With Jason Staats
On Episode 97 of The Unique CPA, Randy sits down with Jason Staats, founder of Realize, a community of accounting leaders, and the co-host of the AutomationTown podcast. The former owner of Brenner & Company, LLP in Salem, Oregon, Jason has turned his attention to Realize full time, as well as to marketing via social media. The two discuss Jason’s social media presence, tech solutions to increase accounting productivity, and much more.
Today our guest is Jason Staats. This guy, if you know anything about Jason, he is all over the place. I feel like I’ve known Jason before I met him ten minutes ago here on video because he’s on Twitter—I think that’s probably his main area of social media, at least as far as I know—but I’ve seen him on LinkedIn, I’ve seen him all over. In fact, I was watching a race to 10,000 followers on Twitter recently—
—between him and someone else.
You’re starting off on the wrong foot here, Randy.
Why, were you second in that race?
Oh, I lost, yeah, no, I lost.
Oh! Alright, well, you’re at 11,200 today, at least when I looked this morning, so, you’re doing okay. But condolences on second place. That’s alright.
Okay, so besides Twitter, he’s got a YouTube channel, which I’ve actually watched quite a few of his YouTube videos. He has a company called Realize which he’s going to explain what that is to us. He does commercials for people within the industry, he’s tweeting, producing, writing, and when he’s not doing all that, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three young kids. And he told me this morning, because of three young kids, he spends a lot of time in the office. So Jason, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Yeah, I told you that in confidence, but good we got that out there.
Just tell your wife not to listen. I assume she goes and watches and listens to everything you’re ever on, right?
Oh, yeah. No, not a chance. She’s—I could count on one hand how many videos she’s watched. So no risk of her hearing this.
Yeah. My wife’s the same. I’m like, “Hey, I was on the show. It was really fun. I had a great time, you wanna hear it?” “No, I don’t want to hear it.” “Okay, that’s fine. I understand.”
Although we did, we recently did a live version of our podcast, which was a lot of fun.
And my wife and kids—it was from a bar in Chicago—and my wife and kids who are adults came and did watch the entire show there. So I got them into one episode. Actually, we broke that into three episodes, but it was a great time.
It’s hard. This is pretty “inside baseball” stuff. I think it’s hard for non accountants to get into.
Yeah. Well, let’s talk, before we get into this cool stuff, because, you know, this show is about tax and accounting—called The Unique CPA. It’s really the unique, I guess, tax and accounting professional, get some cool information, meet some cool people podcast, is really what it’s about. But let’s get a little background on you. Because as far as I can tell, this whole Twitter thing ramped up in the last couple of years for you, from at least a video standpoint. But give us your background of public accounting, and how you started, when you started, a little bit of information of the firm. Just tell us who Jason is.
That’s a tough one, huh?
Oh, that’s a tough one, yeah. ‘Cause I go a lot of different directions. I’ve been doing this for about fifteen years, and honestly, up until about three years ago, I was the guy that didn’t really see the value in social media. I was like, I think, hacking together cool stuff in private, and not really sharing any of that. And I got on Twitter, I don’t know, maybe two and a half years ago, when, you know, I kind of realized there’s got to be other people doing the same thing that I’m doing, and maybe if I just start talking about what I’m doing, I can find some of those people, and we can all help each other get a little better along the way. And that was it.
Honestly, I think most people, especially accountants, are still in a position of, you know, what’s the value of social media? Or maybe they just lurk. Until a few years ago, that was me.
Really, you were a lurker.
Well, now you’ve got 11,200 followers on Twitter, and to me, that’s a lot. I don’t know. Do you have a goal? Are you trying to get to 100,000 or is 11,000 a good number?
I don’t really have a goal per se and I think there’s definitely a lot of like vanity metrics there that can be a trap, you know? I think a super engaged following, and kind of a little community there is the best version of that. So, I don’t know, I don’t don’t think about that too much, as much as, you know, engagement is more interesting to me. Like, are you actually putting stuff out that’s resonating with people? And then the flip side of that, are you, you know, then engaging with them as well? I think the best Twitter is the Twitter that’s happening in the replies and the discussion there.
Right, no, I agree. I’ve tried to get myself more and more towards Twitter lately. I am nowhere near your level of putting things out and making comments on others. I’ve always been LinkedIn—never was great at that either. But we put—as a company, we put a lot out as a company we put more Twitter out, I’ve been putting some Twitter out. I went from maybe 40 followers a few months ago to 250 now or something. So we’re going somewhere, but I’m a long way from that ten grand.
Alright, so you’ve been in this industry for 15 years. You’ve been a tax accountant—do you have a favorite? Tax, accounting, one of those more than the other?
