Marcus Wagner of AcctTwo: “Beyond streamlining processes and operations”

Beyond streamlining processes and operations, we’ve seen digital transformation make companies more agile and better able to respond to unforeseen challenges. Our customer, BetterSpaces, was founded to provide landlords and midsized companies with the kinds of employee experiences you might see at Google or even at a WeWork co-working space. These services included events, design, […]

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Beyond streamlining processes and operations, we’ve seen digital transformation make companies more agile and better able to respond to unforeseen challenges. Our customer, BetterSpaces, was founded to provide landlords and midsized companies with the kinds of employee experiences you might see at Google or even at a WeWork co-working space. These services included events, design, snacks and other conveniences, and more.

As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcus Wagner.

Marcus Wagner is the Founder and CEO of AcctTwo. He has over 25 years of experience in finance and accounting, auditing, internal controls and risk management, system implementation, process design and re-engineering, finance transformation, outsourcing and shared services. Prior to founding AcctTwo, he was a Co-Founder, Partner and Advisory Practice Leader at Calvetti, Ferguson & Wagner, P.C., a Houston-based accounting firm. He started his career at Price Waterhouse LLP (now PwC) where he spent 11 years in audit and consulting and left as a Senior Manager. He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and 3 children.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

After working with large clients at PwC, I decided I really preferred working with medium-sized companies because I felt I could have a more meaningful impact on their success. So I co-founded a mid-market accounting firm. After seeing how much they struggled with their finance and accounting functions, I realized there was a huge opportunity to outsource that function for them. I also felt doing that required a great cloud-based technology platform, so ended up partnering with Sage Intacct. This pulled the company into the technology space and we’ve become a firm that lives at the intersection of finance & accounting, technology, and industry vertical expertise.

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

Well, our biggest mistake turned out to be one of our smartest moves, ironically. We had posted an opening for a junior-level sales person, really looking for a young, hungry business development person we could take as unmolded clay and turn into an experienced sales person. We ended up getting strong interest from a very experienced marketing and sales person who had been at a VP level and sales leadership role at several large companies. Even though he was way over-qualified, he was so interested in the AcctTwo story that he convinced us to hire him. It turns out he was one of our most strategic hires, has probably been responsible for closing 80%+ of all the sales deals in our history, and he just celebrated his 10-year anniversary with AcctTwo. Thank you, John Silver! We couldn’t have done it without you!

Is there a particular person whom you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

As we partnered with Sage Intacct, I got to know our Channel Executive, Peyton Burch, and we ended up becoming good friends. He had founded and sold a similar business to mine so had “been there, done that.” Peyton provided an incredible about of mentoring and leadership to me and my team. I credit a lot of our success to having him there to show us the ropes.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are many books that come to mind, but the one I end up referring back to and quoting the most is Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm”. It’s all about how new technologies get marketed and sold in the early days, starting with the Innovators and the Early Adopters, and then “crossing the chasm” to the Early and Late Majority as the product goes from being an experimental / niche product to a more widely accepted technology used by the masses. Geoffrey Moore has been a huge source of inspiration for me personally in a number of different areas. I recommend reading all of his books and listening to as many talks he’s given as you can.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Our purpose is to help CFOs use data to challenge the business and inform strategic and operational decision-making, transforming the Finance function into a strategic business asset, helping to build the company’s future. Although that’s recently been re-worded based on a recent major strategic repositioning, at its heart, that’s always what we’ve been about.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

