Blake sits down with Shawn Kanungo, at Xerocon San Diego 2019 after his keynote, to discuss all things experimentation, disruption, innovation, storytelling, and where the accounting industry is headed, especially if firms can’t let go of their nostalgia and embrace cloud!
- 02:25 – Shawn explains the difference between a linear accountant and an exponential accountant
- 04:24 – Get stuff done! Embracing the gig economy with a Fiverr experiment
- 05:36 – Shawn shares some career background - from CPA to disruption strategist
- 07:37 – Accountants currently have a 94-percent chance of being automated
- 10:15 – Winter is coming! If your firm doesn’t get with the cloud, you may get left out in the cold
- 11:18 – According to Hinge Marketing, in accounting, 25 percent of firms are eating all the growth (https://hingemarketing.com/library/article/2018-high-growth-study-accounting-financial-services-edition-executive-summary)
- 13:45 – According to Shawn, the accounting firms that chase relevance and stay on the leading edge will win the race
- 14:26 – Blake and Shawn talk about how Xero is breathing some rock-star-level life into the accounting industry
- 16:31 – If accounting is on the cutting edge of disruption, why are so many firms still using Excel as their primary record-keeping system?
- 19:12 – How Intuit leveraged disruption to increase marketshare
- 21:16 – The Xero-Stripe Partnership (https://www.pymnts.com/news/partnerships-acquisitions/2019/xero-stripe-team-small-biz-payments/)
- 24:10 – The more you build out your ecosystem, through integrations and partnerships, the more value you bring to your clients
- 27:12 – Ball's in your court ... Are you brave enough to face an accounting world without billable hours?
- 30:03 – If you want to change the trajectory of your firm and move it towards the cloud, try taking a risk
- 32:40 – How can accounting bring its sexy back?
- 34:11 – Shawn shares some secrets to becoming a great storyteller and public speaker
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Shawn Kanungo: Well, first of all, if you're a senior accountant, you're listening to this in your cubicle, or you're running on the treadmill, or you're doing the dishes at home, I would say tomorrow morning, or this morning when you're listening to this, walk into your office and try to get yourself fired.
This episode of The Cloud Accounting Podcast is sponsored by LivePlan. Did you know that millions of small businesses use LivePlan products to start their business? Did you know that these small businesses prefer a cloud-based accounting solution two times more versus a desktop solution? Did you know that 89 percent of these small business owners prefer virtual advisory services? Did you know that the number-one thing they want from an expert advisor is strategic planning and review? This is even more than general-ledger accounting and bookkeeping services. Did you know that LivePlan has an expert advisory directory that you can join to gain access to these millions of small businesses? To learn more about becoming a LivePlan expert advisor, head over to CloudAccountingPodcast.promo/liveplan. That is Cloud Accounting Podcast dot promo forward slash L-I-V-E-P-L-A-N.
Blake Oliver: Welcome to The Cloud Accounting Podcast. I'm Blake Oliver.
Shawn Kanungo: I'm Shawn Kanungo. I'm really excited to be on this podcast. We've fundamentally removed David from the podcast. He's not on the podcast anymore. Now, I am the Ka-new co-host-
Blake Oliver: Oh ...
Shawn Kanungo: -and I think it's gonna be the Blake and Shawn Show. David, we miss you, we love you, but, I'm sorry ... I just wanna say I'm a big fan of this podcast. A big fan of the podcast. Before we start, I just wanna say to the audience, all the listeners there, if [00:01:30] you haven't put a rating and review into iTunes, or Spotify, Stitcher, wherever you can get this, do it now. It helps a lot for the show, because we've gotta get this thing up to like 10 million subscribers. We need to, because what these guys are doing is so fundamental to this cloud-accounting space. They're the only ones that are actually highlighting it. You guys are doing so much for the economy, and for the space. Appreciate it!
Blake Oliver: Well, thank you so much, Shawn. We're here at Xerocon in San Diego, and you just gave a fantastic keynote.
Shawn Kanungo: Oh, wow. [00:02:00] Thank you.
Blake Oliver: I mean, what, 800, maybe 1,000 people in that audience there. It was called "Strategy in a World of Disruption. Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Experimental: Why Build a Culture of Experimentation?" I loved ... You had this one slide in your presentation. I mean, there was a lot to talk about, but this one slide just is sticking in my mind - Linear Accountant-
Shawn Kanungo: Yeah.
Blake Oliver: -versus Exponential Accountant. What does that mean?