I got super burned out on tax about five years ago, and that was when I first started doing accounting, and I started our little CAS practice. And the plan was to go 100% CAS at that point—somehow, I still have a whole bunch of tax clients, and so I still haven’t successfully divested myself of all of that. But I really enjoy the accounting side, simply from the standpoint that I think there’s more automation potential there. And it’s just not as high stakes as tax—everything about tax is so high stakes.
Yeah, well, accounting rolls into tax though, too, so a lot of it is identified at that level as well.
But yeah, I think from an automation—and I’m no expert, but automation, I think there’s a lot more opportunity there. And the more you can automate, the more time you have to go out and make YouTube videos, and whatever else I assume, correct?
Yeah. It’s an exciting time on the tech side. It’s a fun time to be into that stuff.
Well, let’s talk about tech for a little first, because I do want to talk about YouTube, I do want to talk about the all these videos you’re putting together on YouTube, Twitter, everything else, LinkedIn, I think as well, they’re probably obviously all the same ones that you can put in multiple places. But you have also, a podcast called AutomationTown, which I assume goes to what we were just talking about—all the interesting aspects of being able to automate the accounting profession.
What do you see when you’re looking at automation? Do you try to say, “Hey, I can save ten hours a week by automating this, that or the other thing?” Or, “I can completely automate the entire accounting function for XYZ company if I do this?” When you’re looking at automation in general, what’s the reason? Timesaving, I’m guessing. And then how do you determine what you’re going to use?
I think of it—so the premise of AutomationTown, and how I try to think about getting people into it, is more just sort of a mindset shift. That’s, you know, how to think about what we do as service companies in a more productized way. So if there was a new service that you could do tomorrow that was enabled by something that could be fully automated, would you start selling it? So like, it’s wider than “What are the things that I do today, that can be more automated?” Certainly, there’s value in that. But it’s kind of just, my main goal would be to kind of just build more of a general awareness of what’s out there, because strategically, when you’re deciding, “Where’s my firm gonna go next? What are we going to lean into? What sort of services?”—that kind of thing—you really want to be positioning yourself in a place where there’s big long-term upside, and kind of the automatability of certain tasks.
So I don’t know—I’m on the one hand, there’s definitely value in like, “How can I make this one specific thing more automated?” On the other hand, a lot of this stuff is becoming such a core part of knowledge work, and it’s such a huge, like, step change in productivity, that I’m kind of more just trying to get people thinking bigger picture about what’s out there and having an awareness—not necessarily even to do it all themselves, but to know when to pull in an expert to help, and stuff like that.
So when you’re saying people, are you talking other tax and accounting professionals? Or are you talking clients? Or both, when you’re talking about what you’re, the automation you’re trying to educate them on?
Really, all of the above. AutomationTown isn’t accounting specific—it’s more just kind of, we say it’s for knowledge workers. So it’s just kind of, you can’t get super technical on nuts and bolts and nitty gritty in podcast form. Like that just doesn’t make sense. It’s more of a visual thing, if you’re going to show someone how to use a specific tool. So it’s more like thinking bigger picture about like, “When should I do something with a web form versus emailing somebody a question?” Or, “When should I use a chatbot versus a web form?” Or, “What are the ways that I can build automations around my phone system that will, you know, log stuff to my CRM?” So it’s more like bigger picture, what’s out there, and what are the things you should at least be thinking about, and not going as far as, “Here’s exactly how to implement it and your situation.”
So in general, then for you, as an accounting firm—let’s forget about you as the, I would call you an entertainer, and educator—an “edutator?” Wait, is there a term there, “edutainer?”
Let’s go with “edutator!” That’s got a nice ring to it.
Not agitator. Well, maybe an agitator too, who knows. But you as an accounting professional, do you have, when you bring on a new client, do you have a specific “Hey, you have to be using QBO, you have to be using this, you have to be using, you know, this POS system? You have to,” I don’t know, is there a certain tech type of client or client you want to have these specific tech options that make it easier for you then to help them?
Yeah. This has kind of evolved over the years, and I don’t think there’s like a global right answer for all of this. But the way our firm is set up right now is, we’ll work with tax clients within like a geographic domain, because SALT is just getting worse and worse. And so we’ll work with a certain type of tax client, and they can bring whatever accounting system that they’ve got. And then on the accounting side, we work with specific industries anywhere in the U.S.
And yeah, when we’re doing their accounting and back office, like, in my mind, that’s what you’re paying us for. Like, we’re gonna set you up on what the best system is today—could be different than it is twelve months from now, but like, you’re not going to dictate to me what the right tools for that job are. And I think that works for us right now because we work with a very specific types of people. If we did that for everyone, from grocery stores, to construction companies and stuff like that—they all have very different needs, and so I don’t think you could be that rigid.
