Adventures in NoCode with Chad Davis

Chad Davis, founder at LiveCA, shares why his firm created a new NoCode service offering — and much more!

Blake: You're building your own practice management software? Are you crazy?

Chad: Yeah. Yeah, I'd love to actually talk a little bit about that, because I actually think that's going to be the pièce de résistance. The big thing that happens in 2022 for our firm is, you know, not having to hire another 100 people to do the same amount of work, but instead, give them a better place and a more efficient way to do their work, so that they can spend more time with their customers.

Blake: If you'd like to earn CPE credit for listening to this episode, visit earmarkcpe.com, download the app, take a short quiz, and get your CPE certificate. Continuing education has never been so easy. And now, onto the episode.

[00:00:42] Introductions

Blake: Hey everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Earmark. I'm your host, Blake Oliver, CPA. And I'm talking today with Chad Davis, co-founder and partner at LiveCA, LLP, which is according to LinkedIn, up in the greater Halifax metropolitan area. How are you doing, Chad?

Chad: Very good. I should probably update LinkedIn. That's where I'm from, for tax residence purposes, but the firm, it's based in Toronto, for legal purposes and fun facts or- lawyers to get our mail.

Blake: Yeah.

Chad: So, that's how that works.

[00:01:20] Chad is mobile, travels around the country in an RV

Blake: And the reason I mentioned your location is because you are famous for being completely mobile. Not only is your firm remote, but you have traveled around the country, the continent, for how long now?

Chad: Four years.

Blake: And you're in an RV with your family, and somehow, you're running a firm. How does this work?

Chad: Yeah, I think running the firm is a loose term. I think when you're over 100 people, there's many people who are running it and making it work. So, I've mostly been focused on the sales side the last couple of years. And recently, say the last 12 to 15 months or so, I have been putting a lot of effort into the development side of the firm. So, I'm thinking that's probably why we're here to chat today.

[00:02:05] New things Chad has started working on with his firm

Blake: And I'm really excited to chat with you, in particular about a few things that are going on with your firm. You've got this new NoCode initiative. Did I see correctly, you've got four people on that team now, or you're hiring the fourth?

Chad: Yeah. The fourth one is being hired right now, but yeah, what a silly word, eh? NoCode, it feels like it should be banned already.

Blake: Well, you know, we’ll hype it up and then it can be banned after we do this episode.

Chad: Yeah, I think it's one of those jump the shark terms.

Blake: Well, I'm excited to talk about it. And I mean, the whole idea of NoCode is really exciting because, you know, I'm not a programmer, I'm not a developer, but I've spent my whole career in accounting, with technology, and doing a lot of what I think you would consider NoCode. But I want to learn more about that, so we'll get into that. But you've also got this- what is it, a job board that you've created for accountants? Which is interesting.

Chad: Yeah, that was really fun. I mean, it's like, think of a way to learn a tool, what's better than to actually try to sell it and see if there's any validation? So, yeah, we put that together really quickly. I mean, you can lead this however you for sure, but with the job board, it was really just a sense of, “Hey, how can we learn Bubble a little bit more in-depth on the user, and the email automations, and the searching, and the filtering, and the database side, without getting too serious on a client task or on something like that?”

And when we put that together, it was just a no brainer because I, like every single accounting firm in the world, would love to attract any great candidate who wants to join what you're building. So, yeah, that's a big focus for us, is to just provide a place where job seekers can set up alerts on the types of jobs that they're interested in, in any country, whether it's remote, or physical, or based on the type of computer, or the perk, or the apps they use, salary range, and then get notified passively.

So, we're hoping that a lot of people that listen to podcasts like this probably are really smart, and they want to maybe set up an alert, and then let the job boards come to them instead of them having to sort through and find the job themselves.

Blake: That's awesome. And that was built with NoCode tools. So, perfect tie in to the whole NoCode discussion today. Well, we'll get into that. We'll get into that. I want to-

Chad: I’d say there’s lots of code involved, but yeah, on the surface, it looks like it, but holy cow, is there ever a lot of code in the background?

Blake: Okay, gotcha.

Chad: You’re building it up, you know what this is like.

Blake: Yeah, I've learned a lot in the last year. It's been incredible. It's a lot harder than you think. I have so much empathy now for developers.

Chad: Respect too.

Blake: When we ask them in the accounting world- right, respect- we asked them to build something super complex or super simple. What we think is super simple turns out to be enormously complex in the background, because they have to think about all of these edge cases that we just don't worry about; that's just one thing.

You're also restructuring LiveCA to allow for employee ownership, something that is exciting to me. I want to talk about that.

Chad: Yeah. Awesome.

Blake: And you're building your own practice management software? Are you crazy?

Chad: Yeah. Yeah, little bit. But you know lots of people that are in the same boat, too. And yeah, I'd love to actually talk a little bit about that, because I actually think that's going to be the pièce de résistance. The big thing that happens in 2022 for our firm is not having to hire another 100 people to do the same amount of work, but instead, give them a better place and a more efficient way to do their work, so that they can spend more time with their customers.

So, we're hoping for about a 30 to 40 percent efficiency ROI on that project, and it's infinite. So, lots of stuff in the beginning, but lots of planned work up there as well. So, yeah, I can dive into that, too.

[00:05:55] Background on Chad and his firm, LiveCA

Blake: So, plenty to talk about. But first, let's talk a little bit more about you and your firm. Tell me about LiveCA. How many people are at the firm? You're up in Canada; you know, who do you serve? Just give me the overview.

Chad: I'll try to keep this short, because you listen to this on other podcasts, like, “That was way too long.” So, 100-

Blake: Let’s just do a- let’s not spend 10 minutes-

Chad: No.

Blake: -of the beginning of the webinar talking about, you know, who everyone is. Let's just do the quick intro.

Chad: It's done. So, LiveCA, I started my company in 2012. My business partner, Josh, did the same thing, emerged up in 2013; just the two of us today. There's 103, 104 people, probably 110 by the end of February. And the idea is that we've always been remote from day one. And I've always been a Xero firm. So, we really just kind of cared about becoming a finance team for a company, versus being an outsource bookkeeper, or CPA, or tax accountant.

