Has a black swan event changed this Evangelists views on niching? | David Leary
Has a black swan event changed this Evangelists views on niching? | David Leary
“Ultimately, if you’re in the small business space and you’re building an app that adds on to either QuickBooks or Xero, you’re building apps really for accountants. You can’t just build it for small business only and take the accountant out of the equation. They have to be a part of your equation and when you think about how your app’s going to interact with the accounting software.” – David Leary, Melio.
Today I’m speaking with David Leary, Director of Accounting and Bookkeeping Evangelism of Melio Payments. In this episode, we talk about . . .
The impact Covid19 has had on Apps and how they can not only survive, but thrive.
My favourite Accounting podcast – The Cloud Accounting podcast with his co-host Blake Oliver and all things podcasting.
How the B2B payables and receivables solutions Melio Payments eliminates the need for checks.
Why Apps should be focused on adding tools and features that help accountants work with multiple clients using the solution.
Has a black swan event changed his thoughts on niching?
The origin story of naming his side business Sombrero Apps.
Heather Smith: Thank you, David, so much for joining me on the Cloud Stories podcast today. I think I’ve been looking forward to this for about a year now, so I’m really pleased to get you on the show.
David Leary: Thanks for having me. I know we tried to make this happen so many times, and then I was on the calendar once but I just had so much going on one day, I had no energy left, and I cancelled, I know, in the last minute, but it’s much better. I had a nice filling day today, American football started …so things are feeling back to normal a little bit.
Heather Smith: Yeah. Look, completely understand. It’s been an unusual time for a lot of people, and completely understand that. So, David, I normally ask an icebreaker to start off the podcast with.
Could you explain more about the legendary gold jacket? Where did you buy it? Where do you store it? When will we see it again?
David Leary: The gold jacket. So, the gold jacket was really a one-time event gold jacket. I actually have a QuickBooks green jacket that I bought that I was wearing a lot of places, but they both originated from the same place. They’re from China, on Amazon, and one of those where they give you the shipping range. It’s a good deal because you’re buying a jacket for $16, right? But it gives you the shipping range that’s about four and a half months, so I didn’t even know if it was going to show up for QuickBooks connect.
David Leary: So, it shows up, open it up, I air it out for at least four weeks and it still smells like some plastic.
Heather Smith: Formaldehyde.
David Leary: Yes, exactly. I’m sure it’s not safe to wear. And you wear it anyways, and it’s hot. And so I wore that on stage for the Intuit event. I had a $100,000 app showdown at QuickBooks connect, and so I wore it to MC that event, and I had the gold jacket on there. So, it was really only a one-time appearance gold jacket. But I still have it in a box here and one day maybe I’ll autograph it and auction it off or something. I don’t foresee a second wearing of it happening any time soon.
Heather Smith: All the time, David. All the time. You could have been wearing it for the interview. You could hang it in the background.
David Leary: Actually, I’m looking at building out a true home office here and maybe I’ll have some stuff up on the wall instead of sitting in the kids’ bedroom right now and I don’t think it’s wise to do.
Heather Smith: The joys of working from home.
David Leary: Yes.
Heather Smith: So, David, it seems that you’re wearing a lot of hats at the moment, and they all revolve around apps, so let’s start with you.
David Leady, Director of Accounting and Bookkeeping Evangelism of Melio Payments
Where did the name of your business, Sombrero Apps, comes from? And what does it mean?
David Leary: So, the name evolved from a business card that I had when I was at Intuit. So, I joined the developed team at Intuit, and Intuit at the time I think was just not as forward-thinking as it is now. And it was one of those situations where you could get the corporate Intuit business card, and you’d get 5,000 business cards for $15. So, there’s an app out there called User Voice, and there was a big customer service event. And a lot of people that attended are community managers who were at this event. I started meeting kids from Kickstarter, and Run Keeper, and the founder of Intercom. And I’m meeting all these people, and I obviously got their cards and I realised I had the worst business card.
David Leary: So, at the time I was in the developer team at Intuit trying to get developers to build onto QuickBooks online, and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m like IBM. I have the worst business card.” And so, around that same time we went to a kid’s birthday party with my kids, and we were running late with dance, and soccer, and tennis, one of those kinds of mornings. And we were running late, and it was a cowboy party where they had ponies and all sorts of stuff. It was an over-the-top birthday party. So, we went to go to the party store to get some cowboy hats, they didn’t have any, they had sombreros, we said, “We’re buying sombreros, kids.”
David Leary: And so, we wore sombreros to the party and my daughter took a picture of me and I ended up using it for a business card. It just had the right roof angles. I didn’t have to Photoshop it at all, and I had little fake eyebrows on, and it just came out really cool. And so, I created my own business cards on Moo, and so the sombrero just stuck from that.
Twitter Headshot for David Leary
David Leary: And then, after I left Intuit, obviously I needed a name of a company. So, I wanted to have my brand carry through a little bit, that sombrero became a little bit of a brand. And really, the sombrero’s the ultimate working hat. So, if you think about apps, there’s apps for the many hats of small business, you have chef hats, and all these professions have hats. And really, the sombrero’s the ultimate working hat, it’s like the hat of all the hats, and so that’s kind of where it evolved from.