Shawn Kanungo: Linear really means how do we think five [00:02:30] to 10 percent better within our organization? This idea of linear thinking has been literally ingrained - in our organization, in our leadership, in our systems, in our family, in society - that we need to think about things in a linear way. Exponential is actually about thinking differently about business, about processes. It's actually taking a different lens. What we've seen a hundred times out of a hundred ... If you can take an exponential lens, meaning take [00:03:00] a different approach to things, you can actually get a 5X to 10X improvement. I think, especially for accounting, you know this better than anybody, this idea of linear thinking, of risk [cross talk]
Blake Oliver: -risk aversion? Yeah.
Shawn Kanungo: -is literally ingrained in our DNA. The reason why I wanted to showcase the difference between a linear accounted versus an exponential account is ... There are some tenets to it, and I can get into what those tenets are, but I think this is what we need to move, especially now. We live in a world with [00:03:30] all these exponential technologies. We need an exponential mindset!
Blake Oliver: That is such a different mindset than, like you said, what we are taught to think in the accounting world, where it's all about incremental improvement. Let's become three percent more efficient, five percent more efficient, and maybe this is ... The challenge I ran into in public accounting was trying to get people on board with disruptive change is really, really hard. You had a great tip for doing that. You ask people do [00:04:00] a small project, right?
Shawn Kanungo: Exactly.
Blake Oliver: The example was like a Fiverr?
Shawn Kanungo: Yeah. So, a little bit of background - I spent 12 years at Deloitte, leading their Digital Innovation Group in western Canada. One of the things that we did was I really wanted people to embrace this whole idea of the open-talent economy, the gig economy, because it just makes sense for us not to do everything. There's an entire ecosystem of people that will do things for us. Talent is ubiquitous.
So, what I wanted to do was say, "Listen, guys, I'm gonna give everybody five bucks, five bucks out of my own pocket. I'm gonna give [00:04:30] everybody five bucks across western Canada. What I want you to do with this five bucks is go on Fiverr, and just get something done. Whether it's a product, a service, a voice over ... Whatever it might be, just get it done. Then, send me back the product and then we'll talk about it."
The difference between talking about all this change and talking about innovation is that when you actually go off and do something and actually get somebody else to maybe even do something - this is a small example, using a gig economy - you're actually doing something. You're like, "Wait a minute! Somebody [00:05:00] else is getting something done for us at a radically cheaper cost. I didn't have to do this."
Blake Oliver: Right.
Shawn Kanungo: It literally flips your brain to say there's an ecosystem of people will do stuff for us [cross talk]
Blake Oliver: What else can we do?
Shawn Kanungo: Exactly. That is the whole idea of experimentation, which I try to hammer in. It's like starting with small teams, small problems, small sprints and seeing how we can move the needle ... I think this idea of experimentation is so foreign to accountants. We don't experiment.
Blake Oliver: You're a CPA.
Shawn Kanungo: Yep.
Blake Oliver: Tell me [00:05:30] about your background. How did you get into talking- speaking about disruption?
Shawn Kanungo: I started my career at a company called Singapore Press Holdings. I then actually moved into accounting. I worked for Deloitte for the first couple years, got my CEA. Moved into management consulting on the side. My friends and I, we were building apps, consumer-based apps. Some were complete flops; some were more like mediocre successes.
At the same time, I was getting into the Strategy and Innovation Group at Deloitte. We [00:06:00] were early in the game of working the organization when it comes to innovation. We were the first to try things around artificial intelligence, using the gig economy, using drones. We were the first to do all that stuff. Clients wanted to hear about the work that we were doing in digital transformation and innovation.
After that, after 12 years at Deloitte, one of things that I really wanted to do was really take equity in organizations. Working for a public firm, you can't take equity in anything. For me, equity was a big deal - taking it in companies and scaling them up. We started a group called Queen & Rook. It's like a consulting [00:06:30] model, but instead of getting paid for fees, we actually get paid in equity. So, I started that. One of our companies as a voice-technology company. We're using artificial intelligence to solve [pre-need] problems.
The speaking thing came naturally, because people want to hear about digital transformation and innovation, and here I was, talking about it. You get onto one conference, another conference, and just like the momentum builds. Now, I'm here talking to you and being on The Cloud Accounting Podcast. My life, it's done. This is it. This is the peak, right now!
Blake Oliver: Right now? This podcast is ... [00:07:00]
Shawn Kanungo: This podcast. This podcast is the peak. That's my journey. I've been obsessed about this idea of digital, and innovation, and disruption. For me to bring this message, especially here at Xerocon, to this audience, to the accounting profession, means a lot, because if you look everywhere, a lot of people are saying that automation is gonna take accountants' jobs, right?