And that messaging has allowed us to serve the $2 million and up crowd exclusively for the last three to four years, maybe five years. And that's sort of our reputation now, is to hit the higher-grossing, more complex customers. And yeah, really, really happy to be in that world where people are really excited to pay your bill.

Blake: Well, congrats on hitting the 100-employee mark. That is [CROSSTALK].

Blake: [CROSSTALK] metric.

Chad: Right. ‘Cause you could be making no money doing that. But there aren't that many cloud- what I would call cloud- accounting firms that have hit that. It's like you guys, and Acuity, and I know Aprio Cloud; not that many that I could think of.

Chad: Yeah, not that many.

Blake: So, and also, you're not VC-backed, right?

Chad: Yeah.

Blake: So, you've done it organically. You've done it legitimately, just pouring money into a hole.

Chad: Yeah, since 2013 or so, yeah.

Blake: That's awesome. So, great. Good intro.

[00:07:55] NoCode - what is it?

Blake: So, let's talk about NoCode. For the listeners that are not familiar with the term- and I probably could use a refresher- what does NoCode mean? There's no, and there's code. So, does that mean that we can make applications without code?

Chad: It's like, “Fill in the blank, make it what you want it to mean.” I actually think NoCode is an undeveloped word. It's one of these things that hasn't been finished yet. And it just kind of stuck. So, you'll see it everywhere, right? Twitter is full of the 100DaysOfNoCode, and everybody getting excited about different apps. I mean, that's- I think it's amazing that people are doing that, and expanding their horizons.

But like every single person in tech, there’s issues that people have with the word and the vernacular, because words are important. So, the way that we think about it is, we want to help people, and we want to build stuff for them, and we'll do it however we can. And the term today that people use is NoCode, or low-code, or visual development, or some combination of those three.

And anyone you say sounds silly. So, you're kind of damned if you do, and damned if you don't. So, we use the word NoCode for purely SEO, and for initial recognition of something different, because we're not hiring a $200,000 developer and having three of them on staff, and trying to build a, you know, something in react or something.

We're literally using all the tools that everybody else is getting into, but having dedicated people to do it, to do two simple things. One, sell services to existing and new clients, and two, build out our own internal tech. To us, that’s NoCode with lots of code.

Blake: So, give me some examples- with lots of code- but less code. Low-code is another term, right? That’s a little sexy.

Chad: Yeah, I think efficiency and quickness is the biggest benefit. I mean, if you wanted to go- was that your question? To go through some examples?

[00:09:59] Examples of NoCode projects they are working on

Blake: Yeah. Make it real for us. What are some examples of NoCode projects that you are working on, or have completed?

Chad: Sure. So, on the client side or- actually, I have to go internal. Yesterday, our head of HR came to us and said we have- I don't know what it was, 120, 115 year-end tax filing slips. In Canada, they're called T 2200s. They mean the declarations of people's expenses, and reimbursement policies, and things like that, so that if the government ever needed to check a tax return, they could verify with, you know, employer-specific information.

In the past, mail merging little bit of tech to try to help get the PDFs up and running, you know, do your best. Inside of 25 minutes, I was able to put together an Integromat scenario that took data from the Google Sheet, it pinpointed all the X and Y axes on the PDF of where things needed to be filled out, had all of the employees’ personal emails, and was able to go through and create all the PDFs, send them off to them, inside of half an hour.

That would have been a full day of someone else doing that manually, right? So, it's a very, very simple issue, but it's more like, “Hey, I need something quick. What could happen?” On the other side of things, one of my favorites is using Google Sheets To create Xero invoices. So, if you're familiar with Apps Script in Google, there's lots of ways that you can start a webhook right in order to allow something else to talk to your Google Sheet.

So, we have one where if a data-validation cell says yes, you go to the menu that says send to somewhere, you can customize where you want it to send to. It doesn't matter if there's one or a thousand- it sends them all off into an Integromat scenario, and then runs them all through and does all the conditionals, and routings, and arrays, and everything you need.

Then it shows up in Xero exactly how you want It. Could be sent off to the people, could have notes made in the actual body of the email, can use the right themes, based on the type of contact. You’re literally, endless opportunities of taking people's old systems and putting them back into the systems that you need. And you're immediately accounting sexy to the people that you're working with.

Blake: Yeah. Yeah, that is- I'm getting turned on right now, just hearing about that.

Chad: Turn your camera off. Turn your camera off.

[00:12:35] What is Integromat?

Blake: So, Integromat, that's the tool you just mentioned that twice. Is that your tool of choice for NoCode?

Chad: I mean, I’ve-

Blake: Tell me about it.

Chad: Yeah. What do you know about Integromat?

Blake: Really, I've heard the term. I've heard the name, but I don't know anything.

Chad: Integromat, to me, is like a grown-up Zapier. And for people that use it a lot- they may or may not agree- but I think if you think about how easy it is to start a zap and to move data between different systems, Integromat makes everything visual. So, you have what they call scenario, and it's on a canvas that's infinite.

And then you can start to plug and play different circles or nodes. And those will allow you to make conditionals, and filters, and routers, and essentially, do anything you'd want to do, and put it anywhere you want to put it very visually, and very quick. Zapier, you can't really clone or copy a step, and then use it again. In Xero, you can not only- well, let's just say you can do that in Integromat.

Blake: Got it. So, it kind of makes me think- I mean, I haven't seen it, but I'm a big HubSpot user, having been on the marketing side for a few years. And there's these automations you can build where you can visually, you know, program things to happen when certain things- conditions are met. Is that what we're talking about here?

Chad: Yeah. You know HubSpot deals in opportunities and things like that, we've used that with one client to set up Stripe recurring transactions, including user variables. Because they didn't want to use stuff that was on the market, and they had some really unique contracting stuff. So, not only would it update and deal with credits, but it would also manage, and cancel, and create things in Stripe, based off of what's happening in HubSpot.

