Sitting in the passenger seat with founders helping them achieve their dreams | Martin Zych
Sitting in the passenger seat with founders helping them achieve their dreams | Martin Zych
“What we’re doing as accounting and finance professionals is helping to drive smart decision making. So if we can paint that picture correctly, we’re able to help and kind of guide here’s what I thought would happen.”
Martin Zych, Jirav
Today I’m speaking with Martin Zych CEO & Co-founder of Jirav
In this episode, we talk about . . .
Building Jirav, as the solution Martin needed while working as a CFO throughout his career.
Interpreting and commenting on the business data, sharing nuggets of knowledge and wisdom, and adding value to your client’s engagement.
The recent Series A Funding raise and what that means to Jirav.
I learnt the term “Cannon Ball in the pool” – Jump in and sign up for a trial.
Why Martin thinks we should all read “The Hard Thing about Hard Things.”
Giraffes are actually Martin’s favourite animal!
What’s something that not many people know about you?
Martin Zych: So a unique thing about me is that my favourite animal is actually the giraffe.
What is so special about your favourite animal?
Martin Zych: Yeah. Ever since like little kid, I just loved them. Like going to the zoo and that’s the last animal I’d wait for ’cause I’d save the best for last.
Can you share with me a giraffe memory?
Martin Zych: There are so many good ones, but I remember one of my favourite ones was taking my family over to a giraffe zoo over in Florida. And I have a little daughter and I was there with my wife, and getting to feed them when they reach over and they’re just so gigantic when you actually see them in person. And so the coolest thing ever, get to hand them some lettuce and feed these majestic creatures.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. I went to Australia Zoo, which is Steve Irwin’s zoo, which is quite near me, last month. And one of the giraffes there just went in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the tallest giraffe, but it took them like a year to measure it, to actually get the measurements of it.
Martin Zych: Oh, wow.
Heather Smith: So that was kind of interesting. It’s interesting also that all of their spots, if we call them spots, are unique. Every giraffe has a unique pattern.
So can you share with our listeners, Martin, a bit about your background?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So for my background, I actually have a finance degree and an accounting degree. So growing up, I kind of learned both of those spectrums and I was from University of Washington. So I grew up in the Seattle area, in Seattle, Washington. And I learned going through that programme a lot and then I dove straight into doing financial analytics for companies. So kind of learned … We worked at a CFO consulting firm in the early 2000s where we’d help different startup companies, when it’s four people and a dog, and they want to raise a million bucks, they’d hire my firm. We’d go in, build their financial model and then, prop up their kind of finance and accounting processes and do this kind of part-time controllership work. So did that for many years, learned a tonne doing this and really a lot of different kinds of businesses.
Martin Zych: And while I was doing that over the years, kind of saw a big gap in the marketplace and decided to start a little company called Jirav. It’s spelled J-I-R-A-V, so complete misspelling of the word giraffe. And what we’re doing now is helping to automate the financial reporting and analytics process and the forecasting for these kind of high growth companies.
Heather Smith: So that must’ve been a pretty big step from working in business, working with clients to actually launching a software venture.
Can you talk a little bit around that?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So this was kind of it’s the dream tool that I wish I had while I was working. And what I did was I tried everything that was out there in the marketplace. And at my last company, ended up raising some venture capital. We had kind of an unlimited budget and I really tried everything from the bottom of the stack to six-figure kind of software and implemented one of them, and when it … It was great when it’s up and running, but it took like half a year to be up and running and we had to spend hundred thousand bucks on it. And that’s one of the kind of the little … the cartoon light bulb popped up above my head and said, “There’s got to be a better way to do this.” And the best solutions out there and the best startups come from when someone sees a need from that. And then from there, just teamed up with an amazing group of folks for technical team and kind of iterated and worked with a lot of customers to make it happen.
Heather Smith: It is exciting in the accounting apps market space when the actual venture has actually born out of an accountant, an accountant identifying a need. So that’s very exciting.
