Building an Auto Reconciliation Tool for Xero

Xero is a pretty cool tool for accounting. It helps you to input all your income and outgoings and populates charts which tell you what is going on. Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet and all the good stuff! I wish I could say that I had this stuff organized from the beginning but that would be a big lie. Roomfilla was incorporated in August 2015. I have just finished putting the best part of 4 years of transactions into Xero and found some issues.

No Auto Reconcile / Bulk Reconcile in Xero

With the bank feeds that you can integrate with Xero, chances are your bank will feed transactions directly into the system. The problem is if you find yourself in the situation that I found myself in and having to manually input a bunch of old transactions into the system. I sped this process up massively using Zapier and Parseur and a few other tricks but even after that, you get an orange unreconciled mark on the transaction… this kinda sucks. The only way you can really get this done is to go into the transaction, click a menu button and then click a button to reconcile. Long. Winded. Nonsense.

It was at this point that I thought there must be a better way to do it. I then remembered a tool I have used for such monotonous tasks before called Fake and got to work with building a workflow and it was surprisingly straightforward to do.

The Outline

The workflow I wanted to create needed to automatically click on the transactions which were not reconciled and do the clicks in the right places to reconcile those documents. Simply really. I thought it would be good if I could set the amount of loops that the flow would run through and also put in some conditions. I saw that on the main statement page ‘unreconciled’ appeared so I could definitely use that as a condition to proceed. Also when clicking ‘Mark as reconciled’ it loads a success message. Again I can use this as a condition to only proceed if this message appeared.

The Process

It really is super simple to build this in Fake. First of all you need to create a repeat block and you can toggle that to repeat as many times as you need to. Secondly, you want to load the URL of the bank statement with the ‘unreconciled’ transactions on it. You will need to filter this by the reconciled row to ensure you get the unreconciled transactions at the top. I then created a mouse event to click the top one in the list. You can hold ctrl and drag to where you want to click. Super easy! After this I created a mouse event to click the menu, and again to click the ‘Mark as Reconciled’ tab. You can see at the start I have a condition to ensure there are some transactions to be reconciled and at the end I have a condition waiting for the success message.

This is a success! A simple workflow to save you time clicking through all this nonsense yourself. Set it for how many transactions you have to reconcile and get on with something else.

That’s about it. There are a lot of boring admin tasks that can be automated with tools like Fake. I had 4 years worth of transactions to do here and it made the process a lot more pleasant. A bulk reconcile tool for Xero would be super useful or a way to do it in their system but it simply doesn’t exist. This is a nice workaround to do it quickly. Quick side note – I can understand why they don’t have a bulk tool as these transactions should all be checked and confirmed. We did this before they reached Xero though so it was a case of trying to get them in the system as efficiently as possible. I hope this has helped someone!

Cheap Alternative to Webmerge / Docupilot using Zapier!

Before I start, I’m not saying not to use these tools but there is a cheaper alternative to them. It is somewhat limited so if you are looking for a fuller solution then eat your heart out. Coming from a startup founder’s perspective where we’re watching every penny we spend, there is a way to create the effects of Webmerge and Docupilot without having to spend the money on another bit of SaaS.

For context, Webmerge has a starting plan of $29 but only includes 30 merges so realistically most businesses would be on the next plan which is $99. Docupilot does 100 documents for $29 and 500 for $99. Do you as a small business have an extra $1,000+ to spend on something like this? That is a decision you need to make!

Why Create Documents from Templates?

There are various reasons why your business might be able to save time by creating documents from templates. If you provide tickets, receipts or personalized guides then creating specific tailored documents to your users shows them that you are providing them with that extra service! It also can help your business document receipts / invoices where no two documents are the same. Doesn’t sound bad and it isn’t!

