Blake and David chat with Sabrina Parsons, CEO of LivePlan, and Kathy Gregory, LivePlan's Director of Strategic Development at Xerocon 2019 in San Diego. They cover a range of issues from advisory and strategic planning to leveraging AI to build a better practice. Discover key LivePlan features and solutions for small business owners, accountants and bookkeepers. Don't miss LivePlan's Client Advisory Services Bootcamp slated for this October in Eugene, Oregon!
- 00:31 – A personal word of thanks to our sponsors
- 01:00 – Sabrina and Kathy define advisory from their perspective
- 03:05 – Finding the why - Asking the right questions to help build a strong advisory service
- 07:01 – Another model of combining bookkeeping and advisory - former guest, Kenji Kuramoto
- 10:22 – Worth repeating: Bookkeeping is not what creates value in the mind of the business owner
- 11:37 – Adapt or die ... Stop fighting AI and get creative
- 13:29 – Sometimes Kool-Aid is good. Sabrina breaks down the myth that strategic planning is not a small-business imperative
- 15:14 – Want to take your client-advisory skills to the next level? The LivePlan Client Advisory Services Boot Camp is just what you need!
- 16:41 – For small businesses that don't have the budget for CFO-level help, there are endless opportunities for accountants skilled in strategic planning and advisory
- 19:10 – When you've got the 'who, what, where, and why,' LivePlan gives you the 'how'
- 19:53 – Kathy shares the inspiration behind LivePlan and describes some key features
- 22:08 – LivePlan is launching a new QuickBooks Desktop Beta. If you're interested in taking part, visit LivePlan.com/strategicadvisors to learn more
- 25:16 – LivePlan offers tools that remove the complications and make it easy for small business owners to work alongside their accountants
- 27:15 – Why Palo Alto transformed from desktop to cloud, and how they found the method to their madness within their own method - LivePlan
- 31:53 – How does Palo Alto Software stay profitable, and continue to reinvest in its own growth? Strategic planning
- 34:07 – Sabrina give a brief glimpse into her side gig - advocating for working moms and working families and how it took her to the White House more than once
Connect with Sabrina and Kathy
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Blake Oliver: Welcome to The Cloud Accounting Podcast, I'm Blake Oliver.
David Leary: I'm David Leary.
Kathy Gregory: I'm Kathy Gregory.
Sabrina Parsons: I'm Sabrina Parsons.
David Leary: Sabrina and Kathy, where are you guys from?
Sabrina Parsons: We are from Palo Alto Software, makers of LivePlan and also Outpost. But I think, for today, it's really makers of LivePlan, because we're here to talk to you guys about all kinds of things related to LivePlan and advisory.
David Leary: There's the word - advisory. We're in the Summer [00:00:30] of Advisory. We were talking about this last night-
Blake Oliver: Yes, yes ... Oh, and before we get into that, though, thank you so much for sponsoring and making this whole event possible for us.
Sabrina Parsons: Oh, absolutely.
Blake Oliver: We appreciate it!
Sabrina Parsons: We love Cloud Accounting Podcast.
David Leary: Thank you.
Blake Oliver: So, yeah, let's dive right into it. Let's do it. Advisory.
David Leary: It's everywhere. We actually had an interview earlier today, where they're starting to ... People are getting scared by the word advisory, because it's like-
Kathy Gregory: Being overused.
David Leary: Do advisory or die! What does it mean to you two? [00:01:00]
Kathy Gregory: To me, you can't advise a small business or client. You can't advise your client unless you're doing strategic planning. For me, right away, you better be doing some planning, and broad-level strategic planning should be included and then the follow-up to the planning, but it can't be just ... I've heard people talk about advising on IT solutions, and advising, obviously, on tax. I completely understand that, and I think all of that can be included, but you're not gonna help a small business get [00:01:30] to where they wanna be - either grow or retain where they are, or even scale back ... Sometimes a business is trying to slow down, and a person's trying to retire out, or they're trying to just take it down and end it. Whatever it is, whatever the plan is, you're not gonna be able to do that unless there is strategic planning involved.
David Leary: There's no plan, there's no map. What are you advising?
Kathy Gregory: Right.
