With Michael Ly
Episode 131 of The Unique CPA features Randy’s insightful discussion with Michael Ly, CEO of Reconciled, a leading virtual bookkeeping and accounting firm. Michael talks about building Reconciled from the ground up and his key strategies for growth, including acquiring other accounting firms. He provides valuable perspectives on remote work culture, the current state of AI in accounting, and his outlook on the future of the profession. He follows up with practical advice on building a thriving remote business, as well as a better understanding of trends shaping the industry—a must-listen for anyone looking to learn from the experiences of a successful entrepreneur.
Today, our guest is Michael Ly. Michael is CEO of Reconciled, which is a firm that he launched in the summer of 2015. Reconciled is a full service virtual bookkeeping firm or I guess, a cloud accounting firm. He can expand on that if I got that wrong. He’s got some nice accolades for Reconciled. In 2016, the year after he began, Intuit named Reconciled as the runner up “firm of the future.” In 2018, he won the U.S. “firm of the future,” which recognizes very innovative, forward thinking firms in the industry. In addition, and we didn’t talk about this, but I did see he was listed on Inc. magazine’s fastest growing privately held companies in the U.S. this past year in 2022. So we have that in common. We were also on that list, which was pretty cool. So I think Michael’s the second, or maybe even third person I’ve interviewed on the podcast whose company was also on that list. So with that being said, Michael, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Thanks for having me on, Randy. It’s been great getting to know you and awesome to get a chance to talk to you too.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. So I got all my data right there, right? I mean, you were the Top 5000 fastest growing, you did get these accolades for the future. Did I miss anything there?
Oh, no, that’s great. Yeah, you got those right.
And we were really fortunate. We hadn’t applied to the Inc. 5,000 before, or been on that list. And so because we had, we’ve only been in business for seven years, so we finally applied and made it last year. So that was really, really a big honor for us.
Yeah. Do you know what number you were? Because we made it. But we were, I think we were pretty close to…
I think we were like 1772, somewhere in the 1700s?
Yeah, I think we were in the 4,000s. So you’re, you’re you’re faster growing than we are apparently!
Well, when you start small, when you start small, you can grow faster. Right? So everything looks big when you’re real small, right?
I guess that’s true. Now, just based on what you said, do you know, did you have to be in business for a certain amount of years before you can qualify to be on the list?
I think there is a minimum revenue number now. I forgot that what that number is. Andthey do a, you know, a growth rate over a three year period of time. So you had to have hit a certain number by a certain year, but just didn’t even make the running because of how many companies they evaluate for that. So obviously, we made the minimum and we also made, I think the minimum growth rate you have to have is pretty substantial as well. Because there are a lot of fast growing companies in the U.S. So yeah.
Yeah, I think 5,000 is a pretty significant number too, because there are so many fast growing companies. I think Brandon Hall was another one who was on that list. He was on the podcast recently. And then I swear there was one other. Alright, I digress.
Let’s get into really the whole Michael Ly story and why we’re here today. And so I mentioned Reconciled and the cloud accounting, virtual bookkeeping, I know Reconciled also has a tax and advisory portion of it. You want to give us a little background on Reconciled and then I’d be curious, I know you’re involved a few other things too. And maybe just give us a little background on and you. And I’ve and I’ve heard you talk to you about yourself as not necessarily the owner of a cloud accounting practice, but as an entrepreneur overall. So, why don’t you give us an idea of Reconciled and then a little more of the things that you’re involved in.
Yeah, Reconciled started as an experiment in late 2015, and then it launched formally in the beginning of 2016. I was a solo CFO consultant before that, accounting consultant before that. And every time I would work with a customer at the time was, you know, mainly customers in Vermont, small businesses in Vermont. And as I was working with customers, I just found this common problem that generally their financial accounting foundation was a mess. And so after a few years of doing that, I realized, hey, if I can hire my own team and create a predictable service, could I provide this service to my clients at the time, but then also, can I eventually need to provide it nationwide? And that’s what happened and so it’s grown very rapidly since then.