Heather Smith: That’s an excellent story. I’ve heard a lot of stories come out of children’s birthday parties, that’s probably worthy of a book: crazy stories of business pivots out of a children’s birthday parties. But yeah, I was wondering whether it was sombrero hats, Sombrero Apps. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense and can understand where that’s coming from.
David Leary: It’s funny, actually, you’ll like this for the listeners of your show because your show’s not apps, right? And so, as I was working through the logo development, you know on a lot of sombreros they have little tassels on it? So, in one of the iterations, the thought was that the tassels would be little apps hanging down on the sombrero, but then it was too busy.
Business logo for Sombrero Apps by David Leary
Heather Smith: Oh yeah. Oh my goodness, you’d have hundreds. You would need the Australian cork hat. You know the Australian cork hat where we have the corks hanging off our hat to keep the flies off us? You could have that one with that. So yeah, there’s too many but I guess you could brand that up, it could be quite interesting.
Heather Smith: So, David, you’ve written a lot of articles and put a lot of content out there, so for people who are listening in it’s worth going and looking back at the content you have published about the app community. I’ll refer to an article that you wrote: 10 Things Successful Small Business App Developers Do to Win With Accountants. So, it’s specifically around apps and their relationships with accountants.
Heather Smith: And one of the things that you say is that the apps should know that the accountants and bookkeepers are their niche.
Why should the apps be so clear on the fact that accountants and bookkeepers should be their niche?
David Leary: You pulled this one out the archives because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this one, so I dig it out. If I remember correctly, that article was really just as I was helping developers understand how to communicate and talk to and sell to accountants, and understanding the importance of accountants. And what drove a lot of that is back in the day Intuit probably estimates half their revenues come directly or indirectly via accounts, via their accounts buying software from Intuit, accountants referring people to use Turbo Tax or QuickBooks, so it’s a pretty major focus. And I think if you’re a developer if you’re making software just for accountants or bookkeepers you for sure are making a niche app.
David Leary: But, in general, if you’re in the small business space and you’re building an app that adds on to either QuickBooks or Xero, you’re building apps really for accountants. Ultimately. You can’t just build it for small business only and take the accountant out of the equation. They have to be a part of your equation and bookkeepers when you think about how your app’s going to interact with the accounting software.
Heather Smith: Yeah. It’s a serious thought process that the apps actually need to go through. Are they going to go to the end-user? Or are they after the one accountant who’s dealing with hundreds of end-users for them?
Heather Smith: You’ve also suggested something quite interesting that I agree with, so hopefully it’s not too far back and you still believe in this. And I think this is even more important today than back when you wrote it.
After suggesting that apps should add tools and features that help accountants work with multiple clients, is this something that you still believe in? And what are some good examples of that?
David Leary: I mean, absolutely still believe in it, that’s what I’ve been working on my lastest role. I’m the Director of a giant bookkeeping evangelism app, Melio. We just unwrapped about a week ago. I don’t know when this is going to go live, so …
Heather Smith: It’ll go live in three days.
David Leary: Oh, all right. So, about 10 days ago we just quietly unwrapped our accountants’ features. And on the surface it seems kind of simple because it’s a dashboard and you can add clients. But these are the small things that if you don’t add to your app previously, you couldn’t do a multiple company type scenario. So people would have to create your accounts or bookkeepers and this what was true for Melio. But I see it with other apps as well in the past, your accountants or bookkeepers will have to create different email address for each client, and they’ll go crazy Gmail cluster tricks with their emails. And they’re going to figure out how to utilise your app across multiple clients whether you like it or not.
David Leary: And so, you might as well figure out how to enable them to do it as easily and clean as possible. Because if you don’t you’re just going to have this mess. You’re just going to have a mess of email addresses. It’s hard to maintain, it’s hard to support, it’s hard to service the accountant. And even the accountants themselves are like, “Well, I don’t know which email address I signed up that client with.” So, just being conscious about adding in that functionality for an accountant or bookkeeper to onboard clients, utilise the app with clients is just a good process.
Heather Smith: Yeah. No, it is, absolutely. And I completely agree with that. And one of the things as well is the support features. It’s like enabling the accountant to access the support features without having to log in in multiple ways, because that can just get so confusing. Just let us get support and work with our client base as easily as possible.
Heather Smith: So, you’ve also spent a lot of time talking about niching, and you did do a fantastic PowerPoint presentation, which was: 50 Niche Apps in 50 Minutes. See, this is all content you’ve shared with me over the years, so at least I’m sitting here, I’m reading everything that you’re sharing with me. So, it was 50 Niche Apps in 50 Minutes.
Have your thoughts on niching in a particular industry changed since COVID-19 and the impact that it has had on different industries? Have your beliefs on niching changed since we’ve had what we’ve had with COVID-19?
David Leary: Not too much, because if you’re focused on a niche and that industry had a problem, let’s say it’s restaurants. Restaurants, especially in the beginning of COVID, were taking a big hit, and it was very scary for a lot of restaurants, and a lot have closed. But all of the accountants and bookkeepers I know that are in that space, that are focused on restaurants and bars or hospitality, they were able to help their clients navigate this a little bit easier, because if you’re a fine dining restaurant and you had to pivot to be a takeout restaurant, if you didn’t know how to do that maybe that accountant or bookkeeper knew how to do that because they knew that niche.
