Atomico

Let there be Light! Danish startup exits stealth with $13M seed funding to bring AI to general ledgers

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It’s not the sexiest of subject matters, but someone needs to talk about it: The CFO tech stack — software used by the chief financial officers of the world — is ripe for disruption. That’s according to Jonathan Sanders, CEO and co-founder of fledgling Danish startup Light, which exits stealth Wednesday with $13 million in a seed round of funding led by European VC giant Atomico.

The Copenhagen-based startup is reimagining general ledger software from the ground up, replete with AI to cleanse transactional data, while also enabling finance teams to ask plain-English questions and receive straightforward answers from their data.

Light leans on automated ledgers

With stints at companies including investment bank Credit Suisse and SMB-focused expense management scale-up Pleo, Sanders has reasonable insight into the working environment of the CFO’s office. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is king, packing support for CRM (customer relationship management), HR (human resources), project management, and perhaps the most crucial component of all, the general ledger.

A general ledger is an all-encompassing record of a company’s financial transactions, recording every dollar, dime and penny that comes in and out. For the chief financial officer, it’s important, serving as a single source of truth into a company’s financial health. And it’s this element of the ERP that Light is focused on dragging into the modern digital era, where AI increasingly rules the roost.

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“Our mission is to be the first automated ledger for global companies,” Sanders told TechCrunch. “We believe CFOs and finance teams deserve the full benefits of AI, gaining the full knowledge and expertise of a large enterprise organization when it comes to accounting and taxes, something that they have been denied to date.”

Light’s dashboard on desktop and mobile. Image Credits: Light
Image Credits: Light

Companies integrate Light with their carious CRM and HRM tools, their banks and even their communication channels such as Microsoft Teams and Slack. The “AI” in the platform constitutes a mix of models, each serving distinct purposes for the finance fraternity. This might be to handle manual tasks such as line-item coding (i.e. assigning codes to individual transactions), working out correct tax codes and related bookkeeping tasks.

“We use one model to help bookkeep all line items with correct taxes and accounts, and we use another model to help the C-suite to ask questions about revenue, costs and profit — directly from Slack,” Sanders said. “We have, and continue to experiment with, a mix of off-the-shelf models and fine-tuned open source models as the AI landscape is changing rapidly.”

By unbundling the ERP, Light is giving something of a middle-finger to legacy applications such as Oracle NetSuite, SAP ERP and Microsoft Dynamics, while also taking on “younger” upstarts such as Quickbooks and Xero. The company is targeting “multi-entity international companies” with the promise of a unified dashboard for all their global transactions, one that’s “fully searchable and queryable using AI.”

The is all the result of Sanders’ own personal frustrations of working with established ERP systems.

“I remember one time, I was working with the finance team on some report from the ERP system, and it took the page more than 20 seconds to load — I asked why the Wi-Fi was so slow,” Sanders said. “They said it wasn’t the Wi-Fi that was the problem, it was the product. I immediately knew something had to be done.”

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On top of that, Sanders also touts a slicker “Apple-like” interface design, one that finance teams might not hate using.

Light vs Oracle NetSuite: Side-by-side. Image Credits: Light
Image Credits: Light

The long and short of this is that rather than offering things like CRM, HR or project management, Light only serves features such as accounts receivable (AR), accounts payable (AP), bookkeeping, VAT reporting and more.

But why bother unbundling in the first place?

While having a fully featured ERP makes sense for some businesses, for instance where there needs to be a tight alignment between sales, supply chain and workforce data (e.g. in manufacturing), this isn’t the case for many (or even most) businesses today — businesses that are already using standalone tools that traditionally existed in a ERP platform.

“We’ve chosen to focus on the general ledger to build a clean and focused product — this is the hardest, and most important, problem to solve for modern finance teams,” Sanders said. “Modern companies use the best CRM, like Salesforce; and the best HR software, like Workday or Factorial. But there’s no global ledger that is unbundled from the ERP suite, so you are forced to implement a full-stack ERP with embedded CRM and HRM products you never use.”

Sold as a subscription with volume-based pricing, Light also hopes to target a new breed of company weary of legacy software priced on a per-seat basis that ultimately limits access to a select few in the company. Thus, Light is fairly broad in terms of identifying a target market — the only thing that they might have in common is a desire to scale globally.

“The primary day-to-day users are finance teams, including the CFO,” Sanders said. “Whether the company is 50 employees or 5,000, they can leverage Light for their global operations. We focused on making the interface with the rest of the business seamless, so anyone with the right permissions can easily approve invoices, upload expenses and query vendor information or reports.”

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Light work

After leaving his position as head of payments at Pleo in 2020, Sanders went on to found another fintech company called Juni, which develops tools to help e-commerce companies manage their finances better. That startup went on to raise north of $280 million, but Sanders left in 2022. He maintains that there was nothing particularly acrimonious about his departure.

“We wanted to take the company in different directions — I remain a happy shareholder, cheering from the sidelines,” Sanders said.

And so in 2023, Sanders incorporated Light, and although it has been operating in stealth for the past year, the platform is already technically live and available globally. The lion’s share of its current customers hail from the Nordics, including Worksome, Lenus, Famly and Proxify — this is something that Sanders says positions his own company well to thrive.

“In the Nordics, as well as in other smaller countries in Europe, companies have to be global from day one,” Sanders said. “This means that as soon as you find commercial traction, you need to open legal entities in other countries and your financial backbone breaks. Our mission is to help these companies early on in their journey to go global and unshackle them from the burdens of existing legacy solutions.”

Aside from lead backer Atomico, Light’s seed round also included participation from Cherry Ventures, Entrée Capital, Seedcamp, and angels such as German soccer player Mario Götze.

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