So why is data modelling key to building future-looking meaningful financials?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So within Jirav and what we do for doing meaningful kind of forward-looking financials, this is a really important thing because I learned in my career early on that just creating retrospective and historical information, people are trying to piece together things from that, tell a story of what’s going on, but ultimately, they’re trying to make decisions for what’s going to happen next quarter or next month. And what we’re doing as accounting and finance professionals is helping to drive smart decision making. So if we can paint that picture correctly, we’re able to help and kind of guide here’s what I thought would happen. And you don’t always … No one’s ever a hundred percent accurate, but if you do a smart kind of assumption and you look at the metrics and the KPIs from that, and you iterate really quickly, and if you can do this in a fast way, that’s how we help people achieve their dreams of when they’re doing a startup company.
Can you explain to our listeners what Jirav is and what it does and sort of some of the features within the solution?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So Jirav’s a cloud financial planning and analysis platform. So we do financial forecasting at our core as well as kind of the reporting and dashboard analytics around this. So the way the app works is we’ll integrate with your different cloud accounting tools, so QuickBooks Online, Xero, NetSuite, Intacct, and then, we automatically bring that into the platform. It’s kind of designed for instant gratification, two minutes, hookup to your QuickBooks account, and you’re ready to go.
Martin Zych: And then, the next thing we do is we bring in other operational data. So we have a partnership with Gusto payroll. They’re awesome. And then you hook up Gusto payroll, two minutes later, you’ve got all your headcount in there. And a lot of things in your business are functions of people and things like that. So now, you can really quickly start building kind of formulas and drive the business looking the way it really looks. And then on top of that, we’ll bring in sales information or other custom data on top of that, and really build that holistic picture of the business that’s going on.
Martin Zych: And now once that’s set up, we can basically automate the monthly reporting that goes around it. You can iterate on these plans. You can build these different scenarios. And this is really, really key for something that traditionally has been done in Excel and it takes 40 hours to build a model in Excel. And now, we have some of our customers, they’ll do it in an afternoon and this helps them guide those strategic decisions.
Heather Smith: So you’ve built a solution that you wished you had while you were actually in business.
Some of the highlighted Jirav’s features – from Jirav’s website
How do you envisage the accountants and the bookkeepers effectively and efficiently using Jirav and providing advisory services across their client base?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So there’s this huge shift in the industry towards advisory service, and everyone says, “I need to differentiate myself.” We’ve been focusing on in the accounting industry on inputs always. It’s been like, “How do I automate AP input faster? How do I automate the expenses faster?” And there’s so many great apps that do this side, but there hasn’t been enough look at how do I automate my outputs and also increase the quality of those?
Martin Zych: So that’s what we’re really, really focused is that deliverable on the accounting side. And when we work with accounting firms, they can actually create their own co-branded kind of portal and many accounts, for example, they verticalise. They might be” I’m the accountant for e-commerce or I’m the accountant for dentists” or anything that they want, and they get a lot of … They learn a lot from this. And what we’ve seen is the average accountant has eight clients per person, and think about if you’re doing this for 10 years, you’ve probably looked at 70, 80 company’s financials and you’re helping that business owner who’s maybe on their second or third company. So you’ve got a lot of nuggets of knowledge and wisdom.
Martin Zych: And what folks do is they’ll set up their templates in Jirav, create that visual layer on a nice dashboard. We can also lead with best practices on canned reporting packages and templates. And then, we’ve automated the process of creating the model so then it’s really easy. You don’t have to be an Excel guru. You don’t have to know code. And once people get up and running, they build one within Jirav. They can basically clone these kind of reference accounts, attach them to the next client and now, stamp that out really, really quickly and scale themselves that way.
Does that mean that their client is sticky or can their client move away, but continue to use Jirav?
Martin Zych: The templates that the accountant creates are kind of that’s their knowledge and what they’ve done to be able to create that for the client, but if a client outgrows those shoes and brings someone in house, they can always transfer over that Jirav account and keep on using that as well.