But because we’re focusing on those verticals, we can really confidently say, because we’ve done it 100 times, “Hey, here’s, here’s what you need, and we’re gonna get you set up on that.”
Okay. And that was interesting what you said because I am a huge proponent of, well, I say “niche,” (nitch) I think most people say “niche” (neesh). Are you a nitch or a neesh person?
I’m a neesh. I’m a neesher.
Yeah. I’m in the minority, I think. I gotta—maybe I need to switch. I need to follow the crowd here. I love niche. I talk about niche all the time. In fact, I’m having people ask me to come out and speak on niching and all that. I’m a fan of Josh Lance and his craft brewery niche. I’m assuming you—oh, I know you know Josh, because I just saw you on a video with him, and other people that do that. So you mentioned that you do have a specific type of client. What is the “neesh” industries that you work with?
On the CAS side right now, our firms are going after dental, legal, and then software companies as well, we are starting to do.
And is there a common denominator between all those? Is there something that that those three? Or you just have somebody that’s passionate about dental, someone’s passionate about legal, someone’s passionate about the computers? Or you find commonality between those?
Yeah, really it came from, like, personal interests of kind of some of the influential people in our firm. So the software side came from me—just being able to speak that language and understand those people, and all that. My partner’s got a bunch of dental background. And then we’ve got one of our tax managers has a big legal network. So it stemmed from those networks, but those are all, also, at the same time, like very high value SMBs for a firm like ours, I think—and really easy to build a back office around, because it’s cash basis stuff. It’s not the really messy, you know, construction—
—I was gonna say construction, we were both thinking the same thing.
Alright. And then, so do you talk about the software packages used for those industries?
Okay. And so what is a common—and I feel always weird saying “tech stack” because I don’t really know what that means. But is that the right terminology? What’s the correct “tech stack” you’re using with these?
Yeah. Yeah, it’s nothing super fancy. So we do more dental than anything else—we’ve got all those people on Xero. We’ll be pulling Keeper into that soon. I’m real high on Keeper right now and how that helps the month-end close process. We’ve got a team we’re building through Toa that does most of the bookkeeping production out of the Philippines. We’ve got bill pay on Bill.com. What else? We’ve written some custom scripting and air table that actually does end of day reconciliations for dental clinics, which is kind of the biggest source of theft, and that’s a very dentist-specific problem we’ve kind of built a custom solution for that’s largely automated.
So nothing too off the wall, but yeah, that’s kind of how we’re solving that internally.
And let me ask you a couple of things that when you said Xero—so do you have a pros and cons, Xero versus QBO?
These days, I don’t know that there’s a huge difference between the two. Early days, I think Xero was definitely ahead of QBO, but QBO products have come a long ways. Upsides and downsides—third party developers are going to develop first for QBO over Xero, because if their product doesn’t work for QBO, it doesn’t matter if it works for Xero. So that is a downside right now of a Xero-first firm, I think. And on the flip side of that is, Intuit is less professional-friendly than they’ve ever been before with the leadership team they have now and like, for good reason. I think they’re building really compelling stuff on the consumer side, and that’s a much bigger market. So pros and cons to both for sure.
Yeah, it was, I had a lot of fun, I got to go out and speak at the—I don’t know if it was a release party, I guess, for [Intuit’s] new tax advisor software a few weeks ago in San Diego. So I was out there with some pretty cool people that I hadn’t met before. It was a lot of fun. But I know what you’re saying for sure. And, you know, they were talking about how, you know, tying in with all these other companies that they’ve bought recently that I think are more on the, you know, the 1040, consumer financial advisory type side for sure.
Okay, and then tell me what Keeper is.
So it’s a month-end close app. And I think where these apps have had kind of more prominence in the past has been more upmarket. So you’ve got companies like Flowcast, who kind of give you a single place to manage all aspects of the month-end close across the team. But nobody’s really built that for really small businesses—and then managing a bunch of those monthly closes in one place. So Keeper pulls in full transaction detail from QBO, and now Xero, and gives you a single place where you can manage all of those closes for all of your clients, push out client questions with all the transaction detail—like it’s just a really compelling experience, having, it’s almost a hybrid of a project management system and an accounting system, because it’s got all the ledger detail pulled in, and you can do all that from a single place.
So it’s like, I think the Holy Grail is the fact that you have a single dashboard with all of your clients, it shows what the last month-end close was, the status of the current close, everything from how many outstanding client questions you’re waiting on, like the idea of just seeing all of your closes in that one place, along with all the transaction detail is just, is really compelling to me.
And can you quantify the time savings you’ve had with technology integration over the last, you know, X years? And if it has saved you time, what have you done with that? That’d be the second question, but can you quantify that?
