Public practice accountant Martin Chee knows: no one likes wasting time on tedious data entry of the same numbers over and over again. That’s the gap he uncovered in the financial accounting industry — and the gap that his company Amaka fills seamlessly. Their accounting integrations software lets businesses capture their financial data and use it across all their systems, so there’s no double work. Martin talks with Andrew Seski of the Modern CFO podcast about the importance of data accessibility today and the evolution of Amaka, especially during an unprecedented pandemic, plus how parenting is good prep for running a business.
5:04 — A really, really clunky process
A great idea — like Amaka — always starts with a problem, in this case the overly manual, time-consuming, and error-prone process for exchanging financial information.
“This process around organizing finance was really, really clunky and antiquated and just deeply inefficient, and effectively what it was, was the exchange of financial information. So, you want to borrow money for the business. You need to provide the business’s financials and a whole host of other documents and information...What a lot of banks were doing is, they'd consume that information in a really manual way. Like you would email them a PDF or worse still, you'd hand deliver documents to them and then they'd give it to someone else. And they'd be like keying in the numbers into this piece of software, which would then spit out a result. And it was just a really, really long, time-consuming process. And it was really error prone as well.”
10:42 — Same information, different systems
Amaka was carefully developed to capture the myriad data points from a single transaction (date, time, price, cashier, etc.) so they can be used across all systems.
“We definitely put a lot of work into architecting something that made it really easy to understand the same information, but in different systems. Take a sale, as an example, can you just talk about generic attributes of a transaction? You might have the date of the transaction occurred, the time when it occurred, the day that it occurred, the employee that was responsible for it, the value of the items, the discounts that were applied on it — you can quickly see how much data is there just in a, in a simple transaction like that.”
13:36 — Data liberation
Martin and the Amaka team call what they do “data liberation” — they free data so it’s no longer tied to just one system.
“One of the phrases that we kind of throw around at the office is data liberation. Like we liberate your data from whatever system you might have. Because as a business owner, you have this information there, but it's just not always easily accessible. We're really trying to solve that problem, so you can leverage the information that you have in a really, really easy way.”
18:35 — Stay positive and knuckle down
A strong team and honest, hard work is what kept Amaka going during the pandemic, says Martin.
“We really just had to stay positive and knuckle down...We're developing new products and we're enhancing things and it's like, whatever was happening in the broader economy, in the broader market, macrowise — well, if you didn't have a positive outlook and you didn't think that this was going to be something that eventually was going to go away, then I don't know what the alternative really looks like. And no one was going to stick their head in the sand and just, like, ignore it. But at the same time, we had a full schedule of work to get through. And we just kind of knuckled down and focused on that. Rather than, you know, looking at the things that were happening, which were outside of our control anyway. And we knew other businesses largely anyway were having that experience. So it just didn't pay to do anything else, except that.”
20:19 — Plan accordingly
Andrew shares a comment from a different interviewee that struck him; it removed all emotion from the equation and focused on just getting the job done.
“One of the more insightful comments I've heard that just took me aback, as somebody who hasn't been through at least one pandemic through their lifetime, was that if the world is only going to end, plan accordingly. If you're confident that this is the time, that the world ends, then plan accordingly. If you don't believe so, plan accordingly. It was such a detachment from the emotion that was running through.”
24:32 — An annoying distraction
Fundraising rounds, while essential, can be a distraction from the important work of growing and directing a business
“There's a lot of components to the business as well, particularly when you're gearing up for a fundraising round — that is a really big, annoying distraction for the business, particularly from the leadership perspective. When you get dragged out to do pitches or prepare materials, answer questions — that is a really time-consuming process that takes a lot of the focus away from the important things that are adding value to the business (other than giving it capital, which is also incredibly important obviously). That’s always a challenging thing to be contending with, at the same time that you're trying to help your business grow and direct it accordingly and really make sure that you're gearing it up for success.”
28:26 — So much change
Everything changes so rapidly in the startup world, says Martin. Sometimes even what you did last week is already obsolete.
“The reporting side of things is always a challenge anyway. At the best of times, with a startup — it's changing and pivoting. If I put together a business model, like two years ago, the one that we have now is like poles apart. Aside from just underlying assumptions changing, products have changed out, pricing has changed, revenue models have changed. So there's just so much change that's constant. Where, you know, you're always trying to spin things out that are relevant and then, you know, a week later they could be totally irrelevant. And you really need that speed to be able to access that information. That's incredibly challenging.”
30:52 — Going through startup life
The ebb and flow of living through a pandemic, Andrew observes, is a lot like running a start-up; priorities must be constantly reassessed and reset as conditions and variables shift at an exhausting pace.
“In the startup world, which we are both endeavoring to navigate, it's almost as if there's a constant reprioritization process that occurs, and that it can ebb and flow with great ideas, great new clients, international clients, and just a number of variables. And I think that is almost a great analogy for the year that we've been through. It's almost as if the world was going through startup life and all of a sudden we're all trying to navigate a tumultuous time and figuring out where we can ebb and flow appropriately.”
32:03 — Don’t indulge the emotions
Martin shares a life lesson he gleaned from a cricket player with incredible focus.
“The interviewer at the end of the match asked, ‘Why don't you celebrate when you score 100?’ And he just said, ‘If I celebrate the highs and indulge in the lows, I feel like that affects the focus that I have on the pitch.’ And that's something that, it's kind of like a philosophy, I guess, that I have, also a general approach to life. It requires a lot of energy to really live on those highs. And also, perhaps indulge in the lows, and in indulging in emotions, just generally in — in business and particularly in startups — is such a roller coaster...At the end of the day, a lot of these things you just gotta get on with the job and get on with things. Sometimes it's just a matter of you genuinely don't have time to get caught up in that emotion.”
36:24 — A double-edged sword
Will sharing sensitive company information with employees motivate them or topple their focus? Figuring out what to share and when is a tough call, says Martin.
“As founders and leaders within the business, we’ve been quite transparent with the whole team and that's a bit of a double-edged sword in a lot of ways. How much information you're exposing to people is such a delicate balancing act where, you know, people are performing a really specific role and a specific function within the business. Not that you necessarily want to limit the exposure to information generally, but you have to really understand the impact that can have on people — whether it's potentially damaging to their focus. Maybe it introduces a degree of uncertainty, which wasn't there before.”
47:45 — A hell of a lot of patience
Martin draws a parallel between the composure and patience required from a new parent to that required from a leader of a new startup.
“Trying to try to keep a level head and not get too emotional with kids — you gotta be that way anyway. That is a really great skill to possess and to carry across in the startup world. Cause it is incredibly challenging and every day is different and you know, you're definitely the recipient of pressure from a lot of different angles, whether it's investors or business partners, employees, potential customers, existing customers — there's always some fire that you've got to sort of deal with from time to time. It requires developing a hell of a lot of patience. I just think that is so relatable — the early stages of parenthood to an early stage startup. There are so many parallels to the challenges that you face.”