David Leary: Now, I get it. Maybe if your niche was travel agents, there’s a possibility of some risk to that. And this was a huge unknown that occurred. But I also think from a niche, if an industry is going to be in trouble, without an out-of-nowhere pandemic, you probably will know first before other people in the industry. Because if you’re an accountant or bookkeeper and you’re in some niche, and you have 55 bike shops, and you start seeing numbers that says, “Nobody’s going to ride bikes anymore”, you’re going to be able to get out before anybody.
David Leary: So, barring a world catastrophe, which is what happened, I think you actually have an advantage of being in a niche because you’re going to see when numbers aren’t working for an industry before probably people in that industry will see it.
Heather Smith: Yeah. It’s kind of not letting a black swan event change you but working with it and enabling and evolving from it.
Heather Smith: As we’ve mentioned, we’re recording this in September 2020, it’s seven months into the pandemic and, today, I know that you won’t be across it because it actually just dropped today, the Xero Small Business Insights: Pandemic Insights, was released. And so, one of the things that they have shared in it, which is an analysis of big data, specifically in Australia, was that connecting new apps through the Xero marketplace was almost double in the month of April 2020 than in an average month, so that was April, which was kind of like the first few weeks of the pandemic.
Did it feel like that sort of impact of connecting new apps through Xero marketplace was also happening in the USA?
David Leary: It’s hard to say. I mean, instantly, a lot of people had to work at home, and businesses had to embrace the cloud, and there was probably processes people were doing manually that you couldn’t do anymore: you had to either collaborate or it had to be moved to the cloud. Melio is a good example of this, Melio saw 700% growth since COVID hit.
Heather Smith: Whoa.
David Leary: Basically, Melio’s competing against paper checks. I know you’ve talked about this before, like, yes, in the States we have these things called checks and people write who they’re for. I would write, “Heather Smith”, and I’d put a dollar amount, and I would sign it and date it, and I would give you this check, and then you would take it to the bank and cash it. I understand probably a lot of your listeners that are down under, it’s such a foreign concept. But I think it’s like 86% of businesses still in the US write checks on a regular basis. It might even be higher.
David Leary: I’ve heard all these stories from accountants and bookkeepers… They have clients and somebody took the printer home to try to print checks there, but then they need the VP to come and sign the checks, and so there’s a lot of this. They’re out on the porch, they won’t let the person in the house sign the checks. So, there’s just a lot of that kind of manual processes that people had to start changing to a technology solution for because it just logistically doesn’t make sense. Especially something like handwriting and printing and signing paper checks. It’s something that people probably should have killed a decade ago, but it’s finally … it might be the biggest victim out of the pandemic eventually, paper checks. We’ll see if people shift back to their old ways.
Heather Smith: That would be amazing. That would be astonishing if paper checks were actually able to be eliminated through that. And 700% growth in the company, congratulations, that’s an amazing effort there.
Heather Smith: So, one of the other insights from the report was that digitally-connected small businesses were more resilient with 12% smaller falls in jobs and revenue,
Are digitally-connected small businesses actually able to be more resilient than their other counterpart businesses? Did it feel like that again in the US from your perspective?
David Leary: I honestly can’t speak to the number, but I definitely have observed, especially with accounting firms and bookkeeping firms, that the ones that are already cloud, already connected, already knew how to use Zoom, could work from anywhere they want. It’s almost like nothing affected them, right? They didn’t have to change their workflows. Nothing disrupted them the way they were running their business. So, any of their clients that ran their business in that fashion weren’t disrupted as much.
David Leary: But if you had a physical brick and mortar location, you had an office with desks and people went there, and you had your internal server, and everybody was logging into that server from the computers that are in the office, and nobody could work at home, and you didn’t have remote access set up ever before. Those were the people that struggled a lot because they had me invest how they do their entire business, and that’s a lot harder versus the people that were already there. So, if you were doing cloud for the last three years, what really changed when everybody had to work at home?
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. The weird thing is that a lot of us were actually not disrupted apart from we can’t go out as freely as we were. But from a business perspective, hardly disrupted at all.
Heather Smith: So, I’d like to talk to you, David, about the Cloud Accounting podcast. So, you’re the co-host of my favourite accounting and business news podcast, the Cloud Accounting podcast with Blake Oliver. So, the great thing about this show is that while you and Blake are both interested in the same topic, you both have distinctly different experiences and insights and perspectives and backgrounds to bring to the table, and most importantly accents, because we can actually tell who’s speaking when you’re speaking because on a lot of podcasts you just can’t tell who’s speaking.
So, I’m interested to know: where do you source your news and information from for your podcasts?
David Leary: I use an app called Feedly, and so I subscribe to a lot of different RSS feeds. I set up a couple of Google searches, or Google alerts, whatever you call them, and they import into Feedly. And it’s really original, I watch the word accounting, there’s not a lot of magic happening here. But in general, I probably plough through 1,200 to 1,500 articles a week and Blake probably does the same on his side. And it just shows how much garbage there is out there. There’s just a lot of bad garbage, and there’s a lot of SEO content, there’s a lot of paid content, you read it and you’re like, “This is not really helping anybody but, boy, I got that link in there six times.”
