Kenji Kuramoto | Managing Your Business Money, When to Hire a CFO, and Disrupting the Accounting Industry
Kenji Kuramoto
Smart Business Revolution

Kenji Kuramoto is the Founder and CEO of Acuity, which builds and maintains financial functions for entrepreneurs and startups. Through Acuity, he has provided thousands of companies with a full range of financial solutions from high-level strategic financial counsel through its fractional CFO practice all the way to virtualized bookkeeping solutions for early-stage startups. His core business mission is to provide scalable financial solutions for entrepreneurs so that their main focus can be growing their company.

Kenji is also an active angel investor primarily focused on providing capital for his clients. He is a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Atlanta where he is involved in its leadership. He also hosts a YouTube channel called Drink While You Think with his business partner, Matthew May.

Kenji Kuramoto, the Founder and CEO of Acuity, is John Corcoran’s guest in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where they talk about managing money and providing bookkeeping and accounting services. Kenji also explains how his CPA background helped him build Acuity and how he uses technology to grow his firm.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Kenji Kuramoto’s experience working as a CPA 
  • Kenji explains how his father’s best friend impacted him 
  • The early days of starting Acuity — and why Kenji’s first priority for the business is employees’ wellbeing
  • How Kenji embraces technology and automation at Acuity
  • How you can recognize the right time to hire or outsource CFO services
  • What Kenji has learned from having a YouTube channel and sharing content online
  • Kenji talks about the peers he respects and those he acknowledges for his achievements
  • Where to learn more and get in touch with Kenji Kuramoto

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:41

All right. Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of this show and it’s such a pleasure every week I get to talk to smart CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, of a range of companies ranging from YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, Lendingtree, Opentable, Ace Software, and many more. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here is Kenji. He’s the founder and CEO of Acuity where he’s on a mission to disrupt the antiquated accounting industry creating a firm, that’s first priority is its employees well being which is such an interesting mission. We’re going to ask all about that, why that is so front and center and how that helps from a business perspective. He is also an active angel investor, primarily focusing and putting capital into clients of his accounting firm. And we’ll ask you about that as well. He is also active in EO Atlanta. And a quick shout out to Brad Stevens who introduced us, a past guest, and he’s been involved with leadership there and also on the global membership committee. And he also has a show on YouTube. It’s called the Drink While You Think. The video shows my own heart, where you have to have a beer in your hand to go on the show. I love it. God when will I get invited on to one, that sounds great. Maybe if I play my cards right in this interview, I can do it. 

Alright, so for those of you who don’t know, of course, this is brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships. If you’ve ever been curious about content and networking and relationship building, and driving business forward, give us a call or shoot us an email at [email protected]. I’m happy to chat your ear off about it. Alright, Kenji, it’s a pleasure to have you here. And, so, yeah, we were chatting beforehand and I think you’re a little bit left brained a little bit right brained just like I am, you got the wonky side to you. And then you got the more outward extrovert side to you. It sounds like but you know, when you started Acuity about 17 years ago, I guess did 2004 correct? Yep. 1004 did you feel like a little bit of an odd duck? Since you’re not the traditional green eyeshade classes kind of accountant?

Kenji Kuramoto 2:50

Well, John, first, thanks so much for having me on. I’m super pumped to be part of the revolution here. And so. But yeah, I did feel a little bit different. I think you and I share something probably that left right brain I have described myself for many, many years as a recovering CPA, I think I’ve noticed you’ve talked about yourself

John Corcoran 3:08

I am a recovering lawyer. Yeah, for show, because everyone hates lawyers. But if I say that it kind of takes the sting out of it a little bit.

Kenji Kuramoto 3:15

It does take a little self deprecating. And so I think we share that I got into accounting, in a weird way. I think that that was a great path into entrepreneurship and ended up being a good path into entrepreneurship for me but as a kid, the guy I looked up to was my dad’s best friend who’s an entrepreneur, he had an accounting degree. And literally as like a 1617 year old, I just thought, well, that’s in my naive brain. Well, that’s why I need to go and study to become an entrepreneur. And I’m glad it worked out. But once I was certainly in the mix of it, certainly doing all my undergraduate studies, sitting for the CPA exam, working in a big, large global public accounting firm, it felt like the furthest thing in the world away from being an entrepreneur. And I think that’s a little bit where that right and left brain started to kind of emerge. I’ve always been a very relational outgoing person. And so being inside of an accounting organization, rather large one, started feeling pretty constricting to that. So, you know, that led up to at least leaving, I was at this global public accounting firm. Then during the boom of 2000, late 90s 2000. I jumped out to become the controller rather than the CFO of a tech company.