For context, how do I use a document merge service? At Roomfilla, we provide all guests with an e-ticket after booking. The e-ticket has all their booking details on with the check in and check out date. Providing this to guests makes check in easy as they can provide it at the reception of properties and hey presto, smooth, simple and effective checkins take place. We handle quite a volume of bookings on a monthly basis so were looking for a way to do this with the systems that we already use in a cheap and effective manner. I am sure if we used a service like Docupilot or Webmerge then our e-tickets would look a lot prettier, but for the sake of hacking a solution together which doesn’t really cost anything. We decided to use Google Docs. Yes, that is correct – Google Docs.

The Workflow is Simple

Firstly, you probably want to go to Google Docs and create a new document. Use this as your template so create the document as you need it to look. Where you want to add the custom data, just put fields like ‘{{PASSENGERNAME}}’, ‘{{BOOKINGID}}’ etc. It is important to put the double brackets round them. These fields will automatically be detected in Zapier later. Call the file something like ‘Ticket Template’ and remember where you put it in your Google Drive.

This is pretty easy to follow right?

The next step is to actually create the flow in Zapier. If you aren’t familiar with Zapier, it is pretty much a badass product which connects all the tools you use. They have a ton of integrations and you can create some quite advanced stuff relatively simply on it. For this use case, you need to have a trigger – which is where you will get the information you need from and then the action which will be to create the Google Doc document.

A trigger can be anything from a Stripe payment, Typeform submission, Webhook received or in the case I use it an email is parsed with Parseur. We parse all of our confirmed booking emails and then use the data fields from the parse to create our document. After you have set up your trigger source you can go to the action. Here you want to set up your Google Doc permissions and hit the create document from template option.

On the next page, you will need to find the document and fill in the custom fields. When you pull the document in, it will auto generate those fields. Pretty cool right!

What I have done here just for the demo purpose is to take the fields from a push by zapier trigger. You can see how I auto generate those fields, so they will change every time we receive a booking. I can even change the name of the document each time. Here I am using <guest name> – <confirmation code>.

Now that this has been done. It is time to test it and see if it works! Once you have the success message in Zapier, go back to your Google Drive and find the file. Open it up and have a look to see if you have success or not.

Woohoo, it works!

That’s pretty cool right! So that is the basics of creating a document merging data from other software you may use into it. Now that this has been done, there is a ton of other things you can automatically generate. For example, in the workflow I use for Roomfilla, we keep all guest details in a CRM system. We can automatically take this Google Doc document, convert it to PDF. Upload the PDF to a specific dropbox folder, get the share link for that document and add it to the CRM profile of the guest.

This works super well as we have an automated message triggered from our systems 3 days before check in providing them with the e-ticket. This is a separate Zapier flow but grabs this document and sends it to guests and helps us with smooth checkins.

I hope this post has been useful for those looking for a cheap alternative to their document merging needs. There are of course some costs involved in this. You will need to be able to use Zapier, have a source of data which works with Zapier and proficiency in using Google Docs. There are so many things which can be automated and I hope this can spark the interest in some people to try a few things outside of their comfort zone!

BnBChatbot Doesn’t Work – RIP

Sometimes you create something which you think will work and ultimately it doesn’t. The project I created called BnBChatbot is one of those projects and unfortunately now I am signing the official death warrant for it. It was a cool idea and I enjoyed spending time learning about chatbots and the potential they have. Messenger marketing on Facebook has huge potential but this project just didn’t get the traction needed to justify me ploughing further time into it, so it is going on the scrap heap.

Why Kill BnBChatbot Now?

It is a valid question and the truth is, I stopped using it for Roomfilla. If I am not using it for my own project which I thought I built it for to solve the issue I was having, then perhaps the issue didn’t exist or the product I built, didn’t solve the issue as smoothly as I thought. With Roomfilla, a percentage of the business is through upsells of additional services such as transfers, tours and all that good stuff. We invest quite heavily into these sites such as Explore Phi Phi, Kathmandu Bus, Siam Ferry and more peripheral websites.

I spent quite a lot of time building such additional service booking functionality directly into the chatbots I created. The chatbots however were simply not converting as well as the previous funnels that were created. We saw a dip in Stripe transactions during the months when I was heavily forcing all our guests to use bots primarily. We then did a hybrid approach of bot and old style funnels and saw these conversions increase again but it started to become apparent, that why bother with the bot if we can automate the other areas of the communications into such a way that makes sense.

