May 4, 2023

#117: Anees Pretorius & Cono Onorato (Bean)

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Anees Pretorius and Cono Onorato — co-founders of Bean ($1.7mm in funding) — on the pursuit of their vision to reimagine the global accounting industry and elevate the profession into the digital age.

Anees Pretorius, a former Big 4 Accountant, is the CEO of Bean, a market network for specialized accounting services. Originally from South Africa, Anees previously held positions at Deloitte in Cape Town and San Francisco, and later at EY in Cleveland. During his time as a consultant, he worked alongside High-growth and Fortune companies, providing compliance and strategic services. However, it was his experience in the Bay Area working alongside some of the most influential and technologically progressive companies in the world that inspired him to think beyond the traditional constraints inherent in accounting and financial services.

Cono Onorato is the CTO at Bean, with over 15 years of experience building, designing, and deploying apps across many industries, including finance, healthcare, and education. Cono worked as a consultant for Fortune 500 clients such as UPS, Coca-Cola, Chick-Fil-A, Verifone, and AT&T, where he deployed creative and engineering solutions. Cono also founded and built an app called Gitful, where he successfully scaled the company to service hundreds of thousands of users across the globe in less than four years.

In this episode, we dive into the arc of their careers, their paths to entrepreneurship, and how they joined forces to create Bean. We explore their original insights, the questions they asked, and their vision for the future of accounting. We unpack their approach to building in stealth mode and the advantages and disadvantages of it. We also discuss the history and current state of accounting, the implications of AI in accounting, and how Bean will bring about the future of accounting in the digital age! Please enjoy my conversation with Anees Pretorius and Cono Onorato!


This episode is brought to you byImpact ArchitectsandNinety. As we share the stories of entrepreneurs building incredible organizations throughout NEO, Impact Architects helps those leaders — many of whom we’ve heard from as guests on Lay of The Land — realize their visions and build great organizations. I believe in Impact Architects and the people behind it so much, that I have actually joined them personally in their mission to help leaders gain focus, align together, and thrive by doing what they love! As a listener, you can sit down for a free consultation with Impact Architects or leverage a free trial through Ninety, the software platform that helps teams build great companies, by!


Connect with Anees Pretorius on LinkedIn

Connect with Cono Onorato on LinkedIn —

Learn more about Bean

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Anees Cono, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having us, Jeff.

Yeah, excited. It's been a while. Appreciate the flexibility.

And so, yeah, excited to have a conversation.

Yeah, me as well. Me as well. Given there are two of you here and folks do not have the visual counterparts, I'd love if you could each just do a brief introduction, and then we'll dive a little bit deeper.

Yeah, absolutely.

So, I am Anees Pretorius. I am the CEO and co-founder of Bean. And I am Cono Onorato, CTO, co-founder.

So Anees, we had met not too long ago, knowing recently you had moved to Cleveland and have been working on your company, which at the time I believe was still in stealth. So the seed was planted.

I knew this conversation would come eventually, you know, 1.7 million in funding later, and now with the public presence, been very much looking forward to the time when we could connect and talk a little bit more about Bean and what you've been working on.

To start though, I'd love to hear from each of you respectively a little bit more about the arc of your careers, your paths to entrepreneurship, how you two came together and joined forces. Just kind of take us through your personal journeys.

Yeah, no, absolutely. Appreciate that, Jeff. And so I'd say we were kind of, yeah, probably in pseudo stealth when we first met. Had gone out, but then kind of publicly made a splash a little bit ago. This is not, as you are probably very familiar, this is not a native Midwestern accent. I'm actually originally from Cape Town, South Africa, wonderful part of the world.

If you've not visited, I highly suggest and encourage you to go and do that. Started my career in public accounting was kind of one of those stories where my parents told me that I could do anything in the world that I wanted to do as long as it was, you know, be a lawyer, accountant or doctor.

And so chose to go into accounting and start my career at the big four with Deloitte qualified as a chartered accountant, which I guess is kind of the international equivalent of a CPA out in South Africa. And that gave me the opportunity to then come over to the States.

And so I landed in San Francisco with Deloitte helped out with a busy season on a short term contract over there and kind of fell in love with everything that was the US. Long story short, I met a girl out in San Diego and she happened to be from this little place called Cleveland, Ohio.

Truth be told, I had no idea where it was on the map, but her pull was strong enough and I followed her to Cleveland and ultimately ended up getting married to her almost 10 years ago. I've come to realize too, you know, you don't necessarily choose Cleveland. Cleveland chooses you. And there's a lot to love and admire about this place. And so kind of continued my career in public accounting over there.

And after about three winters had the opportunity to move back to the Bay. And so did that joined a accounting and finance consulting firm. And that truly was the genesis for me starting to think about, oh my goodness, you know, there could be something here. There's this cultural culture of entrepreneurship. There's this startup Mecca of the world and it's very difficult not to get inundated and not to get influenced by that.

And so, you know, sitting in one of the most legacy industries in the world, in the tech center of the world, had my mind spinning and going. And ultimately it was the insights from being over there and living the career that I did that formed the genesis of what Bean is today and what it's going to become.

I'd known Cono and I'll kind of let him share a bit about kind of how we got connected, but I'd known him for a while. I knew he was pretty much a tech genius. And so when Bean was in its ideation phase, we got connected and worked up the MVP.

And yeah, that was the beginning of a bromance, as we'd like to kind of probably put it.

Yeah, Cono, is that accurate?

I'd say so, yeah.

Yeah, so cool. Yeah.

On my end, my background is in the software engineering space. I'm a native Clevelander born and bred.

Yeah, definitely like ride or die, all the things from Brown to Lebron James. And I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing these days, but you know, once you go to Cleveland Sports, you can't really turn away from that, I suppose.

Yeah, so I've kind of been in and out of the start space and the entrepreneurial space, I guess, more or less. I first out of college, one of the first jobs I took actually was at a university where I was the director of innovation and tech over there. And when I took that job, I was actually the first man in my family to work for somebody in like five generations.

