Solving Accounts Payable Pain Points with MakersHub

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Attention: This is a machine-generated transcript. As such, there may be spelling, grammar, and accuracy errors throughout. Thank you for your understanding!

Charley Howe: [00:00:00] You can't try to be all things to all people, really, as any business, but acutely as a startup. And so you need to find one person who has a like an acute recurring problem, like we said. And let's try to solve that in a very narrow way.

Blake Oliver: [00:00:16] If you'd like to earn CPE credit for listening to this episode, visit earmark Cpcomm, download the app, take a short quiz, and get your CPE certificate. Continuing education has never been so easy. And now on to the episode. Hey everyone and welcome back to the show. I'm Blake Oliver and today I'm talking with Phong Ngo and Charley Howe. Phong Charley, welcome to the show.

Charley Howe: [00:00:45] Thank you very much for having me.

Phong Ngo: [00:00:47] Nice to be here.

Charley Howe: [00:00:48] Great to be here.

Blake Oliver: [00:00:49] Uh, you two are the founders of MakersHub, making AP unbelievably enjoyable. Now, there are a lot of accounts payable solutions on the market for accountants. It might be the most crowded field. So for those who don't know, MakersHub, um, what makes you different than all the other AP solutions out there?

Charley Howe: [00:01:10] That was our same presumption. It's a very crowded market, very saturated. These problems must be solved. Uh, and as we spent more time investigating the opportunity and kind of being pulled to it by virtue of the path that we'd initially set out on for MakersHub, it became very clear to us that there was an immense amount of both white space in the accounts payable, you know, technology department, people who were not being served, people who had needs that were being unmet by the both incumbent solutions and just ignored by the market. And what that really means for us and the problem set that we aim to solve and are solving for many of our users is the degree of granularity of the data capture that happens in the account payable process. There's a big cohort of users who use the data that comes across in the AP process. What is actually on the bills that my vendors are sending me for really operationally critical tasks. So if you're a construction company, for instance, you're using that data to do job costing. You're using that line item data to do cost plus billing. You're using that line item data as the basis of estimating future work more accurately.

Charley Howe: [00:02:26] And what we observed when we set out down this path is that the ability to capture and contextualize that information at a very granular way was still a very, very manual task for people who could invest the time and energy in that manual contribution to the process. And then there was a whole host of other people who said, hey, this amount of information would be lovely to have, but it turned out to be a luxury because they simply couldn't invest the, you know, operational overhead to capture it. So what we do that's very different from the balance of those kind of long tail solutions that you mentioned, Blake, is we have, you know, fully internal, fully proprietary technology that allows us to read and give context to bills in a much more granular, much more accurate way. Uh, that's a promise that's been made many, many times over. And hearing me say it for many people is going to be, hey, I've heard that before. The users who are currently enjoying our solution know that this time really is different.

Blake Oliver: [00:03:30] So you're talking about really detailed invoices, line item detail on bills, invoices where like on your on your screenshot on your home page I see smoothbore seamless 304 stainless steel tubing one to 1.5in odd with a bunch of detail. Yeah, so we're talking manufacturing. We're talking construction. Is that right?

Charley Howe: [00:03:56] Fang came from a manufacturing background, ran a manufacturing company for many, many years, which he'll talk about. We came to this with the presumption that it really is manufacturing centric or construction centric trade services, people who operate in the physical world. And that has remained to be true. Uh, there's a tremendous amount of need and pull from the market in those segments. What has surprised both Fang and me is, you know, the ubiquity of this need across nonphysical, world style businesses that, you know, there is, uh, a tremendous amount of people and businesses across industries, uh, that have the desire to capture a lot more information in the AP process. So we are, you know, focused on those physical world style industries because of the natural, you know, dovetail of the usefulness of what we do and how we can serve them. But every day we meet somebody new from an industry that we never would have conceived of, being the type of person that we were aiming to serve, you know, just really quickly, as you described. What what we do in the granularity we encountered, you know, just this past week, a 90 page bill. So it was a single PDF, 90 pages, and it had 24 underlying invoices as part of that single PDF. And our software was able to read it, break out all 24 individual invoices as discrete individual documents down to every line item you know, rendered in under a minute. And so it is that both level of granularity, but also for people who have really high volumes of AP or are getting these, you know, single documents with multiple underlying economic records as part of them, it's the thoughtfulness and care that we've built in to being able to reconcile all of this and take away what has historically been really, really necessary manual participation in it.