Fast forward to today, we have 45 U.S. based employees, and then we have about 10, what we call nearshore workers in South America, that we also treat like employees. So, you know, between 55 to 60 people in total. And if you add part time contractors we use in the U.S. probably closer to 65, 70 people that are involved with Reconciled across the world. And we’re serving hundreds, maybe 5 to 700 clients on a monthly basis as well as project basis.
So small business is our focus, we really are targeting lifestyle, small businesses $500,000 to $2 million a year, revenue grows growing very slowly, usually a single owner or a couple, you know that, that they they’re running the business, and they’ve run it for many years, and it grows slowly and provides good income for them. And we’re targeting generally, what I call “B class” and “C class” states and cities for both employees as well as customers. So we’re not a company that focuses on high flying startups, or on Silicon Valley, or New York based startups. But we’re really focused on the cities and towns like North Carolina and Florida and Texas, and Arizona, Vermont, New Hampshire, where the makeup of the economy is lifestyle small businesses. So that’s been our focus. And it’s been a great journey so far in the past seven years.
So when you say your focus is those businesses that you call in the B in the C class, you know, it’s not the tech startup type of thing, I assume. And so when you go in, what are the services? I assume you’re because I know, we talked about advisory a little bit at the beginning, and I assume you’re going in with that CFO mindset? Or that let’s see how we can help them be more profitable, have more free time, you know, solving different problems? Is that a typical thing you’re doing? Or is that a branch of what Reconciled does or…?
Yeah, so most of our customers come to Reconciled, what we’re known for, probably 70% of our revenue is just core accounting services.
That’s what I figured.
So if you’ve, if you think of the 20, 30 million small businesses in the country, all of them need core accounting, all of them need a basic financial foundation, before they even can get to the next level of advisory and of profitability metrics and cash flow forecasting and planning. So we really, our front door with our customers and our outreach is, let’s get your foundation right, let’s get the core right. And that’s where we start.
And that’s where the majority of our revenue is and what we’re providing. So we start there. And then 20% of our revenue, you know, 10 to 20% of our customers are then upgrading or purchasing, the advisory level services, CFO planning, you know, higher controller level work, more complex accounting work, FPA work. And then we have 10% of our revenue, that’s in tax services. So as we and that’s the newest service line for our company, it’s really been only offered the past two or three years. So in the end, we got into it primarily because a couple of years ago, we started acquiring smaller competitors, smaller accounting firms in the space that had tax service arms. But the makeup, the core of Reconciled, is really, we’re trying to be the core, back office foundation for our customers, and are able to do as little or as much of that back office foundation as our customers would like to.
Alright, well, based on that there’s two things that I’d like to go into. And you and I talked about this a little bit ahead of time: just the technology involved with that and the technology you use, but also, a key thing that you just talked about, or you just mentioned was you had bought other accounting firms, other bookkeeping firms. And so it seems like that’s an issue. I mean, in general, our industry, our profession, there’s a lot going on—a lot going on from private equity’s coming in, we have, you know, older let’s say legacy firms, or just older, millennial, boomer owned firms that don’t have an exit strategy, that need somehow to merge up or be bought out. And so now you’ve gone through this process a few times with buying other firms out, maybe you can give us a little bit of advice or gameplan, or what do you look at when you’re doing a purchase or evaluating a potential opportunity?
Yeah, so the first part of your question, around technology use—so Reconciled has a standard tech stack. We don’t have our own internal technology we develop. We haven’t created any IP. We’re not trying to compete against QuickBooks as an accounting software and we don’t sell ourselves as artificial intelligence. It’s not something that we’re leveraging I don’t think it’s there yet for us. So we’re leveraging out of box tools like QuickBooks Online as our central core GL. We have some clients in Xero. But QuickBooks Online being in the majority, and then an AP management system like Bill.com, or Melio, and, and then workflow tracking internally using Karbon, Slack for internal communication, G Suite for email. So we’re using a lot of the tools that software companies or that other professional services firms are using on the cloud, and doing that remotely. And the whole team is remote working, either from home or from offices and small teams if they want to, but primarily from home.