And so it was kind of an interesting scenario for me. So I think it's just sort of like in my blood to be like, wanting to innovate. And I love this opportunity of like building and putting things out there. And so shortly after I was in education space, I joined a startup, early stage startup in the healthcare space.

And that was really cool experience to join in early and see a lot of growth and success around that opportunity and deploy a lot of technology as a lead there. So as Aneese said, we were connected a while back because his wife, Marissa, she's like a sister to me. She was my neighbor growing up. Our dads were in business together.

Again, multiple generation entrepreneur. My dad had his own business. Her dad was my dad's business partner. They were best friends in high school.

So you know, when Aneese, and we have these, you know, traditional Italian families kind of, and so when Aneese, you know, came into the family, it was, hey, who's this guy?

We got to talk to him. He's got to go through the family, you know, kind of deal. Probably go through, who's Mr.

Prince Charming from South Africa?

This doesn't sound right, you know?

Like, is he trying to, is this a prince from Africa kind of thing, you know?

So you know, he had to go through the ringer a little bit and he turned out to be just as amazing as Marissa was telling us all about. So you know, it was kind of funny, you know, it's, I hadn't really used like Facebook in a while.

Me and Aneese were looking back and it was funny, there's this old Facebook stream from a while back where Aneese had reached, yeah, like 2015, Aneese had like reached out, like, hey, I got this idea. I would love to connect with you on the technology or whatever. I never saw it, which was kind of funny until like, you know, years later.

He thought I was ignoring it perhaps, but you know, it kind of came just to this like perfect moment in time, I guess. And Aneese was really the sort of industry background vision behind what we do, came to me and was talking about, and we did connect. It was actually, he didn't try to reach me on Facebook again this time.

We just connected directly and we just were really pumped and excited about bringing this to the world. I think ultimately where I unintentionally found my way in the sort of arc of my business, you know, career or whatever, is they tend to like bring technology into these old large industries, education, healthcare, now sort of this sort of finance accounting space.

And I love it because most of these industries are so big that innovation has sort of fallen behind in a sense. And so I love being able to put stuff out to the world that really can shake things up or produce new opportunities. And Aneese's vision just really provides for that in a much bigger way. And so I kind of joined it on the tech side to help do that.

That specifically resonates a lot. I think that that's also helped guide my own journey of where to focus these very antiquated overlooked spaces where the way they are doing things is the way they have done things and for not much better reason than that.

Well, and many of them, like there was early innovation, you know, like there's a lot of like in the healthcare space, for instance, there's a lot of technology in the healthcare space. And so I think that's the first thing is to be online or build software.

The catch is that they had put so much effort and influence and money into those solutions that it's hard for them to like create and adapt to new solutions today, you know, in a sense. And so that just sort of allows us with more modern technology to come in and, you know, introduce these things that should have been updated a long time ago, perhaps.

But now that we can provide that, which is pretty cool. Yeah.

And that maybe is the perfect backdrop to explore, you know, what was this idea, Anees, that you were floating on Facebook?

Way back when. So the idea that I floated way back when on Facebook was not what Bean was.

It was this, funnily enough, it had a, I think it had like a marketplace type concept together where it was like, man, how do we democratize and productize if you will access the funding for little startups, little, you know, I mean, it's called equity crowdfunding now and there are thousands of platforms that do it. But back in 2015, this was still a novel idea for me.

And again, as Cono mentioned, I think, you know, there was maybe divine protection from me not going down that road because it was like, nope, nope, that wouldn't have worked so well. So that may have been the idea. So I'm very grateful for the fact that Cono did not respond to me all those years back.

And yeah, when we connected in person on Bean that he kind of jumped at the opportunity to help pull this together.

So how did you navigate that idea, Anees?

You know, experimenting with different ideas, how did you land on this is the thing we want to go pursue?

What was the insight?

What were the questions you were asking?

Where did it come from?

So if you ask my wife, Marissa, as Cono mentioned, I was the type of guy who was just I couldn't sit still despite the fact that I was in public accounting. There was always this part of me that was fascinated by business, fascinated by how good ideas seemingly made terrible businesses or how, you know, very average ideas grew up to be big businesses and really great businesses.

And I think, again, the one thing that I did get here in my time in public accounting was the fact that we were able to kind of look at the insides of a business and truly understand what the processes were, what the systems were. And so I looked at my job through that lens. And all the ideas that I'd had previously were nothing to do with accounting.

And this, I guess, is maybe part of the conversation that we can have a little bit later. But I got to a point where I was very jaded, very kind of tainted around what the career path to being a grownup accountant could look like. And so I was like, nope, I am not going to do anything that is accounting related for the rest of my career.

I want to get out of it. I want to get into kind of the operations. I want to use the skills that I've leveraged to go and maybe pursue running a business and creating a company.

But again, living in living in the Bay and truly kind of being having the opportunity to to lead out in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, I found myself gravitating towards man. And so there is very little innovation that is happening in the space of accounting and finance.

Like, why is that?

Why is the industry such a notorious tech laggard?

And why do we seemingly over and over and over see accountants who just, quite frankly, do not enjoy their lives?

They spend 70, 80, 90 hours, decades.

And like, what have I done?

What have I truly gained in my career?

And so to answer your question about the idea map, it was truly kind of sitting back, having lived the problem, having felt the problem on a day to day basis to truly ask myself, OK, how do we remove a ton of the inefficiencies that are so inherent in this program in this process?

I wear something is done manually, because as you mentioned, that is just the way that it has always been done.

Is there a piece of technology that we can layer in that we can stitch together that we can try to manufacture in a way that strips out that inefficiency?

So the thing that I speak about to the team or with the team today was the same kind of questions that I was asking myself way back when, is how do we deliver the most value that we possibly can?

And I guess this is maybe from my college degree, I kind of realized back sitting in Cape Town, people will always pay for one thing. So one thing, they will pay for one thing without failing, and that's convenience. If you are saving them time, if you are saving them money, if you are making their lives more convenient, you will find somebody to pay for that convenience.

