How Breakaway BA does things just a little bit differently
Randy sits down with Martin Moll, co-founder of Breakaway BA, to discuss his philosophy of life, and what led him away from serving as a managing partner of a large CPA firm, to starting a company that specializes in back office services for small and medium sized businesses. Martin talks about a formative experience that solidified his passion for what “America is really comprised of”—the integral parts of our society—and how Breakaway remains committed to “bringing joy” in everything they do.
Today, our guest is Martin Moll. Martin, who recently co-founded Breakaway Advising and Bookkeeping, has worked as an advisor in healthcare his entire career. He has represented physician entrepreneurs, medical clinics, health systems, and executives in structuring planning strategy and compensation-related matters. He has served as acting CFO of multi-specialty clinics, a healthcare related e-commerce company, and as acting chief administrative officer of a level one trauma center.
Prior to co-founding Breakaway, he was CEO and managing partner of Aldrich, a top 10 west coast and top 100 U.S. accounting advisory firm. And I guess sticking to our theme of uniqueness, he was the managing partner of this large CPA firm—and he is not a CPA. He is an attorney, but not a CPA, so it sticks to our theme—we have uniqueness here. In his role at Aldrich is actually where I originally met Martin, one of the places that I got to know him the most was sitting around the bar in Tucson, Arizona at a conference, talking about public relations, I think, a big topic that was going on. But I really wish we were sitting around the bar having a discussion today! But Zoom is gonna have to do, Martin, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you here—sorry, I beat to the punch—just give me a quick update. How are you doing, everything good out in Oregon? Which I didn’t say that’s where you are. But out in Oregon, everything good?
It’s been a crazy year for us, and continues to be, but it’s literally, honestly, without exaggeration, been the most fun I’ve had professionally, this last year.
We’ll definitely get into that, and in fact, let’s just jump into that then. I find it really interesting—and just want to see what went into this—you went from managing partner in this large CPA firm, to becoming this entrepreneur—to having this idea, starting this new business, which is always exciting. But I’m just wondering, in that whole process—what have the triumphs been, what have the challenges been, in that transition that you’ve been going through?
Yeah, great question. It’s hard! Aldrich is an outstanding firm with all the support, with HR, with legal, with IT—I’m now all of those things and more, and that was a big learning experience. One of the things I thought would be a challenge, that it turns out, hasn’t been much of a challenge—is I don’t miss being a CEO. I don’t miss having a title. I actually, now I’m quite happily title-less, and I want to spend the rest of my life without a title. I found that surprisingly freeing. As CPAs, or as accountants, we start in our industry; day one, it’s like, “well I start as as an associate then I want to be a senior associate then I want to be a junior manager and a manager,” and we keep climbing for those titles. So it’s actually been really fun not to have a single title.
[bctt tweet=”I just don’t think the world needs another 50-year-old white male at the top of the company. If you are one, good on ya, but I was very conscious of not thinking that I automatically deserved the spot. —Martin Moll” username=”TriMerit”]
I can actually relate. My role at Tri-Merit changed over the last three and a half years from more of a management to more of a having fun role. That’s the way I look at it! I get to talk to people like you, I get to go out and do education. So I’m completely on board with what you’re saying there. Based on that then, as I said in the beginning, you’re a co-founder of Breakaway; the co-foundee—the other person is Kristen Keats. Correct?
All right. And so this is interesting to me, because you kind of already answered it somewhat, but you—in my mind, would have been the obvious CEO choice based on where you came from, And Kristen is CEO. I’m sure there’s good reasons for that. Obviously, she does a great job from what I can see. But just wondering how the thought process went into that.
It’s great question. And it was not even a question when Kristen and I founded the business that she would be our CEO, for a couple of reasons. One—and I’m very vocal about this—I just don’t think the world needs another 50-year-old white male at the top of the company. I think if you are one, good on ya, and if you continue to have that role, good on ya too, but I was very conscious of not thinking that I automatically deserved the spot.