And so that’s been the makeup of Reconciled. We are providing a core service for our customers trying to do it in a predictable way at a fixed monthly fee, and doing it in a way that’s accessible for our customers. And there’s enough customers in the country, enough small businesses, like I said, 20 to 30 million, probably more than that I’m probably under estimating that could use this service, and they just need it done right, and they need it done regularly and predictably at at an accessible price point. So that’s Reconciled, and we’re leveraging kind of that standard, you know, a standard tech stack that a lot of firms are using.
I would assume so and before we get into, because I think we want to spend some time on that whole, you know, buying accounting firms, but let’s stick on technology for a while here. Because you mentioned something about AI and how you don’t think it’s there yet, that it’s really something that that we can use in accounting to some level or to a big level? And I know you have your own opinions, and I know you have your own definition, as well. Because you want to expand on why you think we’re not there, or what your feelings are on AI and how that is working or not working currently?
Yeah, so I think we had a evolution of AI over time, right? There was the first part of marketing around AI, which most people knew, it really was human beings behind it. There was nothing artificial about it, it was really, it was really natural, it was farm to table AI, I guess you would call it, and people were marketing it as artificial. So I think most people understood that it was human beings, wherever they were in the world or in the U.S. Then you have the second iteration where people were leveraging better software, but now they have access to better technology to leverage cheaper labor. And so you have cheaper labor AI, right? And if you actually look at technology that you thought was you know, really existed, like, for example, OCR, technology, optical, you know, imaging systems—most of the OCR technology out there is actually human beings behind it.
They are people in Africa or Asia or in cheaper labor areas where they’re actually looking at the image for you, and then coding or telling you what the image is, and you think it’s OCR, and so that that actually is a real reality, it still is today, if you use a lot of OCR technology, or the image scanning technology, it’s literally human beings reading and retyping that at scale. And so there’s a lot of software we mentioned on the call that we use in the profession, that isn’t actually really digitally reading your text or numbers, it’s just people coding it, and they’re looking at images. And that’s why you have technology that has, you know, you just send an image and it’s waiting, you know, it’s in a waiting mode. You’re going, if this is technology, why is it waiting? It’s waiting for a human being to be available to correct, you know, to make, to confirm it.
So then you have the, the third iteration right now, you know, which is actual real AI software, and, or machine learning. And then you have things like ChatGPT, which is like real AI software, right? So there’s been this huge development over time. And right now in the accounting profession, it’s really been at best, human assisted, and you’ll see these terms around there that say the word human assisted. And it relates to the fact that that technology isn’t there yet, that there’s a human being behind it. So that’s the reality of where AI is going. And so for accounting, it’s not super helpful for us because we actually need it to work, right?
Yeah! That’s important.
And if they’re gonna have human beings still doing the work? Well, we pay human beings in our profession to do the work. Why would we pay somebody else to do the work overseas just because it’s cheaper—and often the price point isn’t even there to justify the change. So that’s the reality of it.
So the reality is, we are not there yet. And I actually wanted that because you know, and I won’t name names, but we’ve used a couple of different expense reimbursement or programs for all our employees, you know, upload your receipts and it’ll automatically you know, put this expense in there and, you know, sometimes it populates into the software right away. Sometimes that doesn’t do it at all. And I’m like, why is this so inconsistent? What is this? And I think you just told me—it’s human assisted. It’s not true OCR AI, it is individuals. Alright.
Yeah. And then there’s, you know, just kind of like organic food has this broad range of definition by the FDA of what you call organic is it 80% organic and 20% not? The same thing with AI, like that term is being used with a broad definition. And it goes anywhere from human beings behind software and a type form to human assisted, to machine learning, to actual AI. And in the accounting profession, I can probably count on my hand, what accounting software products actually use real AI—real AI, not just, you know even machine learning, no humans are involved. I think we can kind of have our hands between you and me, what’s actually using it, and then the rest is really not at all what you and I would consider really AI.