Blake Oliver: I like that you talked about that, because at a lot of accounting technology conferences - maybe [00:07:30] they talk about it more at general tech conferences - but you showed a slide ... What was it? Accountants are-
Shawn Kanungo: 94 percent-
Blake Oliver: 94-percent chance of being automated. You're not afraid to put that out there that this is a risk.
Shawn Kanungo: Totally.
Blake Oliver: This is- we need to be aware of this risk.
Shawn Kanungo: Your audience knows this, as well. You're highlighting all the movers and shakers that are getting into the space; you highlight all the companies that are AI accounting practices, or they're incorporating [00:08:00] AI. I was listening to a really great episode with Rachel-
Blake Oliver: Mm-hmm. Rachel Fisch, yeah.
Shawn Kanungo: -and you guys were talking about this idea of service and how service is still so important. Yeah, there's a lotta of this AI automation piece, but at the end of the day, there is a big piece to everybody's firms, where it's around customer service. There are certain pieces that will never be automated, so, although everybody's saying that automation is gonna take an accountant's job, let's be real. It's not. What I want is to tell people, listen, this is the greatest [00:08:30] time to be an accountant ever. Actually, it's gonna be the sexiest job ever, because-
Blake Oliver: Yes, make accounting sexy!
Shawn Kanungo: Yeah, because think about it ... If you have all these ecosystems and technologies doing some of the work that we used to do ... To be honest with you, listen, I'm a CPA. There's a lotta work that shouldn't be done by humans. If we can double down on things like storytelling and actual customer experience-
Blake Oliver: Talking to our clients?
Shawn Kanungo: Totally! That is what an accountant should be. [00:09:00]
Blake Oliver: Well, but that's not what it ... I wonder if this is unique in some ways to the United States market. Cloud accounting has penetrated maybe 10 percent, here in the United States. That's just my rough feeling, having been doing it for 5-10 years. Whereas, in Australia and New Zealand, it's like 50 percent. We're way behind, and it's going slow.
Shawn Kanungo: Why do you think that is?
Blake Oliver: I know US regulations. I studied to be a CPA here in the US, and compliance is a big headache here, compared to Australia, compared [00:09:30] to Canada, compared to the UK, so we can make a lotta money on compliance. I think you mentioned something like this in your keynote - we get comfortable. We're nostalgic.
Shawn Kanungo: Yeah.
Blake Oliver: You mentioned nostalgia, and firms here ... How do you disrupt a firm where the partners are pulling in 20-percent profit margins off of tax compliance? There are firms in LA that are still doing bookkeeping for $85 an hour, [00:10:00] keying in transactions, and people are paying for it.
Shawn Kanungo: Totally.
Blake Oliver: Maybe that will come to an end.
Shawn Kanungo: Yeah. I think the organizations that are saying, "Listen, we're not gonna move to this new way of doing things. We're getting fat, rich and lazy doing it this way ...".
Blake Oliver: Right.
Shawn Kanungo: The reckoning will come. You know, I started my thing talking about 'Winter is coming.' It is going to happen. People are going to start realizing that these organizations that have not moved to the cloud ... "Wait a minute! My apps are not integrated. [00:10:30] I can't use the ecosystems that these other guys are using." We're moving to a world where, if you're not on cloud, that means you're not actually on the foundation of using some of these innovative apps and services.
Listen, all the startups and tech companies that are actually in this space, they're all designing for cloud. So, if you're not part of that, then you're gonna be left in the dust. Right now, it's working fine because of regulation and [00:11:00] all that kind of stuff, but we've seen this throughout history that the organizations to stay nostalgic, they're gonna end up losing-
Blake Oliver: It could be a very quick shift that happens-
Shawn Kanungo: Absolutely.
Blake Oliver: I see everything's going ... Everything's fine. Everything's fine. Then, like you said, winter is here, right?
Shawn Kanungo: Exactly. Totally!
Blake Oliver: It's gonna be interesting to see when that happens. I don't know if you're aware of these stats. Hinge Marketing does some great surveys of professional services firms, and they released a study - I [00:11:30] think it may have been last year - showing that in accounting, it's about 25 percent of all the firms are eating all the growth.
Shawn Kanungo: Yeah.
Blake Oliver: Does that feel right to you? When you go out and speak, you must meet people from cloud firms-
Shawn Kanungo: Sure.
Blake Oliver: -you meet people from traditional firms. What do you think's gonna happen to those traditional firms? Are they just gonna disappear?
Shawn Kanungo: By traditional firms, you're talking about the big guys?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, well, there are top 100 firms that are still doing things the same way they [00:12:00] used to do things. There's ones that are innovative, of course. Then there's also the small CPA shops. I feel like, at some point, these people are gonna want to retire, right?
Shawn Kanungo: Totally.