[00:14:22] What led to the creation of this team and initiative?

Blake: So, what led you to create this team, this initiative? Was it client demand? Was it you playing around with it for your own firm?

Chad: Think back to when you had your cloud source. Imagine all the times that you wish you could have just used something that you wanted to build, instead of what was available back in 2013 and 2014. Tell me you wouldn't just dive into it back then, right?

Blake: Well, and we did, actually. At the time, we built our own practice management- not practice management, our client portal. We built our own client portal using a tool called- it was from Citrix. Citrix bought it, and I forget what it was called, but there- you know, we didn't have Client Hub and Canopy, and the other- the Karbon; they didn't exist. So, we had to basically build our own.

Chad: Was it on top of ShareFile or a different tool?

Blake: It was- I forget the name of it now. That's so embarrassing. It's been a while.

Chad: It's all good. Yeah.

Blake: But it was basically, you can kind of build your own workspaces to share with clients, and then have tasks-

Chad: It’s awesome.

Blake: -and we would plug it into Zapier to auto-generate the tasks. But this is the same kind of thing, but you're taking another step.

Chad: Yeah, just with six or eight years more of mainstream tech on top of it. your brain would just go nuts today if you had to look at all the alternatives out there. I think my brain did go a little nuts, and I was like, “I can't be doing all this other stuff in the firm, and think about this full-time if that happens.” So, we made a lot of switches.

And I think this is something that everyone struggles with. It's like, how much effort do you put into something, versus how fast do you move? And for us, I had the ability to spend extra time. It was- I guess you could say it was like our firm, so pretty invested in it. And when it came to planning, I knew there was a gentleman in the firm who was incredibly into this stuff; very smart, gone from bookkeeper, to trainer, to head trainer.

And he was just super primed. His name is Matt Kennedy, and he is now our product manager. And it took a good seven, eight months for him to transition out of the trainer role, because we needed to hire up, he needed to train those people. We still have lots and lots of complicated tech and training that exists with our existing customer base. And you have to find that happy medium between new and innovative, versus keeping and making your existing customers happy.

So, I got to play and got an eight-month head start on him. And what's really cool is that he's there and more now, because he's been working full-time, taking a lot of courses, building and troubleshooting a lot of problems. So, you know, we're working with, you know, over a hundred or more different client-specific scenarios in Integromat and Zapier that have been released just since October. And just gives you an idea of the scale of this.

Blake: It makes so much sense, because we're already doing it internally in our firms to try to automate manual processes. If you're already doing it internally, why not create a product out of it that you can also sell to your clients? It's- kind of reminds me of how some firms- mostly larger firms- will use their own marketing department and offer services to clients, right? Why not, if they've got capacity take it on? This is with the dev team, the NoCode dev team.

Chad: 100 percent.

[00:17:52] How do you price NoCode?

Blake: So, how do you price it? How do you price NoCode when you're talking to clients? ‘Cause those projects can be difficult to scope.

Chad: Sure. I think this also comes back to how you believe in pricing theory. What is your pricing theory belief? Is it time-based? Is it, you know, the proverbial value-based? Is it markup? Is it, let's see what hits? For me, personally, I treat this pricing very loose, and I think of it as, if we can attract new customers because of it, where they might have spent $1,000 to $2,000 less with another firm in the market, we won.

Because a year, two, three, four years are going to go by, and there's going to be lots of increases in work that comes out of it. If we can keep an existing customer from graduating, and going up to a large ERP, or putting in a finance team because we can delay that by putting in better tech, that is better for everybody, right?

Blake: I see, yeah. Looking at it holistically.

Chad: So, I do not- it's, you've got to, right? So, for us, the ones that we have priced and added on, have been an increase to their monthly plan with that included, not as a separate line item.

Blake: Including NoCode as something we'll help you with, not a separate line item- not separate projects. Yeah, makes so much sense.

Chad: That's right, yeah. And when a separate project does happen, that's scoped out, it's added onto the monthly price, and then we're essentially their support maintenance builders. And it's fun. I'll tell you I haven't-

Blake: You keep it working, too.

Chad: Yeah. You keep it working, you know, things go down all the time. We're trying a whole bunch of new alert systems for errors across lots of different NoCode tools. I mean, we're in early days; people that were doing this stuff three or five years ago, eight years ago, the world's just changed.

I always stayed out of it because I thought it was a little goofy, like, “All right, set up a Google Drive folder. Awesome. You just saved yourself a little bit of time. Amazing.” But it's not necessarily something you'd go and sell your clients on, as a holistic, big, you know, add $2,000 to your bill kind of thing. But I think now, the tech is there, and it's been there for a few years, and it's just, it's ripe.

Blake: Especially with the talent shortage among all professionals, it's hard to find- it's hard to find anybody to do anything in a business. So, if you can automate some of this stuff for people, and they don't have to go out and hire more admin staff, you've just saved them a bundle of money.

Chad: I mean, it's mainstream. I bet- I'm really close to you now. I'm over in Palm Springs, so we're only a couple of hours away.

Blake: Oh, yeah.

Chad: And decided to snowbird down here for the winter. And I was at the- people in Canada are going to kill me- I was at the pool and the hot tub at the RV place here. And there's a guy at the other end, and we just struck up a conversation. He's like, “Yeah-” he's a house developer, “But I just kind of hated it. It was just so much work, and I just wanted to give this all up so I could travel a bit.”

And I said, “You know, have you- what do you want to do?” He’s like, “I just want to get an easy developer job. There's so many out there.” He asked me, he's like, “Have you heard of no-code, low-code stuff?” and we just hit it off. And in the middle of nowhere here, he hadn't really heard of Bubble, or you know, any of the tools that we might look at as pretty, you know, part of the 100DaysOfNoCode or just standard tools.

He's like, “You know what, I'll just go get certified this week and see what happens.” So, we've got a little calendar date to talk next week, to see if anything happens. But, I mean, it's becoming mainstream, for sure.

