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Zeni, an AI-powered finance concierge for startups, today announced it has raised $13.5 million in a series A round led by Saama Capital. The company says this will bolster the launch of its new product, Zeni, an intelligent bookkeeping, accounting, and CFO service available to startups across the U.S.

Studies show the vast majority of day-to-day accounting tasks can be automated with software. That may be why over 50% of respondents in a survey conducted by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants said they anticipate the development of automated and intelligent systems will have a significant impact on accounting businesses over the next 30 years.

Zeni, which was founded by twin brothers Swapnil Shinde and Snehal Shinde in 2019, combines AI with a team of finance experts to perform bookkeeping while managing finance functions — including taxes, bill pay and invoicing, financial projections, budgeting, payroll administration, and more — on behalf of customers. The Shinde brothers started Zeni after selling their last startup, Mezi, to American Express in 2018 for $125 million and the Indian music streaming service they cofounded, Dhingana, to Rdio in 2014.

Zeni

“With Mezi and Dhingana, we never felt like we had a great solution to managing our startup’s finances. Our bookkeepers, accountants, or finance teams would send financial updates two to three weeks after month end,” Swapnil Shinde told VentureBeat via email. “By the time we got our monthly reports, dug into the spreadsheets, fixed errors, and exchanged emails back and forth with our accountant to get to the root of our questions, we were weeks behind in course-correcting any issues that had surfaced. It was clear the process was broken and not designed to meet the needs of fast-growing startups. When we decided to leave American Express and reenter the world of startups, we knew the problem we needed to tackle.”

To Swapnil Shinde’s point, most paperwork is still being done manually — at least among small and medium-sized businesses. According to a study published by Wakefield Research and Concur, 84% of small businesses rely on some kind of manual process each day. Some of these are financial and require specialized knowledge, and the stakes are high. Errors could result in a client being unable to deliver payments or in late bills that hurt planning.

For a flat monthly fee, Zeni gives businesses access to real-time financial data, along with the support of a team of certified accountants. The platform’s API integrations unify disparate systems, while Zeni’s AI backend processes data daily and provides insights into spending, burn rate, operating expenses, cash/card balance, revenue by product, month-end reports, and more via a dashboard.

Zeni

Within reports on the web-based dashboard, Zeni delivers AI-generated snippets that surface the key factors affecting changes to a startup’s monthly finances. For example, its AI might highlight the fact that operating expenses increased month-over-month and salaries and contractor fees were the primary factors affecting the increase. Zeni also offers an automation tool that intercepts receipts sent to Zeni via email as attachments, images from smartphones, or HTML in the body of a message and reconciles and matches them with the correct transaction in the corresponding accounting software. Once the receipt is reconciled, a bot automatically comments on the email, providing a link to the transaction for Zeni’s finance team to review.

Zeni also says it’s building a transaction auto-categorization engine that’s learning from its human experts as they categorize incoming transactions. Transactions are auto-categorized by the company’s machine learning models, chiefly based on past learnings across Zeni’s customers. Human experts can either approve, override, or correct the categorization so the AI system learns from its mistakes.

“With Zeni, we’re applying our proven methods of building AI-powered platforms to the finance management space, unlocking insights and efficiencies business leaders have never had access to before,” Swapnil Shinde said, adding that the company processed more than $300 million transactions in its first year and expects to process a total of $1 billion over the next few months.  “We have been fortunate to experience steady growth and adoption of Zeni over the past year, despite the pandemic. Since onboarding our first paid customer in January 2020, we have over 100 startup customers using Zeni.”

SVB Financial Group and undisclosed others participated in Zeni’s funding round announced today, which brings the Palo Alto, California-based company’s total raised to over $14 million. Previous and existing backers include Saama Capital, Amit Singhal, Sierra Ventures, SVB Financial Group, Liquid 2 Ventures, Firebolt Ventures, Dragon Capital, Twin Ventures, Manish Chandra, Gokul Rajaram, Ed Lu, Nickhil Jakatdar, Kunal Shah, and Anupam Mittal.

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