Heather Smith: Okay. That’s interesting. And I think accountants and bookkeepers, many sit in the compliance space and have a tendency, personality-wise, to be actually risk adverse. And I think what you’ve said is really important that solutions like this can assist with smart decision making. One of the things I always say is that solutions like this can inform the decision making, and I think that’s a real … And you also spoke to the fact that accountants and bookkeepers are seeing so many different accounts that they actually are picking up so many insights from the experience of seeing that. So they do have so much value to add to each of the clients who may have only ever seen one or two accounts if any of other businesses.
So how do you go about pricing it as a profitable service? How do you go about sort of rolling this out as a profitable revenue centre?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So within Jirav, we have different levels of Jirav. So we’ve got a starter version that’s a nominal cost, about the costing QuickBooks online. And then, you’ve got a pro version that has departmental budgeting and planning, an enterprise one that adds on even more to that. So it’s kind of think of it like Goldilocks and the three bears. You’ve got just the right level of porridge for the one that you need for your client. And within Jirav, folks will come in when we work with accountants, they actually would provide it like a partner programme where you get wholesale pricing. You can also get training, best practices built into this. And we’ll go through and we have companies roll out Jirav a lot of times to hundreds of companies at a time. So the time it takes for us to do, to roll it out to, say if you have 10 clients is the same almost as it takes us to do a hundred because we can templatise that and automate that process.
Martin Zych: And then in terms of pricing this for them, because of that wholesale pricing, a lot of times, there’s been this big move towards value-based pricing within the accounting industry. And people want to have folks on kind of a retainer and be like, “Hey, this is what we get, and let’s go through that.” And when they learn to use Jirav, what ends up happening is they’ll end up being able to save time, number one, because you have to, like any tech platform, you have to invest a day or two, learn it, get in there.
Martin Zych: Once you do that, then the outputs can go, it takes … Like we have a really great case study from a customer, ProvenCFO. They went from 40 hours to four hours for building a financial model. And these guys, they’re awesome, they’re in Provo, Utah, Salt Lake City, and they do this regularly for all their clients now. So once they’ve got that in, they can charge their retainer-based kind of service. They do the bookkeeping, the accounting. They add on an advisory retainer on top of that where you get your budget versus actual, you get your cash plan. And now, they deliver superior product and output for their clients as well as save time. So it’s kind of a double win for the firm.
Heather Smith: Yeah. That’s just a massive time-saving for a highly skilled staff member. That’s just incredible. And do you perceive, and I perceive this, but do you perceive that there’s a massive opportunity for reporting and analytical tools such as Jirav, particularly in the United States of America? It seems that the very top of the pyramid have adopted it, but there just seems to be massive opportunity.
Do you perceive that there is, indeed, a huge opportunity in the American market for tools like yours?
Martin Zych: Yeah, it’s a huge greenfield for this. And so, there’s those, the top of the pyramid, the enterprise companies that can afford the really expensive solutions, they’re doing this. And now, that’s the pain that I felt was I saw this big gap. And actually, the opportunity is so big that we’re pretty excited to announce we just closed a series A financing last month for $8.3 million. And this is all about our investors saw the gravitation from the accounting industry of what’s coming towards this and how fast we’re growing. And they see that it’s just a huge hot market to be able to help a lot of people.
What does that series A funding mean for Jirav and mean for you?
Martin Zych: The biggest thing, it’s a great validation for what we’ve done in the market and what we built to date. We’ve gotten a lot of industry recognition from one CPA Practice Advisors accounting innovation last year. That was really awesome. And this further kind of just shows that this is a huge opportunity and something that the industry needs.
Martin Zych: But with this now, we’re maniacally focused on how do we solve this and crack this problem for automating the financial reporting, automating the forecasting cycle, and being able to kind of roll that forward every month really easily, and keep innovating on that side. So we’ve grown our team 50% in the last six months while most companies are shedding workers and tightening belts, and we’re growing really quickly ’cause we’re helping so many people. And this increased focus on this with today’s economy and what’s going on in the world has made this even more prevalent and more important for them.