Blake Oliver: [00:05:54] Yeah, that's a lot of pages. That's a lot of line items. Uh, on that invoice. That's incredible that your software's been able to do that. Yeah. Phong I understand you have an engineering background and you, you were running a manufacturing company. What about that experience led you to want to automate accounts payable for manufacturing companies?

Phong Ngo: [00:06:15] Yeah. Great question. My my entire life have been, you know, a collection of very unanticipated change in direction. I'm an electrical engineer by trade, right out of college. I work at an equipment manufacturing company where what we do was we manufacturing automated production facility for at the time was solar industry. And I start out in control engineering, so I do a lot of programing, automated production. And over time, you know, I grow through the ranks where I become, you know, electrical engineering manager, operation manager. And I eventually run the business. So my entire career has always been as an engineer. And I saw my business problem with a very similar mindset of engineering. And in that experience, what I eventually where I become running the business, where I start recognizing. There was problem that even those us as a company want the most advanced engineering manufacturing expert. We wasn't competing all that well with our competitor. And what it really came down to was that even though I know everything there is to know about the machine where all the wire go, I didn't know where all the money goes. A machine with 10,000 components. We have all the drawings for them, but when we go and purchase them, the bill was stacking up.

Phong Ngo: [00:07:42] We have, you know, office of five, six people and they barely keep up with getting the bill pay. So when we need to propose for the next job or I need to go and compete with competitor, it has always been a very major slow down for us to kind of understand our costs, and that will where it become very apparent for me was that not knowing my back office number was what kind of holding us back from like, you know, growing a company and growing the business and, um, you know, kind of leading to wanted to build this. Was that from an ancient year? I'm like very hard for me to admit that this problem cannot be solved. Like, you know, you're sitting here typing it, right? So it's always, hey, let's go and figure this out and go and buy software. We have money. Go do it. And it's never been solved until I had to go and do it where I appreciate what were all the missing links and why it wasn't really being solved, and that they continue to inspire Charley and I to go down and really build this product to serve the small, medium sized businesses. Um, like who I was to really kind of empower them.

Blake Oliver: [00:08:57] So what about the current solutions or the available solutions didn't work for your business.

Phong Ngo: [00:09:03] You know, so what it was was really a lot of the AP solution. So there are two types there. They're like a really complex ERP solution where like the next week of the world where we were a small business. And so, you know, when we start researching solution, there were an AP centric solution, and then there are a full blown ERP, and we go down the ERP route at 4 or 5 different times. And it's always this kind of like, you know, hey. This like rambling unicorn down the line here and you're going to spend a lot of money, but we're going to take is 6 to 12 months of implementation. You get dedicated IT person and you need to change the entire workflow for small medium sized business where you constantly moving and changing. We don't have the luxury to do that. We cannot go and say stop for six months or 12 months or having dedicated resource. So we go down that path multiple times, and it never was a way where, hey, it's a solution. I'm ready to go, let's do it tomorrow. Right. And so, um, the investment of time wasn't something that, uh, very prohibited for, you know, business like ours.

Phong Ngo: [00:10:22] Then there are like a AP solution with the end the bill pay solution, which they really done a great job on streamline get the money out the door. But that's what they were really kind of focus on. Were they getting the money out the door. And my problem was that it wasn't too hard for me to cut and paste checks. What really was hard was I have an AP person who doesn't know anything about all the project that I'm doing, so the disconnection between that AP person and the shipping and receiving manager and the engineer, what end up making the bills even though we're spending the resource to enter them, they go in all the wrong place. And so, you know, like the solution that wasn't really there to enable collaboration through the way that really solving us. Um, and the manual data entry was massive. We were 10,000 components. So you look at the bill stack, it's very scary. You know, big long stack on the table from the mail, sitting there typing them a very, um, very painful.

Blake Oliver: [00:11:32] So you have all this data going into an accounting system. And it's not really useful because it's not connected to anything else in your organization. And ERP is right. And ERP system is going to be way too much to put in place. So this is sort of a like a middle ground. Then you can keep using uh, what were you using QuickBooks, I take it.