Blake Oliver: What are they gonna do? It's just close the doors, and that's it?
Shawn Kanungo: Listen, I'm not a futurist-
Blake Oliver: But you talk a lot about the future.
Shawn Kanungo: I do talk about the future. Don't take anything I say as a prediction about the future. I really do see myself as a practitioner and a tactician. This has been my work. [00:12:30] I really think that there's gonna be some firms that certainly win market share, because they always position themselves as leading edge; that they're getting into new spaces, whether it's artificial intelligence or block chain.
It's going to constantly shift. I don't know who's gonna win the game, but what I do know is that some of the savvy firms, some of the top accounting firms ... We could even mention the top four accounting firms - the Deloittes, KPMGs, PWCs, et [00:13:00] cetera. Because I worked at Deloitte for 12 years, I have a lot of love for Deloitte.
One of things that I really love about Deloitte is they have this thing called Innovation Cloud; this is what I call it. They have been around for like 150-180 years. The reason why they've been around - they always try to position themselves as relevant. That's why, in Canada, we started in new AI shop called Omnia. To [00:13:30] be honest with you, not that many organizations across the country are adopting AI at scale. It's just not happening. But they always position themselves in this new forward-thinking, next-generation organization, because they're always chasing relevance, and I think that's important.
The organizations that will continue to chase relevance, be on the leading edge, the market will see. The customers will see, because customers always, always, always wanna be with guys that were leading edge. They wanna be with the cool, modern [00:14:00] companies. I don't know where it's gonna go, who's gonna win the game, but I do know that the organizations that will win will be the ones that will always be relevant. They will be doing an amazing job at Xero.
Here, listen, we're at Xero ... I know this podcast is technology agnostic, and I know David is an Intuit ... He was Intuit guy. He was like their main guy, right? What Xero has done really, really well is, you know, what they've done? They've turned accounting into like a concert. They've turned accounting [00:14:30] into like rock star status, and they've done an amazing job at chasing relevance. It's been a remarkable.
Blake Oliver: "Beautiful business software," I think is the motto for Xero these days.
Shawn Kanungo: Exactly.
Blake Oliver: "Beautiful business software." You can feel it when you walk into the convention center, and you walk into the Expo Hall. It doesn't feel like any other accounting conference, right?
Shawn Kanungo: Well, you've been to how many? You've went to six Xerocons now?
Blake Oliver: Six Xerocons since the original in San Francisco [cross talk]
Shawn Kanungo: Yeah, a great sponsor of this podcast, by the way.
Blake Oliver: Thank you, Xero. You can [00:15:00] tell when a company is design-led. That's the way it feels to me; just very thoughtful. Everything is very thoughtful with Xero - with the product, with the events, and the mission.
Shawn Kanungo: By the way, do we have to throw in a Xero ... Like the drop, the midroll? Because this is pretty much the midroll, right now, right?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, no, we probably don't have to do a promo message for this episode.
Shawn Kanungo: I wanna get your perspective on this, because [00:15:30] you know this space way more than I do, in terms of the cloud-accounting space. Do you think that it will be a winner-take-all market? You look at other spaces, whether it's in CRM, or whether it's in HR. There's companies that always come up that basically win the game. Do you think that there will be a winner take all ...? You were talking about QBO; we're talking about Xero, Sage, whatever. What is your hot take on this?
Blake Oliver: David likes to [00:16:00] talk about this on the podcast, where, if you look at Intuit in the heyday of desktop accounting software, when it owned 80-90 percent of the US market and it was all desktop, the total addressable market for cloud accounting is 10 times greater than that. There were only something like a few million businesses in the United States using QuickBooks Desktop. There's like 30 or 40 million that could be using accounting software. It's amazing, actually, so [00:16:30] many businesses ... Here we are on the cutting edge of disruption, talking about cloud. There are so many businesses that are still using Excel to do their accounting.
Shawn Kanungo: Actually, every single business is still using Excel in some sort of way.
Blake Oliver: Right, but as their primary system of recordkeeping. That is really what I see Xero and any other software developer competing against is that status quo. My hope, and this is why we try to keep the podcast [00:17:00] agnostic-
Shawn Kanungo: Exactly.
Blake Oliver: -and independent is that the more voices there are, the more options there are, the better it is for the end customer, for the accountants, for the people working for these companies, when they're competing. We want a competitive marketplace.
Shawn Kanungo: Totally.
Blake Oliver: There's so much greenfield available. I think it was- Steve Amos was on stage earlier saying that Xero has penetrated three [00:17:30] percent of the total addressable market in the United States.
Shawn Kanungo: That's crazy.