[00:21:43] "Bubble" - is skepticism valid? Does it work?

Blake: That’s great. And Bubble, is one I've also heard of. I don't know too much about- that one is advertised as I can create a full functioning application on their platform.

Chad: Yeah.

Blake: Do you buy that? Does that actually work?

Chad: Yeah. I think this is where we can start to get into it, because I was so skeptical. I think you are absolutely right to be skeptical in any of your questions on this one. I've seen, firsthand, things that move millions of records on Bubble. You know, a million- well, there's a recent guy that posted he did 1.6 million page views on Bubble.

It was something like 10 million records. I've never run into any issues with the apps that we've built on Bubble. We have three or four of them right now. And they're just as fast. They're kind of ugly; they really don't look that great, but there's some really cool plugins that were just released, actually, yesterday, to make it look pretty.

Blake: I was going to say, then it's perfect for accounting and finance, because the apps that we use are as ugly as sin, right? I mean, have you-

Chad: Welcome to 2002, again.

Blake: Yeah. Have you seen Concur lately? It’s the same as it was, 20 years ago, right?

Chad: Yeah. Is that the tweet that was like, “$170 billion market cap, and it looks like this?”

Blake: Yeah, it's my favorite. It's always- whenever a developer posts something like that, it's always Concur. ‘Cause that's the one enterprise application that they all have to deal with, and they hate it so much. All the user interface designers have to use Concur to submit their expense reports. It's just horrific.

[00:23:18] cloudaccountingjobs.com - new job board

Chad: It's horrific, yeah. I'll give you a quick example. This job board is nothing more than fun. It's to say, if you're a firm and you want to be around other firms like you, and you want to attract- you want to put yourself out there for people that are specifically looking to work with firms like- we'll call it us, it's a place. But it's kind of- it's only a week old right now. So, everyone in the U.S.-

Blake: So, you were talking about the-

Chad: The job board.

Blake: You’re talking about the job board. The job accounting created.

Chad: Yeah, the cloudaccountingjobs.com. And what happened was, everybody in the U.S. that was posting was like, “We think-” not everybody, like 80%- “We think in jobs of hourly, but maybe, pay annually. And or we want to do project work or gig work, and those are absolutely hourly on our psyche.”

And I was like, “Oh, crap. I didn't really build out the hourly part. It was all just salary.” So, we went back and inside of four hours, we're able to change all the database tables, do some math and some workflows in the back ends that is always going to be matched, added a minimum salary, piece instead of a range- because really, what you're looking for in a job is a minimum salary, not a range- and released it.

And it's like, in what world can you custom-design that type of thing in a NoCode tool if it's not already there? that would be really hard to do in Softr or Stacker, any of these [CROSSTALK].

Blake: Would take you a month to do that, at best.

Chad: Or it would have been impossible, or you'd have to write your own code, snip it, and put it in, and have it like an HTML component inside of it. But with Bubble, four hours, in and out, and you're done.

Blake: That's amazing.

[00:24:56] What's different with this job board?

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So, let's talk about the job board then. Why create your own job board? How is it different than all the other job boards that are out there?

Chad: Have you hired off of the aggregator sites recently?

Blake: No, I've been fortunate where all of my- we're up to four people at Earmark now, and they've all fallen into my lap.

Chad: Amazing.

Blake: So, I am very lucky.

Chad: You are.

Blake: And it’s kind of similar that way, with Cloudsourced Accounting, is that- that was my firm years ago- was, we got a reputation, and so, people found us. So, I never dealt with the struggle of hiring with recruiters or using job boards. So, tell- maybe educate me on that. Sounds like a big pain point.

Chad: I’d say ebbs and flows. I think that's exactly how it is. I'm still surprised when accounting students and accountants come around, and they're like, they really don't know that firms- I keep saying like us, but what is it?

The 2 to 5 percent of firms that consider themselves innovative, and think about pricing theory, and think about tech, and think about alternative work environments. I mean you know the stat better than I would, but it's gotta be less than 5 or 8 percent, right?

Blake: That’s it. Yeah, it’s certainly less than 10 percent; you know, I'd probably put it closer to five, of really innovative cloud firms.

Chad: So, I mean- and a lot of the accountants out there may not know that these types of firms really exist. And to us, it's baffling, but when you talk to really great people, you know, like, “How did you not know this?” And they're like, “Well, just not the world we live in.”

So, I was like, “Oh, okay, cool. So, how do we get to the world where you live in? You live on Indeed, and Monster, and recruiters, and you know, job boards from your- from Facebook and, you know, Google jobs and LinkedIn jobs.” You're like, “Okay, cool.”

So, you go, and we looked around all of them, and I'm like, “Okay, got it. So, here's where accountants find their jobs.” They can read descriptions, they can see sometimes salary ranges, but almost never. You definitely can't search by perk, or by, you know, if they're an Apple or a Mac place, or if they're a Google or a Microsoft firm.

So, wouldn't it be cool if accountants that were passively looking for work or they're working for work, would have a place to do that? So, right now, there's 12 or 13 different search criteria, and they, you know, they go from job location, and type; work remote, physical location, hybrid. There's the salary range, there's the type, like CFO, accountant, tax, that kind of thing; city, right?

But most of them- what's kind of cool is that the ones that I find most interesting are the app, like, “Hey, you want to find something that is a Xero firm, or that offers Xero as a thing because you're a Xero person? Just put Xero in the accounting app search, and all the jobs from Xero, or that have people that work with Xero will show up.”

Same thing with Jirav, or Melio, or Relay, or all of these other tools that exist in our world. You put those into the search, the jobs show up. So, it's kind of cool, right now, there's a few firms- I should probably look onto it- but there's like Joe's Good Measure, there's System Six, there's High Rock, there's a bunch of Canadian firms on there.

And I mean, this is open to anyone in the world that wants to use it, and it's only been a week or two. So, it's kind of cool to see the early adopters show up, and put themselves out there, and really stand up for salary transparency, and the things that I really believe in. And I hope this takes off.