Phong Ngo: [00:11:53] Yeah, we were we were QuickBooks desktop users. So like when we set out to build the solution, one of the things that we really, you know, pay a lot of attention and engineering resource into how do we allow the business to operate exactly the way they operate today. Basically, these are functional, mature businesses who know what they're doing. They have a process in place. How do we fit in in the way that allow the business to continue to, you know, process their workflow, but take all the manual entry away and use technology to really solve the problem. So like the the, you know, the time to get usefulness MakersHub is something we spend a lot of effort, you know, fit seamlessly into people's workflow.

Blake Oliver: [00:12:43] So I can still get like job profitability reports without having to do the whole.

Phong Ngo: [00:12:48] Manually typing them. That's right. Yep. You can get all your job costing. You can get all your data, you can get all your report, um, without sitting there typing them. So like all the, you know, all the manual typing is what allows you to get all the data now to get done. Um, your process didn't change whatever you were doing before. Your project structure doesn't change and it's allowed you to, you know, enjoy these, uh, the new data. Another thing I want to add a note about the ERP system is also not only that, really the time that it takes to implement them. Uh, what I learned from, like, the, you know, boots on the ground running the business is regardless how hard you try to enforce people to do things a certain way, they will always be leaky bucket where much easier for a purchasing manager to call the vendor like, hey, I need this right now. Instead of go and issue a purchase order and get a quote and do all that stuff right. So the true nature of running a business is that always the leaky bucket with bills you're going to receive without ever go through an ERP? And how do you deal with those it would like kind of what make us up kind of fun run and say we're going to address this problem. At the very basic level. It doesn't matter how you buy them, you will get billed one way or the other through emails or through mails or like phone call. And we allow businesses to handle all of that without like changing anything.

Blake Oliver: [00:14:25] I love that you're solving the pain point. The immediate pain point, allowing businesses to continue using QuickBooks, not having to do that expensive ERP implementation, still getting the reporting they need or getting the reporting that they were missing, right? Charley, you you aren't an accountant, but you do have a background in banking and finance. How did you two get connected? What? What got you interested in solving this problem?

Charley Howe: [00:14:52] So I have no background in accounting, but I did spend prior to founding the business with Fung. I was at Citibank Citi for 18 years, and I spent 14 of those years in the institutional fixed income capital markets, part of the business, and then moved for the last 4 or 5 years that I was there to the internal venture capital arm. And there we made investments on behalf of the bank that were relevant to the businesses that the bank was in. Um, and I started by doing things that, you know, I knew and had dovetailed with the, uh, part of the business that I had worked in for many years, which was the mortgage business from an institutional perspective. So capital markets, lending style businesses. But given the nature of cities, businesses that transition to a lot of payments companies, a lot of vertical software and embedded payments style businesses, and before coming up with the notion for MakersHub and even, you know, agreeing to go down this journey with Fung, I had gotten to a point where I had been at Citi for a very long time, had reached a level of, you know, seniority where it would have been very difficult to leave and do something brand new. Um, but I was also looking around and looking at the jobs above me and kind of said, I'm not really interested in what comes next. And staying here, um, but didn't have a natural kind of next plan or a plan B, so I did what a lot of people who are, you know, a little bit of, uh, experiencing a bit of aimlessness do. And I went back to school while still working full time, but got my MBA and a nights and weekends executive program.

Charley Howe: [00:16:40] Um, I was San Francisco based at the time, and, uh, Wharton has a campus both in Philadelphia and in San Francisco and went to that program. And that's where I met Phong and, uh, Phong, who was experiencing kind of a similar dynamic in a very different way at the manufacturing company that he just spoke about, um, is how he arrived there. And we became fast friends almost immediately. I recognized in about five minutes that Phong was the smartest guy in a class of very smart people by leaps and bounds, and this was a horse that I was going to hitch my wagon to. Um, you know, I was not one of these people who was just hell bent on doing a startup and is waiting for the right idea or waiting for the right partner. Very far from it. I figured, you know, I would be a lifelong, you know, corporate stiff. Um, but in meeting Phong and becoming friends and realizing that we, despite coming from opposite ends of the world, quite literally had just a very similar world view, a very similar work ethic, um, really complementary skill sets and experiences and views of the world. We started to talk, you know, pretty early on about if we were going to do something together, what would that look like? How would it, um, marry both of our unique sets of experiences? Um, and that's how we came to, you know, the, the nascency or the, the birth of what has ultimately become MakersHub.