Sabrina Parsons: Exactly, and I think that's ... I know, people get scared about it, and I think 'The Summer of Advisory' ... They're hearing all these things. There's a lot [00:02:00] going on right now, but I think the reason they get scared is because it is so undefined, and people define it in so many different ways, and it feels overwhelming. But, at the end of the day, really what you're doing ... What we all say by advisory, we all mean helping small businesses. That's what I like to kind of reframe and help people understand that it doesn't have to be this big, scary word that means 500 things.
Really, what you're doing is helping a small business client. [00:02:30] How do you help a small business client without understanding their strategic roadmap, and where are they going, and really interpreting their financials for them? Because if they need IT help, maybe they'll come to you, but they're already there with you because you know numbers. If you're an accountant, that's why a small business client is with you. I think sometimes I see that disconnect, where, sure, you can learn IT, you can advise on IT, but your [00:03:00] strength as an accountant is your- the way you know numbers and embrace them.
Blake Oliver: One thing I see, and I'm guilty of this, is people will ... When I was in practice, they'd come to me and they'd want a service. They'd say, "I need bookkeeping." Then I would just jump in and start doing that for them. Or maybe they would need some controller-type services. It was always best if I stopped for a moment, and I asked why. Not just "Why do you need my services?" Which I got better at asking that ... From a sales perspective, that's really important. But also, it's like, "Why are you in [00:03:30] business?"
Sabrina Parsons: Yes.
Blake Oliver: We fail to stop and think about that. It could be, like you said, for strategic planning, Kathy. Maybe they wanna sell the business; they wanna retire, or I don't know, maybe it's just like they wanna quit their day job ... Everybody has a different reason, right? Financial independence-
Kathy Gregory: I think, in the accounting industry, and in the public accounting industry, for so long, because of compliance-based services, a public accountant can literally sit back and wait for the client to come to them, because [00:04:00] they need whatever compliance-based service they need. But if you're going to work at a higher level with a client and help them grow their business, or help them achieve their goals, you have to lean forward, and you have to ask those questions that are different, and new, and more broad. Then, know how to apply that information. If the client tells you, "I'm trying to really just make enough money to send my kid to college," or, "I'm trying to purchase a new piece of capital [inaudible] company," or whatever it is, all of those are [00:04:30] business goals, and you have to be able to translate those into whatever financial plan that will help them achieve that. It's just it's a different type of work.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. How do we get comfortable with that as accountants?
Sabrina Parsons: You know, I think the first place is to also realize - and Blake, I don't know how much- whether you'll agree with me or not - but I feel like if you ask those questions to a small business, "Why do you need the bookkeeping?" I feel like we hear a lot from small businesses. We work directly with them. We started, and still [00:05:00] to this day, more than 80 percent of our revenue is direct from small businesses. We interact with millions of small businesses ... When they have the money to hire a bookkeeper, they don't understand what bookkeeping means. What they think to themselves is, "Whew ... I finally made it. I have enough money for somebody else to do the financials.".
Blake Oliver: Right.
Sabrina Parsons: They don't understand that bookkeeping is literally compliance, and you're not helping [00:05:30] them analyze what's going on. You're just recording what happened. I think that's part of the disconnect. When accountants are afraid of advisory, because they don't know how to sell it, the biggest message I want them to hear is you don't have to sell it. You just have to do it, because that's why a small business owner is coming to you. I think it's a huge disconnect-.
Kathy Gregory: And be able to know what the right price is for your firm and your ecosystem for that, too. Make sure you charge for it. But [00:06:00] yeah, just do it, because they expect that.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, a lotta times, we give it away, right?
Kathy Gregory: Yes!
Blake Oliver: We charge for a tax return, but we're doing a ton of advisory that's way more valuable to the owner.
David Leary: And the owners will pay for it, because they'll understand the value-
Kathy Gregory: If they understand it. Yeah, and I think that seems to be the next step for the accounting industry as a whole is to decide what it is, and then be comfortable with systematizing it, because I think it's ... I hear two things said a lot at conferences and at places, that advisory is knowledge [00:06:30] work. I hear that a lot. It's knowledge work ... It is, 100 percent, but you can still systematize knowledge work. You can still do that. You can set up for yourself a process and a system. Then, once you have that, then it's defined, and then you know what you're doing, and you can train your staff on it, and everybody knows what their piece of it is. Then, you can price it easier, and you can market it easier, and you know what that is. They need to embrace both - the fact that it's knowledge work, but that you can also make it a system.