And so from our perspective, it's like, how do we make this process of getting or working with accountants, getting the delivery, the service delivery of sophisticated accounting services?

How do we make that more convenient?

And so again, kind of sitting in my seat that I was in, understanding the manual processes, I was going to Kona and saying, hey, could we do this, could we link these two types of processes together, thinking about existing solutions that were out there from a process perspective and kind of those pattern matching ways of doing things.

That was the idea, I know I'm not necessarily giving you a ton of tangible things right here, but it's kind of...

Well, it's fun to hear that, at least originally that you had an aversion to trying to do something in this space, because I think it's kind of fascinating that maybe one of the most powerful sources of that inspiration is you solving your own problems as an accountant and you being the one to best able to empathize with who are now your customers. And that's exactly what it was, Jeff.

At the end of the day, that's exactly what led to the creation of Bean.

I was sitting in a place of frustration thinking to myself, why are we doing these things?

There's got to be an easier way. I was sitting, I was spending hours of my week doing non-value added super manual work. I was working with clients, trying to solve their problems that were incredibly manual, feeling their frustration, kind of using that as a catalyst to say, okay, we've got to do something to alleviate this frustration.

In my mind, the easiest, most seamless, most effective, most beautiful way to do that was going to be through layering and building wall-closed tech.

So just kind of summary level, how do you describe what Bean is today?

Yeah, at the end of the day, or at the beginning of the day, if you will, Bean's a SaaS enabled market network for specialized accounting services. What we're looking to build as a digital advisory firm and where we evolve to is being able to provide finance leaders with the platform people and processes to essentially turbocharge their service delivery.

So wanting to create that technology and that platform that embraces the accounting industry rather than putting the onus on the accounting industry to embrace technology. So I want to fill in the history a little bit between when this idea comes together and where you are today. And I want to unpack a little bit that idea of stealth that we mentioned at the beginning and try and understand the motivation for it.

Both the pros and cons. I think maybe the reigning business wisdom of the idea is that ideas are a dime a dozen and execution is everything. And if you put on a random business podcast and peruse popular business articles, you will encounter that idea. I'm personally somewhere else on the thought spectrum, I think. Some ideas are fantastic. Other ideas are terrible. So some ideas might be better than others.

But I think this gets to building in stealth where some ideas are worth protecting in a competitive environment where large enterprises have, for the sake of this conversation, unlimited resources to maybe throw at an idea relative to a very resource-constrained startup trying to figure it out. And so I'm really curious because I don't think I've encountered it too much.

But what this approach looks like and understanding why you have opted for it, starting this company.

What were the advantages, the disadvantages as you've reflected on it now being on the other side of it?

What's your takeaways there?

Yeah. So I'll kind of lead it off and then pass it off to Gono to fill in the blanks because again, he's got a ton more experience in startups than I do. It was as though we almost fell into stealth by accident. The team was incredibly small and by incredibly small, I mean, it was just myself for a very long time.

And then Gono joined on after we'd started hitting outside and understanding, okay, this could actually be something. I think the thought around building in stealth and not necessarily going public with everything that we were building is for a couple of reasons, takes the pressure off maybe a little bit to not have to build something for anybody else, but truly just put your head down and focus and build them.

I think I share a very similar sentiment to you, Jeff, in that if you've got a good idea, you probably aren't the only person who's thought of this idea, but what's going to set you apart was truly going to allow your idea to stand up or the execution of that idea to stand up or the materialization, if you will, of that idea to stand out as the execution.

People are not necessarily going to execute at it in the same way and it tends to be those who execute at a higher level just tend to stand out more. But for us, it was a matter of not necessarily protecting, but not putting unnecessary pressure on the build, putting unnecessary pressure on having to feel as though we had this thing that we had to deliver.

We started building this thing in late 2020 and went into beta for about six months. We only landed our first non-beta client in 2021, so about six or seven months after this thing was our MVP was built.

We had about a year to just, okay, like a year and a half to just figure it out, to iterate, to experiment, to understand, okay, where is it that we wanted to build?

How is it that we wanted to evolve the company?

At the same time, we got accepted into tech stores and so that provided the catalyst for us iterating and then shrinking our experimentation cycles or truly accelerating what we thought success looked like. Then post our raise, we were able to exit stealth and then go and truly go on some of that public attention to get team excited. When you bring technology to the world, there's two methods you can go with.

One method, not that they're really bad, but I think it depends on what you're bringing to that market. One of those is the spray and pray method more or less.

Hey, we're just going to keep throwing stuff out there and seeing if people use it and really work quickly to evolve and shift and pivot along the way. What we've chosen to do is a little bit more of a validated method. As we release items, we want to make sure that they launch with the most valuable impact that we can make.

Part of that is just due to the industry that we're in. In the accounting and finance space, the number one thing you hear over and over and over again is the whole thing depends on quality and trust. This spray and pray method more or less doesn't play as well for us if it's like, I think you could trust this, but then you sort of can't.

Move fast and break things doesn't quite make sense. We might end up in jail. We decided to start in a way that says, here's a product or service that we know we can guarantee towards a small audience of people. They'll work with us to refine that and bring that to market.

Like any other startup over the course of the last even just 365 days, the idea of how we've adjusted and shifted has been massive. When we actually later on this year launch more of our technology, it's amazing how if we were to told you when we were going to launch this year the same time last year, it would look totally different sort of thing.

What I always think is really interesting that Anees has done because he likes to joke that you can take the boy out of accounting, but you can't take the accountant out of the boy in a sense.

Due to that, he's taken a little bit of a backwards approach to building technology, which I haven't personally seen as much in my career, which was basically how do you establish a real business and then how do you add technology on top of that that just accelerates that business.

Anees knew what it looked like to get out there and to build this digital advisory with what we call our crappy MVP in a sense. I can get out there, I can make network effects with different people by hustling, getting out there and doing my thing.