Martin in a recent post on Jirav’s official blog announcing having secured their Series A funding
Do you have teams in a number of different areas as well as across the world?
Martin Zych: Yeah, we have an office. So we’ve got a lot of folks in … So our headquarter’s San Francisco, Austin, Texas, Seattle, Washington. And we have an engineering team in Europe as well that we’ve opened up. So a lot of great people all across the world and we’re looking to expand even more.
What suggestions do you have for a practice that wants to start offering financial modelling to their clients? Where do they start? How do they start? Do they need to employ new staff with different skill sets? Do they need to upskill existing staff? What are your recommendations for them?
Martin Zych: So there’s when you’re looking to do this kind of a practice, like in some firms, they’ll have a striation called CAS, client accounting services where they’ll have a group that’s doing the accounting in the outsource group, and they add this as an extension to that team. So if you’re already doing the books and then it’s a natural growth from there. Others will already have that advisory group, but if you’re new and you’re looking to learn this, we’ve created a lot of great resources on the Jirav blog actually. And within that, we try to help folks. We have a lot of great educational content teaching the concepts of why do we do this and how do we do this and the thought process of that as well as when folks sign up for our partner programme, which is free to sign up, we get kind of guided KPIs and metrics, how-tos, forecasting how-tos. We do webinars all the time to help with this.
Martin Zych: And then, I’d recommend the best is do cannonball in the pool. Try, just jump in, sign up for a tryout and try an account and go do it. And the best is to go in, connect an account on a free trial, see, go through those resources and ask questions and we’re there to support. Now, if you have a larger firm and you’re doing this in a more … and you want to roll this out across a bigger group, we’ve actually created, we’ve rolled this out for teams like some of our largest firms have 70, 80, 90 controllers on their team and teammates. And what we’ve done is we actually create group webinars and trainings and certifications. So then, folks can go in. We walk them through a real Jirav 101, a kind of training and Jirav 201. And by the end of it, at the end of like a two-day boot camp, we’ve had where every person in the room has a financial model built and they’re ready to rock and roll from there.
Heather Smith: It’s massive. It seems like you’ve sort of built a company and it’s quite got a lot of things happening in there that can assist people wanting to roll this out. I’ve never heard the phrase cannonball in the pool.
Martin Zych: Yeah.
Heather Smith: I understand exactly where you’re going with that, but that was a new phrase for me.
Do you think there are perils to being too data-driven as an accountant, advising your clients?
Martin Zych: I don’t think there’s any perils to it. I think it’s we’re working with data every day and we’re working with numbers and we’re trying to help folks. So the number one thing I think like when I think about why we do finance and accounting, it all drives back to helping drive those strategic decisions. And we’re not doing accounting and financial reporting just to crank out the three financial statements and go to the next client. We’re going there to help them. We are their advisor on this and we’re trying to help them decide what they’re going to do for their next move.
Martin Zych: So looking at the data and not just being kind of a gopher finding it and exporting the report, but adding on that commentary and seeing and spotting the trends, ’cause we’re in those details, that really helps add value. And that’s ultimately why people hire us as finance and accounting professionals.
Heather Smith: I can sort of see in the market that a lot of people, accountants and bookkeepers, accountants primarily lost jobs at the start of COVID from the bigger companies. And I really wish they could hear these stories and actually sort of jump online to the solutions and actually learn them and open up their minds to being able to support the smaller businesses and actually with solutions such as Jirav, you can actually start a business as that being your platform and offer that as management accounting or whatever terminology you want to call that. Or they can sort of join a firm with those skill sets ’cause I think that this is kind of these micro learnings that align with your base can really help you in your career. And people, there’s just a desperate need for them in the modern accounting practices.
Heather Smith: So you did mention, you mentioned to me pre the interview.