Blake Oliver: [00:18:11] Most startups start with an idea and then they pivot at some point. Yeah. What did you start with? Did you have to pivot? Did you have to change your thinking from where you started?

Charley Howe: [00:18:23] Yeah, absolutely. I think our story has many, many, many, many chapters left to be written so far be it from us to act like any kind of authority on, you know, how startups go and successful startups go. But I think that, you know, taking coming to the world with both a hypothesis, but a manifestation of that hypothesis, something that you can give to somebody. Don't go and just ask somebody to take a survey or tell you what they think about the world and then index to that, but give them something and see if what they say matches how they act is really important in terms of getting ahead and moving down the path of solving a solution that's worth solving, which is the goal of every startup. And we were no different. So the kind of observation that we had is the same that we just described, which is Phong had this major problem with data flowing through the process. He was a world class engineer that could start with a pile of raw materials, put it through a series of machines and come out the other end, a beautifully functioning world class machine. But he didn't have that for the financial elements of his business, right? That part of it was very broken. And so we initially said, hey, if you started at the procurement level, how we buy things and how we buy the stuff that goes into these machines was different.

Charley Howe: [00:19:54] It could allow for that data to flow as elegantly as the machine itself flows. And so we started by saying we were still trying to solve the same problem that we're solving today. But we started on the other end. We started by saying, hey, if people bought differently, this outcome would be easier and it would flow more naturally. And there were elements of that that were true. So we built the procurement tool. We built the most beautiful, uh, advanced componentry procurement tool that probably exists, and we put it on the shelf really, really fast. When we started giving it to people and asking them to use it, and people kept saying, um, yeah, but it's pretty easy to just email Blake or, you know, they had routines and processes and habits where what we had built, it became clear to me and Phong really quickly was a nice to have, not a need to have from the procurement standpoint. But what we heard over and over and over again, which we hadn't really conceived of, was, hey, the procurement pieces of this are neat and nifty and look pretty. Um, but what I love about it is when I order in this way, I don't have to put that information into QuickBooks. It just comes out the other end, properly coded and complete and accurate.

Charley Howe: [00:21:13] But I would only use your procurement tool to buy one. Out of the 15 things that I need for this machine. Can you do this for the other 14? And Phong and I kind of looked at each other and said, I don't know. There are big Blake. It's exactly how you open this podcast. There's a gazillion companies that do this, some of them really big. Been around a long time, super well capitalized, lots of smart people. This must be a solved challenge. This person must not have found or know of these big incumbent solutions. And then we heard it again. And then we heard it again. And after hearing it the third time, the exact same way, we really dug in pretty deeply as to what was out there. And it became very clear very early on where the shortcoming was and why these people were having this kind of repetitive problem. And so having heard that we, you know, took the six months of work and this beautiful tool that we had that we were convinced was going to be the thing that we were going to do immediately put it on the shelf, listen to what the world was telling us and built, you know, the kind of v1 of what is now become a MakersHub. Um, and, uh, and it's been unequivocally the right decision so far.

Blake Oliver: [00:22:24] So you started with a purchasing module or purchasing tool, and you struggled to get adoption because people have their way of doing things already, right? They like to email this, uh, right. Like to email their orders or something like that. So. What what, what change did you make in the product then to overcome that? Like is the idea that I can still like do I? Yeah.

Charley Howe: [00:22:49] So we get and I'll let Phong, I'll hand this to Phong. But you know two things. One was that the pain wasn't acute enough, you know, to get off the ground as a startup to overcome all of the world's inertia pushing against you, you have to identify a really acute and recurring pain that someone is experiencing. And that sounds like, you know, a little trite and trivial. Oh, of course, that's how you would start it. That's actually really hard. There aren't that many acute unsolved pains in the world or that are super easy to identify. Um, so the product, all we've really done is, you know, if you think about the purchase journey, it starts with somebody having a need, going out to buy something, and it ends with making a payment and categorizing it in the accounting world. That's how a B2B, you know, transaction journey goes. And we set out saying, let's start at point A, right, somebody needs to buy something and let's go through the purchase journey. And all we really did was say, it's much smarter to start at point Z and work back to point A than to start at point A and work to point Z. And what we mean by that is the end of this journey is you get a bill, you pay that bill, and then you code it. Let's start there and work back to how people buy, because that was the much more acute, the much more recurring, and the much more daily front of mind problem that people were telling us that they had following.

