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

Kenji Kuramoto 9:35

probably like many stories in the early days, where it was tough. It was exciting, very, very exciting. And when I promised my wife she was pregnant out here, and she’s a teeny little thing anyway, she was pregnant up here with our second child, and I said, Hey, I want to go do this. Thankfully, she comes from an entrepreneurial family, even though I don’t so she was much more accepting of this and I told her, Hey, listen, if this doesn’t work out, You know, I’ll go back and, and just go back and do a CFO job somewhere and have an interesting story to tell while I’m going through hiring and recruiting processes. So we gave it, you know, six months, 12 months, and then it kind of started rolling a bit, but it was definitely challenging, especially that she had stopped working or taking care of the kids at home. And I think there were a lot of my former colleagues who are kind of going one Rosie doing right. And there was a bit of ego there. I mean, there was certainly working for a global big organization, like we were at Arthur Andersen and watching other people go into public companies and do this very much high powered corporate work. And here I am, you know, working out of a broom closet, you know, trying to stand up a website for the first time back in 2004, and business cards and things like that. And it was concerning. It was something I was a little worried about, like, Am I damaging? And I’ve done all these things to build up credibility. Am I now going out? And am I going to damage those? That said, I certainly felt so much more at peace, right? There was some financial stress, things like that. But I felt much more like this is this is the place I need to be in because now I’m out kind of working with people. And the reason the whole reason I started Acuity was because I have this background in kind of startups. I just started meeting other startup founders. And they would say, oh, you’re the CFO of a startup, hey, I’ve got some questions about capital raising, or I’ve got a bead to help on a pro forma model, can I buy a lunch or buy a beer or something like that and just talk to you about it, I was doing that it was so much fun, I was having a ton of fun doing that. And that’s really where it came from going, Well, maybe I can fractionalize my time and pick up a few different clients. And, these are fun conversations to be having meeting more and more people. And that was very interesting to me, because that’s the one thing I did miss about public accounting was, it didn’t give you the option to be in Client Services. So you got to see lots of different environments and experiences and people. The work I hated when I was in public accounting, I just despise doing audits. But there was a nice component of it, where you worked with a lot of smart people. And you also got to serve a lot of different clients. So the work was never monotonous. You were in the same environment all the time. So I was looking to kind of resurrect and bring some of that back into my life. I just didn’t want to do the same work product that we had been delivering as auditors in public accounting. I’m like, that’s got to change. That’s just something I just can’t stomach doing.

John Corcoran 12:28

And you know, accounting, like law, is a very antiquated industry, and you knew you wanted to do something different. And I mentioned in the introduction in the beginning that you wanted to create a firm whose first priority was that of employees’ well-being. So talk a little bit about the choice to put that front and center, and how that’s had an influence on the business. Do clients care about that sort of thing? Does it attract clients who care about that sort of thing? and any other things that you did in order to differentiate yourself in this kind of antiquated industry that you were in?