Why do you think every person working in small business and every entrepreneur should have as a standard reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So that’s my favourite book, and we’re all working with entrepreneurs every day and understanding the crazy journeys that everyone’s going through as they’re trying to run their business and grow, and we’re literally sitting in the passenger seat with founders as they’re trying to achieve their dreams. And when I read that book, it’s got a lot of great kind of background from the founders of Netscape and all, this is … I remember Netscape growing up in early internet days, and there were a lot of breakpoints where something like that, which when you look in hindsight, you’re like “Oh, that was a massive success” and all this, there were points where the whole business could’ve crumbled based off of one little decision. And Ben Horowitz, he walks you through those on the backstory of this stuff, and it really normalises and tells you about the founder’s journey and the decisions we have to make strategically, financially as we’re guiding through these things.
Martin Zych: And when we think about enabling folks to do data-driven decisions and things like that, those real stories, they’ll make an impact and seeing those journeys is really, really important. So I just love that book and I feel like anyone working with entrepreneurs or that is an entrepreneur ’cause ultimately, a lot of accountants, we’re running our own business as accountants. There’s some really cool learnings in there and he wrote it in a way that’s just really entertaining as well.
Heather Smith: Oh, okay. That’s nice to hear that business book’s entertaining. And again, it comes back to what you’re mentioning there about the constant need of decisions within a small business. And you talked about them being strategic decisions, financial decisions, data-driven decisions. And as accountants, we’re in such a great place to actually support our clients making decisions ’cause they just need to do it. It’s something they just need to do constantly in their business. And if we can sort of assist them with that by encouraging them in so many ways, it can help.
“The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” by Ben Horowitz
Heather Smith: I did notice that a lot of the feedback on the forums was that you’re very fast at releasing new features.
What’s next on the timeline for Jirav?
Martin Zych: We’re innovating really, really quickly. We’ve got a rock star team of PhDs and solid on this and we’ve got software for accounting professionals built by accounting professionals. So we’re doing a release every month or month and a half or so. We’re continually focused on how do we make this kind of as modern, as simple and quick as possible. I love the term consumerisation of the enterprise. So think about most traditional B2B software is not known to be user friendly and it’s kind of clunky. Within Jirav, we’re using modern UI, mobile-friendly, tablet-friendly kind of design. So we’re iterating upon that. We’re ever improving within the platform.
Martin Zych: And on top of that, there’s going to be some really great new kind of features that I probably don’t want to spill all the details, but what I’d recommend is come on to the Jirav blog. It’s just J-I-R-A-V.com/blog and check it out. We do a once a month newsletter of the new things that are coming out. And then for folks that are actually customers as well, we’ve created a customer advisory board. Sometimes, we’ll show sneak peek behind the scenes and here’s what’s coming out and we love getting people’s feedback as well. So reach out to us if you’re interested in that.
Heather Smith: Yeah. That point is a really important, how you actually go about taking feedback from the customers and then, implementing that into your feature set of what you … I know that there’s a lot of, not around your solution, but frustration in the market in terms of we’re asking you for A and you keep giving us B.
So how important is it to receive that customer feedback and build that into your future features?
Martin Zych: Yeah. I mean we keep a direct line of contact with everyone. For a lot of customers, I’ve actually, we put a line in our support agreement that says you get the bat phone straight to the CEO to me. So for when we’re working with a large accounting firm on that side … but getting that feedback is really important.
Martin Zych: I had a customer in mind, she came up to me at QuickBooks Connect last year and I’d never met her in real life. She literally came up to me, gave me a huge hug and said like, “You have saved my firm and allowed me to grow and scale it.” Because using tools and templates and processes like these, she was able to, instead of having to hire these diamond in the rough Excel gurus to build all these models and forecasts and stuff, she could say, “Here’s the programme.” We did a boot camp with her team, trained them up and … But that heartfelt kind of message from someone hugging you, just being like, “You’ve helped me,” that’s what excites me and gets me happy to do this stuff every day. And I want to be able to help as many people as we can with that.
Heather Smith: Yeah. That’s an amazing story and such a heartwarming story to be able to support ’cause not only her and her team, all of her clients as well.