Blake Oliver: [00:24:23] As as Phong identified the the biggest pain point was that data entry step. That's right. When I get when I get the bill from my supplier, I have to enter that into the system. And it might have many, many, many pages and dozens or even hundreds of line items. Yep.

Phong Ngo: [00:24:40] That's right. Another thing that we learned also is that you really kind of solve from the top. Then like many, many people need to be involved. You need to get purchase order to be involved, engineer to be involved. They're like, you know, you kind of like, you know, so you go against a lot of like workflow and habit that you talk about. Um, you start to build level at the same like everybody we see build the same way is they're coming, emails are coming through the mail and then AP team that their their job is to enter them into a QuickBooks. So by capture it there, it becomes a much more natural place for you to store where they know workflow had to be changed. They had this massive manual data entry, um, and complexities around where does it go in accounting system that we can cut it, inject right away and really immediately make a massive impact for business right where they need it.

Charley Howe: [00:25:39] Yeah. One thing to add to that, and I would say just a touch differently, is. Our determination was that was a much better place to enter the world, to enter the, you know, ecosystem. You can't try to be all things to all people, really, as any business, but acutely as a startup. And so you need to find one person who has a like an acute recurring problem, like we said. And let's try to solve that in a very narrow way. And then you can try to propagate through the organization. And this is what Phong is alluding to, where at every business there is somebody who is getting those bills and processing them, doing some manual entry, uh, doing manual coding. Um, then that person moves on, the next person comes in, that same manual task is at hand, but they do it a little bit differently. And by virtue of doing it a little bit differently, you compound that, those little bits of difference over the course of a year, over multiple people, over multiple, uh, you know, machine building cycles, if you will, if you're following and all of a sudden your books are rendered not particularly useful because people have done things a little bit differently a bunch of different times.

Charley Howe: [00:26:55] And there's compounding that. So we entered at that, uh, and have continued to build out the solution to the level where now it's not just valuable to that AP person who, hey, I used to have to sit down and type this stuff in. I don't have to do that anymore. But now it's useful to the management who want to see in a much more real time and visible way where are these, you know, bills and payments in their cycle? It's very useful to the purchase order or the project managers and the purchasing folks who want more visibility and want a more, you know, direct participation in the bill approval process, but only for the stuff that matters for them, not for the stuff that matters to Blake, who's running a very different project that I have no say in. Um, so all of these things, our approach has been entering a very narrow way, solve one person's really acute, recurring problem really elegantly and really completely, and then figure out how they work with somebody else in the organization and how we can make that working dynamic easier, more streamlined.

Blake Oliver: [00:28:00] I love that because you haven't let go of the original vision, which is to automate the flow of accounting and financial data from raw materials to finished goods, which is. It's amazingly, um, complicated. But also, it can't be that complicated. It must be solvable because if you do it for actual physical raw materials, and you can take sand and you can turn sand into solar panels, right, then we should be able to do this with our accounting data as well. It's kind of amazing that it's so disconnected. You know, that's.

Phong Ngo: [00:28:39] That's so funny how I become so passionate about this. Um, you know, this kind of problem that we're solving where I look at the same way and I'm an engineer, like, look, I build machine like this team work. Why is it not working? You know, and I, I came at it with not as much, um, you know, passion or being empathetic to the people who do the job in that you're not doing the job. It seems kind of like, how is it so complex? Like you gotta build, you enter them to the right place, and you, you know, uh, why is it seemed complicated, and I guess until one of, uh, like, our CPAs, he took a, you know, one week vacation where we got Bill to pay, and I had to kind of go and do it myself. And that's where, like, my aha moment where like, wow. Like, they were like, this is intense. I don't want to do any of this. And why did Bill don't have the project on it? Where does it go? Like what's happening. And I think that where it becomes clicking for me is that I think that the um, like a missed investment in the effort and the engineering, um, technology into this solution that seem, from the outside world, very straightforward, but have a lot of little complexities and nuance around it. And that ultimately how, you know, you asked earlier, like, how are we different? So like what? Why the AP solution today don't really solve problem is that, you know, because they only try to solve the 80% problem. But like all the little nuances like, you know, where the thing goes, like where the thing doesn't match what you know, what about discount? Those are the type of thing that really compound the pain for the people doing the job, um, that we only learn by doing. And that's why we became so passionate about it.