I’ve been lucky enough over the past twenty years to see firsthand the shift to subscription billing models, starting with consumer products, and moving to sales, HR, and financial software for businesses. My company, AcctTwo, has been selling subscription software in the cloud since we first started out. We shifted our outsourced finance and accounting operations services, what we call “Finance-as-a-Service,” to a subscription model as well. One of the exciting things I’m working on now is to shift even the project work we do — whether it’s implementing software or consulting or developing new software or new functionality — shifting even those services to be delivered via subscription. This shift is exciting not only for what it means for my company, but what it can provide for our customers: instead of them having to pay a large one-time capital expenditure (CAPEX) up front when they purchase new financial management software, they can pay that cost as an operational expenditure (OPEX) over a period of time, which allows them to get up and running for less. Along with those implementation services, we will include other services like consulting, report building, training, and even development services as part of that same predictable subscription cost. This means our customers will be able to get even more value out of the system without a large one-time expense and without worrying about scoping each initiative and negotiating various SOWs for everything they need from us. We can provide a higher level of service for a more predictable cost and at the end of the day, have even more successful customers.

What is your definition of Digital Transformation? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation is a buzzword that’s been thrown around a lot for many years now and can mean a lot of things, or nothing at all. To me, digital transformation is really multiple things. First, moving from paper-based processes to digital processes. Second, moving from on-premises, server-based technologies that require companies to manage and secure their own technology to cloud-based, subscription solutions where customers gain access to enterprise level technology, made affordable by the economies of scale available with cloud software. These clouds apps are able to integrate with other such applications via APIs. Today, digital transformation means taking advantage of other technologies beyond the cloud — robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, video conferencing, etc., that allow companies to minimize or even eliminate manual processes. The ultimate goal of digital transformation is to provide business leaders with insights: real-time KPIs and metrics that allow them to make better, more proactive decisions.

Which companies or industries can benefit the most from Digital Transformation?

I think that all companies in all industries can (and must) benefit from digital transformation. It is no longer optional if companies want to be prepared for massive disruption, whether those are from market forces or from a global pandemic, or if they hope to remain competitive.

In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

Beyond streamlining processes and operations, we’ve seen digital transformation make companies more agile and better able to respond to unforeseen challenges. Our customer, BetterSpaces, was founded to provide landlords and midsized companies with the kinds of employee experiences you might see at Google or even at a WeWork co-working space. These services included events, design, snacks and other conveniences, and more. When the pandemic hit, BetterSpaces, a company that had already made the move to the cloud, was able to make a shift toward providing these experiences remotely by building an app where remote employees can go for yoga classes, meditation, and other experiences. The company also used video conferencing technologies to provide companies with curated employee experiences over Zoom. If BetterSpaces had been in a paper-based, on-premises technology environment, there’s a high likelihood they would have struggled to remain in business.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Along with the enormous opportunities presented by digital transformation, there are huge challenges for business leaders. The technology landscape is changing so quickly, and the trend is towards best-of-breed applications that excel in one particular functional area, rather than suites of applications that try to, unsuccessfully, to be everything to everyone. This means that business leaders need a strategic partner like AcctTwo who can always be at the forefront of technological innovation and can help them navigate the minefield and make the right choices.

Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

We’ve provided a video that covers each of these, which are:

  1. Make your business more resilient
  2. Increase the speed and efficiency of your business processes and make it easier to do business with you
  3. Foster innovation and collaboration between your employees
  4. Help you attract and retain top talent
  5. Help you gain competitive advantage

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

So there are a lot of things companies can do here. First, show employees that they are rewarded, not punished, for coming up with new ideas, even if not all of them are good ones or get implemented. Lifting up and praising innovation is very important. Second, create the mechanisms and media for employees to do that. For example, set up a Slack channel or other group collaboration space where employees are encouraged to share new ideas. Third, make sure your mission, vision and values specifically call out innovation. In our early days, our vision statement included, “We believe there’s always a better way of doing things,” and, “We love using technology to do amazing things.” I think this question really goes to culture. You have to create a culture of innovation and reinforce that as many ways as you can.

Is there a particular quote that resonates with you personally or professionally? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s funny, I just used this quote today from Vince Lombardi: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” I love that quote because, at the heart of what my company does, and what motivates me every day, is to strive for perfection, efficiency, automation, excellence. And it’s never 100% attainable. But if we keep chasing it, we can do amazing things.

How can our readers further follow your work?

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