Well, you could count, I would have no idea who is. I mean, we will talk offline about that. So do you have an opinion on where we are going with AI? Is it going to be more prevalent in accounting? Is it getting close to it’s going to take over roles that are currently run, specifically by human assisted AI?
I think where we’re gonna go first is you’re gonna see a huge migration towards offshore labor. And that’s already occurring, but it’s not occurring fast enough or exponential enough to where it’s, it’s impacted the whole industry yet. But you’re going to start seeing that. And then you’re going to also start seeing some loosening of the requirements to be able to do certain kinds of accounting work, like audit. You’ll start seeing loosening of CPA requirements, and maybe even certifications that allow people to step into the profession easier. I think you’re gonna see that first before you start seeing actually wholesale automation.
Because the databases and the engines that have to be built in order for the software to truly replace [all of that], it’s gonna be a while, you know, it’s going to be a while. So do I see huge disrupts in the next five years? I actually don’t, I actually don’t. I’m not concerned about the next five years. Past those five years, yeah, there probably will be some disruption. And in the next 10 to 20 years, you’ll see more dramatic disruption. And people have been talking about this disruption for a long time. And I think at the core of it is there has to be a wholesale change at the IRS level in their systems, and there has to be a wholesale change in our banking system, and how banks’ operating systems communicate. Until that happens, I don’t know how automation can really, and AI can really, see its full benefit.
Okay, because you can’t, I mean, I’ve been hearing for years now that audits are gonna go away—financial statement audits—because AI is going to take over, and so what are accountants gonna do? And so that’s, we’re not at that level, at least in your opinion yet, and we got a ways to go. In five years, maybe still stick around with some stuff, 10 to 20 years, I won’t be part of it anyway. So I’ll just watch from the sidelines, drinking my margarita on the beach, or wherever I am at that point.
That was great—I knew you had some opinions on that and ideas. And but let’s go into this, buying an accounting firm, because this is a big deal. I just so you know, personally, I’ve done this two times, I bought the firm. I had started my firm back in ’91. I think I bought my first firm in ’98, to add to what we had, and then the second time was around the year 2000. So not far apart. Not huge acquisitions, and I probably didn’t do nearly the due diligence that I think you’re doing. But we were paying, I think, 1x revenue at that time. And maybe that’s still common, maybe it’s not, but so when you’re looking then from an acquisition standpoint, what are you seeing, what are you doing? What’s your due diligence, how do you determine if it’s a good opportunity or not?
Yeah, so the valuation, from a valuation standpoint, valuations for more traditional firms, what you would call “local CPA firms” or “accounting firms that are community based,” that valuation really hasn’t changed, that valuation range hasn’t changed anywhere from 0.8 to 1.2x revenue, you find the rare firm that’s that’s requesting 1.5. They rarely close at that. It’s still usually down to 0.8 to 1.0, and maybe with an earn out if there’s an increased amount of revenue that the seller generally has stick around and help create. So that is pretty common. So from a criteria perspective, the firms that we look for, in that we’ve, we’ve established this criteria around, looking for firms that are doing a sizable amount of revenue. And so I say sizable, at least around a million dollars or more a year. And that means they have a staff or a team generally doing that work, and the owner themselves is at best reviewing and signing returns. But the owner is not actively doing client work on a regular basis, they’re probably just selling more.
We’re looking for firms where the owner’s name is not in the firm. So we don’t want to look for a firm where it’s been branded around a name, around somebody’s name, like “Crabtree and Associates” or whatever it is, that’s a majority of firms out there, right.
And you nailed it! My first firm was Crabtree and Associates!
And there’s some, you know, there’s some states, very few that do have this requirement of your name must be in the CPA firm, I get that. So we just avoid firms where that’s a requirement, and generally, they’re CPA firms.