[00:29:28] Blake tries out the site in real time

Blake: This is awesome. I just searched for a fully-remote freelance contractor-gig-type job in the U.S., and I found a remote staff accountant/bookkeeper role with Statin CPA, and they use Xero, and QBO, and NetSuite, and additional apps include bill.com, Google Suite, Asano, Microsoft Suite, HubSpot.

This is great, because so many of us now don't want to work at a firm that doesn't use the tools that we like and we're used to. So, now, you're adding that, and it's going to take- I feel like LinkedIn will get there, but it'll take them five more years before they figure this out.

[00:30:06] It is completely free, for as long as they can keep it that way

Blake: So, you've- and this is free. You just- you said this is free for-

Chad: Yeah.

Blake: -any firm can post a job?

Chad: Yeah. How can you charge for something when there's no audience? It's a standard marketplace dilemma, right? So, the goal is, is that if you want to feature yourself, you know, pay a couple hundred bucks, and be on the front page. No problem. Is that worth it, when there's only 20, 30 or 40 jobs? No, probably not. But if there's 100 or 400, let's keep this free for as long as we possibly can, until there's a bit of a transition into, it's harder to find the right job.

And then if we charge- there is pricing on the front page, and it's super reasonable. Of course, it's subscription-based, so, you know, one job, three jobs unlimited jobs. And the max you pay is 300 or 400 bucks a month, if we get to this place sometime in the next year, where there's that information.

Blake: Nice.

Chad: But yeah, again, my hope is that if we do ever make any money off this, it just goes back into advertising, and it gets more eyeballs on the site. And it could take years, or it could flop 100 percent, and not go anywhere. But unless you try-

Blake: The good news is you built this on Bubble using NoCode or low code, and therefore, it wasn't a huge crazy investment.

Chad: Took a couple weeks.

[00:31:19] Ease of creating new apps and ideas

Blake: And I think that's one of the beautiful things about this technology, is you can build products to test out ideas. That's where I get really excited about NoCode. I have an idea, I think this is a brilliant app, it could be worth $1 billion. Well, what was my previous you know path to that? It would be, spend at least $100,000 building the MVP, and try to get customers. Now, I could spend $10,000 of my time or whatever, I don't know, and build it.

Chad: Yeah, or hire somebody off Upwork to build the shell for you. There's some really-

Blake: For like $1,000, yeah.

Chad: Yeah. And then get really familiar with some plugins that you can drag and drop complete apps, and then just change your data sources, and move around.

Blake: Yeah. And the agility is really exciting. The ability to pivot like you did, when the market demanded some other data point, and you didn't have it, you were able to very quickly adjust. That’s neat.

Chad: Yeah. And look, when- you guys have the accounting conferences stuff, right? Is that you or David?

Blake: David does a website called Accounting Conferences- is it accountingconferences.com? Let me double check, yes.

Chad: I think so, yeah.

Blake: And he does that with Airtable.

Chad: That's built on Airtable, right? He has the automatic tweets that go out when there's updates, and there's things popping up, like, that's NoCode?

Blake: Yeah, I guess it- yeah, technical.

Chad: If you wanted to get even more, you're like, you could put that up to a web flow CMS and have this beautifully-designed site for almost nothing. But it's really great. I follow accounting conferences on Twitter, just to get an idea of what's coming up. It's a great little service.

Blake: Yep. Well, it's fun because David didn't build it with the intent of making money from it. It was- and I'm talking about David Leary, my co-host of The Cloud Accounting Podcast- he built this because he maintains a spreadsheet of this every year for his job, which is to go to all the accounting conferences on behalf of his company to promote their product.

And so, he was doing it anyway. He said, “Well, maybe I can create some value for people, and get some publicity for The Cloud Accounting Podcast.” And he put this up in a week, I think. And I use it now to keep track of, you know- I don't have to maintain my own calendar anymore. I just go here and I see-

Chad: We all shouldn't, right? Let's make this the place where we all keep track of stuff.

Blake: So, those URLs for our listeners is accountingconferences.com, and then Chad, your job board is called cloudaccountingjobs.com.

Chad: You got it.

[00:33:57] Chad is building his own practice management software

Blake: Let's talk about building your own practice management software.

Chad: Sure.

Blake: This bullet point, you told me we were going to talk about this today, and I thought, “Uh oh, has Chad Davis gone off the deep end?” Because I know that's such an enormous thing to do, and I'm wondering- I'm sure you have a good reason that you'll tell me- I'm wondering, why go to the trouble of it when there are a lot of solutions now?

When I had my firm, five, 10 years ago, solutions were pretty poor. But we've got a lot now. You can go and just search accounting practice management software.

Chad: Yeah, you got Karbon, you got Liscio, Canopy, all the big ones, right?

Blake: Yeah.

Chad: So, we're a Karbon firm, love project management in it. But if you ever- there's a tweet, I forget who did- maybe it was Jason, Jason Staats. I think he might've put this out there. And he’s like, “Have you ever tried to change an email address in your firm, and then update it across 15 different apps for a user?” If someone has to change their address, how does this actually work, right?

Blake: Oh, yeah, yeah. Right, right.

Chad: So, we're no different, right? We have project management side of things, document management apps, portals, all this stuff. And we keep it in Karbon, right? But man, you've got to keep it up in all the other places. So, we looked into HubSpot and Salesforce and, you know, keeping a standard CRM, and then pushing that out to everything else.

And for those of you that have gone the Salesforce way, you know it's expensive; it's a whole other language to do that work. HubSpot's amazing, it’s either free or expensive, but still gives you what you want, and you can still push it out. But you're still limited to the push.

Blake: Yeah. We use HubSpot for our support for Giraffe, when I was there. And I mean, it's amazing as a support tool, but it's kind of- it's not practice management. You could never run a practice on it.

Chad: Right.

Blake: You could do support ticketing, but yeah.