David Leary: Yeah. I think, this summer, a couple things I've [00:07:00] observed is Kenji ... Say Kenji's last name for me.
Blake Oliver: Kuramoto.
David Leary: Kuramoto ... Who was actually at The Accounting Salon. He was ... If you go back a couple episodes, listeners, you can listen to his interview. It was interesting, because he started 100-percent virtual CFO advising only. He's worked his way backwards into bookkeeping, because he realized he can't do any advising if their books aren't accurate-
Kathy Gregory: Oh, yeah. You've gotta have that.
David Leary: What's interesting, you guys have an app, LivePlan, and that connects to the accounting systems, but then also helps do the advising, right? There was a slide last week on Twitter. It was at the AICPA, and somebody was ... It was like, "Stop [00:07:30] doing bookkeeping and do advising!"
Kathy Gregory: Oh, boy.
Blake Oliver: Oh, yeah.
David Leary: How is that possible?
Kathy Gregory: No, it's not possible.
David Leary: How do you do advising if you don't have good numbers?
Kathy Gregory: No, no, you gotta have good numbers and a very clean month-end, or at least having it happen quickly.
Sabrina Parsons: And if you can control that ... Kenji working his way to bookkeeping and understanding that, then your advising is gonna be better, because garbage in is garbage out. If you've got terrible charts of accounts and someone isn't doing the bookkeeping correctly, it's gonna be really, really difficult. But there's [00:08:00] an opportunity there, whether you wanna do all the bookkeeping or not. This is also where I think people have to not be afraid of what technology is bringing to the table.
I know a lotta people are afraid of all kinds of online services now, including Intuit, that are offering bookkeeping, right? I really want an accountant to look at that and say, "Okay, is that work that I wanna do - that work that's commoditized that I [00:08:30] can no longer charge as much for, because it's so easy for people to go online, and find services, and package services at ridiculous rates?" If it's well done, and you can then do the advisory, the value is not in the bookkeeping.
At some point, it's even gonna be ... I mean, technology, automation, IA, is gonna continue to work on the bookkeeping side and continue to make that an automated artificial-intelligence [00:09:00] process. That's fine. Let that happen, and use that, and then build your advisory services. Wouldn't you rather do super-interesting work, help a business grow, or sell, or add a partner, or add a location? Really be that entrepreneurial catalyst for your small business. That's so much more invigorating. You can bring passion to that. Don't be afraid of all the online services, because there's only gonna be more, and more, [00:09:30] and more of them, and that's okay.
Kathy Gregory: You get to keep playing with numbers, too. It's not like you don't get to keep playing with numbers. You just do them in a different way; you analyze them in different way. Knowing that each metric that comes off of your standard P&L balance sheet and cash flow ties back to something going on in the operation that's working, either well or not well? That's a super-fun job. I nerd out over that all day.
I think it's so fun to dig into those metrics and try to figure out [00:10:00] what's happening in a small business operation that's working, or not working, then asking the right questions of the business owner. There's nothing more fun than that, and there's nothing more fun than seeing their eyes light up, when you hit on something, you've uncovered something. They go, "Yeah ... Yes, that's not working right, and I don't understand it, but I didn't get the numbers to be able to know it." You know what I mean? It's like these two brains coming together. It's so fun.
David Leary: Something you said, Sabrina, and I think this is the problem ... People hear some of the sentences, but maybe not the whole conversation. You said bookkeeping is not the value, but I [00:10:30] think people hear that, like, "Bookkeeping is not valuable," but you can't do the valuable stuff without solid bookkeeping. Nobody's saying bookkeeping is not valuable.
Blake Oliver: Well, it's not what creates the value in the mind of the business owner.
David Leary: Correct. Yes.
Blake Oliver: It's essential to do the work, right?
Sabrina Parsons: Exactly. Exactly. I think that's exactly right. Blake, you should repeat that again.
Blake Oliver: It is not what creates value in the mind of the business owner.
Sabrina Parsons: Exactly. You also can't fight ... I believe you shouldn't [00:11:00] fight that technology battle. You should embrace it. I don't mean that bookkeepers aren't smart, that they aren't doing valuable work, that what they do today is somehow lesser. I just mean this is the reality. This is what's happening, and they can't stop that. Right? It's the same way where, if you're a taxi driver, at this point, you've probably stopped fighting rideshare, right?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, probably.