And then the owner has a desire to exit or to leave. And then the last criteria is, they’ve started the technology migration journey. And when I say that, it means, for example, if they’re onto QuickBooks Desktop, it’s all being hosted somewhere, right? If they are on QuickBooks Online, they’re on QuickBooks Online, and QuickBooks Desktop, like a mix of that. If they’re on some other product, and we’re gonna have a very difficult time wanting that firm, so they have to be in the QuickBooks ecosystem or sphere. So that’s the mix.
And then they have the majority bookkeeping advisory and minority tax services, almost every firm we run into has some level of tax, but we want that to be the minority of their revenue. So that’s the, you know, a handful of criteria we look for. So that automatically removes a lot of firms, right? If they’re not doing or closing in on a million dollars a year that that takes out a whole set of firms. If they’ve got a name that’s the last name of the owner, it takes out all set from so you start seeing now, okay, we’re now down to a tight set of, you know, a thousand, or a few thousand, firms left. And then you start the journey of trying to reach out and talking to those owners, because I’m not reaching out to firms that are publicly listed for sale, although they we do run into those, the ones we’ve purchased, they haven’t been publicly listed. They have all been privately, just conversations and outreach to the owners to see where they’re at in their journey for sale.
So when you when you do that, then when you how are you finding them? Is this just cold calling? Or are you meeting them at conferences, or…?
It’s all over the board, email outreach cold calling me, you know, obviously, I attend conferences like you, meaning owners at conferences, staying in touch with them, I’m a natural networker, like staying in touch with people like sharing, learning from people. Oftentimes, I reach out to people just to learn from them, or to meet up and see how they’re running their firm. And you run into people ready to ready on their journey to either retire or to be done with running their firm. And that’s where you get the goldmine. So you never know where somebody’s at at that, what period of time they are in their firm career or their life. So that’s where you want to catch them. And we just happen to have done three now. And we’re continuing to talk to more.
Okay, so you’re actively searching. Still, I mean, it’s not like you’ve put a hold on anything.
Right, we’re still actively talking to firm owners, and we don’t have anything right now scheduled to close anytime soon. But it does take time. It doesn’t, you know, from the moment you send you meet somebody and start having the conversation, it could be 90, 120 days at the earliest, before something closes. And generally, from the time you start talking, you know, 5, 6, 7 months out from the time you start having the conversation.
It’s pretty rare when you meet somebody, and they’re, they’re ready to go in 60 to 90 days, because then you gotta line up financing. You gotta line up attorneys, the agreements, if there’s a lot of things are lined up, and it just takes time. It’s just a part of it. And you’re all both still running your firms while this is happening, right? You’re still both running your firms, you’re still not talking about it publicly. You’re not trying to share the information, except for with your close advisers. So it takes a lot of time while you’re still running your business.
And how about the integration, then? I mean, you want them on the QuickBooks or some level of getting more cloud? Is the integration with these three you’ve done, has it from a culture standpoint and a technology standpoint, has there been hiccups or issues that you’ve learned to avoid in the future?
Well, there’s definitely hiccups with everything. So you know, I wish there could be a turnkey out of the box, oh wow, no hiccups. And a lot of it comes around to speed of integration. How fast or slow to move, a system changes, right? Just even if you’re both on QuickBooks Online, just the how do we get there QuickBooks online realm over to our ownership. How do we get the billing, wholesale billing over to our wholesale billing? There’s just those little those things changing over vendors, you know, do they have Dropbox subscriptions? Or what software subscriptions are they using that we need to migrate over and transition the files over? So it’s a lot of data and transition of things.
And then it’s the expectations of both the selling owner and the buying owner, you know, the purchaser myself, as well as the expectations of the employees of the selling owner, and then the employees of the buyer. So you need that to all align. And that takes time. And what happens is, you can’t really share a whole lot until the deal is closed with either parties. So the only parties generally involved are the owners of each side, their attorneys, their finance groups, and then maybe the leadership teams, if you let the leadership team know. But if you know that the firm sizes we’re buying, the leadership teams are pretty small, that’s generally the owner, maybe one other person knows. But you don’t generally get to meet the staff that you’re going to, at the firm you’re gonna purchase, you don’t get to meet the staff until the day after close or the day of close. You don’t get to meet the customers. So there’s a lot that happens and a lot of trust that happens in the whole process, that I’m surprised that it even gets done. But it does, you know, and it does all the time. And there’s a whole rhythm to it and a standard to it. And it happens all the time.
