René: This is a great question. I remember the day we came up with this. It was at the Los Altos office. We had just learned that our original strategy for PayCycle had some legal issues, and that meant we needed to change course.
I went for a walk with my co-founder Martin Gates to discuss options. While walking, we discussed how many firms perform payroll because they felt they had to in order to keep a client…not because they wanted to. We discussed the power of the Internet and how it would allow firms to become mini-payroll service firms. We were very excited. That day, I visited my accountant and started our first focus group.
Darren: Today there are many web-based solutions. Of course, you were using the Web as a delivery platform years ago. How did you know 10 years ago that this was the way to go?
René: I realized the power of the Web in 1995 while at Intuit. We were reviewing Checkfree, and I realized that services were way more powerful than software, and that the Internet was the ultimate platform. As I launched PayCycle, I further realized that cloud services were so much more than anytime-anywhere access.
The Internet brought about the democratization of services that were previously reserved for accountants and businesses with lots of money. The cloud was a game changer—leveling the playing field.
Darren: After exiting PayCycle, you immediately started Bill.com. Where did you get the idea for this service?
René: PayCycle was growing fast and I had lots of bills to pay. The early lessons offered by my family became very clear—mainly that cash is king, and I needed to stretch out the payables and pull in the receivables.
The process at PayCycle was manual and slow. Every Friday, our office manager brought me a stack of checks with invoices attached. Often documents were missing, approvals were non-existent, and bills were paid late. I started to brainstorm for a solution to address these pain points. That solution was Bill.com.
Darren: What were your biggest challenges in getting Bill.com to where it is today?
René: Bill.com defines a new category of service focused on cash flow command and control. Being a new category, it has been a challenge to communicate the value. We are not accounting or bookkeeping.
We are not bill paying or invoicing. Yet, we do all these things directly or indirectly. This makes it difficult for people to understand and take the leap to adopt Bill.com. Add in that the profession is only just adopting cloud technologies, and that adds to our challenge.
Darren: What is your vision of how accounting firms should be using Bill.com, and how do you see that evolving over the next few years?
René: With Bill.com, accounting firms have more controls, built in audit trails, complete transparency for every transaction, and the ability to collaborate with their customers. I believe that as accountants continue to adopt Bill.com, they will find they can offer more strategic insight to clients while also alleviating clients of the complexities of accounting.
This represents a huge opportunity for firms. Moving forward, as more and more firms experience the power of the cloud, they will bring in more small business clients. The result will be more collaboration among firms, clients, and vendors—and accountants will be at the center of that collaboration.
Darren: At what point to you see more firms being cloud-based opposed to desktop-based?
René: I believe that businesses follow consumers. As consumers use more cloud apps, such as banking, social, email, or general search, they will expect similar functionality in working with their accountant. Let’s take online bill payment as an example. I think it is safe to say that most consumers are using online bill payment for some if not all of their bills.
People are starting to ask: Why do I have to write a check at the office? Why can’t I pay vendors electronically? That pressure is building, and I believe that in the next three to five years we see a massive change over. Further, I believe that in the next five to ten years more work will be performed in the cloud then on the desktop.
Darren: Do you think clients will push firms to move to a collaborative environment or do you think accountants will be the primary source to move clients along the collaborative path?
René: It takes both to make collaboration work. I do think clients will push somewhat. However, in the short term, I think it is the early adopter—whether that’s the firm or the client—that will do the pushing. We have accountants that push all their businesses to collaborate using Bill.com, and we also have business clients that push their accountants to us.