Sabrina Parsons: Ten years ago, it didn't exist; five years ago, taxi [00:11:30] drivers fought it; at this point, they've given up fighting it and they've either joined or moved on to do something else-
David Leary: We've talked about that on the podcast, in the past. There were some articles, because we brought this up ... There's taxi drivers, and taxi associations, in taxi people that are doing very creative additional services. It's forced them to step up their game.
Blake Oliver: Yellow Cab, I think, created their own app now. They are being forced to improve, I think, and the same thing's happening in our industry with these software plus a service type of offerings - the Botkeepers, the ScaleFactors, the- [00:12:00]
David Leary: QuickBooks Live-
Blake Oliver: QuickBooks Lives. That's forcing us all to up our game, but it's also creating a bigger market for these services. Now, people are aware, "Hey, this is not just a niche thing. I can get this."
Sabrina Parsons: The other part that I think, to Kathy's point of this can be exciting work, is that we've lived in an environment in the U.S., where small businesses understand they need bookkeeping. As soon as they can afford it, they want somebody else to do it. They've understood [00:12:30] that they can't run a business without bookkeeping software.
That's why you've got all these big players and lots of players in this market. They embrace that. They know that. But they're still failing. If you start a business in five years, 70-percent chance that you're outta business. 60 percent of the ones that fail were actually profitable. They ran out of cash. They're not managing their business, and this has been for years, and years, and years.
What I think is the super-exciting [00:13:00] opportunity is that if all of these services online and all of this technology really pushes bookkeepers and accountants to innovate and to be really thoughtful about what they bring to the table and bring real value with their experience, their knowledge, their human mind that technology can't do, we actually have a chance in the U.S. of changing the economy. Small businesses drive the economy, and a rising tide lifts all boats.
I [00:13:30] know I sound like I'm dispensing Kool-Aid, but I find it to be super-intriguing to look at those numbers and think about could we really affect the economy by getting accountants to do this sort of advisory work? It is good for small businesses. Intuit does strategic planning. Xero does strategic planning. All public companies do.
When we know and we see all those reports from Wall Street ... Did [00:14:00] Google make their numbers? How's Microsoft doing? How's Intuit doing? What they're talking about is their forecast, and what they're doing is saying, "Here's the forecast, here's the actual. Did they make their numbers?" Startups do strategic plans.
Small businesses are kinda told this myth that business planning is for startups only, and for raising capital, which is a total myth, because even large [00:14:30] private companies, they do planning, and they have a board, and the board has to approve the plans, and they look at it every month. It's almost this myth that small businesses have been told, and then accept, because strategic planning is hard, that they don't need it yet. Yet, everybody else that's successful and bigger does it.
Kathy Gregory: Even without the board, even ... I spent years in a fairly large engineering firm, and we did it just for middle operational management, pulling data [00:15:00] out of the accounting system, because the accounting department wasn't doing that; massaging it in a way that made sense, building forecasts, so that operations managers could make decisions; could make strategic decisions.
This episode of The Cloud Accounting Podcast is sponsored by LivePlan. This has been The Summer of Advisory. Everyone at every conference, and every session is telling you to become an advisor, but the fact is, a 50-minute CPE session at a conference does not make you an advisor. [00:15:30] Some of you even took to Twitter to vent about this fact. Well, I have some good news for you. Believe it or not, Twitter led to the creation of a three-day course, or should I say a boot camp on advisory?
Yes, that is right. You can now really become an advisor by attending the LivePlan Client Advisory Services Boot Camp on October 2, 3, and 4, 2019. The three-day event in Eugene, Oregon, will include deep learning, and hands-on workshops to learn the LivePlan method for strategic advising, and how to market, sell and deliver this vital client [00:16:00] advisory service to your small business clients. To learn more about attending the LivePlan Advisory Bootcamp, head over to CloudAccountingPodcast.promo/lpbootcamp. That is Cloud Accounting Podcast dot promo forward slash L-P-B-O-O-T-C-A-M-P.
David Leary: I suspect small businesses do wanna make plans, but they get caught up running their business, and that's where partnering with somebody who could actually come in and just ... In a way, it's advising- just [00:16:30] holding them accountable a little bit is just gonna help them.