And then really, Kristen’s better than I am. She’s got more passion for the industry—which our core of service is bookkeeping. She’s got a better sense of the marketplace. And I’m the idea guy, and I’m very, very happy with that. I loved being CEO. It was an honor to run the firm. I know I did it well, but I’m really enjoying watching Kristen run the company.
That’s great! So, tell us more about Breakaway. Obviously, your bookkeeping, and I know that there’s other services involved as well. But how did this idea—has it been brewing in your head for a while, and then I guess where have you gone with it?
In our industry or in the accounting industry, that the common phrase is CAS or Client Accounting Services, right? So we are the back office—and we start with bookkeeping, but we do more than bookkeeping—we do virtual controller, virtual CFO, anywhere along that spectrum, to what we call the SME: the small to medium sized business, or SMB market. Kristin and I worked together at Arthur Andersen. So we go way back. We continued to talk about, “is there a better way to serve clients? Is there a better way to provide these levels of services?”
It’s not that accounting firms don’t do them very well, because they do, but it’s hard in a lot of accounting firms, with their traditional metrics of billable hours, and realization, and utilization— bookkeeping and those monthly engagements don’t work as well. So our model is, it’s fully distributed: We’ve got 13 advisors; we have four starting in October, so we’ll be up to 17. Our goal is to be 25, by the end of the year, and then 50 by the end of next year. At the rate we’re going, we have no question that that will happen, and we provide the back office services for this team of advisors. They’re in front of their clients. And again, we say the word “advisors,” we start with bookkeeping, but more often than not, we end up adding more services.
When you are talking about advisors, and I see everybody on the website is called advisors—these advisors come in you have something like a franchise model for this, correct?
Yeah. So it’s really interesting. When Kristen and I formed the company, we were assuming that we would be a traditional firm, and we are a firm—every client is a Breakaway client, we bill centrally, we provide insurance centrally—but we started with, just over a cocktail, when Kristen and I were coming up with some of our swing thoughts, one of them was for our advisors to be able to work for yourself, but not by yourself. Because everybody has a unique spin on how they want to serve their clients, and we don’t want to get in the way of that. We just want to provide the commonality.
So the more we talked about it, we really believe in brand, we really want to have that common set of core values. Well, turns out, we’re a franchise. We don’t actually have a buy-in, but every every advisor is technically a franchisee. We take a management fee, and then they actually provide the services to the clients
Was there a necessity to that—a reason for that? What came up with the idea of making it the franchise model, then?
It’s the easiest way to—without having to employ everybody. And again, we didn’t want to employ everybody because we have advisors who have very modest goals in the kind of book that they want to build, and we have advisors with very ambitious goals. Because we’ve got this flexibility and freedom for them to build their book of business, that really fits them and their unique skills, franchise was the most obvious choice.
Okay, but you said they’re still part of the whole—you’re treated as one team, are they on your health insurance plan, is that how that works? Or is that possible through that model, is that why it’s franchise?
They’re on our malpractice insurance, they run their health insurance, but they’re on our malpractice insurance. We do the billing, collecting engagement letters, the common platform. So the idea would be it feels the same when you have a Breakaway advisor, but we have some advisors who are focused on healthcare, some advisors who are focused on manufacturing, some advisors who are focused on Latin America, so the each are kind of building their unique book of business that really suits them and who they are.
[bctt tweet=”Everybody has a unique spin on how they want to serve their clients, and we don’t want to get in the way of that.” username=”TriMerit”]
And I saw that you have advisors that are in India as well. Is that correct?
Our back office team is in India. We don’t require our advisors to use the team, but it makes all the sense in the world. So we have a partial ownership in an offshoring team in India. It’s a great team of individuals. They’re there, they do the legwork, in allowing our advisors to spend more time with our clients. They do the actual bookkeeping, and then our advisors are the ones that are basically translating financial information to actionable business advice, like any other CPA.
So then they get to come in and do the advising rather than the bookkeeping portion of things. Nice. So now in addition to the bookkeeping, you have what’s called Breakaway Private which is a family office portion and then Breakaway Creative which is a marketing portion of that. Did those just seem to be obvious choices to add?