David Leary: And so, that’s really what we do with the podcast, we’re just ploughing through all this stuff and bringing the top stories. And then sometimes it’s connecting the stories, right? And a lot of times it’s nice because we don’t have some big production meeting ahead of time before we get there, but it’s amazing the serendipity where I’ll show up with five or six articles, and Blake will have seven or eight articles, and the articles I brought are totally related to the ones he brought. And there’s no planning on this, it’s just … I think if you focus on the things that are important, it’s naturally going to happen more versus just bringing any old article to the table.
Heather Smith: Yeah. Well, 1,500 articles, that sounds a lot of work and I think it …
David Leary: It’s a lot of swiping, it’s not a lot of reading.
Heather Smith: Is this accounting Tinder for articles?
David Leary: Yes, you’re swiping so many away really fast.
Heather Smith: Yeah. No, it is interesting, and I think it talks to the fact that a good podcast, there’s a lot of work behind a good podcast that you don’t necessarily know about.
Are you bombarded with people contacting you about news and information to be included in the podcast?
David Leary: We get a few people that will send us the PR requests, or their PR announcements a couple of days before they go public. We get some of that. Most of the time it’s pitched to, “You’ve got to interview our founder”, that’s a good pitch, right? And we actually moved away from doing interviews. I know this is an interview show. And some of it is just … even for you and me, two people, it was logistically hard to get a schedule.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
David Leary: So, if we have a podcast with two people, and now we’re adding a third person who’s a guest, it’s a lot of work to get a guest on the podcast. And not only that, preparation’s different than we normally do. Maybe they wrote a book and you probably should maybe look at their book first and that type of stuff. So, we actually started to move away from doing guests, we were mixing it up in the beginning. I mean, you were a guest at one time, and so we kind of pivoted to just do the news.
David Leary: Now, don’t get me wrong, if it’s the right opportunity, if someone wants to be interviewed, or somebody is a historical person, yes, we’re going to make an exception to this. But in general, what we found is we get 20% less listens when there’s a guest, so it’s more work and fewer listeners. Because I think what happens is podcast listeners, they pick and choose based on who they interview is, and they say, “All right, these people, I’ll listen to these ones”, and they skip some. But with the news episodes, they listen to every episode, and so it’s been this little bit of a … It’s more work, fewer listeners, so eventually, you’re like, “All right, there’s only so much time and energy you have to invest in this.” It’s like, “All right, we’ll just do us.”
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And I do love that you call out that … I know the last episode I listened to a young student said that she was listening to it every week and she felt it was complementing her actual studies while she was at university and then going out into the workforce. And the fact that you’re actually empowering a lot of people to actually save their selves time by you making all the effort to find all the articles that they should be reading.
Heather Smith: So, it’s actually a massive time saver. I think it was four weekends ago you didn’t put out an episode and I was like going, “Oh no!” I was freaking out because I didn’t have my hour walk with you guys.
David Leary: It’s interesting. I don’t know when it tipped but it started to tip where Blake was sick one weekend, and we didn’t record until a Sunday night late. Then it took two days to edit and get it out on Wednesday, but that Monday and Tuesday people were sending us messages, “Where’s the episode? Why isn’t it out there yet?” So, that’s when it was like, “Okay, people are really into this and they’re depending on it now.” It’s part of their life a little bit from your schedule, it’s your routine, right? On Monday people listen to podcasts or something like that.
David Leary: So, it’s been a very humbling experience at some level because it was fine at the beginning when it was teeny and, sure, everybody you know, your friends are telling you how great the podcast is, but it is what it is. But then to go to conferences and people come up to you and you don’t know who they are, you’ve never met them before, and they’re just like, “Oh, I was in rehab and I knee surgery, and I listened to you every day when I was in my rehab hour.” It’s really fulfilling knowing you’re making an impact and you’re providing some value, and that’s what we just try to do every episode, is just give people some value. And for us it’s just time, giving people back their time.
Heather Smith: I really like hearing the different perspectives on the show, and I like hearing, obviously Blake’s got the deep accounting, bookkeeping, running his own business perspective, and then you come to it with this sort of large business but technology perspective and the interaction is very interesting.
Heather Smith: Look, everyone’s going to be switching off from my podcast. Unsubscribe from Heather and subscribe to you guys. But no, I think it’s essential listening. And even though it is US-centric, to an extent, which is understandable, it is interesting from a global perspective.
David Leary: We try not to be…but when the pandemic started, it was very hard just to keep track of the economic stimulus in the US, the PBB loans. But then you have Job Keeper in Australia, and I think they just call it the Payroll Scheme in the UK.
Heather Smith: The furlough.
David Leary: Yeah. And in Canada, I forgot what the name of their programme was. It was very hard to keep on top. We kind of would loosely keep on the other ones, but the PBP programme in the States was just as messy as Job Keeper. I heard the stuff going on about Job Keeper because I would listen to your podcast and other people’s podcasts down under, and it was like we couldn’t even keep up with all the mess of the PBP, nevermind what was going on in the other countries.