Blake Oliver: Right? It's not like Xero and QBO are competing for the same customers. They're actually competing for people switching off of desktop software.
Shawn Kanungo: Do you think there'll be a winner?
Blake Oliver: I hope that there are many winners. It's gonna be interesting. Now we're gonna get nerdy here. Intuit and Xero are very different companies with very different strategies. I'd love to hear your perspective on this. Xero has been in the United States market for 10 years now, probably, but they've struggled [00:18:00] to gain a toehold. Now, the growth is amazing. There are over 100,000 businesses in the U.S. using Xero; but compare that to 2-3 million on a QuickBooks Online type product.
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Blake Oliver: How does Xero gain market share? How do they ... Because everyone knows what QuickBooks is, right?
Shawn Kanungo: Totally.
Blake Oliver: That's the barrier.
Shawn Kanungo: Intuit, yeah ... They're not a laggard. They are innovative. Obviously, they have a bigger machine than Xero. Brad Smith, the ex-CEO of Intuit, made a critical decision, I think, when he first came on. QuickBooks, a lot of the products were just like shrink-wrapped [00:19:30] products that you could just get off the shelf. He had a pivotal point that changed the direction of Intuit. The reason why they're now continuously doing well in the States is that they changed their product into a platform, just like how Xero is, working with other developers.
They actually opened up their platform, so other competitors- third parties, competitors could come onto their product. I mean, that's a very- that's [00:20:00] a fundamental shift around how you think about your organization bringing competitors into the mix. They're not an organization that has gotten nostalgic. In fact, they have disrupted themselves. If you look at some of the best organizations in the world ... Today, I brought up the story of Netflix and how they disrupted themselves. Intuit's not afraid of doing that. Obviously, you're seeing Xero come up. They're the upstart. They're the global upstarts coming in, trying to take a space out [00:20:30] of this company, but I don't see Intuit as ... They're the incumbent, but I don't see them as a laggard. I also see them as innovative.
So, I think that the race is not necessarily gonna be about product. I think it's gonna be about ecosystem. I think it's gonna be about who can you add to your ecosystem faster than others? Whether it's Shopify ... Of course, all these guys you're gonna work with ... Probably both companies. But it's like who can integrate and make the ecosystem more seamless, so that if I'm a small business, and I say, "Well, I'm on Squarespace, and [00:21:00] I have Shopify, and I have Workday as HR ..." Who can actually integrate those pieces better? I think that's the game, because a software is a software; it should be seamless, it should be user-friendly. They're both getting to that point. But that's where I think the game is gonna be won.
Blake Oliver: Well, we saw that with the Stripe announcement this morning.
Shawn Kanungo: Totally.
Blake Oliver: Deep Stripe integration into Xero. It's interesting, because it's something that I think business owners will be even more excited about than accountants. For accountants, [00:21:30] we're kind of used to already working around these issues, but for a business owner signing up today on Xero, the ability to just pair it with a mobile card reader and then do recurring payments with invoices and not have to do some other separate processing method, I think that's gonna make a big difference.
Shawn Kanungo: It's funny, Tony, the new President for the Americas, came on stage, and he talked about the business owner not caring about the software. They don't. Ask any business owner who's starting a business. They [00:22:00] don't care about accounting. They don't want-
Blake Oliver: They just want a solution, which-
Shawn Kanungo: They don't care about the software-
Blake Oliver: -I think is a good lesson for all the accountants in the room, because a lot of the folks here, myself included, we make the mistake of talking, I think, too much about the software-
Shawn Kanungo: Yes.
Blake Oliver: -when we're talking to our clients. We get really nerdy about it. We're like, "Oh, there's this great solution, Xero. I'm gonna put you on it, and these integrations. We're gonna get Gusto for payroll. We're gonna do this with Bill ..." You can see the eyes glaze over. The business owner is ... We're looking at it from our perspective, because we love connecting these [00:22:30] apps. We have fun with it. The business owner, they just want a solution.
Shawn Kanungo: Exactly.
Blake Oliver: They just want you to take care of it. I learned, when I was in practice, to gradually not bring that out. If they wanna know how I'm doing it, that's great. I'll educate them. But I look at it more from their perspective. Your bills are gonna get paid. Your cash flow's gonna be monitored. Payroll's gonna be taken care of. Then, after that, talk about how we do it.
Shawn Kanungo: Totally! Business owners don't go into business wanting to be in accounting or into software. They [00:23:00] go into business selling donuts. That's what they're in business for. This is why I think the game will be won with the people who can take all those ecosystems. You meet a business owner; they're like, "Yeah, our website's on this, and we're using this." I'm like, "Oh, yeah, we can integrate all that. It's all good." That's where the game will be won. I look at a great company like Slack. I don't know if you use Slack.