And what about staff then? Is this a you normally retain everybody? Or do people see this opportunity to try something new? How has the retention been with staff?
We try to retain everybody. We make an offer to everybody, it’s their choice, whether or not they want to accept it, and we try to keep everybody at par on compensation, or increase their compensation if we don’t feel like they are up to level with where their experience and their role is at. So everyone has the opportunity to come over and work with Reconciled going forward. And if they choose not to, that’s kind of their decision. And there are individuals that have taken the opportunity to go, okay, hey, I thought about retiring early, or I was planning to exit anyways, or, hey, Reconciled the size you’re at and the growth rate you’re at is not for me, I wanted to be at a smaller, you know, not growing or super slow growing firm.
So there’s a variety of reasons people don’t come over. But fortunately, we’ve had a lot, you know, most of individuals come over initially. And then over time, there’s just natural attrition that occurs. That’s normal to the profession. And so we deal with the same thing. And that impacts both our main business as well as the firms we buy.
Alright, and while we’re talking staff, I think that I’m gonna segue a little bit here. But you know, you and we said this at the beginning, you are a remote firm, everybody’s working at home, or maybe small group offices and all that. And we were very similar to that. And we’re similar size to you. We’re about 60 people, and we’ve been remote from the start, 16 years ago. And the question that I get a lot, and the concern I get from people is well, how do you build a culture when everybody’s remote? And now same thing for you, I wonder how you do this, but then also, you’ve got this, you’re merging in firms. So corporate culture, do you do anything specific? Because that’s a big deal. People want to be part of a group that they enjoy working with. Do you guys have any specific culture initiatives you put in place?
Yeah. So that, you know, there’s two ways to answer this question. One is yes, we definitely have practices that help us build our culture. And it really is intentional thinking around, what are the things that we have in person or in an office that we can try to mimic or replicate or digitize for our sphere. So we use Slack as I mentioned, which allows for internal communication, and removes and reduces email communication. We use a system called Cosmos, which is like a virtual video based office that allows people to navigate a virtual office and have little avatars and communicate with one another, and it feels like they’re in a virtual office together. We have Zoom meetings that are both optional, as well as required staff meetings. But for example, on Wednesday mornings, I have “coffee with the CEO,” and any staff person can join coffee time with me and get a chance to interact with me, and we talk about, we don’t totally talk about work, we talk about non work things. And then we also we have a common language of what we’re trying to build. So you know, make it really clear of the vision and mission, and also the team rules of Reconciled—what are our non negotiable values.
And so that’s, you know, that those are all the things that we do to help establish the culture and build it on a rhythm. If you think about culture in general, there are a ton of different cultures that have been built that have nothing to do with proximity, right? So I’ll just take movies for example, if you think about the culture that’s been built around Star Wars or Star Trek, or the Marvel movies? There’s whole cultures built around these, what you would call, you know, social or cultural, iconic movies and themes that have nothing to do with vicinity. What is it? It’s a common language, common storyline, common experience, a common interest. And that’s the focus. And so if you think about building your corporate culture, and you remove physical space, well, then hey, what is the vision? Does everyone have a common vision that they understand what it is?
And so when people think about, I think what what a lot of people think about when they default to well, we need we need to be in person to build this. Yeah, in person is great. There is a lot of advantages in person. But I think the reality is, you need to, you need a clear vision of what you’re trying to build, you need everybody on the same page of what that is. It starts there. And then you move to okay, well, then what’s the common language we’re going to use? What’s the common practices we’re going to use? What are the common assumptions? What are we going to tolerate and not tolerate? That’s actually culture, that’s actually culture building. And there are again, many, many, examples of culture being created around different things that have nothing to do with vicinity, nothing to do with being in person. And yet those cultures are built, and they’re built in a very dramatic way, I’d say even even stronger than most companies have.
