From Accountant To VC Backed Fintech CEO in 2 yearsFeatured

I am a tax accountant.

People always ask me how I chose accounting as a career. But, it’s more like it chose me. I was a young mom that needed high salary potential and relative job security.

Then I met one of my many mentors that would show up for me, even without them knowing it. Her name was Neeti Dewan. She was the first woman I’d come across holding such a high title at a very successful corporation that had been around for decades. She said to me, “Go into tax, there aren’t enough of us (minority women), and you could make waves.”

That was 15 years ago. She was right.

After a 12-year stint in corporate tax accounting, a few degrees, and a divorce, I stepped away from that relative job security and opened my own tax practice. I couldn’t get away from the logic that my salary would always just be my salary, nothing more, nothing less, but what if I could do more? What if I could make waves?

So, I gave myself 6 months to build the same book of business that would supplement my lost income dollar for dollar. If it didn’t happen, then I would go back to corporate tax. So, I hustled, networked, got my name out, built a basic landing page to get inbound interest, and I was off to the races. It only took one month to make up my lost income and 3 months to double it.

Lesson number one, no one is going to fight harder for you than you, dukes up.

I decided to put that extra money in a savings account for an idea I had been noodling on for a couple of weeks.

I kept getting inbound requests from small business owners that really had no understanding of tax. Some had been in business for years others new, some inherited businesses, and others were franchising. And all of them had the same problem, tax compliance.

All of them asked me, if I pay my income tax once a year how am I not compliant? In case you are wondering, tax compliance just means that you are meeting all of the requirements set out by some governmental authority (federal, state, local) that is assigned to you once you start to do business. The problem was no one seemed to know what those requirements were and how/when to follow them.

Once I noticed this pattern from the inbound business I was getting, I started to look for it in every entrepreneur I came across. Prodding to get answers to two foundational questions, how did you learn about your business tax? And what do you wish you knew about tax that no one told you when you first started the business?

Lesson number two, where there is a problem, there is software-as-a-service.

It was obvious to me that it was time to build. I never worked in tech before. Never read a book about tech, didn’t know anyone in tech, never watched a tech founder TED Talk, nothing.

I was green, really green.

All I knew is that software had this amazing ability to reach a lot of people fast to solve actual problems. So, I started sketching design ideas (what I later would learn were wireframes). I used those sketches to throw together a basic deck that I could use to pitch with, not for raising money I didn’t know about that yet, but just to learn how to talk about the product to other people. I figured if I could make it make sense to them with a fair amount of confidence then I could build it. So, I randomly entered a pitch showcase at this coworking space and met my next mentor, Anna, who introduced me to LA tech.

Lesson number three, network is net worth. Meet new people.

This is where it got fun and by fun, I mean not fun. I worked 18-hour days, half on my tax practice and the other half on my tech startup. And while building I just couldn’t avoid all the conversations in the tech community around the investment disparity amongst minorities and women. And here I am both of those things.

Everything about me says that I shouldn’t have a shot at massive success in tech: I’m Black, I don’t have a tech network, and I’m a woman. But there is the part of me that doesn’t care and has never cared about any roadblock I have ever faced. I knew that how I saw myself and my ability to build a massively successful startup had a direct correlation with how investors saw me and my ability to execute.

Lesson number four, there is no time for fear or shame. Get to work.

The single most valuable thing I have done on this journey for the last 2 years is work. I wasn’t waiting for outside investment to build the startup I invested in myself. I built minimally and on a bare-bones budget to prove that someone would pay for what I was trying to bring to the world. I didn’t have time to be embarrassed about the tool not being finished or being buggy or ugly I just had to get to work. All while simultaneously and feverishly learning about investment so I could effectively pitch this idea to outside investors once I had proof it could be big.

Lesson number five, you only need one yes. And that is the yes you say to yourself.

The first investor that ever said yes to me did so after getting to know my company while participating in the Grid110 Incubator program. I think it was easier to get people on board a moving car rather than getting them to say yes and you don’t even have an engine. I wanted to be undeniable and the best thing to prove undeniability is customers. So I set out to get as many quality customers as fast as I could and in so doing I learned how to sell to SMBs. After all of that, I then set my sights on investor interest. Again, moving car.

So 2 years and $5.5m dollars later and we have 3,000 customers, revenue, 27 employees and I see no signs of slowing down. If there is a quote that sums up the last 2 years it's this:

I don’t have any of that, I only have what’s inside of me and I have to be able to tell myself that that's enough.” - Ava DuVernay

Now, it’s your turn, take whatever you have and make something great!

Thank you for an amazing post!Lesson 4 is so true, learned it in practice by bootstrapping my own startup - early stage has so much uncertainty it almost doesn't make sense building perfect at the beginning. A lot of ideas can be tested without building the whole product with all the features and amazing design. If people are ready to pay for an early-stage product/prototype it is a really good sign to me.The most eye-opening thing for me in my startup journey was that people who are skeptical can and will change their mind. Once you show growth, value and demand they might become your supporters. People really like to see a story of success and be a part of it.
Thank you for sharing. very inspiring!
This is so inspiring! As a CPA myself, this is definitely motivation to keep pushing!
Thank you for sharing! Great reminder on #5. There is a will, there is a way!
This is so inspiring! Thank you for sharing. @shilohjohnsoncpa question for you: How did you make working 18 hours with kidsโ€”and if I'm understanding correctly, as a single/co-parenting parentโ€”work? I often think about starting my own business but worry about the work life balance, with toddler-aged children. Do you have any practical tips/advice for making that work?
My kids were middle school age at the time so it was a bit easier than toddler age. But tough none the less.
Thank you for sharing your journey! I am on a similar path. I like all the lessons you shared, especially lesson #5, you only need one Yes.