David Leary: But we definitely, because of a lot of apps, and tonnes of app companies come out of Australia, some of them are in the UK, so we are on top of the space. But I definitely feel like we did lean a little heavy towards our own tax situation. To be honest, when I listened to a friend from the church’s podcast and they would talk about the ATO, and sometimes it would just be like, “I don’t know what these guys are talking about. They’re referencing things.”
Heather Smith: Oh, I don’t know what they’re talking about either because I’m not a tax accountant. But yeah, absolutely. But I still think it’s good from a global perspective to hear how other first-world countries are dealing with an issue, so while you may not understand it, the tax compliance, we should know how other tax compliance systems work so we can actually talk back and reference back into our own countries. So, I do encourage people to listen to it from wherever they are. And, yes, absolutely, it’s understandable that you went US-centric during the initial rollout of the pandemic because everyone had to evolve and behave differently to deal with that. But yeah, normally it is quite easy-going.
David Leary: And it was the biggest news. If I would have known, when we did us… This was, I think, the last week of March when they first announced these programmes were about to start. I think it was the last week of March, maybe it was the last week of April. Regardless, if I would have known that every single day there was going to PBP news, and we’d still be talking about this, this “little loan programme”, eight, nine months later, I would have started a PBP daily podcast just on that only. A 10-minute podcast every day. But who knew? Who knew nine months later we still would be talking about this loan programme that’s turned into a big fiasco, and now there’s criminal involvement, and it just goes on, and on, and on every week, it’s new news, more news about the PBP programme.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. It’s unbelievable what’s happening, and the constant interest and ongoing nature of it.
So, to the actual podcast, what’s something you’ve learned from producing a podcast or being part of a podcast?
David Leary: I think the biggest thing that we learned … it’s kind of three tenets. One, audio quality really matters. Audio quality in podcasts is super, super important because if you see a photo that’s pixelated, you can look at the photo, and your brain can kind of put it together, but a lot of times it’s just still going to be squares and pixels, right? But with audio, your brain will actually fill in missing gaps. So, when there’s bad audio and it’s digitised, and this is why people get this Zoom fatigue. So, bad audio, your brain’s putting it back together and you’ll notice this. You’ll listen to a podcast, and you’ll finish it and you’ll be like, “That was really exhausting.” And you don’t know, it’s because the audio quality was bad.
David Leary: So, I really focused on how do we have high-quality audio, I usually go into my closet, we record using a product called Zen Caster that saves the audio in separate files. We don’t use Skype, or anything like that so that we have really high-quality audio files to edit and stitch together.
David Leary: And then, the other big learning was just pushing through. And I’ve seen this with niche itself, right? Going back to accountants and doing niches. I’ll talk to somebody and six months later they’re changing their niche, and six months later they change their niche again. And honestly, it takes 18 to 24 months to get good at something, really good at it. And I see a lot of people start podcasts and they get eight episodes in. And at eight episodes in if you have 20 people download your podcast, you should be excited. But also it’s a lot of work because of those 20, seven were you downloading it on different platforms to make sure it worked, and then getting your mom to download it.
David Leary: And so, we were about 40 to 50 episodes in before we really saw some real, genuine traction. And so many people quit early. And I’ve talked about this before with startups: Angry Birds, those guys made 51 other games first. That’s game 52. It takes 60 bad ideas to have a good idea, and it’s in putting in the work. I know that QuickBooks Connect down in Australia, I really appreciated the interview with … I don’t know her name, but she started Canva.
Heather Smith: Mel. Yeah, the girl … Her first name’s Mel, I think. Melanie Perkins?
David Leary: And what I loved about her is she truly, truly, truly embraces the day of the grind, the work. It was never in her personality to hurry up and do this and flip it, or sell Canva, it was just like appreciate the grind, and do the work, and one day’s a little bit better than the next day, and you get a little better, and a little bit better. And appreciating the work and the effort, a lot of people don’t. I feel like it’s missing a little bit from society in general. Everything’s so instant now. But the work really eventually adds up, and I’ve seen it in the podcast. We could have quit, it would be very easy.
David Leary: And I remember even my wife, she was like, “What are you doing? You’ve just been in the closet with Blake.” I’m like, “Trust me, something’s happening here.” She thought I was playing games. But it took time, and actually, you have to believe that it’ll take time, and put in the work, and you slowly get better. There’s no instant success here, but if you quit it’s over. We were going to skip, like Blake one time, and I don’t want to throw Blake under the bus here, but Blake wanted to skip once one week. I don’t know what for, just he didn’t feel like doing it. I was like, “Blake, if we skip once, that means we’ll skip two weeks in a row, and then that means we probably will skip a third week and this whole thing dies. The train is over.” And that was a huge deal. If we would have skipped, this podcast would not still exist today. And so, you just have to be consistent in doing it, and be okay with the grind. So many people are not okay with the grind.
Heather Smith: Yeah. I think it’s probably four to five times more work than people anticipate it’s going to be. However, you can get support in with that, and I guess just launch and evolve, and launch and evolve. Because you know, you got your rhythm going and you probably are really down pat now and know what you’re going to do and get in there, and go through and do it, and it’s probably just a natural part of your workweek.