By doing that, it allowed our technology to have this freedom and flexibility to say, okay, well, as you're doing that and we're gathering this data and these data points and really validating with all these accountants and finance leaders and things like that, we have this other opportunity to say, well, you're building a real business.

We're developing tech and we believe that once that tech launches and marries up with that service that we're putting out into the world, that it just continues that acceleration, but it doesn't necessarily force us to fast forward to that, which some people don't have that ability to do.

I think something you may hear more and more around in the startup space today, especially after the banking crisis especially and stuff, is this idea of being default alive.

At any given moment, if there's a crisis, could you survive and could you go and be cashflow positive in a sense?

That's why we talk about him being the accountant.

He's always looking at the structure of the business to say, within a short period of time, can we make this profitable and burn a little bit less if need be?

That has always guided our technology as well. It's a little bit of a different method, but I think we found a lot of value in how that allowed us to do that. Because of the quality and trust, I also think that we will probably release less buggy code, more reliable platforms.

That's just partially because when it goes out into the world, it's going to be ready to really scale in a really unique way. All that's in contrast to the perhaps reigning mentality of the last few years, which is growth at all costs. It's a bit more methodical. Exactly.

I think there's been this kind of, if we think about just the conversations that we've overheard or even been subject to this reversion to business fundamentals, the last call it 12 years, maybe decade was, as you mentioned, Jeff, just grow at all costs. We added 100 million to the top line, but we spent half a billion to do that. It's kind of unsustainable at a point.

There seems to be this reversion to people saying, okay, can you actually build a company for the objective of a company, which is to turn a profit, which is ultimately going to deliver value to the shareholders. That is one of our guiding principles right now, as it is.

It gives us the opportunity and the privilege to be able to invest in ways that perhaps we wouldn't have otherwise been able to if we didn't take that approach. You had mentioned kind of a, I'll call it, unpolished MVP.

I'm curious, with the full spectrum of problems that you could have focused on to start with in terms of what an accountant experience is and the depth of expertise that you have to know what those are, Anees, where did you choose to start?

How was it received?

What has the feedback been like?

How do you think about accountability and outcomes of where you've started and where you're trying to go?

Yeah. I think Anees is more of that background than myself, so that's the first question I asked as well when we kind of got started here.

What do we bring to market first?

And even now today, we have a really big, bold vision when it comes down to really how we make continual impact across this stream of accounting and finance. We compare it a lot to the engineering field. As an engineer or a software developer, we are basically privileged to have access to a lot of really cool tools and communities and access to help when we need help.

It's become just so common that technology just ships super quick and super efficient and it just seems like it runs well. Engineers tend to really enjoy their lives. You get to work from home and you get to put out cool things into the world and you get to make good money doing that.

We've seen that there's a lot of comparisons in the other space, but it's a little bit, but you get a little bit of the opposite reaction when it comes to accounting. Accountants tend to be a little bit more overworked. They don't have a lot of tools available to them to really help them work more efficiently and they have to wear multiple hats.

Like they basically, even if you're working in a large advisory firm or even one of the biggest ones, you're treated a little bit like an independent consultant who's got to go out and communicate directly with clients and put all the billing and manage all of your hours and your own project flows. There's just a lot of hats that you wear.

Well, you're trying to do tons of work just to try to fill the hours that are required of you.

The two areas that we started with was what are a couple of hats we could take away from the accountant?

What are the areas that they may be our biggest pain points for them?

Then two, what's the biggest value we can utilize these people for so that they can earn more money and have that flexibility that they could do?

I think the first part of what we were trying to do was just trying to solve some of the fundamental issues, I suppose, in the industry itself. I'll say that is context to pass the dead end. I guess you can talk more on that. Yeah. I appreciate that, Conan. It kind of sets the foundation perfectly.

The interesting insight, if you will, for starting being, Jeff, was the fact that a lot of innovation, if you will, or somewhat automation happens to be with respect to accounting, the data. If you automate a journal entry in the workdays of the World Oracle, the SAPs, few people actually think about the accountant.

Having been that human capital part of the machine, having been that accountant doing the work, it's going to touch on this. A ton of work that needs to be done in order for you just to do the work.

We kind of took a step back and we also, if we could just take some of the work away from the account so they can focus on just doing the work, we think that could be an early sign for validation for people to want to join and go and do what they are good at doing. We will handle the administration. We will handle the client communication.

We will handle the contracting legal, all the other stuff for you so you can focus on what you've been trained to do. We truly wrapped our initial value prop around the human capital component. We wanted to give accountants the ability to go and build the lives that they wanted to and want to go and build, that they've been desiring to go and build in a flexible way.

We wanted to also provide finance leaders with access to high quality, sophisticated, specialized accountants without necessarily needing to break the bank, without necessarily needing to be like, okay, I've got to go and hire the, let's say, Oracle equivalent to go and do this thing because that's the only way that I'm going to get quote unquote quality.

So we kind of called the net and we created a wedge to say if we got highest quality accountants and we onboarded them onto our platform, our hunch is that we could go and get these high growth companies, these emerging growth middle market companies, I kind of like to say our sweet spot is between our ICP as a company with 50 to $500 million in revenue, though we've done work with a couple of multi-billion dollar companies, is can we go and go on with them?

Can we go and work with them and provide them with the services in a very, very compelling, very, very affordable way?

And so we've been able to do that. We've seen a lot of validation. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we're incredibly humbled by the feedback that we have received, but I think it's a testament to what the team is building and our guiding philosophies.

Again, one of the principles is can we literally deliver as much value as we possibly can, whether it be saving clients money and or making accountants more efficient in the work that they are doing. And so again, you probably touch on the tech that we're evolving to and what we're looking to build and what we're so excited about.

But the reality is we want to be able to take as much of that busy work away from the accountant so that they can focus on just doing the value added work. We think that that is going to kind of revolutionize the service delivery in the space. Yeah.