Charley Howe: [00:30:30] Yeah. I mean, one other thing that I would add to the comments that Phong just made are, uh, it's really, you know, appealing in these types of settings. And when we try to tell our story, to orient to the novelty and sophistication of the technology that we built, which allows us to read documents in a much better, more complete way, we call that technology wise vision. And I think while that underpins and is the basis that allows us to do what we do. Phong and I both believe that, at least equally important, are the much more mundane, much harder, much grittier, tiny little fixes that we make on an everyday basis. And your earlier point, Blake, about, hey, why should this? You know, this shouldn't be so hard. Um, and it's because, you know, no individual problem seems like it is that hard. It's small stuff, but when they add up over time, that results in people needing to do 50 clicks where it feels like they should just do one. And we've tried to take the approach of we have this really powerful, best in class underpinning technological solution, but on top of that, software just has to really work, right. It has to be intuitive. It has to be simple. It has to do what you think it should do, and the button should be where you think it should be. And so every time somebody has come to us and said, hey, I love that you guys do A, B, C, and D, it's been a landscape shifting thing for our business, but how do I deal with credit card rebates? Or how do I deal with this small thing? I hate how in Competitor X's product I have to, you know, do these syncing gymnastics. We take each of those, we take them super seriously and we fix them. And over time, short period of time that we've been at it, it's been able to compound and build into something that just works the way it should be. And a lot of that is just kind of simple, dumb, boring, mundane, um, small fixes that we take really seriously.

Blake Oliver: [00:32:33] So let's talk again about who MakersHub is for. Obviously construction, manufacturing, anybody with a lot of complex bills, with lots of line items where they need to track all these costs to understand project profitability. Um, what about the accountants? What sort of accountants bookkeepers are you looking to partner with?

Charley Howe: [00:32:59] Yeah, it's a great question. And we learned very early on that accountants were such a great, you know, entry to this world where, you know, we came to the, you know, initial, you know, go to market effort if you will, as saying, hey, this is for construction companies, physical world industries. That's a world that not only do we think we serve well, but that we really know. Right. A huge benefit that we have is that Phong can sit down with a business owner and manufacturing and construction, and they finish each other's sentences because he's been there. Um, but we also realized very early on that a lot of the people who are actually the ones who are encountering this pain, or the CPAs, the bookkeepers, the people who Phong is a business owner says, hey, you know, I've got a real problem with this, but I'm trying to run the business. I'm just gonna I need to hire somebody to help me with this. And so that's just shifting the problem from one person to the next and to that next person. It was the CPA firms and the outsourced bookkeepers and fractional CFOs or even internal, um, accountants, who were the ones who were kind of the tip of the spear from the standpoint of experiencing the pain. And so our, you know, typical partner, CPA looks like, uh, you know, small to medium sized, firm, somewhat QuickBooks centric, given QuickBooks as our focus right now, serving businesses that are, you know, between small to medium sized businesses, million in revenue, a couple people all the way up to, you know, low nine figure big businesses who just need some additional acumen and help, um, people who are actually doing and processing AP and payments, obviously, you know, that's where the weightiness really is of I've got customers with really hairy AP.

Charley Howe: [00:34:51] I've sold them a solution. And right now, uh, we know how to do it. We know how to ensure that their books are clean. We've offered them a tremendous amount of insight and help in terms of professional and, you know, outsourcing, if you will, some of the, like, laborious manual nature of this. But it's hard for us now. Yeah. And because of how hard it is for us to do, we have to limit the amount of clients that we can take on. We have to dedicate a lot of hours to this, and we're being compensated for it and compensated fairly. But what we would really like to grow our business is to have a tool that allows us to do this much more efficiently, allows us to go to the user and say, hey, not only can I solve the kind of blocking and tackling elements of making sure your bills get paid, but here's this whole set of insight, of analytics, of, um, you know, real professional insight and contribution to your business over and above, just getting this job done.

Charley Howe: [00:35:53] Right. And I think that the CPAs with whom we're working, where the partnership is most encouraging, are the ones who say to us, hey, by virtue of using your tool, not only have I been able to expand my customer base because of the technological leverage that you give us and our business, but I've been able to offer a much better product to my end customer, because the data that I get is so much more robust, it's much higher integrity. I can go back to doing what I think an accountant's job really should be, which is let me give solutions to my customer about how to run their business better, how to be more financially efficient, how to optimize cash flow, how to just run a better business. I'm not just going to my customer anymore and saying, hey, that stack of bills that Phong was complaining about is no longer on your desk. That's great. That's important. Cost of entry. But for many of our CPA partners, they're able to say, I can sell a much better solution and I can do it with a lot more people because of technology.