Blake Oliver: Oh, yeah.
Shawn Kanungo: I'm a big proponent. I love Slack. I mean, Slack is not crazy. It's like WhatsApp [00:23:30] or BBM for business [cross talk]
Blake Oliver: We had IRC 20 years ago, right?
Shawn Kanungo: Totally.
Blake Oliver: It's just chat.
Shawn Kanungo: It's chat-
Blake Oliver: But it's ... Something is different ... What do you think is different about Slack that makes it amazing?
Shawn Kanungo: What they've done is they have integrated- they've made it so easy for third-party developers to be on Slack. They've integrated things like ... I use Trello all the time. So, Trello's in there. Mailchimp. All these different things are integrated within Slack, so you don't have to leave the ecosystem. They've built it for it. I look at Shopify, as a [00:24:00] Canadian company, in Ottawa, they've done the same thing. They've done a great job at creating apps and ecosystems. This is ...
Blake Oliver: Well, you said this earlier. This is a theme here. The winners are the apps ... We could even probably put accountants in this group, too - the integrators. The more you connect with, the more valuable you are, as a company, as an app, probably as an individual, too.
Shawn Kanungo: Exactly. No, 100 [00:24:30] percent. When I talked about ... Going back to this idea of a linear accountant versus an exponential accountant, things that I highlighted was, number one, focusing on capabilities; things like improvisation, and imagination, and creativity - all those things that build a culture of innovation are most important, as opposed to just jobs, and skills. I think reskilling is great, but we can reskill anybody, but actually having those capabilities will be competitive advantage. Number one's capabilities.
Number two is actually automation; looking [00:25:00] at your entire business to say how can we make this easier? How can we automate it? By the way, there's technologies out there that could do that. Number three is ecosystems, which is very important. Number four is really around experimentation. We've been so engineered to think about efficiency - how do we make things better - as opposed to thinking how do we try something new and try something different?
The last thing is really around unlearning. That, to me, is the most difficult part for accountants, because we've been ingrained in this idea of what accounting is and what should be - the debits and credits. When [00:25:30] all these technologies in an ecosystem come to play, the tools that you had, being an accountant and the things that you brought up with, with being an accountant, might actually disappear. We have to almost like let go of it.
Blake Oliver: I wanna talk to you more about those last two points. You said experimentation and learning.
Shawn Kanungo: Unlearning.
Blake Oliver: Unlearning. Unlearning! I love that. Let's talk about experimentation. This was my frustration, when I was at a large firm - there wasn't time for experimentation- [00:26:00]
Shawn Kanungo: Okay, yeah.
Blake Oliver: -because I had to be billable. I wanna know what you think. You filled out a lotta time sheets, right?
Shawn Kanungo: 100 percent.
Blake Oliver: For 12 years at Deloitte.
Shawn Kanungo: 100 percent.
Blake Oliver: Do you think that is a barrier to innovation in accounting firms?
Shawn Kanungo: Oh, my God. Well, don't get me started on billable hours. That's such an archaic way of managing your business. This is why the big firms and medium-sized firms ... I don't know who came up with this idea. The game has changed. Now it's about providing [00:26:30] value as opposed to like, "Oh, I spent eight hours on cash." How do you experiment when your performance management is not linked to experimentation? It's not linked. When do I have time? I'm working on this core stuff already.
Blake Oliver: Yeah.
Shawn Kanungo: It's very difficult. I'm not saying it's easy to do, but experimentation ... The whole point of experimentation is that you take something very small - very small problem, very small sprint, very small team - and try to work on something that might [00:27:00] make the business better; it might make your life a little bit easier. It's hard to do. You need to get leadership on side to say, "Hey, listen, we're gonna try some new things. By the way, we're not gonna be billable when we do that." That takes a lot of balls to do and tell your leadership that "We need to go off and do that."
The other piece is around performance management. You look at every single- every single firm, the metrics are designed to be around billable hours - maybe like engagement [00:27:30] surveys or whatever - but it's not getting engineered for experimentation. I think your performance management should also incorporate experimentation; meaning how many shots are you taking? How many failures have you tried? That is not engineered into performance management. There are some pieces to make that experimentation happen. Leadership is one and being accepting that people are gonna experiment. Number two is baking that into your performance management, which is really important.
At [00:28:00] every single firm, we work in different silos. I was fortunate enough ... I'm from a small city, and we were able to experiment and try new things, because we got paid by clients. At the end of the day, they just care- they just want a solution. They just want value back. We'd get to take a little bit of our funding from our client and start innovating on their dime with things that they may need. Clients never know.