Obvious choices—that really starts with any firm, right? You take a look at your people, and you say, “What kind of services Is the market looking for, and do I have the team that can provide it?” So in both of those cases, Sabrina heads up our private client services—she’s a former private banker. It’s essentially being a CFO to a family instead of being a CFO to a company.
And then the Creative actually started—as I shared, our target market are the six million small to medium businesses out there. Oftentimes, their challenges are not financial, their challenges are their growth and revenue. Sometimes the most obvious answer is, “You need more sales, you need more revenue.” The way to do that is through branding—is through marketing. So when they ask us if we have the ability to provide that, we turn them over to our team. We’re very happy with our own brand, and the work that we’ve done, so we figured we might as well make that available to our clients.
Well, branding them—let’s get into that. Because one thing that I know when you were in your role at Aldrich, it used to be known as AKT. During your reign as a managing partner there, you went through a whole rebrand that became Aldrich. Obviously branding is important to you. Can you talk about just that whole rebranding process? And then what your philosophy is on branding?
I think brand is wildly important. The challenge for Aldrich—it was AKT, which originally was Aldrich, Kilbride & Tatone. Those were three words that were hard to remember. So they shortened it to AKT, and generally speaking—now KPMG has made it work—but generally speaking, letters are hard to remember. And in particularly those three letters, a lot of times people would say ATK. So it was as the firm was growing—I was very firm in my belief that it needed a stronger brand.
You could spend more energy trying to brand three letters, but why not start with a brand? So I went back to Aldrich—Aldrich was the founder of the firm, and, again, we could tell stories about Ken Aldrich, and how he built the firm, and what he represented. Change is not for the faint of heart, if any CPA firms are out there considering it. It’s a long process,, we had competitors who were saying, “Well, you know, AKT’s going out of business because they’re now Aldrich,” and I would not recommend doing it lightheartedly. But my guess is every partner there would say it was a good thing to do—now, in hindsight, with a rearview mirror.
Anybody that’s listened to the show before—we had Richard Kopelman on, from Aprio. And they did that same thing, changing names, and in their case, not even one of the founders’ names, but a brand new, made up name. There was some interesting stories that I’ve heard from him and that whole process, so I’m sure there was a lot of fun along the way.
[bctt tweet=”Sometimes the most obvious answer is, “You need more sales, you need more revenue.”” username=”TriMerit”]
Sticking on theme of branding then: Breakaway, I know from talking to you, there’s a theme to that and the name, and how does that play to the firm?
Yeah, a breakaway—if you don’t follow cycling, a breakaway is when—so you have the peloton, right? And you’re all in that pack of riders, and then every once in a while, a group of knuckleheads will say, “Okay, we’re gonna we’re gonna set the pace even faster,” and so it’s a breakaway. A lot of people have a hard time watching an eight hour bicycle race, but the breakaways are some of the most exciting parts of the race, because they set the pace.
So when Kristen and I talked about what we were doing, we broke away. We broke away from the big firm, broke away from a traditional model, we broke away from the normal way of doing things and said, “There’s got to be a better way.” What’s fascinating—and Kristen and I are very pro-accounting firm—the people who break away aren’t usually the ones who win the Tour de France, they’re the ones that just set the pace. So again, we’re not trying to take over the world of accounting, we just want to set the pace and say there’s this there is a different way of providing these types of services.
So we love the word “breakaway.” We have an intranet, we call it “Slipstream,” and we try to incorporate that kind of cycling ethos, including the joy of cycling. If you haven’t ridden a bike, the joy of cycling is—when you’re in that peloton and you kind of find that sweet spot of right behind a rider—and ultimately, you can actually hear it before you can feel it. You can hear the quiet and that means that you’re being pulled by somebody. You’re right on their wheel, and you can go 30 or 40%, faster and further in a peloton than you can on your own.
That goes back to this concept that we have for advisors: “Work for yourself, but not by yourself.” It’s hard working by yourself. So our model for those individual bookkeepers and virtual CFOs and accountants is, “Break away with us, but at the same time when you’re breaking away, join this peloton, join the group, get in our slipstream, and it’s going to be a lot more fun and a lot easier pedaling.” It sounds like an ad but it’s a big part of who we are.