Blake Oliver: [00:36:58] Yeah, I love that. Um, I can tell you that when I had my own accounting practice, I dabbled in job costing for clients, and ultimately I couldn't do it. The solutions that were available to me, it just didn't make it, uh, efficient for me to offer it as a fractional controller or bookkeeper. And so ultimately, I would have to help my clients find an in-house bookkeeper to, to do that. Yeah, but I feel like with this level of sophistication where so much of it is tracked automatically and you've. Got like, you know, the items created. You can create items out of bills. I this is all stuff that would have had to be done manually, even just, you know, five, ten years ago. So I imagine, you know and the.

Phong Ngo: [00:37:48] It and the, uh, institutional knowledge too, right. Like, you know, what you really want at the accounting is, you know, over time you formulate these templates on how business should run. And instead of, you know, being the laborious process of having a dedicated bookkeeper, you know, a single bookkeeper per business, you cannot templatize this where, hey, these are restaurant business. They should run this a certain way. We can have the preconfigured, uh, automation where, you know, like, I can now allocate my resource a lot more flexibly where like, hey, a bookkeeper, a who always do book for company, a go on vacation, another person can come in because already templatized and they make, you know, like your ability to grow and expand and almost like offer these services a little bit more sophisticated as well.

Charley Howe: [00:38:43] Yeah. Your first hand knowledge, um, that you just offered Blake is really, you know, interesting and, um, important in that we've got a couple examples of firms that we work with who have said we wanted to do this, but we couldn't do it because it wasn't cost effective. Where if you think about let's take away for a second, for a second the difficulty of doing job costing, of doing AP, absent the difficulty, it's really attractive business for an accountant to offer to their customer set. It never stops. Bill. Show up every day. As long as the business is functioning, they're going to get bills. Those bills have to be paid. It is the like quintessential recurring revenue, always evergreen business that accountants and accounting firms should really want to go after. Right? You don't want to, in a perfect world, be doing just one off consulting business where you go in and best case scenario is you make that problem go away, right. That problem goes away. You solved it really well. And you know, you got to find somebody else with the same problem or a different problem for that same person. And you're kind of always trying to, uh, you know, seek out business. Ap is a wonderful recurring problem that you can just serve. But the problem previously is you just so eloquently, uh, espoused is that it's really hard. And if you don't have tools to help you, well, it's maybe not such good business because it's such a drag on your own productivity. And so we've got to.

Blake Oliver: [00:40:12] Like you said, we could help them with paying the bills on time and we could help them manage their cash flow to some extent, but we couldn't help them actually understand how profitable are these jobs, because we, like you said, it just wasn't cost effective for us to do job costing. Yeah. Project costing.

Charley Howe: [00:40:32] Exactly. And so we've got a couple examples where I was going with that. You know, two long winded story is we've got a couple examples of firms exactly like what you just described who said, hey, we've looked at this, we've wanted to do this, and we've determined previously that this didn't make sense for our, you know, CPA accounting firm. Um, that with our tool have said we're now marketing this service. We are doing this business because we can finally do it cost effectively with the leverage that we've been able to give them.

Blake Oliver: [00:41:01] And what I love about that is that's a huge pain point for clients. It's underserved by accounting firms in the market. Very, very few, uh, client accounting services practices or outsourced accounting practices will be able to do this because they haven't discovered the tech yet. So. I love it because I'm always looking for just like startup founders, right? In accounting services, we can also find those pain points that are are solvable. Yeah. And we can offer a service and nobody else is doing it. And that's the key to growth is, is find something nobody else is doing because you're the only one doing it. You have you can capture the market basically.

Charley Howe: [00:41:43] Absolutely. And we want to make it as easy for our accounting partners to do that as possible. Um, and that, you know, you can abstract us as a way from this as is appropriate in your case. Right? We do not feel the need to be plastered all over or everybody talking about our solution. A great partnership for us is an accounting firm that uses us to deliver that solution and for the face of the customer. Hey, this Blake's firm is just the best. We've had 20 of them. Nobody could do it. Blake's the only one who could do it. And it's reliable. It's on time. It's complete. It's accurate every time. Um, and, uh, and those have been great partnerships for us.