Sabrina Parsons: Also, if the accountant does the advisory, because the small business owner is doing a million things ... Really, it's like Kenji being a CFO for hire. That's what they need. They just, they can't take on that role. They don't have that knowledge. They don't have the expertise. They need that value from somebody else, and they will welcome it. Once you do it correctly, they'll be addicted. They are not gonna drop you. Your [00:17:00] retention with that client is gonna be as long as they have their business. If you're charging them $2,000 a month, you're not getting a CFO for $24,000 a year. That is not happening. You can't get that sort of strategic level of experience for that sort of money. So, if an accountant can do that, there is room for thousands of dollars a month that are still completely doable [00:17:30] for a small business, and the value is there.
Blake Oliver: So, I'm an accountant. I'm ready to make this leap. I want to get started in advisory, but I don't know where to get started - that's the classic problem. I wanna do it ...
David Leary: You just go to conference. There's lots of sessions.
Blake Oliver: How does LivePlan create that starting point for me. How does it work?
Kathy Gregory: From soup to nuts, if you do it [00:18:00] all, you would start with a broad conversation with your client to understand their big goals and begin doing real strategic planning with them that would include everything from looking at their market, and looking at how they're selling, and who they're selling to, and why they're selling it, and having a fairly deep discussion with them about that. Then translating those things into a forecast. There are simpler ways to start, if that is work that is new to you. In our software, you can dive into those- yes, I'm sorry?
Blake Oliver: Sorry, I'm just trying [00:18:30] to picture it in my mind. I'm creating a strategic plan. It's like a business plan. Am I thinking the same terminology?
Kathy Gregory: Yeah, we call it a Lean Plan.
Blake Oliver: Lean Plan, okay-
Sabrina Parsons: I will just interject, before Kathy describes it, because you asked how LivePlan helps. I think the number-one thing, to David's joke of just go to conferences, because they have all these sessions, is that I think part of the problem for accountants is they all get talked at about why, and they [00:19:00] don't need that. They already bought it. They know why-.
Blake Oliver: This is the classic problem of conferences, all high level.
Sabrina Parsons: Exactly.
Blake Oliver: "You need to do this." Then you go home, and you wonder like, "Well, how do I do it?"
Sabrina Parsons: Exactly. Exactly. This is what we've learned over the years. Our tool is a tool for small business owners. It is a platform and a system for accountants, and it's two different things. What we've really understood that what accountants needed is not to be convinced. They're convinced. They buy it. They [00:19:30] nod their heads. Then they go home, and they don't know what to do. What Kathy's really built, and then I'll let her describe it, is the 'how,' and in a way that makes sense to someone who's been doing tax and compliance work. It is a system and a process with tasks that you can learn how to do. We've really gotten into the weeds to show accountants, and train them-
Blake Oliver: Yeah, we like checklists, so this is-
Sabrina Parsons: Yes, yes-
Kathy Gregory: It is a checklist. Yeah, my background is in a lot of things, but business process design [00:20:00] is one big piece of it. So, it was realizing- it was coming to these conferences, when I first came to Palo Alto Software, and realizing, oh, this industry doesn't have a business process for this, and that really is what's needed. Then, once there is a master kind of business process, then firms can adopt that in whatever way makes sense depending on the things they focus on, or the skills they have. If they focus on only bookkeeping, there's pieces of it you can do. If you're sort of CFOs for hire, then it's different; but you have to have the master plan first and then be able to [00:20:30] pick apart pieces of it you like-
Blake Oliver: Got it.
Kathy Gregory: -and deal with capacity planning, and resource allocation, and all of the things that you have to think about when you roll out a new service.
Blake Oliver: So super-high level, just overview for those who are not familiar at all with LivePlan ... I think I used LivePlan actually, myself, as a business owner.
Kathy Gregory: Great.
Blake Oliver: I don't know if you know that. When I started my firm, I created my business plan, that one-page pitch to get an investor with LivePlan-.
Sabrina Parsons: That's awesome.
Blake Oliver: Now, of course, I was bad, and I didn't follow through with the forecasting, and the [00:21:00] budget-to-actuals, and any of that-.
David Leary: That's because he was a bookkeeper, and he was too busy.
Blake Oliver: I was too busy. So, that I'm familiar with. I could create that business plan and try to get investment or just really distill in my mind what it is I'm doing, which is actually just a great exercise. Can you explain your business in like-.
Kathy Gregory: Isn't it great?
Blake Oliver: -in one sentence?
