Auckland-based artificial intelligence company Aider has confirmed a NZ$4 million capital raise from ANZ Australia’s investment division ANZi, BusinessDesk can reveal.
Start-up Aider’s main product is an app for small businesses that collates data from applications like Xero, Google Analytics, and Shopify. Launched in 2019, the app uses the data sets to help business owners make informed decisions about cash flow, GST, and revenue, with advice automated through AI and delivered as text.
Chief executive Brendan Roberts told BusinessDesk ANZi Holdings bought 41 percent of Aider for NZ$4 million. New Zealand Companies Office records show a 40.96 percent stake in the company was bought for $3,975,627.
As part of the deal, Roberts received $203,390 in lieu of unpaid salaries and shareholder loans, and Aider co-founder Peter Weaver received $278,390 for the same reason. The deal also repaid the $31,600 Aider borrowed as part of the government’s small business loan scheme.
ANZ will become a strategic channel partner to Aider, according to Roberts.
Fruits of Labour
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Aider’s offices today to hear from Roberts and his employees. They discussed Aider’s use of the small business loan and covid wage subsidy schemes in the past few months.
“What’s really clear is that quick access was so vital for some of our new start-ups, some of which continue to grow out the other side of the period of the initial lockdown,” said Ardern.
“That demonstrates to us that the work we are doing to adjust the small business loan scheme is the right thing to do. It will provide that ongoing sense of certainty and security in a covid environment.”
Roberts said that without both, the capital raise wouldn’t have happened so fast.
“We were doing a capital raise at the time that covid hit. We also had a strategic partnership we were about to execute with revenue and customers (coming) to us, but when covid hit the investment world didn’t know what to do and the strategic partnership pulled out.”
Previous negotiations with NZ investors broke down before the opportunity with ANZ arose.
That left Aider with very few options, so Roberts took the wage subsidy. It was this in combination with the government’s small business loan and R&D loan schemes that kept the company going.
“The wage subsidy absolutely bought us enough time to go and talk to investors, and some of our existing shareholders came on and supported us with loans, which gave us more time to get the ANZ round done.”
Ministry of Social Development records show Aider's wage subsidy for its 12 full time employees was initially $84,355.20. It also took the wage subsidy extension for the same number of employees, receiving $56,236.80. The company now has 14 staff, with two new hires joining in October after the capital raise was finalised.
All the negotiations with ANZ were done during covid. “That gave us some breathing space, enough to do a proper capital raise. We closed that raise two weeks ago,” said Roberts.
He also praised Ardern’s understanding of the technology sector, counter to pre-election criticism of Labour’s lack of a specific technology policy.
“The government cares a lot about small businesses, and it sounds like there are some initiatives coming to encourage small businesses to take up technology solutions and digitise, because that’s where they’ve got to go,” Roberts said of his conversation today with Ardern.
Roberts said, "reading the between lines, the government knows small businesses need to adopt technology … so it wants to explore an educational and enablement program, a partnership programme where a business can go to someone and that person will help the business get set up on your technology and pick the right solution.”
Such a programme is yet to be announced by the government.
In June 2019 Aider became the first NZ company to become part of Mastercard’s global Start Path start-up programme, which helps companies scale their products. Roberts said it helped Aider soft launch in the US and Canada.
“Ideally, we want to push it to those larger scale markets, but we’ve got the product live as a test to see if people are signing up and doing things differently. As a natural language product, are the words they use different, and how do other nations engage with the product?”
Customers can downvote when the app gets something wrong, and give feedback to the Aider team via text. Roberts said communication between the AI and the customers is private, and conversations can only be viewed in this instance.
A second function is currently in beta that will loop in accountants and bookkeepers to Aider customers’ data streams to help both parties make more data-informed choices.
Roberts said he hoped the ANZ partnership will lead to Aider working with banks and lenders on how to solve cash flow problems the software detects.