David Leary: Yeah, but we’ve had to adjust around our work weeks. We used to record on Friday evenings, and then now Blake works for a startup, and I work for a startup, and by the time Friday evenings were rolling around. We were kind of exhausted, so we’ve shifted it to Saturday mornings, which is nice, it’s a new routine. I get up early Saturday morning, get my coffee, I get caught up on all the news, and then we go in and record. So it’s changed our behaviour patterns a little bit but we’ve adjusted because we don’t want to skip. People like you are out there pounding us on Twitter if we don’t put an episode up on time.
Heather Smith: I always say, “Look, I’m out here with nature on a walk, listening to you.” I never harass you if it doesn’t come up. It’s just like, “Oh no, I’m just missing out on it.” But thank you for sharing about the Cloud Accounting podcast. Hopefully, you get a few new listeners. And it’s really interesting listening to you both, and how it has evolved, et cetera.
Heather Smith: So, I’d like to talk about Melio Payments, which you’ve subtly got in the background there. So, Melio Payments, you’ve let me know, is an easy-to-use, B-to-B payables and receivables solution.
Can you share with our listeners, noting that they’ll be global listeners, what is Melio Payments? Where does it work? And what are you doing there, David?
David Leary: Yeah. So, my understanding is in Australia a product like this will never exist, is this correct? Because the bank, to make sure I’m understanding this correctly, the banks, there’s what? Six banks in Australia approximately?
Heather Smith: Four.
David Leary: Four banks. So, the banks got together with the government and built a business-to-business payment system or network?
Heather Smith: Oh, B-Pay?
David Leary: B-Pay, exactly. And it’s even branded, it’s got branding, it has everything. So, a product like Melio probably would never work in Australia. But in the States, where there’s 19,000 banks, 22,000, 25,000 banks, gosh knows how many banks here in the US, and there are lots of paper checks, there needs to be payment solutions.
Melio is David’s new Accounts Payable tool
David Leary: So, Melio right now only works in the UK market. And when you say you’re talking about easy to use, so think about how easy it is to use Venmo or PayPal, or in the US a lot of the US banks now have this thing called Zell, so it’s peer-to-peer payments. And the founders, in fact, of Melio, were at PayPal when PayPal acquired Venmo, and so they led some of the engineering teams for that peer-to-peer payments, and they always thought like, “Well, why can’t businesses just pay each other that easy?”
David Leary: And so, Melio really lets you, from the ease of use perspective, businesses can just pay each other through Melio, and then that next Tenet is also, which is is Venmo, you can just pay each other and there’s no fees, right? Now, if you want to get your money faster, you pay a fee, if you want to pay it through a credit card. They have a fee structure, but the basic fundamental tenet of, Heather, if I want to send you money through Venmo right now, I can just do it and you’re going to get it, right? So, that’s the other tent of Melio is that businesses can pay, so if they do ACH transfer it’s free in Melio.
David Leary: Now, if you pay a bill using a credit card, then you have to pay a fee. But the basic tenet of super-easy paying for free is really the founding principle of Melio. And so, this will replace any … it’s really competing against you have your paper checks, either paper handwriting them or printing them, the bank websites, when you go to the bank website and you manually type everything in, yeah, it’s kind of free but it’s not free because then you have to type all that data a second time back into QuickBooks or Xero.
David Leary: And then, on the other end of the spectrum, you really have those very heavy and expensive enterprise-level accounts payable solutions. And many of those where you have an approver, and a second approver, and a manager, and a CFO, and then a VP, and then maybe the CEO to sign off on a bill payment check to get it out the door.
David Leary: So, Melio’s not going to be that product, but for the other 98% of your clients or small businesses, Melio’s going to be the right fit. It has just a good enough approval system, just enough approvals, it’s way easier to use than the bank website and it’s free, so there’s really no reason not to use it or put your clients on it. It has good integration with QuickBooks, it’s actually in QuickBooks itself now. No integration to Xero yet. I know I get a lot of requests, hopefully, one day. But it actually is built into QuickBooks, and it’s built-in in a nice way where you can dance between the two as the accountant or bookkeeper. If sometimes you’re in QuickBooks, you can pay the bill there, if sometimes if you’re in Melio, on the Melio site, you can pay the bill there and it doesn’t matter. It’s the same product on the same train tracks. You just jump back and forth, whatever’s convenient for you at the time.
Heather Smith: So, sort of a massive time saver and efficiency gain for people who are trying to pay bills. Because I think people just don’t realise maybe how long it takes to pay a bill in America compared to other countries.
David Leary: Well, I think, again, because if you get a bill you’ve got to handwrite the check, you’ve got to put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it. And all that stuff adds up and takes time.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
David Leary: And sometimes people don’t even know how much time it takes, or they have somebody else do it. And if that’s the case, that’s where you want to have some approvals, because if you just have somebody handwriting checks and putting them in envelopes, and mailing them out, and you don’t have any oversight at that, that’s a little dangerous on that side.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes I think it’s really important in workflow solutions as well is: a solution can come in and you might go, “It’s going to save me four hours a month”, which is great, but it’s also important to look at those micro time-saving solutions out there because they actually all add up, and over a month, over a year, over 10 years, the savings are quite significant. And I don’t know the pricing, but I’m sure paying for yourself if you don’t have to touch a check.