Oh, I don’t know. Because it’s always, it’s just something that’s always happening.
And I think human beings lose perspective of the stuff that they had to do, because it’s a lot easier to focus on the new problems.
Like, you’ll plug something in to solve a bunch of other problems, and you forget all the things that it just you know, replaced for you—
—and just focus on the new problems. So I don’t know—a huge amount.
The other huge variable is leaning more into offshore, and what a relief that can be for onshore hiring pains. And I think that’s something that most firms aren’t leaning into enough. So the combination of yeah, automating more stuff, the native cloud integration’s getting better so that stuff actually syncs correctly, and then relieving some of those onshore staffing pains with offshore support has been a huge—I mean, orders of magnitude, like several times more productive.
Alright, then how about—and this is not the way I was planning on going today, but you’re intriguing me with all this stuff, and then I want to go into the YouTube stuff and all that. So then how about being able to price for this? I mean, do you have specific models in place? Are you a three-tier, are you a subscription, are you hourly, are you a blend of things? Do you have a special way that you’re pricing your services?
Yeah, we’ve got a kind of a general three tier, but that three tier is, I guess the pricing for those tiers is tailored for each case. So I’m actually a fan of communicating, like, a median price range. I think if you put a minimum price out there, you’re going to anchor everyone to that minimum, as opposed to saying, “Here’s the range of our engagements. You know, 80% of our engagements are between two grand and 3500 per month.” I would rather do that than say “The minimum we’ll take in as $800.” Because is the $800 engagement really a great engagement? Probably not, and you want the people that aren’t spooked by like, getting into your sweet spot.
So I feel an obligation to communicate some expectation of price before starting that conversation—otherwise, you’re gonna waste a bunch of people’s time. But then the actual deliverable of the proposal is like, a three tiered proposal in Ignition. But to be totally honest, we use like, decoy pricing in that proposal. Like that’s not an option, one, two, and three, it’s, “Here’s option one, two, and three, and I’m gonna set up option one and three to make two a no-brainer.” So in my mind, the only function of those other options is to push them into the option I want them to pick.
Yep. Are you familiar with Geraldine Carter by any chance?
Okay, yeah, I think that’s kind of how she talks about it. In fact, I just heard her—I had introduced her to Josh Lance recently, and I think they just released their version of the podcast with Josh, which was really good. I think I must be contractually obligated to mention Josh multiple times every episode, because I seem to be doing that. I just, I met him years ago, he was one of my first guests on the podcast, and I’m a huge craft beer fan. So I think if anybody listens to more than one of my shows, they’re gonna get tired of me talking about Josh, so I’m gonna have to—sorry, Josh, I’m gonna have to stop talking about you.
Yeah, no, I’m already sick of it. He and I both got nominated for the AICPA award, so I’ve been slinging dirt on him lately.
So that CPA.com recent thing?
Yeah. Last week, he and I, so there’s, I don’t know, six or seven nominees for their Innovative Practitioner Award and he’s on there.
And you know, he’s Ignition’s head of accounting, like he is for fifteen other organizations and Ignition tweeted out, you know, “Go vote for Josh” this morning. So we’re going back and forth on that.
It’s okay. He and I are buddies. It’s fun.
When someone—is Ignition also Practice Ignition? Is that the same thing? Or are those two different things?
Yeah, they rebranded a few months ago to Ignition.
Okay. So where was I? Oh, one more question before we—and hopefully this has been fun stuff for you, but I’m gonna get to other fun stuff. One more question, then. From being a niche—I’m going to start using “neesh”—obviously, you get to be more of an expert in these three industries you mentioned. You know more than anybody else, at least, that they’re going to. You can go sell this higher end service, because you know, their industry inside and out. Does that translate into higher fees, do you feel?
Oh, for sure. I mean, the hundredth time you do something, you are so much better at that thing than the first time you do something. So like, that’s a massive difference between niching down and just doing anything and everything. So yeah, we charge way more, because we are way better at it.
If they turn up to a generalist, they’re gonna get a way better experience with us than they’re gonna get with a generalist. So you can absolutely charge more. The kind of lived experience of our team having gone through a bunch of common things with all of our different client base, like it just, it leads to such a better experience.
Alright, enough of that. Enough of practice management now, although we make it back to it, but that intrigues me. So I appreciate you sharing that. It’s funny, I learn something every single time I do one of these podcasts, which makes me feel that other people are learning—maybe I’m just dumb, and I didn’t know this stuff everybody else knows. But I feel like I’ve learned something. So I appreciate that.