Kathy Gregory: And how it limits you to those characters?
Blake Oliver: Yes!
Kathy Gregory: Because it seems like a nothing thing, but it's important, because you strip out all the words that don't matter, and you get down to the words that ... It really is powerful.
Blake Oliver: So that part I did. Then, if I had actually continued, I would then [00:21:30] create a financial forecast?
Kathy Gregory: Yeah.
Blake Oliver: I wanna hire employees; I wanna expand ... It's building out a forecast.
Kathy Gregory: Yeah, and then really thinking through the things to forecast. That's a critical piece of it. The software helps you think through that. If you already have maybe a chart of accounts with a ledger, you've got codes already, but the things you wanna forecast should be strategic to your business, and they should roll out of that Lean Plan.
Blake Oliver: Got it. Then, once I've created that, I can pull in the actuals from my accounting software. What GLs do [00:22:00] you support? Xero, obviously, because you're here at Xerocon. You're also doing ...?
Kathy Gregory: And QuickBooks Online-
Blake Oliver: QuickBooks Online. I pull in those numbers ...
Sabrina Parsons: We are also going back to ... We used to support QuickBooks Desktop. The Sync Manager went away. We were hesitant to build our own sync manager, waiting to see what Intuit was gonna do; but it's clear that QuickBooks Desktop, at this point, still has a lotta usage, and it isn't [00:22:30] going away. So, we are launching our beta for accountants next week. If anyone is curious and they want to be part of the QuickBooks Desktop beta, they can contact us. If they just come to a LivePlan.com/strategicadvisors, they can find the information, but we are back to supporting QuickBooks Desktop.
Blake Oliver: All right. Well, the folks who are signing up for Right Networks, for their Always On feature, which claims to make QuickBooks Desktop just as good as QuickBooks Online, now [00:23:00] they've got LivePlan integrating with it, too.
Sabrina Parsons: We are actually using Right Networks, their ...
Kathy Gregory: Autofy.
Sabrina Parsons: They just purchased Autofy, and-
David Leary: Yep, yep, that's what we were talking about [cross talk]
Sabrina Parsons: Autofy is who's actually doing our Desktop integration-.
Blake Oliver: You don't have to be logged into as a user, too, for the sync to work, all that stuff?
Sabrina Parsons: Exactly. Exactly.
Blake Oliver: We oughta talk about this more, David. I'm actually more bullish on hosting than you might think. Yeah, yeah. Well, that's great. Okay, now it's kind of making sense in my mind.
Kathy Gregory: Yeah, so you [00:23:30] connect the accounting solution, and then LivePlan's dashboard is going to present you with the metrics - each individual metric. It was built, remember, for small businesses. That's the cool thing about it, for accountants, that they don't have to now reconstruct and build reports that makes sense to small businesses, because they're already built; they're already done.
Blake Oliver: Got it.
Kathy Gregory: Then it shows me very clearly the difference between plan and actual; really simply, like with green arrows up mean good, and red arrows down mean bad. [00:24:00] Again, it's cool for the accountant, because it's a talking point. Have you ever been in an advisory meeting or any a meeting with your client, maybe at month end, and you've got the talking points. You know what you're gonna tell them, but your brain just breaks down in the middle of the meeting, and you kind of forget the points? This is nice, because it helps guide you through-
Blake Oliver: It's that agenda for that meeting.
Kathy Gregory: Yeah, it is. Then our business process that's outside of LivePlan comes with meeting agendas, and scripting, and all the other things that help you- that support you.
Sabrina Parsons: Initially, if you're [00:24:30] afraid, or you don't know, the scripting is great, right? We kind of prompt you with, "Here's some questions you should be asking." When people actually start doing this, then they build their own questions. They get more comfortable. They understand their style and the style of the client. It goes back to that whole idea of everybody gets the why; How? How?
We've realized that getting down to even providing you with scripts really helps people get over that hurdle and that fear, because the other part that I think is really vital, and [00:25:00] I would say is a competitive differentiator for LivePlan versus other reporting analytics apps, is that we didn't build this first and only for accountants, who then put stuff together and presented to clients.
That's fine, and other people have chosen to do that, but we built it so that the small business owner works with the accountant; so that the small business owner's also using the dashboard, and so that the reports make sense to the small business owner, because what we heard from accountants [00:25:30] is they stop using a lot of these other tools because they send stuff to their client, and the client never responds, doesn't look at it month, after month, after month. They don't, because it's too complicated, because it wasn't built for them.