Chad: Right. So, if you look at the problem, the problem is that employees at a company, like at an accounting firm, have multiple places to do things. And for us, personally- again, this is only about our personal experience- we have an onboarding team, we have a- that has three or four people on it. We have a customer success side, we have a trainer side, we have office admins, office managers.

And right there is about eight to 15 people that's keeping the administration of the firm up and running, all the time. Filing, taxes, putting it into portals, doing the work, moving things around, sales proposals, you know, tax trans- the whole shebang. So, we're like, “What if we could put everything into a place where it cuts all of their work down, no matter what the process is, and then allows for us to build our own tools for things that aren't working so well for us?”

So, we broke this down into five major categories. The CRM is the big one, but now, we can have complete control over it. That CRM goes right into sales, so we can start taking data. I don't know if you've ever tried to put in sales data from an accounting sale into a project management system, but I don't know about other firms, but I take about 120 to 150 points of data.

And not extracted from a system to look at transactions, but growth plans, and shareholder, you know, breakdowns and, you know, plans for the future, and revenue process, and Stripe issues, and just all kinds of things during the sales process. And I wanted to-

Blake: We did that too, but it was a giant text field.

Chad: Yeah.

Blake: And we just copied and pasted.

Chad: Right. So, it's like, how do you create a pricing component off that, right? A lot of firms use PI. Imagine if your sales data could then go into PI and do all that work, right? Do you want to do sales on PI?

Blake: PI meaning Practice Ignition?

Chad: Practice Ignition, yeah. So, I’m like-

Blake: Or the other- go ahead.

Chad: Go ahead. Go proposal, like all those ones.

Blake: Yup. Yup.

[00:37:52] They want to build their own CRM to use all the information they want

Chad: So, yeah. So, the idea was, let's build our own CRM that allows us to take all of this information.” And designing that database was amazing. You know, you can use Microsoft products, you can go dynamics, you can go all the big ways. And that's amazing. It's a big project and you can 100 percent do that.

But now that I kind of know how it's like to build an app, and then add these functions in, and how they talk to each other, I'm like, “Okay, let's put a CRM in first. And then from there, we can build out the sales process. But instead of using PI (Sorry, Guy ...) it's like, let's use that for all the intake data, and then use that to calculate our pricing floors, based on all of our capacity management that's also in the app.

Then let's build out the pricing presentations with lots of options and deliverables, based on the intake data. And then from there, let's create the proposal automatically all through the API, and through making things in your own document.

And that then feeds into all the missing onboarding information, all the to-dos for the client portals, all the apps that get created automatically from it, all the user accounts, preps up welcome calls with to-do lists. That's just one of the five areas that we're trying to build. And to be honest, it's not taking that long.

Blake: The tools exist for you to do this now without it being a huge lift. So, here's the problem that you're solving, as I see it. Tell me if I got this right. So, we have all these great tools. We have these- what I would maybe call point solutions. So, Practice Ignition is a point solution for proposal to getting paid.

Chad: Great solution.

Blake: But it doesn't connect- it's a great solution; I use it- it doesn't connect with my practice management software from using Karbon. It's not going to- all that data doesn't flow into it.

Chad: Well, it does. It does. But then it's subject to Karbon restrictions, which might mean that you can't put in recurring jobs, and have those post out. It may only post the job-

Blake: Because I cannot change Karbon's database.

Chad: Their API.

Blake: They decide what I can put in there.

Chad: But there's workarounds. And I think that's what's great about Karbon, is they recognize this. They have so many good people and they're like, “No, no. Here's how you deal with this.” And they have a plan, and they can show you how to work it. And it works. But what if it doesn't work for you, specifically? That's your only workaround [CROSSTALK].

Blake: So, are you replacing these apps? Or are you building a layer that connects them, on top of them?

Chad: To beginning, it's a layer that connects them. I couldn't live without Karbon and our firm right now, and it's fantastic.

Blake: I got it.

Chad: So, it's there-

Blake: So, that’s what-

Chad: Yeah. It'll create the client record from the lead, right?

Blake: Yeah.

Chad: It'll do that. And now, we won't have to manage the leads in Karbon. We'll manage them in our own system, and then all the clean data will stay in our own system. And then the individual records, the group records, the organization records, company records, they'll all go into Karbon.

Blake: Got it. You're gluing these altogether. You're providing this- I'm visualizing it as when you plug- look, when you're putting together a computer, you're creating this framework where you can plug in these apps, and ensure the data flows the way you want it to, in the most efficient way, without having to manually do it.

Chad: Yeah. You have lots of friends that are accounting firm owners. They probably have hundreds of thousands of clients combined, that have this idea of active-inactive, which apps are being used, “Oh, I wish I could segment my groups like this.” You did marketing, and a lot of companies, segmentation, super important.

Blake: Yeah, yeah.

Chad: Imagine being able to say, “Show me all the people that haven't logged into Dext in the last six months, but that are active clients on the west coast of Canada.” And you have this all in your stuff. You can't get that from Karbon, and you can't get that from PI; you can't get that from these other places. You might be able to get it from HubSpot if you put a lot of work in.

I know some people are using Airtable to segment their, you know, which clients use which tools. But that's the goal, is to just kind of keep it all together. And to wrap that up- I mentioned five and only talked about one- customer service with year-end prep, and doing that kind of stuff; account balance confirmations, we've got a client portal built.

All the marketing stuff to be able to deal with internal and external newsletters, and then the integrations into the other systems.

Blake: That's fantastic, but I look forward to-

Chad: If it works.

Blake: If it works. Well, when it works, I want to see it. I would love to get a peak.

Chad: Let's do a follow up and we'll do a screenshare.

Blake: All right. We'll do a screenshare that time, especially YouTube edition of the podcast. So, let's talk about this last item here that I'm eager to discuss with you, given the trend in the profession to perhaps move away from the traditional partner model.

[00:42:39] Allowing employees to have ownership stake of firm

Blake: You mentioned that you are restructuring your corp to allow for employee ownership.

Chad: Yeah, that's expensive.

Blake: So, how are you set up now? Or how were you set up before you began this?