I talked about this at the beginning of the conversation - clients [00:28:30] don't know what they need or want. They don't know how to innovate. They say, "We want we want X," but maybe they actually need X, and Y, and Z. I think accounting firms or consulting firms, they have such a great opportunity to innovate, because they're already getting paid, and the client doesn't give a ... They don't care how their value's gonna get delivered.
So, I think even taking a small portion of your budget and saying how can we try a new way of doing this, making it faster? I've [00:29:00] noticed that every time we take this approach, we always become under budget. We always help open up their eyes about what possibilities could be, because we took some risk. It's hard. I'm not sitting here saying it's easy, but the organizations that value experimentation will be the ones that win.
Blake Oliver: I'm sure some of our listeners are in firms that they are trying to internally disrupt, or they want to. They would love to see change happen, but they don't feel like they have the power to do so. What would you say to a [00:29:30] senior accountant or a manager who doesn't- that is not a partner; can't make that change happen? How do you get that maybe older generation, the generation of the partnership where people are really nostalgic ...? They're holding onto their tools. They don't wanna let go of what works. What advice would you have for me to start- get them on board?
Shawn Kanungo: First of all, if you're a senior accountant, you're listening to this in your cubicle, or you're [00:30:00] running on the treadmill, or you're doing the dishes at home, I would say tomorrow morning, or this morning, when you're listening to this, walk into your office and try to get yourself fired ... Basically means try to take a risk that might change the trajectory of your organization or might change the trajectory of your career, because this is what's really on the line is your career. You'll find, 99.999 percent of the time, you're not gonna get fired.
Blake Oliver: Right.
Shawn Kanungo: You're actually gonna take a risk that [00:30:30] might change the trajectory. So, try to think about how to get fired. The second thing is, I think within ... I talked a little bit about this idea of innovation cloud. If you can show your leaders ... Not tell them something; not ask them to take an idea and do something differently. Don't do that. Actually show them something. Actually do something very small. Say, "Hey, by the way, we tried this ..." I did this on the weekend. I did this on weeknights. I did this with my own money. Listen, sometimes you gotta [00:31:00] put skin in the game. "We tried something very small, and it worked.".
Instead of hypothesizing if an idea is gonna work or not, now the leaders are like, "Oh, my God, okay ..." [cross talk] You showed me something. I'm now experiencing a change." Now, you're like, "Okay, let me try more stuff." Now you're building your brand equity around innovation and cloud, and then you can take more shots. That's what happened to me. You start off small; try a little small experiment, and then ... This is what happened to me. I [00:31:30] was known as the innovation guy. I didn't term myself as the innovation guy. It's not something that happened, like somebody stamped it. It's because I took small experiments all the time, and I started to build my own innovation cloud. I think this is the way of doing it is also ... It's a faster way of getting your leaders to trust you. You've gotta take small shots. You do.
Blake Oliver: Take risks with your own time. If I think back on it, all the successful stuff that I've managed to accomplish, it's doing it on the [00:32:00] side [cross talk].
Shawn Kanungo: Dude, you're doing this podcast ...
Blake Oliver: Nights and weekends.
Shawn Kanungo: Nights and weekends for your own passion. You're doing something different. You're doing something creative. You're bringing your community together. Nobody asked you to do this. You don't have to do this. But it's inspiring. I think more people should take this route to say, "Well, I'm an accountant, but I'm starting a podcast. I'm gonna get into the media game." More people should do this.
Blake Oliver: You said [00:32:30] something about accounting, making accounting sexy, or accounting being sexy.
Shawn Kanungo: Yeah.
Blake Oliver: That is not exactly ... Those two words, they don't go together very often. What do you mean by that?
Shawn Kanungo: Well, it makes sense, because when you remove all the things that we don't wanna do as accountants, whether it's like copying/pasting between systems, whether it's data entry, whether it's coming up with financial reports ... A lot of the systems are doing that, and there's lot of people that can help us out with that. I think, in the future, accounting is gonna be a lot more about [00:33:00] schmoozing your client; influencing, presenting, engaging, persuading your client to take a particular action. That means that we have to double down on being better storytellers. I believe that a base skill for accountants will be video; a base skill for accountants will be presentation styles and motion graphics.
Blake Oliver: What you mean by video? Like being on video chat, or making videos, or-
Shawn Kanungo: Making videos; making videos for [00:33:30] presentations ... Listen, I do a lotta video. I post video every week. Video is the fastest way to gain trust with clients.