And I think one challenge that we see in the technology and one of our, I guess, things that we lean on sometimes as an analogy is when you're trying to really democratize even a really like change an industry in one sense, you can't do it with one big product. Sometimes you've got to take these like very strategic, very specific moves. And sometimes it's starting simple for something that's coming along further ahead.

And one analogy I like is that Apple was working on the iPhone for a really long time, like it's a 10 plus years to build that. But they knew really, really on like what they wanted it to look like and that it was going to be small, it's going to fit in your hand and was going to do a lot around letting you navigate the web and have these apps on it.

There's a big vision around it. But they knew that the current interface that we were all used to using couldn't support a lot of those features. And so they began super early on training us all without us realizing so that when the iPhone released it, we knew exactly how to use it.

And one example is, you know, there used to be to add something to your videos to the word add, like, well that like stuff like that and like the word close, like that's not going to work. So they put a little plus button next to the word add a little plus icon or a little minus icon next to the word close.

And then eventually they just took the word add away, you know, and it's like the word close away. And by time we all got our first iPhones and started playing around. No one had to tell us like this is what things meant.

And it was it's kind of interesting when you think about the fact that we were all like sort of subconsciously trained, I suppose, on how to use technology very far in advance.

But I think when you have these big visions, not that we're creating the next iPhone, but when you have when you have a big vision, I think, and you can sort of see a lot of steps ahead, you kind of also see the sake of like, well, I don't know that people are going to know to click that plus button per se, or, you know, hypothetically speaking in some capacities.

And so for us, it's a lot of like, you know, what do we start today that people get that they understand and they can interact with. And then as we sort of continue to put these things out, they grow with us in a sense.

And so and I think that's and again, working in these legacy industries, as you may know, sometimes it's just the softest touch, you know, and people feel like you've changed my whole life, you know, and you're like, well, if you think that's good, then you know, we got more coming. The bar is set very well. Yeah.

So, you know, and classic, you know, the accounting industry, it's specifically a set up like your classic agency model. So it's very incentivized by putting in hours and up charging and doing all sorts of things and has sort of an imbalance between what the person doing the work looks like first, what the agency is working to kind of bring in.

And then it also an imbalance on like the level of work you're trying to get versus sometimes the person that's actually doing that work as well.

And I think what happens in some of those industries is that as you get better, you either kind of get onto maybe some type of partner track or other types of leadership or you sort of get stuck kind of in a sense, or it can take a really, really long time. And so you wind up feeling uneasy or underpaid or whatever.

And so the accounting industry is actually like one of the largest turnover rates in the world. And it's just because accountants are sort of left with these feelings.

And so what we really wanted to start by bringing more or less the digital advisory firm in this marketplace to light was giving accountants this ability to take a breath, to earn better money, to work more efficiently, to put out better things, to have better communication and have some things automated for them.

As you do your work, you don't have to worry about things like your billing and your time sheets and things like that and how you interface with the client. You just sort of sit down, you do your work and you enjoy your life and you make more money, you make your worth in a sense.

And I think that just like starting with just some of those pieces have allowed us to like really gather just incredible people, hundreds really of accountants that aren't just, hey, I'm looking for gig work, but who are really, really top level people who are like amped to adjust the way the industry works in a sense, I guess.

So understanding that you've taken an approach where you'll start chipping away at real tangible problems that accountants are experiencing kind of piecemeal over time. I know as part of Techstars, as part of closing a substantial early funding round, you have to kind of paint out the bigger vision part of that picture. So I'm curious what that vision looks like.

As you chip away at these day to day problems that accountants have, what is the future of accounting from the lens?

So I'll take that and I'll kind of play this one a little bit close to the chest because there is something that is in production, which we are excited that roll out to the world in the next few months. But essentially a lot of the feedback that we've been getting from folks who've been working on and through Bean has been around the ability to collaborate around a specific project.

Conos mentioned that if you kind of look at the parallels between accountants today, they are mimicking software engineers of 20 years ago, the ones that were in the cubes behind the desks working on HTML websites because everybody needed a website. And as the industry grew, there seemed to be this understanding that these folks powered the digital world.

And so there were tools that were created specifically for them to do the more sophisticated work and so Squarespace and Wix came along and so they didn't have to do the websites and now they could focus on the apps and building software.

And so for us, we feel as though the accounting industry is at a very, very similar inflection point, but nothing has been really purpose built for them to help do the work around how to collaborate around specific projects or how to use workflow tools to understand what things like velocity or where if deadlines are going to be due or if there are capacity constraints that are going to be hit.

Everything is non-verticalized.

Everything is kind of adapted from software engineering tools to try to figure out, okay, can we leverage this?

Yes, some of the bigger firms do, they've got the millions, tens of millions of dollars to be able to invest in technology, but they keep this very, very close to the chest. And so for us, we live in a world, we kind of see a world where accountants feel as though they are software engineers.

They've got tools that are purpose built for them to help them understand the type of work that they are doing, when that work is being done and by whom. And so the ability to have insight and transparency into my own work or a team of individuals work and collaborate very, very effectively around that is something that we're excited to kind of roll out.

So it's taking the human capital component, which we're continuing to build up, but then arming them and truly making them incredibly even more valuable with the tools and the tech that we are then going to be able to deliver to them so that again, this quality and trust as Kona has mentioned, the bar just gets raised and raised and raised.

And we are seen then as the new standard of what quality could look like. I'll run with the engineering parallel here because I think it's really interesting as you think about the trajectory of that space over time and how it's just people can focus on higher and higher level problems. You abstract everything from programming languages.

Today, it looks like English when you code. You're not writing in computer anymore. And this human desire to automate things that are either prohibitively difficult for humans or just so expensive and repetitively boring, that it's hard to justify spending human capital on them. It's just like that's an ancient struggle and that's the whole role of technology.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about AI because in the engineering world, that's the copilot literally, a name that this is the new tool that will allow engineers at least to think at a higher level about the work they're doing and really think more about the problems than maybe even the implementation.

