s go down memory lane. What do you remember most from your study years?

Honestly, for the first two years I was not even sure what I wanted to study. But later, I was impressed with the courses related to finance. I realized what fascinated me and that was the finance sector, especially personal finances. However, at that time I was too afraid to start my own business.

Prof. Mramor told me: “We need to educate people and provide personal finance consulting to individuals. But if you want people to trust you with their money, or with their life, you cannot be so young and inexperienced. You should find a job in consulting or a bank to build practical knowledge and get experience, only then you can start providing your own services to people.”

I listened to him and joined Ernst & Young. It was an incredible experience that I never regretted. You get an overall perspective on how companies work and more importantly you see what you’re good at, as well as, understand what interests you. After two to three years, I started thinking about the next steps in my career. Never forget, you cannot build your career overnight. It took me 11 years until I was ready and decided to do something on my own.

Was there someone at SEB LU who motivated you to start your own career path?

I remember one of our professors – I cannot remember right now who he was – but he told us: “You should look around the lecture hall and remember the people around you. These are your future partners and clients. Be good to them, talk to them, go for a coffee with them!”

One of the professors I remember the most is also professor Mramor – because of him, I like finance. Finance is so easy when you understand the logic behind it. He also told us that any educational institution will give us as much knowledge as we are willing to take or accept. You can go to the best school in the world, but if you are not prepared to take the knowledge no school can help you. 

I also remember someone saying: “At the beginning, find a normal job, don’t expect too much, and start at the bottom. Don’t be greedy right away.” As I said before, building a career is a long-term process of gaining experience, defining your interests, and learning your strengths as well as weaknesses.

University gives you the foundation but then you must build brick by brick on top of that foundation. In real life, all the things you heard at school start to make sense, even if they did not before.

Personally, I am very proud to be a part of SEB LU. Every time I see new ranking positions, I remember what an important role the school played in my career.