When I was in practice, which is sixteen years ago, you know, we started this specialty firm sixteen years ago, and before that I was managing partner of a firm. I look back now and I see what you’re doing, and all these other people I talked to are doing, and I’m like, “Man, I had no idea what I was doing. How did even survive in business with the knowledge I had back then?” But I guess 16 years ago, things were a lot different, too.
Yeah, that’s the value of stuff like this. I mean, I think the the best thing the Internet has enabled is peer connections, and being able to hear other people’s experiences. Because I’ve yet to hear somebody who’s niched and regretted it.
But the people who are on the other side of that, it’s scary, because they haven’t lived the other side of it yet. They’re gonna start closing a bunch of doors, which is scary—you know, not giving yourself permission to do certain things anymore. But they don’t yet see all the new doors that that’s going to open up, and so you kind of have to trust the unknown of going through that door, and understanding that like, on the other side of that there’s going to be ten more doors that are even more compelling. But until you see that, that’s a really hard thing to just trust blindly.
Okay, I am going to listen back to what you just said. And I’m going to use that in my presentations going forward, because I love that. So I appreciate it.
So just to continue on that story of my history then—because that’s what I was, a generalist, you know. We had a firm, we were dealing with construction, we were dealing with fast food, we were dealing with hair salons, we were dealing with auto mechanics. I thought that’s what I loved. I thought, “Hey, this is great.” I was not an expert in any one of those. I mean, I was—honestly, if I look back, I’m hurting my clients not knowing, not being the expert in auto body shops.
Because there’s specific things they’re doing that the McDonald’s is not doing. And when I started Tri-Merit 16 years ago, and started with specialty tax, it was only R&D tax credits then—I mean, I just fell in love with this. Like, my niche isn’t a service, it’s not an industry. And you could dig so deep into that one thing, and learn so much, and be out educating on that, and inform people and help people and save them money. It’s just so rewarding to me, and I just love it.
And if I look back, in fact, you know I had to answer an Accounting Today questionnaire that was due yesterday, and one of them was, “If you could start in this industry, would you do it again?” And that’s kind of how I talked about this, just the passion that you see helping people.
Yeah. It’s better in every way. I think something that people hang on to sometimes is, you know, when people are starting out, they don’t necessarily have the luxury of having that network and being able to have that niche from day one. But something longer term, that keeps them from niching down, I think, is the notion that they’ll no longer be for the people they used to be for. Like they’re somehow above the people they worked for in the beginning. And so they cling on to those early clients who are not great clients for them anymore, but in the process of doing that, you’re actually hanging onto clients that could be great first clients for that next person that’s starting a firm. Rather than moving up market and all of that, you’re in some ways, kind of locking down that ecosystem for yourself in a way that’s not helpful.
Yep. I say that all the time, is, we want to help everybody—that’s just part of our mindset, I guess, as CPAs, as tax preparers. And sometimes we don’t see that we really actually could be hurting somebody, because like you just said, that next person could be doing such a better service for them. And in reality, it’s holding us back by continuing to deal with somebody that’s not in our niche. You and I think a lot alike. I knew you were a good guy. Now I know why.
“I think like Randy,” ohh!
I was waiting to at least get one laugh out of you. Alright, there we go! There’s my ego showing through.
Alright. Let’s move now, because the first way I knew of you was seeing these videos on Twitter probably, is where I saw it, and then saw you had the YouTube channel. You’re amazing. I mean, one, you should probably be an actor—I mean, other than the looks. If you could fix the looks, you could be—
Nothing a little money can’t fix, right?
There you go. And you know I’m kidding. But you’re just so good at this, just from a standpoint of whatever, deadpanning on one, and you’re saying to the next character. And so was this like, “Hey, it’s pandemic time. I’m not going anywhere. Let’s start doing videos?” Or what created this? How did you start with this?
So the origin of video was I had a newsletter that I did every week that featured new tech that I thought was cool for accountants—and it was just like six new apps each week. And then one week, I started doing like a three minute overview of the most popular tool from the last week, and it was like a little three minute video clip of me talking through the tool. And before long, everybody would click on that video clip, and like nothing else. And so I realized, “Okay, like this is the way that people want to engage with this stuff.”
And those videos were terrible. They were so bad. However bad you think a video is going to be, like when you start doing it today, and you’re like, “I’m not a video person,” it was that. Like, it was every bit as bad as you’d expect it to be. But just like anything else—like here’s the thing. Society these days, everybody goes home and they scroll an algorithm. And what floats to the top of the algorithm is the people who have been doing that thing for years and are now really good at it. It’s the best of the best. You never saw what those people were posting when they were awful at it.
So I’ve been doing it a couple of years, and the reason I’m good at it, is because I published to YouTube twice a week for a year and a half—which is so much bloody work.