Blake Oliver: A lot of accountants, you know, aren't comfortable necessarily with that. Did we get into accounting to-
Shawn Kanungo: I'm not saying you necessarily have to be on [cross talk] I agree [cross talk]
Blake Oliver: Well, let me ask you this. We hear this a lot that we need to improve our presentation skills. We need to become better storytellers. What if I'm not a very good storyteller right now, but I know I need to do this? How do I learn to [00:34:00] do that? How do I get better at it?
Shawn Kanungo: That's a great question.
Blake Oliver: How did you get good at it? Because you're obviously a great storyteller.
Shawn Kanungo: I appreciate that. I'm just gonna clip that out and put it somewhere ... I think it's just about starting with small projects. Again, it comes back to this idea of pairing something that you really love with the project that you have in mind. You're really great at audio. That is your jam. You can say that you're [00:34:30] one of the best accountants in the world, when it comes to this craft of using audio to tell stories.
It's like what is your medium. I don't care if it's video ... I think video is important. I'm not necessarily saying that you have to be on camera, but using video to influence/persuade clients to take a particular path with stats, or facts, or whatever ... Maybe it's not video; maybe it's not audio; maybe it's writing; maybe it's graphics; maybe it's design. Whatever your skill set is, in terms of displaying pieces, just [00:35:00] connect that with your clients.
I think everybody has some sort of skill in storytelling. Storytelling is not just speaking. It's not just video. It's not just ... Just find what you're good at and you're passionate about and connect it. I'm really good at connecting different things together. I'm really good at ... Speaking is definitely something I'm good at, but video is also something I'm really good at - not only from being on camera, but also creating graphics. If you watch my presentation, it's all motion graphics. It's all very visual-. [00:35:30]
Blake Oliver: Did you create that yourself?
Shawn Kanungo: Myself and my team, yeah ... I try to use my skills, and these are the only skills that I have and apply it to storytelling.
Blake Oliver: How did you get into public speaking? Have you always been comfortable with it? Because you seemed very comfortable on stage, and, as a CPA, that's a little bit unusual.
Shawn Kanungo: Yep. The magic is that I was in management consulting for a very, very long time.
Blake Oliver: That's getting up in front of very powerful, important people-
Shawn Kanungo: It's just reps. You're [00:36:00] getting in front of executives - CEOs, leaders - talking about things that you probably just researched the night before. We used to play this game called PowerPoint Karaoke, where you would- and sometimes, we'd do this in front of my client, where you don't know what the next slide is, but you're trying to explain to a client what's happening, what's coming up next. You're building your improvisational skills just by doing that. I think it's a really great way of like ... Just playing PowerPoint Karaoke-
Blake Oliver: I love that term.
Shawn Kanungo: -trying to explain things [00:36:30] and doing it in a convincing and a powerful way. I think it's just putting in the reps. For me, the reason why I got into public speaking is that a lot of people wanted to hear about the work that we were doing in innovation, and digital transformation, so we'd go get up and talk to clients. Then I'd get on to conferences; then I'd do keynotes ... The momentum has built.
Blake Oliver: It sounds like the lesson is you really just gotta get up there and do it.
Shawn Kanungo: 100 percent, 100 percent. A lotta people say, [00:37:00] "Well, how do I start? Where do I start?" You just ... Listen, I did a hundred talks for free, before anybody paid me to speak. You just build up the reps, and just get in front of anybody and speak. I think that's a really important skill set. I think it's ... Now, when everybody is on their phones, being able to articulate yourself and story-tell is gonna be such an important skill set, especially for accountants.
Blake Oliver: Shawn, thanks so much for speaking with me today.
Shawn Kanungo: Man, this was crazy. What an amazing podcast.
Blake Oliver: Thank you.
Shawn Kanungo: It's an honor. I messaged you ... This is how it happened. I [00:37:30] saw you.
Blake Oliver: This is Twitter [cross talk]
Shawn Kanungo: I saw you in the conference. I recognized you from the pod. I said, "Hey, man, I just love your podcast. I'd love to catch up." I didn't have no idea that I would be on the pod. Then, just through Twitter, and then we got to meet up. You're doing so much for this community. It means a lot. I think the biggest favor that you could do is just like go rate, and review, and subscribe. Yeah, man, that's it.
Blake Oliver: So, Shawn, if people wanna connect with you online, find out what you're up to, where should they go?
Shawn Kanungo: I [00:38:00] think the best thing is probably LinkedIn. That's my platform. You can connect with me there, Shawn Kanungo. I'm Shawn Kanungo everywhere - Insta, Twitter, Facebook. I have a public profile on Facebook. LinkedIn is probably the best way. Shoot me a note, and we can chat about innovation, disruption, technology, accounting. It's all good.
Blake Oliver: Thanks so much for joining me and have a great flight home.
Shawn Kanungo: Awesome. Thank you.
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