John Corcoran 4:37

And when you were at Arthur Andersen, right, it was Yeah, which now I was. I can’t remember exactly when Arthur Andersen kind of got cratered through the whole Enron crisis. I was a speechwriter for governor California at that time, so we were obviously actively involved in the energy crisis. And Ron and and Arthur Andersen is all involved was was that Did you leave around the time that it cratered, or before

Kenji Kuramoto 5:02

I snuck out just beforehand, so that was probably my guess and then you must eat later guys that you shall be trading probably in the early 2000s. Because that’s when that’s when things went down. Yeah. With Enron, I’d already kind of got out in a very different office. But it was, it was crazy. It was crazy watching that kind of implode this, that probably also had an interesting effect on me too, because at least when I was in that firm, it felt like, well, this is just the monolithic, super stable, safe place to work. And so going to something kind of entrepreneur, you know, entrepreneurial, smaller, felt kinda a little scary. And then as soon as I had been there for a couple years at this startup, then to watch my previous employer, you know, one of the largest accounting firms in the world completely implode. consec a little bit of that going well, okay, wait a minute, that’s no, nowhere near as secure as maybe I was. We all were led to believe. So what’s the harm in trying to do something a little bit more entrepreneurial? So yeah, that was interesting. Interesting. 

John Corcoran 6:06

Time for that to affect you like that? Yeah, it is weird. I had that where I’ve had employers that imploded after I left, hopefully, it wasn’t my doing, but it’s a weird feeling to see that, you know, see that happen. You feel sad for colleagues and stuff like that. But um, you mentioned this, your father’s best friend, what else was it about him that you looked up to? Other than his accounting degree?

Kenji Kuramoto 6:30

Well, in very similar ways to probably being very right, left brain, probably the most outgoing gregarious person I knew, like, I always remember, I used to work for him and kind of intern for him in the summers. And he would always answer his phone, no matter who’s calling you. And he just said this big Hello. And it was this very, like, it’s always remembering little things like that about him. But he was just, he still is to this day, I still am close with him. extremely warm and welcoming. He just seemed like a very, very genuinely happy guy. And also, I’m looking at it from the outside as a young person going incredibly successful in the businesses he was building and creating. So I saw the two of those things and thought, Well, those are certainly possible, right? having financial success and business success and, and knowing their family, well, being a very just happy kind of guys. Well, there too. So I think that impacted me significantly. My dad was a doctor. In fact, I broke a long lineage of health care professionals, my grandfather was too. And I saw them both work like crazy. And

John Corcoran 7:37

he was like, I’m gonna be an entrepreneur, so I don’t have to work hard.

Kenji Kuramoto 7:40

Yeah, exactly. And that in that naive way that you think as a kid, and you realize that it’s just a different, you know, a different, that was a profession, my dad shows, and he was helping save lives and did a lot of work on things like people in car accidents, and pretty traumatic events. So you had to be kind of ready and on call for things. And so also to things like the sight of blood freaked me out, still, DSL was probably not cut out for that line of work. But yeah, I think it kind of, I was looking for a different path there. And I was getting very, it was very helpful that I had family who were like, hey, that’s fine, proceed that you don’t have to kind of live on some line of having another medical professional in the household. Yeah, so I was looking out there for people, mentors, people ahead of me, but I could, I’ve never been a very abstract thinker, I’ve always thought of myself as being pretty concrete. So for me, I like to look for examples of other people, and then try to follow those paths. So that’s how I ended up in accounting. And then my concern was, once I was there was oh my gosh, I’m never gonna get out of this world. It’s just very compliant oriented, and it’s going to be, it’s going to crush any kind of creative spirit or outgoing nature I have, and thankfully, in 2004, saw an opportunity to start Acuity and found a way to start kind of blending some of those things together by bringing you in the entrepreneurial side, along with a very technical accounting background, which, again, maybe I don’t know if that’s similar to your story, John, with, you know, how yours emerged. But yeah, it’s been good now to have both sides of those brains. I think I can kind of lean on them a little bit more effectively. Now, as I’m a little bit further in my career.

John Corcoran 9:12

And so I imagine your family members, and your friends looking at you. And it’s like Arthur Andersen to start up down to his own company, kind of going backwards, right, which actually kind of parallels my path from the start at the White House. And I’ve been working my way down throughout my entire career. But what was it like in the early days,