High Growth CEO: The Talented Jessica Mah

Jessica_Desk_xlI first met Jessica Mah, founder and CEO of inDinero, in the fall of 2014.  We met for coffee at the Cornell Club in NYC – she was engaging and highly personable and her entrepreneurial talent and determination to succeed was inspiring.

A year later she was on the cover of Inc. Magazine.  Today, inDinero has over 200 employees world-wide and a 9-figure valuation.  The Company is a top Inc. 5000 company as well as a Fast 100 SF Biz Times company.

I thought it might be interesting to share some of her background with our community of growth company CEOs.

RJ: Jessica, thanks for taking the time.  You have a very impressive background, perhaps we can kick off with how you got your start? 

JM: I studied computer science at UC Berkeley, and I started inDinero out of my dorm room. I wanted to work on something that’s always been a pain for me and accounting was at the top of the list.  At the time we didn’t have much money, and we didn’t have much experience so getting financing for the business would have been challenging.  So we decided to apply to Y Combinator and we were able to launch our product and get funding all through their process.  We received a lot of press at the time and that helped to attract high quality investors.

RJ: What solution does inDinero provide?

JM: The quick overview is that we do accounting and taxes and all of the back-office work for small businesses.  Our customers are as small as two or three employees with no revenue up to companies doing $10 to $15 million dollars a year in sales.  What we tell prospective customers is, instead of having to piece together your solution with an accounting platform, an invoicing service or reimbursement software, a way to pay your bills and then hire a bookkeeper and a tax person and a payroll service, inDinero is all of those things under one roof for one flat monthly price.  Customers love the simplicity of using inDinero.

RJ: How did you come up with the idea for InDinero?

JM: I came up with the idea after thinking about what are the big industries that need to be transformed by technology.  Accounting was very high up on the list because I’d run my own business before in college and in high school, and I knew that I had to hire a bookkeeper and that I had to find a tax person. So that inspired the idea for inDinero: how can we make it easy for entrepreneurs and for businesses to perform accounting functions and on the flip-side, how do we automate the service so that we don’t need to hire thousands of accountants.  I’m really passionate about the idea, and I’ve just stuck with it.

RJ: Can you share with us some of the unique challenges you’ve faced and how you were able to deal with them?

JM: Building a business in the accounting and tax field has its own particular challenges because, first off, it’s not an easy type of business to understand. We need to know about all of the accounting rules and tax laws.  There are state-by-state complexities that we had to figure out, and just laying that groundwork and knowing what questions to ask is challenging.  On top of that, there’s a lot of work to automate.  In the beginning, we had to have a lot more people doing manual work upfront, and we had to bite that cost and be okay knowing that one day all this work would be gone. We have our engineers sitting next to our accountants and I think that’s really the secret to how we’re able to have higher margins than any other accounting type of business.

RJ: Are you competing with other accounting or finance software platforms?

JM: We’re 99% of the time competing against traditional accountants or traditional bookkeepers, and in many cases the customers we talk to may be doing all the books themselves or they may have an office manager or someone else in their business trying to take care of it.  So we compete both against the traditional methods along with the software, but we do both and that’s why I think customers are interested in our solution.

RJ: You employ people abroad, how do you maintain a strong culture?

JM: We have an office here in San Francisco, Portland, New York and one in the Philippines.  All employees work directly for inDinero.  We don’t contract out the labor, and we don’t go through anyone else; we offshore so that we’re all one team, unified in our focus and culture.  I think that’s really the key to having a cohesive culture; all the employees need to work directly for the business, have a shared office, have a shared space and have the same core values. We also do lots of video calls and celebrate success of individuals and teams often. The reason why we invested in the Philippines office is for two reasons. The first is the lower cost structure and the second is that it’s easier to recruit accounting talent.  It’s been working out really well for us, and I’m really convinced that the investment’s been paying off.

RJ: How has your experience been selling into the SMB market?

JM: It’s certainly been an education and an evolution!  Over the years we’ve targeted different sizes within the SMB space, but we’ve come to realize that a company with 1-100 employees is really our sweet spot.  When you are adding your first 100 employees, every second you don’t spend on sales, marketing and product are seconds you are wasting.  inDinero is the perfect way for that class of companies to stay laser focused on their core areas of growth. In addition to never having to worry about accounting and taxes, a business of that size needs to know where every penny is, every cent counts at that stage and we’re the best at making real-time accounting knowledge a reality.  If your P&L and expenses aren’t right in your face as a SMB business owner, things can go off the rails in a hurry, that’s a huge value we bring to the back office.

RJ: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

JM: I was told by a trusted advisor that I could still save the business.  At the time, I thought everything was fine, but things were not, that really shook me up, but was the start of the comeback.

RJ: One last one, as an avid reader what is the best business book you have read?

JM: That’s tough since I average about 2 books a week, but I really like Tony Robbins and Timothy Ferris and these three are great: The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success, by William Thorndike. Bargaining for Advantage Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People, by G. Richard Shell and The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, by Peter Drucker

RJ: Thanks Jessica.  I am sure our audience of over 20,000 growth company CEOs will find this very informative.

JM: Absolutely, my pleasure.  Thank you.


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