No! I like it! You gave me goosebumps just hearing that! The whole explanation—you’re good at this branding thing! I think you’ve got a future after this! And you taught me a new meaning of a word. Peloton, I thought was just a bike company that does exercise bikes. I didn’t realize the group is called the peloton..
The group is called the peloton, and it’s a magical place to be.
Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. You mentioned it earlier, but you are not trying to be a CPA firm. You are supporting CPA firms. So do you work with firms? You’re doing the bookkeeping part, but you’re not doing the tax part through Breakaway, correct?
Like you said, Randy, we’re not a CPA firm. We don’t do taxes, we don’t do audits, we certainly never will do either one of those things. Some of our best referral sources to our advisors have been CPA firms. Now, admittedly, some CPA firms offer the service—many offer the service.
But again, CPA firms recognize, “I can actually send this (work) to you, and the information I get back is going to be really, really good. Yes, I won’t maybe get as many hours, because I won’t be doing the internal work. But I’ll make more, I’ll get better realization on that tax return, because the information I get is going to be perfect.”
So the CPA firms who kind of “get” that have become very good friends with Breakaway and the Breakaway advisors.
[bctt tweet=”The group is called the peloton, and it’s a magical place to be.” username=”TriMerit”]
I’ve got a friend who started a bookkeeping practice years ago, and she supports a lot of CPA firms here locally in the Chicago area. The same thing—getting that, that data to them in a nice, clear, concise, accurate manner has been helpful. I’ve loved watching her business grow. You guys have got some big plans here. By the end of next year, you’re looking at 50 advisors?
50 by the end of next year.
Yep, I would say that’s an exciting transition that you’ve gone through from Aldrich to this. I can see you’re having a lot of fun with it as well.
And speaking of fun, I noticed—even on your website and talking to you—that is a philosophy you guys are promoting within the firm, right? How does fun play into things?
Absolutely. I’m glad you saw it. We get comments a lot from potential clients. On our website, we’re right there in the middle of it is, “Bring joy to accounting.” Our overall tagline is “Bring joy.” It’s based on the fact that people have fun doing what they do, but truly bringing joy to what you do—and saying, look, accounting is fun, numbers are fun. helping clients achieve their goals, helping them be better than they are today—is fun.
Sometimes in a professional services environment, we tend to over-layer a bunch of things that take the fun out of it, and so when Kristin and I—every meeting that we have, every decision that we have, that’s the one question we ask. We don’t do it lightly, and we do it very, very intentionally: “Is this gonna bring joy?” Now, bringing joy could be things like an easier set of software, easier tools, easier onboarding—or it could be a client appreciation event. But it’s the core of everything we do: Let’s have fun. Life’s too short.
That’s nice! And I can vouch for that, because the people who are listening today can’t see what I see—but right behind your shoulder there I see something up on the shelf that has “joy” written on it. It’s not just a word you use, I see the words out there within the business too. So that’s great. Having fun is—I tell my kids—do what you enjoy, don’t just have a job, but try to find the job you enjoy doing. I’m glad to see that.
One last thing. I think I do want to touch on this because I mentioned at the beginning when we had that conversation about PR. But public relations, social media, LinkedIn—those are areas you’re very active on. How do you get involved? What’s your philosophy? How’s that help you, your clients, your firm?
So, thanks for noticing and yes. This is advice I give anytime I talk to CPA firm buddies who are CPA for managing partners, or just in CPA firms. We’re very intentional about our marketing. It’s not accidental. Whatever platform we’re on, and right now, LinkedIn is primary—we have a little bit of Facebook presence—but we actually have a schedule for a year of how many posts we do, when we do them, the type that we do. Every advisor has rotating assignments to write blog posts that we post. It’s a lot of work! But that kind of consistency is what drives traffic, it’s what drives views.
So social media can be incredibly powerful, but it really does have to be intentional. The reason that we haven’t, for instance, (gotten into) others like Instagram or whatever is, we’re not just dabbling. When we do it, we’re going to do it, but it’s going to be a year long commitment.