Kenji Kuramoto 12:58

you initially we didn’t go that direction, John, it was just can we get clients? And can we serve them? And what we started finding was that as we began hiring, the people that enjoyed the work the most were people who had gone in, worked in and worked in public accounting and corporate America, and maybe taking some time off to raise your family and kind of want to didn’t want to work the same 60 80 hour a week grind. Which accounting is notorious for I think it’s probably very similar. When you think about law firm hours, everything’s utilization and Bill rate, you’re just kind of in the, in the hours machine kind of getting ground up. And so we started finding people to work with. Yeah, I’m part time. I really enjoyed this, and it is working out well for us. I was a little embarrassed in the early years because of claggett. Thinking, gosh, of clients know that basically, most of our staff are a bunch of part time parents, right. I don’t know if that’s going to bode well. Well, that was a completely ridiculous notion, because in talking to some clients, one of them mentioned that they said, Oh, you’re kidding me. We love your team, your team is fantastic. And so it kind of started dawning on us of well, wait a minute, we’re getting these really high quality people, what we’re doing is we’re not going to be able to compete with Deloitte, Ernst and Young on these comp plans and the crazy intricate work but from a, the way that we treat the team allowing them to pick how many hours they want to work a week, where they want to work from. We’ve been our remote company for a long, long time. And it was a different notion in our space. Not many people were doing that. And we were starting to get all these people going, wait a minute, the quality of life and the integration you guys have in the balance there is something we haven’t really seen in the accounting profession. So that was one of the reasons why I left public accounting because I had some bad experiences with how out of balance it was. And so we really started leaning into that and we saw Wow, this is something that our team if we focus on the wellness of the team, because As as much as we are a very tech forward accounting firm, and the people are still the product, they’re going to be that way and accounting and law for some time. And so it’s a demonstrable difference for us as a business to have great people and for us to compete on wellness, and how do we have a balanced lifestyle? How do we use it? It’s been important. So we’ve been very mindful about Yep, every single team member gets to pick and has always been able to pick where they work from, how much time they work, you know, our compensation plans are built around allowing people that space to do that. Lots of benefits for families, we are doing some things right now to pursue becoming a certified B Corp, which is a benefit Corp. So we’re doing some things that we’re really hearing our team say that is important to them, you know, a place that they’re proud to work at, that it gives them great balance and control in their life. And we’re out doing some good things out there for clients and for others in the community, which is just a very different notion that not I don’t want to paint entirely. The accounting field historically, it’s just a bunch of bad corporate kind of things there. But I have many friends who still work in it, and it’s great, but it can really grind you up a bit. And we’ve found that’s a great way to distinguish ourselves. And we’re not going to compete against that we’re going to go and be a bit different by focusing on. Yeah, you know, creating a great environment for the team.

John Corcoran 16:21

And I want to ask you, as you mentioned, you embrace technology, you embrace cloud computing, that sort of thing. You have a video up on YouTube that I saw that was explaining, you know, for a startup, the things that they should do, one of the things he recommended was like getting started in QuickBooks Online, automating a bunch of different pieces. I had a bad experience with a bookkeeper A while back, who was very controlling on their QuickBooks desktop version that they liked having on their computer. I saw it once a year, I wasn’t looking at my books at all. And I kept asking him about Should I do QuickBooks Online? What’s that? Like? How’s that working? He would shit on it be like, No, no, no, you don’t want that. That’s horrible. And then after Jeremy and I became business partners, we switched. I was like, This is regulatory, I have so much more access. And we switched to a different bookkeeping firm. But what I will ask you about is, where’s there’s a fine line, right, as technology comes along? That’s going to displace workers in the accounting profession, the legal profession, I think it’s influencing as well. So how do you walk the total line there?

Kenji Kuramoto 17:29

We’ve found the key is to remind our team that we’re knowledge workers, we’re always going to be knowledge workers, and we should be thankful and grateful that you know, her, we’re in, you know, where this state of the world and the jobs that we have our knowledge base in, you know, we’re not out having to do some of the hard work that I beat the horrible at swinging a hammer or doing the things that many people can do that I can’t. And that we need to keep moving our skill set, holding in the knowledge space, because what we’re seeing is technologies becoming really, really good at taking some of the menial tasks off, there’s probably many of them, that you know, you were having to do in your law firm that we did in accounting, very menial tasks that we’ve got very competent staff, people who’ve trained to become CPA. So you’ve worked hard in your career and are going to get a lot of menial tasks in there, we’re happy to automate those. And those who are somewhat disruptive to lower level staff are people doing that our job as the employer is to make sure they get the professional development, they’re moving themselves up. And they’re really seeing themselves as a knowledge worker, I’m not a menial worker, who’s just clicking a button or reconciling an account, and your experience that you had, you know, with your accountant on QuickBooks desktop, you know, and then shitting all over. That’s very common. That was really common back then, too, because some of that comes from a fear, I think that all of us have, particularly I would say it’s pronounced in our profession is a fear of change. And my job is being taken away. I think accountants are probably some of the worst for being risk averse. So change is really viewed very skeptical and as a very much a threat. And we’ve definitely changed it, at least at A

cuity trying to be like, hey, that is such a great opportunity. So we’ve really leaned into those tool sets. And yeah, it creates some disruption. I think our team gets, we’re having to juggle so many different pieces of software these days.