And you learn so much, just by relentlessly doing something poorly, that eventually you have to get better, you know, in some way. So people talk to me a lot about like, they’ll even go as far as saying like, they’re discouraged because they can never imagine, like, getting to that level. Like they look at me and they’re like, “I almost don’t want to do it because it’s kind of discouraging.” But the people who get really good at things are the people who have the courage to really suck at things.
So like, it’s absolutely a choice. Whether you think you’re good at it or not, be intentional about finding the things that will enable everything else that you do, and go out and be really bad at it. Find some low stakes way to build it into your routine and get that practice every single week. Because the reality is, like, virtually nobody’s gonna see it until you’re good at it. And now everybody comes to my channel, and they’re like, “Oh, wow, this is so good. It’s like, what a natural,” and like, no, I’m not a natural, I just did it really badly for a long time and you never saw it. So I’m a big fan of people, like, having the courage to go out and really suck at something for a while.
Yeah, I can see that for sure. You can go look at our TikTok channel and you can see how I suck right now at those, and I’m actually really good at webinars and presentations in general, so they figured “Hey, we could have Randy go do these TikToks.”
And then they’re like directing me, like “Okay, show more energy! Get your face in the camera!” And I’m like “Wait, no, it has to be natural. I don’t feel natural.” I’m not sure they’re that good right now, but we’re gonna keep putting out content on TikTok, we actually have a YouTube channel—a lot of my webinars go on there. Those aren’t good yet. The forced ones where I know I’m having to record, I just don’t feel like we’re getting those right yet. But yep, practice.
You cannot have two more different forms of video—TikTok, and long form webinars.
Well, so I have to do the same thing twice! So one time the camera’s this way, the other thing the camera’s this way, and then I gotta redo it, and then they can chop one of them up into other places, the other one they can’t chop up, or I don’t even know, I just record them. And then they do that. But you know all that stuff, huh?
Yeah, it’s very different. It’s a totally different skill set, even going from YouTube videos to short form TikTok stuff. Like it’s a whole science.
Yeah. Do you have a TikTok channel as well?
Alright, I gotta go look at that. I have not looked at your TikTok yet. So is that all short form, then?
Yep. All short form.
Does TikTok have a limit on time?
They used to be capped at 60 seconds. And now they don’t. It’s something way higher. But it’s still like, if you’re optimizing for the platform, I think you’re not going beyond 30 seconds.
Okay. And when you’re doing these videos, then, do you have a different audience in mind all the time? Or is it usually the accounting and tax professionals that your your audience is, or who’s your audience?
In general, it’s accounting and tax professionals. But that’s a huge spectrum. Because you’ve got private accountants, you’ve got people working for big four, you’ve got people that run small firms—and they’re all wildly different people with different problems. So it—you have to get even more specific than that. And then you also have to think about intent. So people come to your content with an expectation of exactly what they’re gonna get from it, and so a video that teaches them is very different from a video that inspires them, which is very different from a video that entertains them. So the more specific you can get on those things, the better.
Well, I assume most people are going to learn, but you’re high on the entertainment value. So I’m assuming that’s a high expectation when people are coming to look at this point.
It’s really interesting to see the metrics on that. So like, I’ll do a video that’s like, all education, really helpful. I’ll do a video that’s like, pure, like, more abstract inspiration, like wellness, like, the kind of the head game, and then an accounting meme review—and how wildly different the responses are to those different styles of things. I’m kind of experimenting to see what hits best with people. But they’re really like three different audiences that get excited about those things.
I’m looking at the YouTube channel right now, and it looks like—and I like this one a lot—it looks like the highest views I’m seeing right now is “Nine Reasons Your Accountant Increased Their Prices.” Is that one of the higher viewed ones?
That’s the most viewed one, and it’s not even for accountants. It’s for—it’s for normies! And the reason it has so many views, is all the accountants shared it with their clients, and so it’s like, that’s yet another audience that I’m not really making stuff for anymore, but I’m actually going to do a separate channel that is “regular people facing” content—like, the kind of stuff that that all of us want our clients to know, but it’s really hard to communicate. So like, how everybody’s getting scammed on ERC is right now.
Like, a really well produced 10 minute video about that. And like everybody’s going to be really excited about like, “Oh my gosh, this communicates the things that I’ve been struggling to communicate.”
I’ll be on that with you! I talk about that all the time. In fact, I’m about to record a podcast with Dan Chodan and Chris Wittich, where we’re going to talk about all that stuff as well, because that is—every single time I’m out speaking, I almost ignore ERC now, because it just, we know we’re gonna go down a rabbit hole, but it’s like I have to bring it up in front of a crowd. And then we go down the rabbit hole, because there’s just so much misinformation, there’s so many scam artists, there’s so many—it’s just insane right now.