Chad: Yeah. So, last year, I made a promise to the team that there would be a new structure. And the new structure would allow for ownership and, or profit sharing. So, to do that in Canada as a partnership, it's pretty impossible. Partnership units are issued out, and they're usually ahold by professional corps, and all the profits, you know, distributed evenly between the partners and, you know, maybe after some income partner stuff.

But with the way it was structured, it just- legally impossible for people to own equity in that. So, we've spent- and I joke this not- the better part of a year working with lawyers to make sure that what we're doing is legit and allowed. And we didn't really talk about this that much, but in Canada, you weren't allowed to be a remote firm back when you and I started. It was-

Blake: Really?

Chad: It was illegal, because the code of conduct required a placard and a physical address where people could visit you.

Blake: You are shitting me.

Chad: I am not.

Blake: You had to have a shingle?

Chad: Yeah. Or an address. An address, yeah.

Blake: ‘Cause we say here- I don't know if you say this in Canada- we say in the U.S., you hang up your shingle.

Chad: Yeah.

Blake: And that was when you got your own office?

Chad: You had to be able to be accessible, right? So, from day one, Josh was in Tel Aviv living his best life. I was in Halifax, in my basement, and-

Blake: Who’s Josh?

Chad: Josh is my business partner, Joshua.

Blake: Got it.

Chad: And when we formed the firm, we were the first firm that combined CPAs and CMAs in Canada, which was really cool. And then that was cool enough, but then, when we got to operate, we're like, “Oh, crap, we can't do this.” So, we went to CPA Canada and said, “So, we’re going to operate this way. Are you in or out? Do you want to be with us or against us?”

And at the time, there was a president called Joy, Joy Thomas. And she had a lot of different people that were very forward-thinking, and she's like, “You know what, we're in.” So, we operated essentially, illegally, from a licensure perspective, for about two years. But we were able to sit on a lot of committees, a lot of boards, a lot of regulation.

And then they did the hard work of changing the code of conduct, and all of the requirements to allow for virtual firms to operate remotely. And then we got designated as the first firm to allow certification for CPAs without really ever meeting them. And that was a cool milestone. So, it just feels like you're always getting pushed up against a lot of these barriers, with the evolution of your firm. And the next one here is employee ownership. So, we do have a way-

Blake: Does anyone do this in Canada now? Is that very unusual?

Chad: Yeah, it paved the way. There's a few firms at Western BC that got certified as remote firms and can offer up certification, and some other bigger, mid-sized firms were able to now operate in different provinces. There's still only a few provinces that allow it, but we got certified in all the ones that did. So, back to the-

Blake: And so, now, this employee ownership thing, right?

Chad: Exactly.

Blake: Yeah, that's the next initiative.

Chad: Yeah. And it's great. You saw the guy, you know, Kenji was talking about it, very important to them, a couple other firms. EisnerAmper, that was really cool to see what they're doing on that. I hope it becomes more of the norm, where there's company structures. We don't do assurance work, but kind of need the license to attract CPAs to do that kind of work and that stuff.

So, we're figuring this out. The unfortunate part is that there is still some gray areas in the law. And what we're hoping to do is focus on the employee experience first, up to the limits of the law. So, we're at a point now where-

Blake: What would those limits be? You're not allowed, as a CPA firm, to do this?

Chad: Yeah. Yeah. There's still authorizations that have to occur, right? So, I want to make sure that, you know, that happens well. And, you know-

Blake: Yeah. I guess, well, ‘cause CPA firms, I mean, everywhere, pretty much, there's restrictions on who can own them.

Chad: That’s right.

Blake: And for here, in many states, you can't have more than 49 percent of your ownership be non-CPAs. Some states don't allow it at all, I think.

Chad: That’s right.

Blake: I don't know what it's like where you are, but-

Chad: So, the goal is-

Blake: How do you go with equity when there's those problems?

Chad: Exactly. So, that's why I said it's expensive. So, we've been paying those bills for a while. And then with- we're hoping for a summer launch of this. So, when the summer comes, I'd love to spill the beans on how everything worked out, and all of this stuff. But that's why you don't hear that with even some other firms in the U.S.; there's just legal navigations you have to go through.

Blake: Well, so, we don't have to talk about then exactly how it's going to work. But I guess I do have a question, which is, why do this? Why offer employee ownership in the accounting firm, when the partner model has been the way we've done it for so long?

Chad: What do you think it is?

Blake: Well, I think it's to be more competitive.

Chad: Yeah.

Blake: Is that your number one goal, is to attract people?

[00:48:26] Chad thinks doing this will help retain employees

Chad: Retain.

Blake: Or is it something else?

Chad: I think it’s retain. The people at LiveCA are some of the best in the industry. They could have picked any firm, they could have gone to any massive firm if they want to, and they constantly get bombarded with recruiters. And what's kind of cool is that a lot of them share job offers and things like that with us. And it's just- it's humbling to know that they want to build something here.

So, the retention piece is huge. So, if we can offer them what they would either have on their own, or in a bigger firm with partnership, that is super important. But more importantly, it's not always about the CPAs. Our firm is made up of absolutely more than that, right? There's all kinds of bookkeepers, AP, payroll, office admin, training tech, development, support. We've got QA work.

There's just so many people that could have jobs anywhere else. And if you can offer them that retention bonus, which is essentially saying, “Hey, if you're here, and you're earning, and the value of LiveCA is going up, you should play a part in this.” And you're no stranger to that with all the companies that you've kind of dealt with, right? With options and that strain of things.

[00:49:47] Blake's issues with big public accounting firms

Blake: Yeah, you know, I gave big public accounting a shot ‘cause I had this idea, “Oh, you know, I built a small firm. I could go to a bigger firm and be a partner real fast, and make a lot of money.” But then I got there, and the path to partner, the path to equity was so- I mean, it was nonexistent, in the sense that I couldn't see it at all. It was a ‘stick around for a long time, for a while, and then we'll tell you more’. You know?

Chad: Yeah.