John Corcoran 19:23

Yeah, there’s a lot, there’s a ton. I mean, companies make a decision that we’re just going to stick to these, we’re only gonna use these but you haven’t done that.

Kenji Kuramoto 19:31

We haven’t done that, you know, we change them out fairly frequently based on what we find that customers need, because the thing we keep hearing over and over again, is most small business root. You know, first of all small businesses, the number one thing they despise most about being a small business owner is having to deal with back office tasks like bookkeeping and things right? Nobody gets into their business; they can’t stand that. The other piece is if they’re outsourcing the experience you had and they look at their business. The one component that is the most antiquated or in the dark ages of the business is always the accounting and right. And so what we said is we actually want them, we work with a ton of startups and venture backed companies. And so we have actually a really good benefit that we have clients who are super open to all kinds of new technology solutions. So we’re trying to make sure that the accounting function matches the same aptitude and technical ability that the marketing function and the sales function is, we don’t want the accounting function to be the one that’s still sitting there on some server or some guy’s desktop in the back office somewhere. So when we put ourselves in the perspective of the client standpoint, and really listen and engage and talk to them, we’re hearing such you know, strong, like, yes, please give me the data there because nobody wants to get any more like your experience, John. Oh, my books I get once a month. And I’m stuck on this, because that’s what my CPA likes to integrate with their tax software. But that’s a terrible answer. It’s a really, yeah, answer for a business owner. So yeah, we’ve we’ve loved that we’ve loved it helped that myself, my co founder, and I’ve always worked in tax. So we’ve had a very strong bias toward using it. But many people do look at it as a threat to right progression in the lower level people in fashion.

John Corcoran 21:10

Now, for those listening to this who don’t know, kind of the different hierarchy, there’s a CFO, there’s a controller, there’s a bookkeeper, there’s kind of different levels here. And you started with CFO kind of started at the top, the highest level most valuable service and then you’ve added other ones below there. So when do companies know what they should be using? And when should they be layering and adding more of those? And how do you screen you know, add those as you go along?

Kenji Kuramoto 21:41

The bookkeeping is pretty easy. I mean, pretty much everybody needs something to be able to keep historical transactions in order How is tell business owners, as soon as you’re tired of doing it, you know, think about, they can think about a couple of things between us and other providers out there in the space, you can get someone for a couple 100 bucks a month to manage your books, the basic bookkeeping, so when you first started and you’re pinching pennies, and maybe you want, maybe you’re interested in looking at all your transactions, sure, the business owner can go and use something like QuickBooks Online or 01 of the cloud based tools, it’s pretty easy. They just do it themselves. But it becomes more than I call a $300 a month headache, like you know, and you’re like, forget it, I don’t want to deal with it. There’s plenty of options out there to get someone to do that. Now, the higher level functions, I’ll just jump to the CFO side. What we tell people there is 100% of a CFOs work should all be forward looking. So almost most accounting is done retroactively, a transaction you, the customer pays, you send him a bill and you got to record that some way that things already happened, he’s got to record it, CFO work should be all forward looking. So one of the ways I just try to very simply advise small businesses, think about how many things you really have that are prospective or forward looking, maybe when you just get started need a little bit of help on a budget, right? Now a little bit of some planning, so you might need a little bit of CFO work. But then when we see our clients do things like doing capital raises, which many of them do sophisticated forecasting, those are activities, anything that is out the front window, forward looking should be when you start thinking of you know what I should probably look for a CFO. And now the good thing is the market has really matured to where there’s a lot of outsourced CFOs you can get we started 17 years ago, it was a huge nuisance for us explaining to people that hey, we weren’t a CPA firm doing taxes, we were actually outsourced CFOs that you can actually get someone on a fractional basis, but that’s much more common. So yeah, that delineation of when it becomes something you’re trying to predict in the future. And it’s got a financial component, that’s usually a good sign. If you get a lot of that or recurs quite a bit. That’s a good sign to say, hey, it’s probably time to start thinking about engaging a CFO in some shape or form for a few hours, a week or a month.