Adam Marcowitz—I think it was Adam?—somebody posted a screenshot of a Spotify ad that was for ERCs. Like, it’s absolutely everywhere.
Yeah, it’s everywhere! I got a call yesterday—I’m driving to a presentation down in southern Indiana. And someone calls me: “Hey, I just wanted to talk to you about your Employee Retention Credit, you know, we need to see if you qualify.” It was just a voicemail. And then I’m like, “Okay, I gotta call this person back and just play along.” I haven’t done it yet. I really, really want to. Can I record that and play it back on YouTube? Probably not, huh?
I’m planning on doing a couple of those in the video. Just to see where they take you.
Alright, we might be going on tangents here. So let’s pull this back in—let’s talk, and we probably are about at time anyways. But I really want to talk about Realize. Because I honestly don’t know, I mean, I saw what it is, it looks like it’s some kind of platform for the tax community to kind of get together and support each other and all this, but tell me about it and how that started.
Yeah, so the the contexts in which I’ve always learned the most are when I can be in a private space with other people that do something very similar to me. Personally, I would sooner do that, to learn, than sit down and go through, you know, some sort of education journey or something like that. Honestly, I’d probably do both—but what I then really enjoy is comparing notes with all the people that do things very similar to me. And there’s a high level version of that, that happens on Twitter, that’s really valuable. That’s kind of the mainstream version of that. But there’s no context there. Like, the right answer for Firm A is very different than the right answer for Firm B.
So honestly, that community started two years ago now, just as a way to have a private space to share stuff with my peers in greater detail. And like, everything from live client setups, to just the stuff you’re not going to share publicly. On the subject of Twitter followings, I launched that two years ago with 600 Twitter followers—we had 60 members at launch, and with virtually no audience there, but it was a super, super engaged audience. So that’s like, that’s why a highly engaged, smaller group of people is more compelling to me, I think. But that’s kind of the premise of the community—it’s not an education community. It’s not like a paywall for access to me or my content or anything like that. It’s strictly focused on enabling peer connections, because I think that is the most valuable thing the internet can enable for firm runners, because firm running is a very isolating experience. So we’ve got over 200 firms in there now. We do like mastermind groups, small groups of four or five people to more roundtable format stuff, a lot of cool stuff.
So you mentioned internet-based, so is everything internet-based? Have you’ve done an in person event, or do you plan on it?
Everything is web based, but at virtually every accounting conference now we’ve got 10 or 20 Realize members and we all get together. So like we all have our little mini conferences at everybody else’s conferences. I don’t know if we’ll do our own one day—it’s like, to me, it has always made more sense to piggyback someone else’s event.
Yep. Okay, well, we’ll talk about that because we’re going to do The Unique CPA Live Conference next year.
And maybe we’ll integrate the realize group into that. We’ve got our second annual virtual coming up November 30, December 1, again, when this is played, that’ll be past that already. But yeah, it’s, I think, time to go live. So we’ll have to talk offline—see if there’s anything we need to collaborate on.
Live is great. I love, like there’s nothing there’s no replacement for hanging out with people in person, and it’s super valuable.
I personally probably will do twenty conferences this year, I’m guessing, and I have a great time at them. Luckily I get to speak at a lot of them.
Alright. So I kind of took us all over the board a little bit. Anything else you want to say about Realize? I think you wrapped it up pretty well there.
Yeah, if you don’t feel like you have, like, a space where you have permission, really, to go deep with other firm owners and talk through a lot of the sticky stuff and you know, share like very real things and live setups, practice management systems, all sorts of stuff—if you don’t feel like you have that space, I think it is a good space for it. I know I didn’t have a place where I could do that before, and so that was kind of the impetus for starting it. But if you need that, I feel like you need that, it could be a good fit.
Is there an average size firm that participates? Is it a sole proprietor? Is it 10 people? Is 100 people? Is it across the board?
It’s everyone from everywhere from solo firm owners to brand new firm owners to firms up to a couple hundred employees.
That’s the function of matchmaking people into masterminds is we can put together small groups of very similar firms.
And then the bigger roundtable meetings we have are contextual. So every month we have, for example, a solo tax roundtable, we have a big tax roundtable that’s run by Brandon Hall, we have a CAS round table that’s run by Rachel Fish. We try to keep those meetings contextual, because that’s what’s lacking everywhere else, I think, is put me in a room with other people that contextually are doing something very similar to what I do.
Yep. Yep. I’ve been thinking that The Unique CPA maybe could do its own association as well. But I was thinking it was a—I deal with top 400 firms traditionally. And so it’s all these larger firms. But I got to meet all these smaller firms lately, and it’s like, I don’t think they have that same ability to get together and share that same issues they’re all going through. Realize, obviously, is a great place for them to do that. That’s why I thought I could do that—I don’t think I will do that. Because now I know you’re already handling that space, and I don’t need anything else I can do.