David Leary: No, I think that was a valid argument. I think some of that higher-end enterprise-level accounts payable software, you would take that and be like, “Okay, I don’t know if I’m going to get $60 a month out of that software because I can use the bank website for free.” And that’s how the market always was. You either used the free, crappy bank website, or you paid a lot of money.
David Leary: And one analogy I got from an accountant bookkeeper is you’re using a sledgehammer to smash an ant. For a lot of small businesses, they just don’t need that so it’s hard to justify spending that money. And so, now that Melio can come in and be offered for free, there’s no reason to use that bank website anymore, so this allows every business to take advantage of the technology stack that wasn’t accessible to them because it just didn’t make sense price-wise before. And now that price-wise is not there.
Heather Smith: I have a philosophy: if I can find something that’s going to automate a process I will pay for it, and then I’ll maybe reassess it after a couple of months. Now, I’m a small business, I’m a windsurfer, I’m tiny, so I can pick and choose quickly and move out. Because I sometimes find that if you make an assessment without testing it you don’t recognise the savings, the time savings you’re actually going to really benefit from by having it in place. So, it sounds like if I was in the US I would be adopting Melio.
David Leary: Yeah, it’s convenient. But it also has accounts receivable as well, so you can just send out a link and then people can go there to pay you.
Who’s charged in Melio? You or your clients?
David Leary: Well, it’s free. Now, if they pay with a credit card, they would pay.
Heather Smith: Oh, okay. They would pay. Okay, cool, fair enough.
David Leary: But if they do an ACH transfer, it’s free.
Heather Smith: Excellent. Well, thank you for sharing that information about Melio.
I know that you have recently released the special platform that you did actually touch on at the start of the podcast for accountants and bookkeepers, is that correct?
David Leary: Yeah. So, we have a dashboard for account and bookkeepers so they can easily view all their clients at once, stay on top of unpaid bills, bills that need to be approved, maybe bill payment has failed for some reason, you can quickly add clients, and then it’s really easy to see from all the QuickBooks. We’ve recently added that dashboard to all the accountants and bookkeepers to add their clients.
Heather Smith: Awesome. Thank you for that. So, I’d like to move into wrapping up the interview with you Dave, and I’ve loved having you here today. So, I’d like to circle back to apps in general. We’re in a difficult time at the moment, you’re a man with such a wealth of information around this area.
So, what advice would you have for the people who are working in the app industry to survive and thrive through the rest of the pandemic and beyond? What advice would you have for them?
David Leary: Like for app developers? Or just people?
Heather Smith: Yeah, the app developers.
David Leary: I think for the app developers it’s going to be figuring out how you’re going to enable people just to be more efficient in this environment. So, if your app has workflows that maybe require … they just don’t work well asynchronously, maybe it’s too … There’s this fine like of asynchronous communication and realtime communication, and if you think about Slack it’s very realtime. And sometimes it’s disruptive. But I think app developers need to figure out what’s the right balance of that for their app, because some parts of your app it might make much more sense for it to be asynchronous for that, especially being in the business owner’s use of it where it makes sense.
David Leary: Bill payment, it makes sense for it to be asynchronous, right? Somebody creates the bill payments, yes, there’s a deadline when they probably need to be approved so they can move out and be paid on time, but it’s also not instantaneous like nobody needs to get an instant phone notification on their phone, “You need to approve this bill right now, or this bill payment.” But there are other apps where maybe that instantaneous communication needs to happen since everybody’s now working remotely. You can’t just pop into somebody’s office to get clarification or something like that. What workflows are for your app and your customer base, and how that ties back into everybody’s new day to day, it’s completely different now.
Heather Smith: Yeah, and how you’re communicating with them, and how you’re driving the workflow for them in that communication. Thank you for that.
Is there anything else, David, that you’d like to share with our listeners?
David Leary: Yeah, it’s a constant journey, right? Continuing, continuing, continuing. I have side projects. I just put up AccountingConferences.com. And we maintain this constantly, so any time a new accounting conference comes up in the market, we add it there, if they change their dates we update it, keeping track of links to the conference. It’s just a free site that’s kind of just for the industry, to give back. And what drove that was every time … and for years at Intuit I always felt like this. Every year, all the apps do this, they get, “What conferences are we going to go to this year?” So, you go on this hunt of all the possible conferences.
David Leary: And then, what was happening was Blake was doing it, I was doing it for the podcast, and then I was starting to do it for Melio and I was like, “This is stupid.” And I used to do it when I was at Intuit, I was like, “We just need to do one list and just give it to everybody.” And that’s what we spun up. Used Airtable, so we used an app using a web page site, and just AccountingConferences.com, and it’s just every conference there. Like instead of everybody building their own Google Sheet of an accounting conference for their own internal needs, and there’s an iCal feed, people can grab it, stick it into their own Google Calendar and run, and now you have all the accounting conferences up to date in your calendar.
David Leary: So, that’s spinning up, I’m spinning up an accounting podcast network, maybe one day Cloud Stories could be on there possibly, who knows? The door is open, Heather, if you’re willing to do that, so everybody can check that out, AccountingPodcastNetwork.com is slowly launching a couple of shows on there beyond the Cloud Accounting Podcast, so that’s slowly spinning up. That’s been, again, long labour. I thought I’d have it spun up last December, and then you get busy, then COVID hit. It just takes time. Just takes time.