Are Chatbots a Gimmick?

Possibly. They are new, they are exciting and they are different. We had a lot of users interact with the bot during our months of testing and found that guests did enjoy clicking around and probably clicked around more than they needed to purely because it was interactive and different. Chatbots are still not the norm and I think that some people who interacted with the BnBChatbot were having their first interactions with a chatbot like this in this setting which was novel for them. Novelty didn’t lead to increased sales or dramatically reduce our workload so unfortunately it led to the question – what is the point of keeping this going?

BnBChatbot was initially built so I could learn more about chatbot frameworks and how they work. It was built to solve our needs of guest communications and as a potential product we could sell as a secondary service. Building bots for other customers is a truly custom job. The more I interacted with interested parties, the more I found out that everybody has their own systems and wants a bot to work specifically in those systems. Multiple language requests, a bot feeding directly into a complex system and other custom integrations were asked for. There didn’t seem to be a way to mass market these bots which is what I wanted to do. Price low, create a sort of bot template and sell to the mass market. That did not exist and I do not want to be in the business of being a bot builder. There are plenty of those already existing.

A Phoenix Rises from the Ashes

Side projects like BnBChatbot are great. All in all, it was a fun weekend / evening project which I tried to not let consume too much of my idea or focus from my main work with Roomfilla. That was great and it is fun to build something like this from scratch, it stimulates the brain and teaches you a whole bunch of things as you solve the challenges and learn about a whole new area of tech. Side projects often ensure you develop new skills which you may not know at the time, can be applied to other areas of business and life. BnBChatbot is no different, it was made with the intention of ‘how can I automate guest communications?’. We may have just solved that in another way, so thats excellent!

Guest communications is such a tricky thing to automate as guests ask all sorts of questions and there isn’t a one size fits all answer to these questions. The best way to do it when managing a large portfolio of properties is to provide as much information as possible along with the communications and speed up things such as foreign languages being automatically translated to English and have them all appear in the place you spend all your time, for me this is Slack.

With a bit of magic from Zapier, Slack, Gmail API, a teeny Python script, email parsing and a database app. We have created something far better than BnBChatbot ever could have been. Far more efficient. Far more advanced. Far more.. just works. I’ll be going into this in more details in upcoming blogs when I start a series on ‘How to create a DIY Multi Inbox for your vacation rental properties.’

How to Split Webhooks with Zapier

Webhooks are great right? They let you pass information where you need them and then you can use them when you need to use them. Sounds perfect! There can come a time however when you have a webhook built into a script which you want to be able to do multiple different things. Multiple different things with the same webhook becomes difficult if you are not passing a lot of data. 

This problem occurred to me. I have a python script which when executed passed a webhook to a URL after every loop through. The webhook will then pass a URL which I then want to search in a CRM system and change the stage of a deal. The issue is, some of the URLs are in the first stage and some in the 2nd and 3rd.. etc. How does one solve this? 

With a master hook that is how! The python script will pass the data to one webhook. This will then go into zapier and that is where the magic happens;

  1. Webhook arrives (trigger in Zapier)
  2. find the URL in the CRM to find the deal
  3. with this found, you can see what stage that deal is. Each stage has an ID
  4. Create 4 fresh webhook zaps and note the URL of the webhooks
  5. Create a google sheet with the 4 webhook URLs, in the same row, add the id of each stage
  6. In the master hook zap, add a stage to search this google sheet for the stage id. 
  7. Finally push a webhook out and build the url with <webhook url>+<google sheet info>+<url data in step 1>
  8. Hey presto, you have successfully filtered the webhooks to where they need to go. 

What can I do now?

Now that you have each of these webhooks receiving based on the master hook zap – you can build the zaps you need for each. The Stage 1 zap can now push the deal to stage 2 and mark an activity as done. The stage 2 zap can now push the deal to stage 3 and mark an activity as done etc etc. 