So is AI the direction?

How are you trying to elevate where accountants can think?

It has to be the direction, quite frankly, Jeff. I think again, there would be a massive injustice that is done to the industry if it wasn't the direction. I think it could pose an existential threat to people coming into the industry if we didn't incorporate that into the direction.

I mean, again, it's like saying early businesses like, no, I'm just going to ignore that internet thing. That's just a phase. It's the fad. It's the way. And then mobile comes along.

It's like, no, that mobile thing, I'm just going to continue to be on the desktop. That's all. So I think this is presenting an incredible way for us to be able to take advantage of. We don't necessarily bill ourselves or see ourselves as an AI company.

We're not going to jump onto that bandwagon, but absolutely we're going to incorporate artificial intelligence in a way that is going to be again, valuable and specific to the accounting industry.

And the way that we kind of see that and space and conversations that we've had, I mean, there are tens of thousands of pages of guidance and codes and standards and everything that accountants typically need to sift through or read through when they are going about doing their work.

And so again, the way that we think about how we are building and what we are building is can you have this virtual assistant that is just literally sitting next to you, following you and helping you do the work that you need to do as you need to do it or preemptively thinking about what you need to do and suggesting, hey, would you like to do this?

Oh, it's time to be able to do this. And having, you know, being able to condense guidance down into just the relevant guidance or instruction or whatever it may be, codes that you need when you need it. And so I think the beautiful part about AI, I don't think it poses an existential threat to accountants quite yet.

And I might be completely wrong, but if I'm wrong about that, then software engineers beware too.

You know what I mean?

And so I think the magic in the AI is going to be able to provide that truly that gasoline that should, if done and applied in the right way, be able to turbocharge how accountants actually do their work. And as you mentioned, elevate their thinking in a way that allows them to focus on more complex, more interesting, more value added work that they can do more of.

And I think like part of what's at the core of what we're trying to do is that, you know, what we kind of see as one of the inherent issues in the accounting industry today is that they're more, they're incentivized for inefficiency, more or less. If you're an accountant working in your space, your job is to basically say, you got to bill, I don't know, let's say 700 hours a year, whatever. 3000. 3000 hours.

3000 hours. And despite all the other hats you had to wear, like I mentioned earlier, those hats don't necessarily count to your actual billable hours. So accountants want to work hard and their only job is to bill hours.

So we've even talked to tons of accountants who are just like, you know what, I could probably work more efficient, but why would I?

My job is to put in hours.

And so what's the point of me trying to like do a lot of extra when it's just hours, you know?

And so this whole accounting industry or much of it, I guess, is kind of behind due to the fact that, you know, they're not really giving those accountants that space to be like, hey, you could be creative and efficient and we'll give you tools that help you.

And as you do better, you can be more successful as opposed to like, you know, if you could do that, like take a really large advisory firm and let's say, hey, I can get you, you know, to those 2000 hours, I can get you to do it in 1000 hours. The catch is that advisory firm based on the way it's set up would make half the amount of money.

So why are they going to have to be efficient and bill less, but otherwise they'd have to like change their entire model of doing things. But ultimately in the engineering space, you've seen sort of the opposite and the sort of general rule of thumb is engineering is like never do the same thing twice kind of thing.

And so engineers are building tools and pulling things out because it's not about how many hours you put in.

It's kind of the opposite, but it's how much code can you ship?

And it's not a lot of times like we're out here, we're shipping code, we're shipping features, we're getting stuff out. And engineers seem to be the ones that always start putting ourselves more or less out of business. Like who are the ones automating code right now, creating this engineers, you know, kind of thing.

Who are the ones who created automatic like website builders, engineers, but engineering is still an incredibly growing and amazing industry of opportunity.

And so we see like a lot of future opportunities for accountants to evolve and real deep level business analysts and machine learning specialists and bringing their business and finance specialties into the world in much better ways than saying, hey, my job was to like figure out what I'm supposed to take the next 20 hours just to figure out what I'm supposed to do and then take the next 20 hours to kind of a bunch of lines on an Excel worksheet and then kind of get into the weeds.

But the last 40 hours I hated my life, you know, kind of thing.

And hey, I got my billable hours in. And so for us, like that's where, you know, machine learning comes in. That's where AI comes in as an assistance.

But ultimately on our platform, accountants will be super incentivized to be like, you should work at the highest quality, at the highest level of trust, but in the most efficient manner possible, which will allow us to deliver services faster, but still incentivize our accountants just to make more money.

Hey, if you did it, you know, if it's worth 2000 hours worth of work, we'll pay you 2000 hours worth of work, that's fine, you know, kind of thing. But you should do it in a thousand hours if it's possible, which allows us to just provide a much better quality service as well as technology as these layers of transparency and communication that are in that space.

So you know, if you have a technical accounting need and a lot of us don't see that, I didn't totally know what this space looked like. Because when you think accountant, you think the guy who does your taxes or the girl who does your taxes.

Right, right, right. We don't do tax based things.

Actually, we work in a technical accounting space, which is more when you get into corporate finance, and you get into these, you know, more sophisticated problems or needs from the government or mergers and acquisitions and all sorts of things like that, you need much more sophisticated help to do those things. But what kind of breaks down is that you say, I need this thing done and you hire someone to do that.

And at the end of the day, 90 days, six months, whatever goes by, and they hand you like a really long packet that you'll never read that says, okay, cool, you're good to go.

And there's a reason why people don't like their account, like what did I just pay for?

You know, kind of thing. But the reality is there's tons of cool, amazing things happening in the background. Accountants do a lot of work. And getting better communication and transparency around that, we also think just provides just a better level of service to those interacting with those finance professionals.

Because they're always the bad guy that have to come in and they have to ask you the hard questions and do things and they can't, you know, you don't really talk about why, you don't really see why. So you're just like, I hate my accountant.

Right, I'm just here so I don't get fined. Yeah.

You know?

So right, exactly. We're just here like whenever, stop poking around.