David Leary: And essentially, because you guys have a 25-30 years’ experience servicing small businesses, and you attacked it from that direction. It reminds me of Intuit; years ago, in my career at Intuit, with TurboTax. They, at one time, hired an editor from People Magazine to basically go in and change all the text in TurboTax, because it [00:26:00] was easier to use then, because it was written with all this accounting language, and nobody could understand it. It's kinda the same thing. If people are coming from the accounting dashboard side, trying to push down the other direction, you're probably not gonna communicate to the small business owners. You guys already had that DNA in you, and then came the other direction.
Sabrina Parsons: Exactly. We actually started working with the accountants because they came to us. We got to a point of critical mass of having LivePlan out there in the marketplace, that the small business owners were taking LivePlan to the accountants. We started hearing [00:26:30] from accountants saying, "What is this? Do you have trainings? How do I use it? My small business clients have it, and now I have to learn how to use it." We really were pulled by the accountants to come into this market because of our DNA with small business owners and the fact that the small businesses were already using it, which I think was appealing to accountants. They don't have to position, or sell, or market this other tool or these other reports.
David Leary: Could you speak to ... It's [00:27:00] not really advisory related, but I think it's a cool story, because everybody's in this transition still, constantly - desktop to cloud. We just talked about desktop a couple seconds ago. But, tell the history of LivePlan, and Palo Alto software, because it was a desktop company, and now you've changed it into a SaaS cloud company. You've made the transition yourself.
Sabrina Parsons: Yes, we have. I took over the business in 2007, and we were basically a Windows desktop company. Our flagship product was Business Plan Pro. A lot of people have used it; millions of entrepreneurs. [00:27:30] But the writing was on the wall, and we understood, as a software development firm, what the cloud had to offer in terms of usability, in terms of development, getting away from that Golden Master, and installations, and the support side; also, the ability to iterate more quickly and really bring customers what they want consistently and not once a year with this big release.
We started, [00:28:00] at that point, planning. I think what is interesting to me is for people to understand that the way LivePlan was born was really saying, yes, we've gotta go in the cloud, but also recognizing that Business Plan Pro wasn't doing the ongoing management the small businesses needed. We were using Business Plan Pro. Every year, we'd create our strategic plan, and every month, we would compare plan, versus actual, versus previous period, versus previous [00:28:30] year, because those data points tell you a lot.
If you're a retail store, and you're looking in January, you look at previous period December, and the numbers are not gonna look ... You're gonna look, like, "Oh, my God, I'm doing so much less ..." but that's obvious, right? Seasonality. You want previous period, but you also want same period last year, because that tells you even more. That was the way we managed Palo Alto Software every month, but it entailed exporting from Business Plan [00:29:00] Pro, exporting from Accounting Solution, massaging data, and so-
David Leary: Because you were using your own product, you realized all the things it sucked at.
Sabrina Parsons: Exactly. Exactly, and the ongoing small business management ... We built LivePlan, and the methodology that's behind that process and system that Kathy has built for accountants is what we used to build LivePlan. There is a management methodology to LivePlan. When you take a company and you switch it from Windows development [00:29:30] software to cloud, you have to have whole different developers. There's a lot of resources there, and there's a real big push on cash. All of a sudden, you need to hire all these other people for a product that's not bringing you revenue yet.
We changed technologies. That's hard. It can be very difficult for a company. We also changed business models. We had a piece of software that we were selling, and it was more transactional. You bought it ... Yes, we got some upgrades, but you bought it, and you didn't [00:30:00] keep paying us, right? You bought it, and, on average, we were making 160 dollars from every user, because we had a couple of versions - $99, $199 - different things that you could buy, but we were getting all the money at once.
So, not only did we have to switch from a resource perspective and hire all these new developers, but we also, all of a sudden, were in a situation, where we were gonna be getting $20 a month ... We didn't know, were we only gonna get $20? Were we gonna get $300? Were we [00:30:30] gonna get $160? Were we gonna get more people but less money? That's kind of a scary thing and a huge cash flow implication, because all of a sudden, we're getting 20 bucks, and it's taking us over a year to get to that average transaction that we already had.