We’ve had two or three advisors come from LinkedIn, and probably at least a hundred clients have come from LinkedIn and looking at our posts. So it does work! I highly advise any firm to think about it, but again, it needs to be intentional. It’s not just something that you kind of do randomly.
You have a plan to your LinkedIn presence! Well, that’s great to know. And that was that was part of that conversation we were having out in—Tucson is where that conference was. And again: Man, I wish we could sit at the bar and have a drink right now, but you’re in Oregon, I’m in Chicago, and I’m not getting on the plane.
I’m gonna get into one last thing, and you kind of mentioned it in our discussion of the naming—but biking has been a passion of yours. So this is our fun fact for Martin Moll: Biking’s been a passion. What has biking done for your life and where did that passion come from?
Yeah, I love cycling. I started cycling when I was 13 years old—which means my prefrontal lobe was not the most developed, like most 13 year old males. I threw some clothes and a Sterno stove in my backpack, and I went for a five day bike ride down the Oregon coast. And that freedom is terrifying, and my mom still can’t believe that she let me do it. Something about the freedom—you go fast enough that you don’t get bored, but you get to see things. You get to see things in a different way; different angles. Instead of going by quickly in a car, you can really notice life, I think,
And you know, without being too crazy, but it’s what gave me a passion for the small to medium sized business. That’s what the world is really comprised of, right? The big skyscrapers and all that is interesting, but drive down a country road; look at all these businesses. It’s the chiropractor, it’s the solo orthopedic surgeon, it’s the auto body shop. This is still America, and so there’s something about being on a bike that really puts me in touch.
I’ve been cycling ever since. I came close to racing, and still do a week long ride—this year, we cancelled it—but a week long ride in Oregon, some of my best friends I made, I met on a bicycle, and I hope to be riding when I meet him.
That’s awesome. Biking is a passion of mine. I unfortunately went through about a thirty year timeframe where I could not ride a bike. I had too many knee injuries, and my knee wouldn’t bend far enough. I enjoyed basketball as much as biking—if not more—so I kept playing basketball through that, but I got my knee replaced four years ago.
My whole goal was to get enough movement back to be able to ride a bike. Probably within four weeks after surgery, first thing, I bought a new bike. I was riding it to physical therapy, to go do my therapy, and I’ve been riding it since. During this pandemic, I bought an exercise bike that I have in the basement as well. But I get outside and do it as much as I can. I probably do not have the knowledge and everything you do, but I enjoy biking tremendously, and being able to do that again is just great.
I’m so happy to hear that, Randy!
Thanks for sharing your passion on that. Before we wrap up, how can people get ahold of you? I mean, obviously we talked about LinkedIn and the website and other places out there
My email is
I’m available on LinkedIn. I wish I could tell you a Twitter handle, but again, that’s a platform which I haven’t even gotten there.
And that’s M-O-L-L, don’t get confused with M-U-L-L—you’ll get a lot of other people if you start searching for that. So M-O-L-L is the Martin Moll you want.
Thank you for being here. I really appreciate it. Any last things that you want to say before we wrap up?
I just really appreciate the opportunity, Randy. I love telling the story. I tell it every day—I tell it at the bar, I tell it standing in line at Costco. it’s just fun to be able to share.
Thank you for joining us today. And you can find all the links and show notes for today’s episode, as well as more about Tri-Merit, at TheUniqueCPA.com. Remember to subscribe and join us for our next episode where we’ll be going beyond compliance into forging new pathways of delivering value to clients, diversifying your revenue streams, and leading-edge management techniques and styles.
About the Guest
Martin Moll is a lawyer and former CEO with over 25 years of experience in the financial world. Martin is the founder of Breakaway BA, a collective of deeply engaged, committed bookkeepers, controllers, and CFOs who are passionate about Bringing Joy – to both their clients and their colleagues.
At Breakaway, Martin finds joy in empowering his advisors and clients to truly step into their greatness. Martin and Breakaway are continuing to build a network of accountants, bookkeepers and financial advisors who can act as virtual CFOs for small-business clients.
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.