But, you know, the reality is that, and Aneesh says this, which I always think is funny, is that, you know, one of our jobs is to try to make accounting sexy again, or maybe for the first time, you know, kind of thing. For the very first time to be like, hey, it's cool.

I love my accountant, right?

You know, that's a term that's not really said very much. But we really do think that by introducing this space, and we really think that automation and AI play a big role into helping with that, that that is sort of the persona that we could create not only just better trust, better quality, but also, you know, a more enjoyable experience for, you know, everybody down the line, you know, kind of thing.

I mean, the shift just in incentive seems to be so powerful.

And that, you know, that's not a technology thing. That's just, you know, human psychology. But part of it is the psychology play. And then part of it is the tech that helps them be more efficient.

So yeah, I think there is like a general psychology play.

And, you know, it's interesting. We'll talk with some, you know, like a CFO or someone else that's running their accounting department, we'll talk about with some of these things. And these are like older people sometimes. And they're just like, oh, I never thought about it.

You know, like, oh, that's interesting.

You know, it's kind of funny just because it is a foundation level, you know, it's a foundation level thing. And the funny part is that, like, you know, and then you mentioned it, it's like, well, AI is in the world.

So like, you can't ignore it. The funny part is, with every other major shift for the most part, accounting has ignored it, you know, with this idea of like, it's how it's always been, you know, accounting with one of the oldest professions, you know, and some of these like really, really, really big, you know, public accounting firms are like as old as like our country kind of thing.

And they act like it too, you know, like, you know, so, you know, I, and we were on a call once with one person, I was just joking around and I said, yeah, so yeah, we could take a look at that.

Would you like us to fax it to you?

And they go, oh, no, I don't think that would be necessary at this moment.

But I said it as a joke, like, who faxes anymore?

You know, but then this is still a real life, you know, this is how we do business. We do faxing and we do mail. And I'm like, wow, if all we did was introduce email to you guys, you guys would love it.

You know, let me tell you about this thing they created in like the early 90s called email, you know, so it's kind of funny.

Well, there are, I have a lot of questions here still, but I'll try and weave them together and do a cohesive one. But I feel like one of the pieces we haven't touched on, which is really interesting and definitely matters, you know, both of you have brought it up independently is the idea of like trust as part of all this as well.

And how, I don't know, maybe the engineering parallel falls, you know, to the wayside a little bit there because I feel like the output for engineering, it's very like, you know, does it do what, you know, what it's supposed to do?

And, but there's a whole, you know, people relationship management part to this business that I don't know how AI, you know, or any of this technological advancement will really replace or supplement.

And so, you know, I'll put that out there.

And then the question also is, you know, how do you think about competition?

Is competition the old accounting firms?

Is competition other startups trying to, you know, elevate accountants?

What does the space look like?

Yeah, so I'll kind of adjust the first part first, I guess, is, you know, the whole component of trust and it being a very relational business. And you're 100% right, Jeff, you know, that's something that we don't necessarily even want to get away from because having a relationship with somebody, having a relationship with an organization is important. You kind of build that need, you understand what it means.

And it is the way that the industry operates right now. And so we build that into our client service experience. I fundamentally believe that it is part of the client experience.

Again, buff its old delight the customer. It's very little takes the place of being able to speak to a human being when things go wrong or when they go right.

And so, you know, that is something that we believe as a core principle is something that's going to be part of being for as long as we're around. The service delivery side though, from that perspective is we want them to trust that we are going to provide the highest quality service delivery when we are given the opportunity, when we are given the chance to partner with clients and with accountants, quite frankly.

The way that we are set up is these folks are thinking about their careers in a very different way. They are thinking about pushing against industry norms in a very different way. And there's a lot of resistance to that. And so when we have the privilege of being able to work with anybody on and through our platform, we want to give them the best client experience.

And oftentimes a human being has to be central to that.

So it is, we don't think that that technology or AI is going to replace humans or their service delivery. We think it's going to, we believe, our hunch is that it's going to enhance that service delivery. So that's kind of the lens through which we build everything and the lens through which we see the future.

The specter kind of the competitive landscape, yes, you know, there's multiple 800 pound gorillas in the room who have operated in this space. But the reality is instead of kind of seeing them predominantly as competition, we understand that they are a massive contributors to the ecosystem.

So our thought and our evolution to how we build it, how can we even add value to them?

How do we create a world in which there is this thriving industry where people are 13, 14, 15 year old saying, now I've got to get into accounting because this is, this is, this is literally the industry that powers the world.

Go now, you know, said it jokingly, nobody really says, oh, I love my accountant.

No, I love the accounting industry. And so our goal and our vision and our intention is to completely shift that narrative and redefine revolutionize what it means to be in the industry.

You know, and so if people are out there doing amazing work and putting out good value, then again, we want to cheer them on. We want to be proponents of them, but what we are building and how we are thinking about building is kind of the same.

You know, Elon Musk, Tesla example is like, I don't care if you, I think that electric vehicles are good for the world. You have the battery technology, go and put it in your vehicles because I think this is going to create a net good for the world. And so we take a very similar philosophy in terms of how we think about our tech, tech bold.

You know, our goal is to be able to provide value to every single accountant in the entire world, not just in the United States and so in the entire world. And that includes these traditional older school legacy players in the system. Cool.

Well, I mean, I feel like we've covered a lot of ground here. I'll just kind of, you know, leave it open for, for, for you to, you know, what have been some of the reflections on the company building process so far, you know, maybe some things that have surprised you along the way.

Yeah, I guess I'll kind of lead it off here and say that first, first time founder, first time entrepreneur. And while it is, it can be sometimes incredibly isolating.

I think, you know, it's understanding the purpose with which things are being built or viewing the future through the lens of, no, this is something which transcends just me. This is something which we are building to be able to leave a legacy, to be able to do something quite, quite special is wildly worth it.