Honestly, I would be thrilled if there were 100 Realizes out there—like that’s what people need. Like, it’s just so powerful to me that I think it’s still wildly under-adopted, and there ought to be one of these things for every nook and cranny of every type of firm out there, I would love to see it.
Alright, so we got a lot of things we need to talk about offline, then.
Alright, well Jason, before we finish—and boy, this time just flew by, and it feels like we just started—I have one question. I have two things I’m going to ask, but wrap up in a second. One thing I always ask and I think I know what your answer is going to be. But hey, we talked about what you do in business. We talked about your firm, we talked about all these other things. It sounds like you’re busy nonstop. I assume that’s not true—you have time to do things outside of work. What are your outside of work passions? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not doing tax, accounting, YouTubes, Realize, Twitter, what else are you doing?
Well, yeah, I got a one, a three and a five year old. So that’s, the main thing, and a wife. So that’s, those are my hobbies outside of work. Honestly, I enjoy what I do so much, and I enjoy spending time and learning from other people who do what I do so much, that, you know, my idea of something that feels like a break is like, popping down to Las Vegas for a conference or something like that. So beyond spending time with the family, it’s honestly just hanging with people that do stuff like I do—building relationships. That’s just a lot of fun.
I’m with you there. I enjoy that so much. I don’t feel like I work at all, which I honestly don’t. But I, you know, going out and meeting people like you, and that is just such a great time.
Alright, if people want to get ahold of you, I know, they obviously know Twitter and YouTube are out there. And how can people see what’s going on with Jason?
Twitter is the best spot to come hang. If you’re not on Twitter yet, get out there, stop lurking, get involved. There is, you know, everybody says, “I don’t have anything to say—why would I get on Twitter?” Everybody has something to say, because when you start talking, it attracts people that are in a similar position to you. So if you don’t have anything to say, in many ways, the implication there is you don’t have anything to learn. So think of putting yourself out there as a way to learn, because you’re gonna pull other people in, who are in a similar position, and you’re gonna get so much better, the more you kind of take those barriers down and share what you’re doing.
Awesome. So Twitter, just look up Jason Staats with two A’s.
Yep, yep. Follow me, don’t follow Logan Graph. He got to 10k first, but there’s a big controversy there—somebody bought him about 500 bots, because in three days, he just absolutely skyrocketed up.
I’ve passed him since then.
I was gonna ask. You passed. Alright.
It’s still a fresh wound. So yeah, you’ll see him posting, but—no need to follow him.
So is there—so I am, like I said, fairly new to Twitter. I’ve been putting stuff out a little bit here and there. I get, I have one person that follows me that I think accepts—and I don’t know if you can accept, can you reject? But like, all these people follow this person that are just new to Twitter, and obviously they’re nothing, they’re not even lurkers, they’re not even real people. And now all these people start following me too. I’m like,” I don’t want these people following me. I know they’re nothing to do with what I’m doing.” Is there a way to get rid of people?
I don’t know. You can definitely block them, so that they can’t see any of your stuff.
You can mute them so that they can see it still, you just won’t see their replies. But Twitter is what you make of it. It can be super toxic, but you have control over who you follow, over who’s allowed to see your stuff.
Like if somebody’s hopping into my replies, and just being toxic every day, I can just block them.
Because like, if I tweet something, like I want that to be a constructive place for people to hop in and have a discussion, and so, you know, if there’s people that aren’t adding to that, you can absolutely, you know, block them out of that. So there’s enough tools there where I think you’ve still got control over that experience.
Alright, Jason, well, I appreciate your time today. I’d go another hour, but I think I’m not going to. I would love to. But I really appreciate you being on—I reached out to you out of the blue. I know we know some of the same people, but you probably didn’t know who the heck I was, so responding and saying “yes,” I really appreciate that.
You bet. Thanks for having me. It was fun.
About the Guest
Jason Staats, CPA, is the founder of Realize, a bespoke platform hosting a community of over 300 accounting professionals that specializes in mastermind groups, workshops, demos, and more, serving as a one-stop shop-style resource. Jason also co-hosts the AutomationTown podcast, which “explores common pain points for knowledge workers, and track down the people & tools necessary to automate trivial to-do’s,” with the goal of increasing productivity across the workforce.
Jason was formerly a partner at Brenner & Company, LLP, in Salem, Oregon, where he first started as a tax preparer over a decade ago. Jason earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from George Fox University in 2010, and an MBA from Portland State University in 2016.
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.