This is a fairly powerful workflow as it let’s you create a bunch of custom actions based off a single webhook. It takes a bit of time and patience to set up correctly and for a noob like me, dealing with webhooks is something completely new but I am starting to realize the potential now. 

After spending way too long trying to do a PUT request with Python or javascript or some other nonsense, I even found that you can do this with a webhook directly from Zapier! That was a pretty great non technical achievement to set up. 

Do a Google Search from Slack!

Everybody loves going to a search engine when something doesn’t make sense. If you aren’t already at your browser though you may be thinking… hey, how can I speed up my workflow and ensure I can limit my time spend? Well today I introduce you a basic workflow which will allow you to search within Slack. 

I know, I know.. first world problems. This is something which doesn’t really solve much problems but it does speed things up! The benefits from what I could see were the following;

  • Easily create a search in slack, spit out a URL and click it… hello efficiency!
  • Slack is usually where you talk with your team. Being able to share a search with your team is incredibly powerful
  • Everybody loves a Slackbot right? #amiright

The initial outline

Ok, so we want to do a search in slack and then get a Google URL. How would we go about this? Well of course, the workflow will be something I will share below. This is what I want to happen;

  1. Go to a specific slack channel
  2. Write ‘search <thing you want to search>
  3. A bot will send a message with the URL of the search which you can then click

I told you it wasn’t difficult right. So let’s get cracking. I guess it makes sense to try and figure out how Google searches look and understand the URL… let’s search for sausage and beans for jokes… 

A casserole recipe! Well… that looks tasty but look at the top… look at that horrendous URL. Incase you can’t see it, it looks like this –….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..4.15.1567.0..0i131k1j0i10k1.87.t-_Jvn3kfjY

Not too much of a fan of all that source and following information. Just want something to work and don’t really want to get the Google suggestions… I just want the things that work… I think it is time for a pivot!

The pivot

All the cool kids pivot right? This is mine. Time to use DuckDuckGo. It is like Google but without all the tracking and annoying cookies and other non-edible joke things. If I do a search on DuckDuckGo what do I see? Oh! Oh! This is something I can work with.

More importantly to this is the URL. The URL is This is easy and easy to work with. So the string that we need to create is whatever we want to work with + instead of the spaces and we just need to attach the whole lot to the end of<SEARCH+HERE>. 

Putting it all together…

like a great sausage and beans casserole.. anyone else hungry by this point? Ok stop messing around. This is a super simple process with Zapier. Let’s get started!

Step 1 – You will need to go create a new zap and have Slack as the trigger. Choose post message to a channel and choose which channel you want this to work on. I chose #random because we never use it. 

Step 2 – We want this to only trigger if the message starts with search. This will mean that if the message is anything else then it won’t trigger the action. You can do this by setting up a filter. 

Easy life that worked! Now to split the text so that you can add it to the search for DuckDuckGo. For this you need to use the formatter tool. First we need to split the text.

Step 3 – Make a Formatter action and then choose the split text function. You want the formatter to return everything after the ‘search ‘ in the message. Very easy to set up like this;

Now that we have sausage and beans I think there is an end to the journey but one more formatter is needed. We said earlier that the DuckDuckGo search uses + instead of spaces. So this time we want to use the replace function. 

Step 4 – Open formatter use the replace function and make sure you use it based on the last output as that is the text we need to manipulate now. Use the replace function and replace the spaces with +. Very simple and your output should look like this;

Yehaw! Now to add the last step which is to push this all back into the #random channel in Slack with the search term. For this you will need to use a Slack action.

Step 5 – Make a new channel message in Slack and choose what you want it to say. For this example I will make it say ‘Click here to see that search! <SEARCH LINK>. Easy way to finish off. I will make it send as a bot and my bot will be Bulma from DBZ because why not…

Turn the zap on and you are now ready to search in slack. Let’s have some fun. 

Automating Your Etsy Store!

How did I end up here?