Martin Zych: Yeah.
After mentioning the consumerisation of the enterprise, can you explain what that means?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So think about how the world has so many of these really easy to use kind of mobile apps and things that for consumers, think about the first time you hopped in a Uber and you’re like, “Gosh, that’s so much better than a taxi,” or the first time you ordered something on GrubHub and you’re like, “That’s better than calling up the Chinese food delivery place, the restaurant and going through all that stuff.” And these are key things about looking at problems and figuring out how do we make it as smoothly with as little friction and do it in a delightful way with kind of a modern application of this. And when we think about things that way and how to solve for use cases and we can apply those concepts when building product or we can apply them to many different things, those trends when you remove friction and you do things faster and faster that way, that’s that … and to do this in a business to business kind of standpoint, that’s really, really key. And those are the kinds of businesses that are thriving now and can grow and scale faster.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for sharing that with me. Now, I should also clarify, you frequently mentioned QuickBooks Online that you integrate with.
What are the other accounting software solutions that you integrate with so our listeners are aware?
Martin Zych: Yeah. So we integrate with the API to QuickBooks online, Xero, NetSuite as well as we just finished up our Intacct integration. So that’ll be out in about two weeks or so.
Heather Smith: Excellent. Thank you for sharing that. So I think I’ve asked you what’s next for you. So I’m hoping.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners and how can they get in touch with you?
Martin Zych: Yeah. I think the biggest thing, so in terms of what else I’d like to share, I mean I could talk shop all day long on finance, accounting, tech, anything, giraffes as well as favourite animals. One question I have maybe, I should’ve asked this earlier, what’s your favourite animal?
Heather Smith: Good question. I like a dog. I love a giraffe as well. We always go and make sure we go and see giraffe. And currently, okay, so currently, I like a little penguin. So at 6:00 every evening here in Australia, little penguins migrating up the beach to their burrows is live-streamed on TV for about an hour. And it comes from Penguin Island in Melbourne and it is the most joyful thing you could imagine in these extremely stressful times. So if anyone’s listening in, just Google little penguins from St. Phillip Island in Victoria, and I encourage, it’s such a calming and beautiful thing to watch. I know that’s a bit silly, but we’ve been enjoying watching that, but … And of course, my dog, I saw that giraffe has a new dog in the office and has a little giraffe outfit as well to go with it.
Martin Zych: Yeah. Yeah. We’re excited to have him on board and we love animals and penguins, that’s a good favourite animal. I love them. They’re always having so much fun, but they look like they’re wearing a tuxedo at the same time.
Heather Smith: Oh God. It’s so hilarious. It’s just so hilarious. I’ll send you the link to it after the show and I’ll put it in the show notes for anyone who is listening, but do go and have a look at it. It only happens I think for the next month. So thank you so much, Martin, for joining me on the Cloud Stories podcast. Really appreciated having you here and learning from you and hearing all about what’s happening with Jirav and in your world. And I think you need to if you can share with listeners how they should get in touch with you.
Martin Zych: Yeah. So come check out jirav.com, J-I-R-A-V. And if you want to send me a note, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, happy to chat and answer your questions and go from there.
Heather Smith: Thank you so much. Really appreciate your time today.
The Accounting Apps newsletter showcases the best current blog posts from the Apps community and is a must-read for those who want to enhance their knowledge of the accounting industry ecosystem.
About Heather Smith
USA Accounting Today listed Heather as one of 21 people helping shape (and reshape) the accounting industry in 2020.
A technology and lifestyle accountant with a deep understanding of automated integrated cloud business tools and how business apps can be implemented and utilised effectively to improve workflow and surface information useful for data-informed decisions. She extensively shares her methodologies, business strategies and work-life balance practices through the ‘Cloud Stories’ podcast, multiple Cloud Accounting books, the Accounting Apps newsletter, blogs and social media platforms.
A FCA, FCCA, FICB, commerce graduate, and accredited trainer.