Catherine Dahl of Beanworks: “My tricks of the trade”

My tricks of the trade: take regular breaks throughout the work day, take vacations every quarter when possible and, now during the global pandemic, stick a mask on and go for a walk! Tuesday afternoons at Beanworks, we do company-wide “Tuesday Trivia” to foster camaraderie during this period of remote work. Do what you can […]

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My tricks of the trade: take regular breaks throughout the work day, take vacations every quarter when possible and, now during the global pandemic, stick a mask on and go for a walk! Tuesday afternoons at Beanworks, we do company-wide “Tuesday Trivia” to foster camaraderie during this period of remote work. Do what you can to re-energize yourself and take care of yourself during these challenging times.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine Dahl.

Catherine Dahl is the co-founder and CEO of Beanworks, the industry-leading accounting automation software company that is trailblazing modern accounting workflows. As a CPA and CMA professional, she knows first-hand the challenges of outdated financial management practices and is dedicated to driving change through innovation.

Catherine co-founded her thriving company from the ground up, drawing from her more than 25 years of operational accounting and management experience, and unwavering determination. Catherine is highly esteemed in the fintech community, and was recently named a finalist in the 2020 BC Tech Association’s Technology Impact Awards’ Person of the Year category.

At Catherine’s helm, Beanworks was recognized by CIX as one of Canada’s Most Innovative Tech Companies for 2020. By winning the regional at CIX, Beanworks will represent all of Canada at the Startup World Cup world finals in 2021.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

My career journey has included many exciting twists and turns. My company, Beanworks, evolved out of a former company called Bean Services. I was the Chief Operating Officer, and later, I was named co-founder of the company. I was brought into the picture for my domain expertise in accounting, as I was particularly well-versed in automating accounts payable workflows. Our goal with Bean Services was to replace the paper method in accounting, but that company couldn’t scale, and abruptly ended in December 2011.

Over the Christmas holiday in 2011, we negotiated a management buyout of that company, purchasing the intellectual property, customers and contracts. In 2012, Beanworks was born.

Back then, it was early days for automation. We were taking a big, though calculated, risk starting Beanworks. Though it was risky, I stuck around through the ups and downs, as I’ve always strongly believed accounting automation was the future. I knew I wanted to be at the forefront of that change.

We took about three to four years to rebuild the platform and transfer customers over, so by 2015, we were really ready to go to market and pump up the volume on our product. We knew we had something really special, and started ramping up our sales efforts to get the Beanworks solution to market.

Over the last couple of years, Beanworks’ revenue has been going through the roof. We’ve been doubling our revenue every year for the last three years, and have expanded globally. It’s been quite a journey, and this is just the beginning!

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

As Beanworks co-founder and CEO, I am on the cutting edge of the latest in accounting automation innovation. With more than 25 years of operational accounting and management experience, I am an expert in what I do and truly enjoy sharing my perspective and experiences with others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

My career started in the restaurant industry at Olive Garden in Ottawa, Ontario. In those days, you could still get into a Management in Trainee program, and it was a 12-month program. The “OG” as we called it, stressed great training. Olive Garden was and is today a Scaling Up, or Rockefeller Habits, company. I learned (sometimes the hard way) all my management fundamentals in my five years at Olive Garden.

Only now that I run a Scaling Up company myself do I see what Olive Garden was doing back then. I can still recite the company’s four core values today! Many years later, I still have the “OG” staff in my life. You never know how important your first professional role will be in your career.

After 4.5 years working seven days a week, I pivoted to accounting because I loved process management, and I focused on management accounting. It’s still my favorite business topic and remains the foundation of my strategic thought and management process. I learned that you can start a path and move to another and still leverage all of those experiences later in life for success.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I made all sorts of mistakes when starting out. When founding Beanworks, I told my co-founders we could rebuild the platform and move our customers over in 13 months, as that seemed reasonable at the time. Now, looking back, I think, “what a ridiculous idea!” There was no way we were going to pull that off. It ended up taking around five years to do what I had estimated we could do in 13 months.

Those kinds of experiences build character. Set a timeline that feels feasible, but turns out it isn’t? Adapt. Move forward. Now, my co-founders and I laugh about that story. We learned a lot from that.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

When I think of thought leaders, I think of people like Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, and Canadian businesswoman Arlene Dickinson.

A thought leader is a subject matter expert. They communicate well, can speak about their domain expertise fluently and teach others things they don’t know. Thought leaders are generally committed to constant learning, and they’re passionate about sharing those learnings with others to advance their field.

You can’t be a thought leader without domain expertise. Subject mastery, and a strong perspective on that subject, are critical first steps on the road to thought leadership.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

It’s invaluable to invest time and energy in becoming an expert in your field, and sharing your knowledge and unique point of view with others. The list of benefits goes on and on. Providing people with valuable information on a regular basis builds credibility. Your peers and customers will respect you, and potential customers will be more likely to choose you over a competitor with whom they don’t have this established trust.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Thought leadership helps with product validation, so our customers feel confident in their decision to buy our products. When I demonstrate my expert-level knowledge of the accounting automation space through blog posts or industry speaking engagements, that validates to our current and future potential customers that we’re building a product that is designed to help them. It fosters authenticity and trust.

Thought leadership is also important for those leading teams. I consider myself not only a thought leader on accounting automation, but also on diversity in technology, which has helped us at Beanworks entice and retain top talent. People see me speak at industry events about my experience as a female in technology and my company’s commitment to diversity in the workplace, and they’re drawn to that openness and honesty. Thought leadership builds rapport. And, nine times out of ten, our diverse leadership team and staff is an important factor in new employees’ decision to work for our company.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

Becoming an expert on any given topic doesn’t happen overnight. And even once you’ve reached expert status, the work’s not over there! You’ve got to constantly refine your skills.

Here are five strategies that I’ve found effective, and would recommend to those looking to become a thought leader in their industry:

  1. Figure out what you’re an expert in.
  2. Share your knowledge with others. For example, you can speak on panels, write blog posts and network at industry events.
  3. Don’t be afraid to share your unique (and sometimes disruptive) takes.
  4. Be authentic.
  5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

There are so many. In addition to those I mentioned earlier, I’d say: Shannon Susko, the accomplished author, serial entrepreneur and business coach; Simon Sinek, author and inspirational speaker; and David Skok, serial entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist. All are experts in their field, truly authentic and captivating leaders.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

Sure, the term has definitely become highly popularized in the last several years. Though it can be a bit overused from time to time, simply put, I believe genuine thought leaders are more important now than ever.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

My tricks of the trade: take regular breaks throughout the work day, take vacations every quarter when possible and, now during the global pandemic, stick a mask on and go for a walk! Tuesday afternoons at Beanworks, we do company-wide “Tuesday Trivia” to foster camaraderie during this period of remote work. Do what you can to re-energize yourself and take care of yourself during these challenging times.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

From a professional perspective, that’s what I strive to do: bring a great product to those who need it. Every company on the planet has an accounting department, and my professional goal is to make their lives easier and better.

Contributing to the movement of women in technology is another big priority for me. I’m committed to lending my voice to conversations about gender equity and diversity in the workplace.

And finally, one of my longer-term plans is to set up a foundation to help women leave abusive relationships from a financial perspective.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’d say the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Never, never give up! During the first two years of starting my business, on a daily basis, I had to remind myself of these wise words.

Be tenacious because you never know when it’ll pay off. Through the ups and downs, not giving up on Beanworks was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

This question has got to be one of my favorites. I’d love to grab lunch with Kamala Harris!

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me on Twitter at @cathbeanCEO.

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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