The only way we were able to do that is using the LivePlan method. That's exactly how we used it, right? We forecasted. We understood our cash. What [00:31:00] we did is that we saw our runway, and we slowly introduced LivePlan, while still selling Business Plan Pro, so that we were able to really strategically ... But there's no way we coulda done it without managing-.
Blake Oliver: You did a cross fade.
Sabrina Parsons: We did ... Obviously, I'm proud of it, because I love LivePlan, but I also want people to know it's how we manage the business. We are privately owned. No debt. Cash-flow [00:31:30] positive. We've never taken on an investment, and we continue to grow. We've done that, and we're able to do that because we eat our own dog food, because we do strategic planning, because we don't spend money we don't have.
Blake Oliver: That's interesting. That's kind of a rarity. You are profitable, cash-flow positive, and not interested in taking on investment money?
Sabrina Parsons: No.
Blake Oliver: Are you planning to stay private, and just ...?
Sabrina Parsons: You never know what happens in the future, but it works for us, and we don't need it. We've built up cash that we can [00:32:00] reinvest. We've built up enough cash that we've launched a whole 'nother product. We've been able to invest in that product. We have a team of 20 people and that product is just barely launched. We've done that all with using our own revenue and profits from our existing product line, but it takes a lot of super-careful planning.
Blake Oliver: That's very refreshing.
David Leary: It's very hard for companies to get off the desktop model to a cloud model. We actually did an interview last week with Shafat from BQE-
Blake Oliver: Similar [00:32:30] story.
David Leary: Similar story. Instead of how you cross-faded it, to take Blake's term-
Blake Oliver: He did a hard cut off.
David Leary: He just stopped. The second it was done, it was launched. You couldn't buy his desktop product anymore. He went for it. Maybe he didn't use LivePlan. He just jumped right in.
Sabrina Parsons: Maybe he had a credit line, or he had some investors. You have to have some cash to do that, right?
Blake Oliver: You've got to have a lotta cash to take that kinda risk.
David Leary: I think it was private, but, see, they were an existing desktop app that had an established base for a long time.
Blake Oliver: If people wanna find out more about LivePlan [00:33:00] and connect with you, and your company online, where can they do that?
Kathy Gregory: If you're an accountant, the best way is you can email us at accountants@LivePlan.com. That's the first way. Our website is LivePlan.com. Then, in the upper right-hand corner, it'll say Solutions, and there's a dropdown, and you can pick Accountants. That'll get you to the site that has all the resources. There are tons of resources on our site.
Blake Oliver: Are you two on the social medias? Do you like the Twitter-
Kathy Gregory: Oh, yeah, I'm on the social medias. My Twitter handle, I'm supposed to know that, right? I think it's @KMGregory1. I [00:33:30] believe that's what it is. Yeah, that's what it is. I have fun on Twitter all the time with accountants, but I can't recall ... [cross talk]
Blake Oliver: It's like knowing my own phone number.
Kathy Gregory: Yeah, right, but I do have-
Sabrina Parsons: Kathy also helps manage our LivePlan Strategic Advisor Twitter, and that's @LivePlanSA.
Kathy Gregory: Yeah, @LivePlanSA, and there's a blog that I think is fun and good on the site.
Blake Oliver: All right, great.
Sabrina Parsons: And my Twitter handle is @mommyceo
Blake Oliver: I love that. And as always, I am @BlakeTOliver. [00:34:00] How about you, David?
David Leary: I'm @David Leary. I think this is interesting, because I don't think we've had anybody on our podcast that has spoken to a president before.
Sabrina Parsons: In my spare time, I do a lot of advocating for working moms and working families. I have been lucky enough to be invited to two summits during the Obama presidencies, and, yes, was able to have some really cool experiences because of that and speak at a White House summit-.
Blake Oliver: Wow. [00:34:30]
Sabrina Parsons: -and bring two of my three boys to come ... One of them was has been too young to also be able to experience that ... Being a CEO, woman, working mom in a technology software company, there's not a whole lot of us. I am hoping that 20 years from now, that's different, but I am definitely a big advocate of working parents, and working moms, and try to do a lot [00:35:00] of political advocacy to actually make change.
David Leary: Nice.
Blake Oliver: Wonderful. Thanks so much for joining us [cross talk] Yeah, great to talk to you.
Sabrina Parsons: Thank you.
Kathy Gregory: Thanks so much. It was really fun.
David Leary: All right, bye.