And so it really gets down to we a lot of us probably have very weak cultures, because we have, not because of vicinity, but because we have weak vision, we have unclear vision, we have weak practices, we tolerate everything. You know, I think that is really more of the issue that most companies have to focus on.
Yeah, I love it. You’ve obviously put thought into this, which is great. I think we’ve been able to kind of do that same thing, even being remote. And you know, the vision is out there. And I probably should be able to list our vision statement, and I won’t, but that’s around basically, you know, bringing integrity to the specialty tax realm, and fun. My whole my whole vision is to make accounting fun. And so the combination we do, we do a bunch of stuff.
I don’t know if you do this, but we get together as a team. Even there all around the country twice a year, we get together as a team, and it’s really just going out and have a fun, you know, getting together doing a little bit of you know, here’s the vision for this year, here’s that, but as much of that as anything, it’s, it’s let’s just go have some drinks, eat some dinner. We had John Garrett out at our last one talking about What’s Your “And?”
Ah, that’s great.
It was fun. You know those types of things. So yeah, do you guys do any of that, try to get the team together?
Yeah, we historically, as I was building the company, we were smaller, we did do once or twice a year getting together. And usually we would get together in Burlington, Vermont, or Charlotte, North Carolina, or places where we could get, fly to easily. When the pandemic hit, we were obviously limited on what we could do. We started doing more virtual events. So we’ve done all staff virtual events every year. And then we have it all staff, all hands, all staff meeting, all hands staff meeting once a month, and then the leadership team gets together at least twice a year. And then I’ve been trying to get together on the leadership team. And then the core leaders or what I call, you know, kind of the second tier leaders, I’ve been trying to get them together at least once a year, just so that we can get on the same page. So it’s been really, really a blessing to be able to do that.
And then just to stick with culture a little bit, but also the culture and the mergers or the acquisitions. Is there a when the new employees come in? Is there a here’s who we are meeting or here’s what we expect? It sounds like you say that we put the vision out there. Here’s the expectations. Here’s the non negotiables. Is this a specific thing when you bring out these new people as employees, or merging in, I assume?
Yeah. So we have a whole onboarding process. We’ve curated an onboarding process, similar to the investment we’ve made in our customer onboarding process. We have a whole employee onboarding process. And there are steps to it, there’s tasks they have to complete, there’s experiences, there’s training, there’s individuals in the company you have to interact with, there’s peers they have to get to know. So that whole thing allows them to hear and understand and learn the expectations and also get equipped quickly to be able to do work. So and we learned that a few years, a number of years ago, when we realized you know, we can’t just get to invite somebody to Google Suite and Slack and then expect them to start working. We really needed to take them through a Disney like experience at Reconciled so that they could experience it firsthand and really understand what was expected of them in their job.
And also, frankly we want them we wanted them raving about their first few days here in their first 30 days here at Reconciled which has been the In great and actually been, the common thing we hear from people is that their experience, their onboarding experience makes them feel more connected to this company than any in person job they’ve ever had. And so that’s been a wild and wonderful surprise for for us.
Yeah, that’s funny, because that’s one thing that John Garrett and I have talked about, as well as that whole onboarding and getting people into the whole vision right away. And the expectation just, you know, made retention, so much stronger. And I assume that that’s what you’re finding as well.
Yeah, that’s definitely true. And it shows, obviously, it’s more expensive to do it that way. And you have, you have employees taking their time to get trained. But I do feel like they have a better a much better sense of connectedness to the company because of it.
I agree completely. So this wasn’t even an area I was expecting to go with corporate culture. But I love the information you shared there. I love the information you shared on, just looking for acquisitions, and I’m guessing a lot of people can learn a lot from what you’ve gone through with that as well. This is all my whole goal with this show is to get myself educated, because I figure if I’m getting educated, you’re educating other people. And I really feel like we did a lot of educating today. So I appreciate everything that you’ve been able to share.