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Selling on Etsy is fairly difficult. If you manage to get some traction then you will find that more sales will likely follow. I started to sell a few things on Etsy to just try to understand the market and dip my toes into some ecommerce. It all started like all good things start… out shopping!

I was walking around Bangkok and figured to go into one of the shopping malls for the air conditioning and shelter from the sweltering weather. I didn’t really have any plans to buy anything and I think this frame of mind is very much the definition of mooching. I was mooching around and noticed there was a handicraft market going on in the middle of the shopping mall and decided to take a closer look. 

Pretty standard stuff but one thing in particular caught my eye – a stall selling handmade natural wood business card holders. I always see these guys at networking events with these metal card holders so figured I could probably make use of one. Purchase made, I went home and decided to research the guys who made them. They had a whole line of products and some of them were pretty cool. I figured, I could probably sell the stuff on Etsy as it was handmade and just work as a middle man connecting the Thai seller with the European, US and Australian buyers. Fast forward 3 months, and the first sale happened. 

Initial Traction

Please note if you are easily offended by me calling myself a ‘biatch’ in Slack, please click the x on this tab. Everybody should have the right to call themselves whatever they want.

That was cool! I can now see when an order comes in but I still need to manually go to Etsy, find out what it is and then message the guys to fulfill it. The deal I made was to not touch any goods, I hate the word but effectively dropship the items where I provide the item quantity and the address, they provide me the bill and everyone is happy. 

Turns out even this takes more time than I wanted to spend… how do you automate this so that I can literally click a button and have it taken care of?

Email Parsing comes to the rescue!

An email parser is something that looks at your email and looks for patterns within it, it then will extract certain pieces of text / data which you can then feed into other applications you may want to use. I figured that the important bits of text from an Etsy order confirmation were the following;

It will end up looking something like this. I took the transaction ID from the subject of the email but could have also grabbed it from the body.

Now I had all the fields I needed there was just one more problem. The makers of the products had somewhat standard names for them. I obviously had tried to make them sound more appealing playing on alliteration and other techniques. I couldn’t just send them the product name that I had and expect them to fulfill it. How would I go about fixing this? Time to get automatic. Let’s head to Zapier. 

Automating the Data

Before creating a Zap (process in Zapier). I like to try and envisage it in my head and write it down if possible. What we want to be able to do here is the following;

  1. Only process on emails matching the Etsy confirmation style – easily achieved with a filter. 
  2. Send the email to the parser – simple with the Parseur application.
  3. Take the parsed text and feed the product into a database to find the matching text – could use Google Sheets for this but I used Airtable.
  4. When the matching field is found, find the other field in the row which is the name the maker gave the product. 
  5. Compose an email to the maker with the Order ID in the title and ‘New Order Received – ID’ in the subject and giving the order details in the body with the quantity. 
  6. Compose an email to the buyer thanking them for the order and letting them know that we have many other products for sale and if they did want more they would save on shipping (the upsell).
  7. Add the customer email to a list – mailchimp or google sheet works here.
  8. Send a message in Slack to provide basic details on the price and items that have been ordered – this just ensures that I see it from the Slack command center. 
Easy life.

Issues to overcome

Parseur which is the email parsing product I use have a table parsing feature. This will identify a table and parse all data within it. This means if someone orders 1 item, it will parse the information for the 1 item, if 2 or 3, you will still get the items parsed. The problem with this is that it is hard to feed it into Zapier with the lookup database workflow to get the real names if you don’t know how many items are going to appear each time. This led us to not using this feature in the parser. So how did we solve it?

Parseur doesn’t put a limit on the amount of email addresses you can use for parsing. I simply created an inbox for 1 item and an inbox for 2 items and so on. It is rare that someone orders more than 4 different items from us, so setting up these 4 inboxes covered 100% of the orders. Now this does mean that you actually have to set up individual zaps in Zapier for each of these to run correctly and you will need to manually trigger the process by looking in the email for how many items before sending it to the right inbox.. this is a small price to pay for the freedom it allows though!