John Corcoran 23:54

Right. And of course, you have to have the metrics there. Also, one thing I discovered recently, not too recently, a little while back in our business, was that the various different software tools that we were using, were not properly set up in order to track and be able to have those forward looking metrics to for a CFO to be able to look at what you’re doing and make, you know, give advice on it.

Kenji Kuramoto 24:20

Yeah, yeah, we had when we, when we launched our bookkeeping. Again, something I said I would never do. And again, this was probably ego shortsightedness on my part, coming out of you know, CPA coming out of the, you know, Arthur Andersen kept thinking bookkeeping. Now we’re not ever going to do something like bookkeeping, but what we were finding was we couldn’t get to allow the good CFO or class wanted us to do it because the underlying books were in terrible shape. And so we kept running into that and it was frustrating. And then finally I had a client of ours who was really became a really good friend who just said, hey, let’s and had a great tech company is running and we just kind of sat down one day and read He just did a lot of talking about like, Okay, what if I could use this kind of very technology oriented? What if, what if we got the bookkeeping to look like this, and this week sat down and kind of sketched it off together, but didn’t really with one of our existing clients, because he was like, Listen, I’ll be your first client to sign up for it, if you could just do it, because I hate it. And I don’t want to hire another bookkeeper off Craigslist, I really don’t want to do that. So he was some of our early customers who, who really kind of gave us that, like, you know, that charge to kind of move forward. And it’s just spent time talking to them and got it going. And that’s actually today, our bookkeeping practice is much larger than our CFO practices. 

John Corcoran 25:35

Wow, that’s interesting. I was funny when you resist something, and that ends up being I know. That’s wild. Well, I want to know if we’re running short on time. So I’ll wrap things up with the three questions that I enjoy asking. So first, you know, a reflection on what we’re doing right now, which is we’re creating content. And we’re sharing wisdom with the world, you know, pushing it forward, and delivering value to others, and building relationships with each other, and the audience. And you do that as well through your YouTube channel. So share some wisdom of what you’ve learned through the YouTube show that you’ve been doing, which is a lot of fun.

Kenji Kuramoto 26:18

Yeah, so wisdom, you know, wisdom while we’re sitting here drinking, Oh, my gosh, but and again, that the premise of this, we call it Drink While You Think and the backstory is, my business partner and I, we’ve done blogging before, we need to always focus on content for the website, and inbound. And we were, you know, we thought, well, what’s something else that we need to focus on, we thought about video, and however, we weren’t sure what to really put out on video. So we thought, What’s going to be easy to do on a regular basis that we’re not going to just come up with?” Okay, let’s do a video. And we’re gonna get tired of it in a month and stop doing it. We’ve done that numerous times with newsletters over the years and things like that, and we just get so tired of it. And so we thought, Well, if we both like talking about entrepreneurial things, things that are kind of irrelevant in our space. We love having a beer with our friends. What if we literally just videoed us having a conversation while having some beers with our friends talking about interesting things in the space interesting to us at least. And so we did that as a way for us to get more comfortable in front of the camera in front of the microphone in a very non threatening manner. And one that also that we could kind of look forward to I mean, honestly, we do be filming every Friday afternoon, late afternoon. So we kind of always look, it’s like a little bit of our happy hour decompress at the end of the week. And we honestly Look forward to it. And so it’s made it very easily repeatable. And what it did is kind of built up some competence in us to just get on and talk. And what we found is, we were probably overthinking content for a long time. I mean, just, we had to write the exact right thing to get someone in there. And what we found is that by just having a conversation, we’ve had more people with whether it’s new employees who said, Hey, I joined up with you guys, because I happen to watch some of those videos. I just really liked the vibe. We’ve had clients who people have signed up to as clients who said, Hey, it was important to me, I was meaningful. Like, I know you guys do the work. But I can imagine myself sitting down having a beer with the two of you . That’s meaningful for me and someone I’m going to work with. So a few things there. I just talked to another firm owner this morning, who said, Hey, I wanted to ask you a question about something you talked to him about a couple months ago, while you were out having beer, this is around Thanksgiving time. And you know about it since then. 