Before, I have to ask you a couple of last things. A couple of last questions. And this is one question I asked everybody that’s on the show. I feel like I steal John Garrett’s mojo when I do this, but I did this before I met John Garrett. I ask everybody okay, so this is what you do, you’re Reconciled, here’s your business, we’re talking business and how to run the business and things, best practices and all that. But you’re a person outside of work, too. What are your passions outside of work? What do you like doing when you’re not working on any of these business projects?
Yeah, so you know, I’m married, my beautiful wife, we’ve been married now almost 17 years. And we’ll be celebrating that next month. And we have three wonderful kids, 14 year old, 10 year old and eight year old, two boys and a girl. And they’re wonderful as well. So I spend obviously, a lot of time with them and try to invest what extra time I can or priority time with my wife and kids and my family.
When I am not working, which is pretty rare and not a good thing, because I would consider myself a workaholic. I love working and I love building things. I enjoy reading, I enjoy listening to podcasts, I enjoy learning. I enjoy actually mentoring young guys. So I actually meet with young guys that are in their 20s to 30s that are either, they’re trying to think about their career, they’re trying to start a business, whatever it is, I get outreach just from random people or introduction to young guys. And that was a huge thing in my life growing up because I had a lot of mentors growing up, a lot of different mentors, either through my church or just into the workplace that invested in me. And so it’s my way of giving back and just always, always doing that.
And then I have been a big volunteer at every church that we’ve been part of. My parents originally were sponsored over by a church in the early 80s. They were sponsored over from Cambodia as refugees. And so since then, I’ve always felt indebted to the church. And I’ve always been involved in a local church in some way shape or form—volunteering, teaching, you know, doing whatever that I can. That’s a big part of my life as well. And, you know, everybody who’s grown up in the church has a love hate relationship with it. I have a special love relationship with it because of its huge involvement in my family’s history.
And so I feel indebted—regardless, if I was an atheist today, I would feel indebted, in many, many ways. And so that’s, you know, that’s a big, big part of it.
And I love eating. I love hosting people to eat as well. So, um, you know, I’m going to be hosting a group of firm owners in Arizona after the tax season is over where it’s warm. So I’ve invited a group of four motors to come to Arizona just hang out and so feel free to come join us, Randy.
I was gonna say, I didn’t see my invite yet, so I’ll keep checking my email and see where that is.
Yeah, it’s open to anybody really, anybody that wants to come just come after tax season. We’re going to be hanging out here at the last week of April. Scottsdale, Arizona.
Really! That’s cool. That’d be a lot of fun. I’m in! Just give me the details.
Definitely, give you those details.
So last question then: if people want to get ahold you or find more about you, Michael Ly, find out more about Reconciled, where’s the best place that they could look to get more information or get ahold of you?
They can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter—it’s not hard to find, there’s not a lot of Michael Lys in the world, or in the U.S. So just look at Michael Ly Reconciled or Michael Ly just on Twitter, LinkedIn, feel free to connect. I generally accept connections and messages directly. And then Reconciled is Reconciled.com. I was fortunate to get that domain years ago. So Reconciled.com is our website and we’re on most of the social media. So just find us on that.
Alright, well, this has been awesome, Michael. I really appreciate you being on the show today. I had a great time. I’ve been smiling a lot, so I know I had a great time. So thanks again for being here.
Great. Thanks, Randy!
About the Guest
Michael Ly is an accounting and fintech entrepreneur who has served in a variety of financial leadership capacities, from Controller to CFO. He founded Reconciled in 2015 as entrepreneurs’ demand for bookkeeping services grew and the technology to serve them online came to a good level of maturity. Reconciled has grown quickly and was selected by Intuit as a 2016 Firm of the Future Runner-up and 2018 US Firm of the Future, recognizing it as one of the most future-ready and forward-thinking firms in the world.
Michael’s exposure to startup accounting ecosystems has given him insights into the opportunities around the data sitting in accounting systems. He co-founded Saasable in 2020 to take that data and build PunchPay, which is now lending to small businesses.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.