After assuming the role of Executive Editor at CPA Practice Advisor in 2009, I had the great pleasure of meeting René Lacerte at an accounting trade show. I struck up a conversation with him and positive rapport was immediate.
Over the next four years, we became trusted colleagues and good friends. René is clearly one of those leaders who has a profound understanding of technology, the accounting profession, and business in general, which makes him an excellent selection for our spotlight executive series.
At the time René and I met, he explained how he had just removed himself from day-to-day management of his then online payroll company, PayCycle. He also explained that he was simultaneously launching a new business—Bill.com.
With the mindset of a true entrepreneur, René first identified specific issues and then developed the solutions to solve those issues; launched his companies; hired qualified, good-culture-fit employees; and provided the needed leadership that allowed his staff to grow the business.
There is a good lesson here for small firms. It’s been my experience that many firms are challenged in the areas of hiring the right people and applying the appropriate level of leadership to allow staff to expand business. Instead, many small firm owners build their business around their individual skill set and then wonder why their business model depends so heavily on them.
I recently sat down with René and talked with him about his background, how he has grown his two companies, and what he sees as the future of technology in the accounting profession.
Darren: René, tell me a little about your background.
René: I’m a fourth-generation entrepreneur, so it runs in my blood. Since the late 1950s, the majority of my family’s businesses have offered services for accountants and small businesses. I grew up learning about the challenges of managing cash flow, often around the kitchen table from my father and grandfather.
After getting a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in industrial engineering, I worked at Price Waterhouse as a staff accountant and then a consultant. I remember that the recruiting partner made the comment that the language of business is accounting.
That made perfect sense to me. I learned a ton at Price Waterhouse, but then that genetic itch to build something of my own overtook me. For a bit, I satisfied this itch by working for my parent’s payroll company, Certa Data Corporation. By the late 90s, I was working for Intuit where I was responsible for the bill payment, bill presentment, and payroll initiatives.
This only fueled my desire to start my own company, so I left Intuit in 1999 to launch PayCycle, which became the #1 online payroll solution (and was acquired by Intuit in 2009).
During my PayCycle years, I experienced the frustration of managing cash flow using manual, spreadsheet-dependent processes that often led to a lot of human error. I wanted to build a business, not battle spreadsheets, so with this newfound insight, I launched Bill.com to solve the problems I experienced running PayCycle.
Darren: Why did you decide to create solutions for the accounting profession and its clients?
René: As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a family that offered services to accountants. The night I was born, my mom was sorting punch cards for one of the largest accounting firms in Washington D.C., so I was quite literally born into it.
Ultimately, though, I love finance and helping people improve internal efficiencies. Also, I want to provide the profession with the right technology to support them in adding even more value to their services.
Darren: Where did you get the idea to deliver PayCycle through accounting firms?