Ryan Lazanis is a trailblazer for cloud accounting in Canada. After initially taking what felt like a safe route into accounting, he made it his own. Ryan reimagined what the client experience might look like and built a 100% online accounting firm from scratch in 2013. Five years later, on 1 November 2018, the Equiom Group acquired Xen Accounting.
Following its acquisition, Ryan started Future Firm. Future Firm provides resources and consulting to firms looking to set-up an online, automated and modern firm of their own. Here’s his story of building a firm that sells.
What did you do before Xen Accounting?
I’d always wanted to start a business, and deep down felt like an entrepreneur. Yet, I didn’t know what direction I was going to take. Eventually, I decided on accounting, the language of business.
After receiving my CA designation, instead of joining one of the Big Four, I joined a small accounting firm. I wanted to get deep into how a business operates and work closely with entrepreneurs. After five years, I changed jobs, became an assistant controller at a medical company for six months, then felt like the timing was right to start off on my own.
I had all this training in accounting, yet my passion wasn’t there. Instead, I loved disruptive business models; I loved looking into software and tinkering with pieces of technology. During my research, I stumbled across a firm in the UK called Crunch. This was the first time I’d seen a modern spin on an accounting firm. They’d created their own software, had a virtual team of professionals and a modern fresh website. To me, this was the future of the industry.
I realised I could do something very similar in Canada. Here, the language of business - the world of accounting - can be archaic. Delivering client services felt old-school, and very often, that service was sub-par, riddled with inefficiencies. I saw a lot of pain-points. Business-owners were coming with shoeboxes of receipts, or just to sign papers.
I wanted to make things easier. That’s when I created Xen Accounting. In the first year, it was all about implementing technology and processes to make things quicker. I enjoyed the technical aspect of testing apps out, researching the app ecosystem and seeing how we could integrate them to automate processes.
We implemented Receipt Bank in 2013, and it quickly became a staple. One of the best features is its accuracy. While we’re automation advocates, accuracy always comes first. Receipt Bank offers a lot of control and multiple integration points with Xero, so it’s easy to push data into Xero.
If you were to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
Truthfully, nothing. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but these were all learning experiences. Running a firm is hard, but it was necessary to get to where we are now. I’m really happy how everything has turned out.
When I first started, I implemented an untested model. At that time, offering online accounting services and meeting clients over Skype was practically unheard of. People didn’t believe in it, and it was yet to be validated in Canada. Through Xen Accounting, we delivered a high-quality service and got big players interested.
And if you had one piece of advice to business-owners starting out, what would it be?
It comes back to having a purpose in mind. It’s not about getting a tax return through the door or through a set of books. It was about helping small business owners have the easiest, most automated process possible.
With this in mind, map out your customer experience around your purpose. And if you’re starting a firm today, don’t look at what others have done. In my view, traditional accounting and bookkeeping firms are a dying model. It’s important to chart your own path. Implement a business model that suits your purpose. Resisting the tried and tested path is difficult, but it’s more important if you want to create a firm to one day exit.
Why did you sell Xen Accounting, and what are you doing now?
I did a lot of soul-searching to once again bring things back to my purpose. For one, I could see that the space around us was getting crowded. To keep Xen Accounting competitive, partnering with a global firm that understood our model gave us flexibility in how we operate. That’s why we partnered with the Equiom Group, who acquired us in November 2018.
Secondly, on a more personal level, I wanted to help other firms with their own modernization journey to help implement an automated, online, modern firm of their own. This separate project is called Future Firm. There’s currently a consulting component to Future Firm, plus a free weekly newsletter that curates the top 5 pieces of news to help keep firms ahead of the curve. I also have plans to roll out other online resources as well.
From growing a cloud accounting firm from scratch all the way through to exit, I wanted to share my unique experience with others to help modernize in areas such as implementing the right technology, sourcing clients online and hiring & managing a remote workforce, just to name a few.
Top piece of advice?
Just Jump. Don’t overthink things. You’ll find your path. If you know there’s a need in the market, jump in to see where it takes you. Too many people wait on the side lines for too long waiting for things to be “just right” and end up getting nowhere.
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