John Corcoran 28:33

That’s cool.

Kenji Kuramoto 28:35

And we just had a time on the calendar to talk this morning. And so I would really encourage people to get creative and don’t be so concerned about whether it is going to look or sound professional, just get in the habit of doing it. And I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many meaningful points of contact may come out of just having the courage to start something and kind of repeat it. So yeah, it’s been fun. It’s been a lot of fun for us, we have actually given a sponsor to someone as a sponsor. Now, we’ve joked that sponsorship for our video series only requires people sending us beer and a company out of Minnesota sent us a whole bunch of beer there. They’ve been our sponsor. 

John Corcoran 29:17

So nice. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I think it’s wonderful that you do that. But you gotta do it Monday morning, you know, just start off the week. Right? You know, it’s kind of a cop out. Like, imagine what it would be like if you’re gonna do a show like that on Friday afternoon, but Monday morning, that would be different. All right. Last two questions. I’m a big fan of gratitude. So if you look around at your peers or your contemporaries however you define that it could be other hours, could be other business owners, clients, whatever you want to define it could be respect to you admire.

Kenji Kuramoto 29:47

I’ll throw up Brad Stevens. You mentioned Brad here earlier. He is a dear dear friend of mine. He’s an email member. He was our president here in Atlanta this past year and an amazing job Brad is someone who I’m just incredibly grateful for his friendship and Especially how much access we call source access. And we’ve worked together and we’ve helped each other in so many ways in our businesses. So Brad’s been incredible. My business partner, Matthew May, if you were here, I wouldn’t want to say so we’d love to give each other a hard time. But he has the benefits of having a great partner that will never be lost. I mean, he is the best partner I could have. We are our great dear, dear friends, and we love doing business together, the business would never be in the shape it is today without him joining. He joined about seven, eight years ago. And he’s just been phenomenal. So I’m so grateful to Matthew and Brad, also my wife, I know, it’s not the only but she is an amazing entrepreneur herself using the accelerator program in Atlanta until she sold her company and got acquired. So she didn’t go to iOS. She didn’t get there because her company got acquired. And she’s still probably the most inspiring entrepreneur to me. And it’s great because she gets to sit, you know, I could wave to her in the other room there, you know, working from home here and having a great entrepreneur like her right here in the same household is fantastic. So I’m very, very grateful for her too.

John Corcoran 31:09

That’s great. All right. And then final question, let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys. You are being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for everything you’ve done up until this point. And who do you think, you know, in addition to family and friends? Who are the colleagues who are the mentors and the peers of the business partner, so the investors, who are the people you would acknowledge in your remarks?

Kenji Kuramoto 31:30

Again, I go back to Matthew on that, I’d have to thank him, my my eo forum, and just not to make this an advertisement for Yo, but we’ve been in the same forum for seven years. And that group has been my advisory board, my group of accountability. So my entire forum, there were a few who have come and gone would be there as well. Those would be the ones who I think for me are certainly the most meaningful who would want to be with me through life who have seen kind of the ups and downs certainly outside of my family members. And then I’d say one other person who I got the name of Steve Braskamp who has been my I’m the oldest in my family, but he is my big brother. I followed him off to college. I followed him kind of around. He’s a very very high level executive, not Capital One, but I still talk to him as my best man at my wedding. I talk to him every week and I get so much advice from him. So there’s many places I would not be here in life without Steve, Matthew and my EO form. 

John Corcoran 32:29

All right Kenji, is the website. Where else can people go to learn more about, connect with you, or ask you a question if they have one.

Kenji Kuramoto 32:38

Sure come check us out just type in drink while you think on YouTube. If you want to get a sense of what me and Matt talk about, post a comment. You can also find me on Twitter at just Kenji Kuramoto, you can find me there but also on LinkedIn under Kenji Kuramoto. Would love to connect with you. If you have any questions around accounting, financial space or angel investing or things we’re doing, please reach out Connect. 

John Corcoran 32:55

Awesome Kenji. Alright. Thanks so much. Thanks, John.

Outro 33:03

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.