New firm adds 100 clients in a year and a half.
Paul Meissner had high hopes when he left a traditional accounting firm to start his own practice. But even he is surprised that within two years he has made gold partner status for cloud accounting vendor Xero. Meissner’s Melbourne-based Five Ways Group hit the qualifying 100-customer mark after starting out from scratch 18 months ago.
“We’re growing at a pretty rapid clip,” said Meissner, director of Five Ways Group. “I think it’s having the right model for accounting. It’s the fixed fee (services), it’s not doing time sheets, it’s the monthly billing, it’s creating a better environment that clients want to be part of.”
The firm’s startling rate of growth would have caused problems in conventional practices that relied on server-based technology, Meissner said. When a new employee joined the company, Five Ways added an extra user to its cloud services such as Box.net, which cost $25 per month.
“The cloud has really given us scalability. We didn’t have to buy a bigger server after six months. We would have moved offices twice if we were a traditional firm. We would have blown I hate to think how much money on servers, telephone systems, whatever.
“We’ve never had anything in our IT infrastructure hold us back for more than 30 seconds. How many people can say that?” asked Meissner.
Five Ways has clients in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney, though most were based in Melbourne. Despite the distances involved, the quality of service was no different to conventional accounting firms, Meissner said.
“As an accountant previously in traditional firms, my clients may as well have been interstate for the amount of time I saw them. I only dealt with them by email and phone. It’s just a mental thing.”
Most of Five Ways’ clients found the firm through Twitter. Meissner engaged in regular conversations with Twitter accounts held by Xero and its sales team which increased his exposure and made the young firm seem larger than it was. A common conversation with prospective clients found through Twitter was, “I love Xero; my accountant doesn’t,” Meissner said.
“Twitter is beautiful, it’s just word-of-mouth on steroids,” Meissner said. “After less than six months in business I went to Xerocon (Xero’s partner conference) in New Zealand. We were two idiots and a laptop, we didn’t have an office and didn’t know what we were doing. People were saying to us, how many staff do you have, can we come and work for you, you’re doing all this stuff online.”
A year later and the fledgling firm has established “hotdesking” offices in Hawthorn, Melbourne, downstairs from Xero. Five Ways rolled in an established bookkeeping business and had four full-time staff including an accountant who handled compliance for Xero clients.
Meissner and his business partner Ryan Tietjens were on the verge of launching a service for accountants and bookkeepers that converted MYOB and QuickBooks files to Xero through an outsourcing company in India.
The service, due to launch on Monday, cost $199 per conversion. “We’ve really simplified the process for accountants. In two minutes they can upload and pay us a low fee and then in three business days they get their Xero file back,” Meissner said.
Accountants could charge $500 to upload a file and use the Five Ways service to do 80 percent of the work for 20 percent of the cost, Meissner said. Companies developing online tools to perform a similar task were unlikely to succeed, he added.
“Every MYOB file is subtly different. You can’t build one tool to match every single file in every version,” Meissner said.