Blake: And that's just not appealing to somebody who's really ambitious, and wants to build something for themselves, and not have to wait until they get to the director level or partner level to be able to share in that.

Chad: Ideally, there’s both.

Blake: Especially when you compare- right, yeah.

Chad: There’s profit-sharing and equity.

Blake: Ideally, there's both partnerships-

Chad: There's profit-sharing and equity.

Blake: Profit sharing and equity.

Chad: Yeah. Ideally.

Blake: Yeah. And I've always- you know, I know there's part of me that's, you know, thinks, why is it that only the partners in the firm get to benefit in the profit share and the equity, generally, in a lot of cases? And the staff are just hired helpers. That seems to me like an old-fashioned sort of thing, and a very- I don't know, unjust thing in many ways, considering just how firms are so segregated in terms of who are the partners, right?

It's 85 percent white males, and then everybody else. And only those, you know, those partners, those old white men, get to participate in the equity.

Chad: It’s gross.

Blake: And I saw it myself when I was in the firm. It's like it was- the path was so easy for me. And I was like, “What?” I wanted- you know, part of me thought, “Oh, I'm so smart, right? I'm so great. That's why they're laying out the red carpet.” But then a part of me wonders, maybe it's just because I look like these guys. Because there are some really talented people who didn't look like me, that were not like me, that had been sitting around for a long time, and still hadn't gotten anywhere. I don't know.

Chad: Yeah, I support that.

[00:51:42] About Chad's RV lifestyle

Blake: So, I got to ask you before we go- we're almost out of time- a few more questions. ‘Cause I- you know, I mean, the whole RV adventure thing. I know that you've done interviews, you've talked about this lifestyle that you have where you take your family around the world, around the continent. What's your favorite spot? What's your favorite RV spot?

Chad: It changes. I think the pandemic changed everything, right? So, even during the pandemic, we've been in the RV. And for those that love to camp or travel, you know there's certain places in the U.S. that are just gorgeous, right? There's huge Southern Utah, and Zion, and Bryce, and there's, you know, Paige, Arizona, with all the antelope-canyon stuff, and Sedona. You know this area; you live here right now.

Blake: Yeah, yeah. I live here, yeah.

Chad: The reason we picked Palm Springs was because there's a hot tub that's fed with a hot spring, and it's 108 degrees.

Blake: Amazing.

Chad: And it's- it'll burn your skin, but it's amazing. So, we tend to stay on the west coast. Tofino and Vancouver Island was a super favorite place for many years, but then it just kind of got like, “Okay, we're been here for four years now. Let's just try someplace new.” So, I think anybody that goes in the Southwest areas is lucky.

Blake: How do you get good internet?

Chad: Short answer is I carry Starlink with me. I'm doing this call with you on a Verizon grandfathered hotspot that I bought off of eBay, from some guy who flashed it and treats it like a Samsung S7.

Blake: Oh, my gosh.

And so, I get a one-terabyte hotspot across anywhere in the country. If anybody wants that link, let's put that link in the show notes, ‘cause it is awesome. It's incredible. I also carry-

Blake: You’ll have to send that to me.

Chad: I will. And I carry an AT&T grandfather passport plan. So, those that have been around AT&T for the last two decades. The passport plan is where it's at. You can get unlimited internet in 200 countries, up to about 500 to 700 gigs a month. So, between those three, I'll always have internet somewhere in the world.

Blake: That's amazing. Yeah, that was always my- it's gotten better net recently with phone hotspots being so good now, but it was always my Achilles heel when I tried to travel, was getting the solid internet access. So, you figured it out.

Chad: And I carry a couple of antennas. What's really cool for those of you that are super tech heads, and want to get into antennas, and two different SIM cards that, you know, will give you perfect internet with no latency issues, and switch between the two of them, there's a group called the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center, or just the Mobile Internet Resource Center.

And they have a subscription plan, but also a lot of free options. And they rate and test every antenna cell phone plan and booster that exists in the travel world. And you're all set.

[00:54:55] Thanks so much, Chad - earn free CPE on Earmark for listening to this episode

Blake: Wow. Chad Davis, thank you so much for spending the last hour or so with me. It's been a real pleasure. Chad is the co-founder and partner- and a partner at LiveCA, LLP. And if you want to check out any of the topics we've mentioned- the links to those sites, such as the job board, and the NoCode page on his website, and that- we’ll get that Wi-Fi router, the cellular router there, a deal in there- head to the show notes and take a look, and connect with Chad. Chad, is there any social media you prefer in particular places where you like to connect with people online?

Chad: Yeah. I think recently, I've been just posting some descript videos of me walking through the apps, and the bill processes, and stuff on Twitter. So, you gotta @ChadDavis. There’s lots of- well, there's some videos there now and I'll be posting them a couple of times a week, just running through some of the tools and the scenarios.

Yeah, and if you want to get into this too, you know, you've been promoting Jason's, you know, intro to NoCode stuff on the YouTube channel for your free CPE, I'll second that. Go check out the guy. He’s stellar.

Blake: Yeah. And that is the Jason Staats’ YouTube series. It's going to be eight videos, total, coming out on Earmark for free CPE. Same as this episode. So, if you are listening and you have a CPE requirement, let's say you're a CPA or a CMA, and you need to get continuing education credit, you can download the Earmark CPE app- search for Earmark CPE in the app store or going to earmarkcpe.com, download the app for Apple or Android, find this episode on the Earmark channel, and then take a short quiz, and you will get your CPE. And Chad, it works for you in Canada, right?

Chad: Sure does.

Blake: All right. So, both our Canadian and U.S. listeners, CPAs and CMAs can get credit. We're working on the EAs as well, but there's reporting requirements. The IRS, they like to be a little bit more big-brother about it. So, we got to figure out how to connect our app. Maybe I can use some no NoCode for that, I don't know. We'll have to figure it out.

Chad: Let’s do it. Let’s do it.

Blake: All right. Chad, great talking with you, and hope to have you back again soon.

Chad: You too. See you, Blake.

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Adventures in NoCode with Chad Davis
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