Meet the other finalists:
Michael Ly is convinced that the rapid growth of his three-year-old firm to 18 staff is connected, at least in part, to the location of its head office. The firm, Reconciled, is in Burlington, Vermont, a city and state associated with the good life.
Not that all 18 staff live in Vermont. Reconciled has a distributed or remote team that communicates via video (Zoom, Google Meet) and chat (Slack). The work-at-home vibe contributes to a culture that flows through to better customer service, Ly says.
|Name of Company||Reconciled|
|Location of Company||Burlington, Vermont USA|
|How long have you been in business?||3|
|Number of staff?||18|
|Number of clients?||100|
|Staff to client ratio||10|
|Do you outsource bookkeeping or accounting work?||Yes|
|What % of your clients are on value pricing/fixed fee?||100|
|What % of your clients are on cloud accounting software?||100|
|What % of your clients are on QBO?||100|
Digital First: Why do you think you are a finalist?
Michael: The reason that we are a finalist is the Intuit is recognising the work that we have been doing over the past three years. We have 18 people, working in five states, and we have established ourselves as a pioneer in the online bookkeeping space.
We are a distributed virtual team and we leverage all the technology that Intuit has given us as a firm to serve our clients, as well as the app ecosystem.
(Other reasons for our selection include) the team that we have built here at Reconciled and obviously the growth that we have been having as a firm.
Digital First: How are you a pioneer?
Michael: I think we have built a brand that customers can trust. When our customers look at the landscape of what’s being offered to them with cloud based accounting firms they look for a brand story, a trusted brand that they resonate with. They see my story in starting Reconciled and it resonates with their own story as an entrepreneur.
Cloud based accounting firms might be the norm in the rest of the world but it’s not the norm in the US. it’s still a small percentage of firms that are cloud based and distributed.
Digital First: What is it about your brand that makes you trusted?
Michael: I think that they want a genuine, authentic person behind the brand. I moved to Vermont to raise a family and I wanted to find a way to build a business and a legacy for my family while doing it from a small state and city like Burlington, Vermont. Burlington is known for high quality products. When we talk to customers a lot of them say they like that we’re in Burlington, Vermont. Even though we’re not in the same state we resonate with the story and what Vermont represents – high quality products and services, progressive values, as well as a meaningful life.
You hear a lot of stories coming out of Silicon Valley but a lot of entrepreneurs desire the higher quality of life that Vermont has to offer.
Digital First: I don’t know anything about Vermont. What high-quality products does it produce?
Michael: Ben and Jerry’s, a famous ice cream brand. Seventh generation is a high quality cleaning brand. Lake Champlain Chocolates. We also have the highest amount of breweries per capita in the US. We have really high quality alcohol. A number of tech companies have come out of here.
Probably the most famous guy to come out of here is Bernie Sanders. He’s down the street from my house.
Digital First: So your clients are getting a slice of high-quality life by using you as their bookkeeping firm?
Michael: Yes, and they can see that our employees are not hurried or rushed. They work as a distributed team and from home so they are able to enjoy their lifestyle and work. Rather than getting in a car and driving to an office (every day) our employees can invest that time into their families and community. Our clients understand that they are much more fulfilled.
I’ve believed that if I could give quality of life for my team it would resonate out through their services. Because the work that they are doing can be repetitive work – reviewing financials and transactions. It can also be stressful. We built a work environment and we have given them a normal amount of work that a normal human being can do.
I really think our team is happier and fulfilled and that reflects in the way that they communicate with our clients.
Digital First: So culture is a big selling point?
Digital First: Do you provide advisory and software implementation?
Michael: We have a standard software stack for clients. We use Receipt Bank, Bill.com and QuickBooks Online. Then about 25 percent of our bookkeeping clients sign up for advisory services. These would be anywhere from cashflow forecasting, estate planning, helping them raise money with a bank or investors, big debt negotiation and general management and advisory services. We also do app implementation and heavy research in apps when our clients request us to – it could be inventory or supply chain or e-commerce reporting. We demo the apps to the clients and implement the software.
|What apps do you use for productivity?||G Suite, Slack, Zoom, QBOA Work|
|What apps do you use for workflow?||QBOA Work and Slack|
|Tax and Statuory accounts?||QBO|
|Electronic signatures?||Practice Ignition|
|Document storage?||Receipt Bank, G Suite, Sharefile|
Digital First: How do you charge for the R&D?
Michael: Almost all of our work is done on value pricing. We can estimate the amount of time that it will take to do the implementation and the value it will bring to the client.
Digital First: You must have multi-skilled people to cover that range of apps?
Michael: We have technicians who understand not just the bookkeeping side but understand the apps. We designate our team specialists; they choose one or two specialty areas in their research. We have a person that is into e-commerce related apps, another on sales tax for multi-state sales tax reporting, we have somebody on our team who is a blockchain expert and a cannabis expert. There are a variety of different areas and we let our team members choose what are they want to specialise in.
Digital First: Isn’t that a strategic decision about which industries to go after? Why let teammates choose?
Michael: We have been able to define our strengths and skillset. We target e-commerce companies, digital marketing agencies, breweries, distilleries and wineries, so we have a few areas of expertise. We also actively work with cannabis companies. There are only a few accounting firms that will work with cannabis companies because cannabis isn’t federally legal on the hemp side. Some firms are avoiding working with them until it is federally legalised.
(It’s the same with blockchain.) Not many accounting firms understand the nuances and questions that blockchain companies have to deal with.
Digital First: What are those nuances and questions?
Michael: Some of the questions that come up – are smart contracts legal in the state I’m operating in? Will they be acceptable in a court of law? In an open blockchain who are the owners and partners of the company if you have miners that participate in creating a blockchain and making the blockchain bigger? Are miners considered partners or owners?
Do people exchanging coins on your blockchain receive 1089 forms or are they considered contractors? Should you do a coin offering or not and what are the tax implications?
Digital First: Do you have a larger R&D budget or training budget?
Michael: We require all our bookkeepers to receive their certifications before they can start working with the client. That usually takes them a week or two to finish them and start getting familiar with all the internal apps. We use Slack internally to do efficient communications as a team. Often we’re the first company that introduces them to tools like Slack or Zoom or Google Meet.
Digital First: Are you using QuickBooks Online Accountant and Slack?
Michael: We’re probably one of the largest firms using that integration. We have a private slack channel for every client that we’re working on. We can integrate QBOA’s work tab with that. It’s been very helpful as a reminder and a pulse of where bookkeepers are at with their work.