Heather Smith: You’ve always got a side project on. You’ve got so many hats you’re wearing, you’ve always got a side project happening.
David Leary: It’s good, though, because I think you learn a lot by doing that. I think me leaving Intuit and starting my own business was just super, super eye-opening from two perspectives: one, I feel like everything I talked about before my career was in theory, right? It’d be fake customer data, it’d be test data, it’d be an app, and in theory, you could take this app and connect it to this app, and do this. So, when I started my own business, I bought something with my debit card, I got an invoice or the receipt, an invoice in email, I forward the email to Auto Entry. Auto Entry took that, put it into my QuickBooks, QuickBooks downloaded the chart from the bank feed, matched it all up, and I’m jumping up and down in my kitchen, I’m like, “Wow, this stuff really works. It really connects together and it works.” It was amazing to me.
David Leary: But the other part I’ve learned, though, is I have zero tolerance for bad apps now. Before it was just in theory and testing, I would try an app out, “Okay, that was dumb, whatever”, and just move on. But now, when an app messes up my QuickBooks data I get very upset. And so, I’ve had this eye-opening experience now. I always understood the pain accounts and bookkeepers would feel when data gets messed up in their clients’ data, but now I’m really at a whole new level of that, of like, “This is not acceptable when an app messes up my QuickBooks data”, or if somebody’s messing with the Xero data.
David Leary: But having my own business and being on that journey, and even with Melio, I use Melio with my own business now, and really eating the dog food is just going to help make Melio a better product, but it’s just a good journey having your own business on the side, especially in our industry, in our space, right?
Heather Smith: Definitely having the practical knowledge and understanding is definitely beneficial, and I think it’s really difficult … it’s really difficult to balance that, to both be able to talk about it and have that practical knowledge, but I definitely think it does assist in the understanding because, yeah, you do the implementation and in the description on what you’re supposed to do they leave out one sentence, which was, “Do not connect this app before this app”, and then, all of a sudden, all of the invoices from one app populate into the other app and you’re going, “Oh no!” So, yeah, definitely think … and I do like in this industry when people are working in one job but then also have a side hustle, I think it really helps them understand everything.
David Leary: It’s my own fault, I probably should not do my own bookkeeping. I should hire an accountant or bookkeeper, it’s a waste of my time, but the learning experience makes it worth it. When I hook up apps, I get pipes connected, that’s where I really … you just dig in differently, and you experience it differently. And so, I kind of look at it as an education expense instead of just a time expense, because I totally should just have somebody else do my books, it makes no sense that I spend any time doing my own bookkeeping. But the learning I’ve gleaned from doing it myself, and connecting the apps, and going deep in the weeds like that has just been priceless.
Heather Smith: Yeah. No, I completely … And it’s fun as well, hopefully.
David Leary: Yes, I find that it’s fun. And I’m sure people who listen to a podcast like yours, they think it’s fun too.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you very much for sharing that with me and my listeners, David. Really enjoyed having you on the show.
How can people get in contact with you, David?
David Leary: The easiest way is probably Twitter. You could just @DavidLeary on Twitter, I’m @DavidLeary on LinkedIn. You could go to DavidLeary.com, track me down that way, I’m pretty easy to find. But if you Google search me, that’s the trouble because if you Google search David Leary Google thinks you can’t possibly be searching for David Leary, and it serves up a page of results about Denis Leary, the movie star.
Heather Smith: Oh, okay. Obviously, giving up the fact that you’ve searched for yourself a few times.
David Leary: But then I talk to an SEO guy in how to handle this, and so I actually have, on my website, content that says, “David Leary, I am not Denis Leary”, so that way hopefully that page will bubble up. But yeah, so there are ways to play an SEO game on this. But yeah, Google thinks there’s no way possible you could be searching for David Leary, and automatically just gives you results for Denis Leary.
Heather Smith: Well, there you go, maybe they need to search for David Leary apps or something like that.
David Leary: Then I’ll come up. David Leary apps, David Leary Niche, David Leary Intuit, I’ll come up. If you just type David Leary by itself, it’s not good.
Heather Smith: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the show, and everyone can go and search your name and make … I think if everyone goes and searches your name and then clicks on the correct link, then you should be okay, but you need lots of people to do that.
David Leary: Yeah. And you can cut this if you want. I have two funny SEO stories actually, and it’s Ben Affleck. So, at Intuit at one time, I launched a product called View My Paycheck, and my goal was to won the word paycheck. And we were owning the word paycheck, then Ben Affleck comes out with some dumb movie called Paycheck, and then he just knocks me off the page of Google, like, “They don’t get to be on the first page of Google anymore, View My Paycheck.”
David Leary: And then I’ve been thinking about with accountants, a lot of people could own the word accountant, and then Ben Affleck comes out with another movie and steals an SEO keyword from all the rest of us. Twice he’s done it in our industry. He owns the word paycheck, and now he owns the word The Accountant.
Heather Smith: How Ben Affleck is throttling David Leary’s career.
David Leary: It’s not good.
Heather Smith: I think I’ve come up with a podcast title. Thank you very much for being on the show. Really appreciate it.
David Leary: Thanks for having me, Heather. Good times.
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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.