Blake Oliver: [00:42:25] So let's say I'm an accounting firm owner or practice leader. I want to try it out. I want to get started. Do you have a partner program? Do I just sign up on the website? How does that work? Yeah.

Charley Howe: [00:42:38] So we have a partner program. Um, come sign up on the website. And following myself, Ted, some of our other team happy to get on the phone with you, walk you through the solution, teach you more. It's one thing to listen to us talk about. It's another thing to see us, you know, to see it in action. And then we give all of our accounting partner firms free access for their business themselves. So you can use MakersHub to run your own AP. It's a great test case for, uh, again, you know, listening to us talk about it is one thing. Watching us demo it is another thing you going in and actually being the one to test it, try it, etc. is a far different thing. So everybody gets, uh, you know, free access for their, uh, CPA firms. And then as they, you know, realize the efficiency that is there and the efficacy of the tool, they can add customers and they can go out and sell the services knowing that MakersHub is there, you know, as a partner and to give them some leverage, you know, in that process.

Blake Oliver: [00:43:43] And that URL is discover Dot makers Habai. So head to Discover MakersHub I if you want to learn more, try it for free. I love that by the way Charley, making it free for the accounting firms to try for themselves is such a helpful thing. Um, I would always test out apps on my own books before I ever did it with clients. Yeah, so I think that's really smart. Yeah. I mean.

Charley Howe: [00:44:15] Our attitude is if it's good enough for you and your business, you can go and enthusiastically and credibly recommend it to your clients. And if it if it isn't, then we've failed. And we don't want you to do that. And we want you to tell us why and we'll fix it.

Blake Oliver: [00:44:34] And that should be easy for accounting firms to test out, because we do love to do job costing ourselves. So, uh, we can get the benefit of that line item detail getting extracted into our own accounting systems. Um, anything else you two would like to add before we go?

Charley Howe: [00:44:51] No, this was great. You covered a lot in a short period of time, and I think we were able to hopefully, you know, convey, uh, why we're different and the kind of uniqueness of the partnership between us and the CPA firms who are your audience and are super important counterparties of ours and people that we want to partner with for the very long terme. You know, we're not out here to sell you a month or a year's worth of software. We're here to be your partner. We're here to make your business more efficient. We're here to make your business bigger. Because when your business gets bigger and more efficient, it benefits us. And it's really that symbiotic nature that we're out to, uh, to provide.

Blake Oliver: [00:45:29] That's where accounting is headed over my career in accounting, which has been 20 years now. Tech and accountants have gotten more and more connected. And, uh, you know, I, I mean, look at where we're where we're at. We are recording this episode in the cloud using a variety of, of tools. Um, and this is how we run our firms now, right? We can do it from anywhere, serving anyone any time. Very exciting. So, uh, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I have been speaking with Phong Ngo and Charley Howe from MakersHub again. Check out if you would like to learn more and appreciate your time.

Charley Howe: [00:46:10] Thank you. Thank you so.

Phong Ngo: [00:46:11] Much. Blake. Blake.

Blake Oliver: [00:46:14] Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you learned something new. And if you did, wouldn't it be nice to get some CPE credit for it? Well, I've got great news. My new app, Earmark CPE, offers free NASBA-approved CPE credits for listening to podcasts, including this one. Visit to download the app, take a short quiz, and get your CPE certificate. That's

Creators and Guests

Charley Howe
Charley Howe
Charley has 18 years of Wall Street experience in fixed-income structured products and venture capital. He spent more than a decade advising and transacting with the world’s most sophisticated mortgage-backed security, commercial real estate, and consumer lending investors. Charley then co-led fintech investing at Citi Ventures focused on early & growth-stage startups in payments, lending, and capital markets.
Phong Ngo
Phong Ngo
Phong was previously President of General Plasma - a leading supplier of nanotechnology equipment and industrial automation solutions. General Plasma engineered and manufactured $100M in R&D and production equipment globally for OEMs in solar, automotive, display, and semiconductors. Phong has a gold medal in physics and two US patents. Phong completed his Wharton MBA as a Palmer Scholar. Charles and Phong in fact met while at Wharton in the MBA program.
Solving Accounts Payable Pain Points with MakersHub
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