You know, I think something that we speak about with, with the team on a daily basis is that we've, we've been given an incredible opportunity to do something fun in the world. Few people on a percentage basis actually get the opportunity to do what we've, what we have the opportunity to do in the world. And so with that comes a lot of responsibility.

You know, I think it doesn't necessarily take away from the fact that, you know, I can feel incredibly anxious or angry or sad or like over the moon elated all in the space of like five minutes in a specific day, you know, but it's one of those things where we get to do something really cool.

You know, we're convicted about the fact that, that the world deserves a solution like this, but it's difficult, you know, it's incredibly difficult and somebody's, somebody's got to do it. And so I guess we were kind of the motley crew, the crazy band who wants to go out then and make this, make this change that we want to see in the world. I think I might in general.

Yeah, this, this space is always an interesting space. It's a bit of a roller coaster at times of, you know, thinking we've got it all figured out our next stop is the moon to, Hey, let's, let's, you know, wind it back a little bit.

You know, maybe we had this wrong. I think it's important to have this interesting level of honesty with yourself. And I think that's what we try to do. Like not that I guess we're not our worst critics in the sense of like, we try to like lead and think really confidently, like this is going to be amazing.

But in the same sense, I think we try to look at our technology and our service and be like, would people use it?

So like, try to put ourselves in those kinds of shoes and beat ourselves up sometimes a little bit where we've had the really amazing privilege of having incredible business advisors around us who have also, they like, we'll just say like, I can just like beat us up a little bit today.

Like, you know, ask us the hard stuff and, and they've done a good job being like, yeah, well, this is probably not a good idea. And this is whatever. And so that would just kind of leave space for us to challenge that conversation.

And if it's hard for us to challenge that, it takes us, you know, backs of drawing board or makes us just say like, well, maybe we should just set it differently. So let's like get back on the call with those guys try again, you know.

And to me, I just think navigating that is just one of the funnest parts as well.

Just, you know, it's so cool, especially coming out of the tech stars program we were getting in and having this like really good, amazing privilege and opportunity of like raising some pretty good money to say, hey, someone has believed in us to like really put something special out into the world. And we're looking at a blank canvas and you can build what you want.

And we have the team and we have the ability to put something out there.

And then all of a sudden you feel this weight of like, but are we building the right thing?

Are we going to put the right thing out there?

I think that's also what helps us like kind of keep it close to the chest a little bit because like, well, maybe we'll just like sample this piece and that piece and sort of see what's going to work. But I'm just always been amazing.

I think in general, when you get saturated into an industry like this, like January of last year, I didn't know anything about technical accounting and I really enjoyed just like diving deeper into that. And so and trying to act like I am an accountant and try to feel that sort of pain, I think creating good technology requires you to try and feel the pain, I think, the most possible.

The best is like when you personally feel that's why Aneesa is so good at influencing the product that we're building. My end of not knowing that I've had to try to figure that out. And that's partially where I was at previously in the healthcare space.

I was just like, I don't know anything about this, but like, how can I get myself into the shoes of an elderly person with diabetes, you know, and try to understand their struggle and how do I create tech that can maybe help them, you know, kind of thing. So now our elderly diabetic patient looks a little different, I guess, in this industry now.

But no, but I think that's always just the funnest, most interesting ride of the startup space.

And I'm always like shifting and then I'll say something to Aneesa, like, you think about this?

And he goes, well, I mean, like, yeah, that's the thing, you know, and I'll be like, oh my gosh, I just I didn't get it until just now, you know. And so it's always a fun ride. It's better that you didn't come from the accounting industry because you might have been fixated on solving the facts problem.

So well, and I think that's the other thing, too, when you're solving problems that are out there.

Like, sometimes you don't even realize what some of the prevailing problems are because that couldn't be a problem anymore, you know, kind of thing. And especially so it's like you jump past like sometimes you try to jump too far ahead because you forget about the fact like, hey, this earlier thing, it's actually like a bigger problem.

And I think what my my fault was early on was maybe almost jumping too much like, oh, that's like, you know, change the world like all this stuff. But I like as like an easy to explain to me, I'm like, oh, well, yeah, like maybe just may seem to change someone's world like this one small thing first.

And then you put it out there and then people are just elated, you know, with this, like what seemed to be like, like what I said earlier, I was like, well, if you like that, I mean, you're going to really like what we're coming up with.

But I think just having that perspective is helpful when trying to figure out what to build and, and getting it out into the world in a sense, because there's nothing worse than when I've done this so many times of building a piece of technology that people don't use. And you could be so confident, like, this is so cool, though, but people just like don't resonate with it the way you thought.

And so trying to avoid that is obviously the most valuable thing you can do without being too blind. But there's something about being a little bit blind, though, because like people will doubt you. And you're being like, now, trust me, like you're this is going to change your world.

And I think we have a good balance of both, like some things where if I were to throw it out, it was like, I don't know. And other things, you'd be like, oh, 100%.

And so, you know, combined, we think it's going to be really cool. That's awesome. Also all resonates very much with my own experience. I can feel that all those. Yeah.

Well, I'll ask just a few more questions here as we close out, you know, for one with a little bit of capital behind you building out the team, building out the product.

What has you most excited thinking about, you know, what comes next?

Yeah, I think V 2.0, our new special platform that we have in production is something that I'm incredibly excited to get out into the world. So watch the space on that.

It takes, I think, the best part of what we have both to date and includes things that are the best parts of other things that are out there, all purpose both for the accounting and finance industry. So that is something I'm incredibly excited about. And I'm being vague specifically and very, very intentionally.

So that's something that we're going to focus on for the next, you know, little bit over year building the team has been something which has been incredibly rewarding.

I think, you know, having folks who quite frankly could have done anything else out in the world and typically, you know, oftentimes for a lot more money, but instead choosing choosing to come and be part of this vision, be part of this mission is excited. So we're excited to continue to expand the team, build out the team and just get what we're building on out into the world.

I'll tie it back to Cleveland to round us out here and I'll ask our traditional closing question which is not necessarily for your favorite thing in the area, but for something that other folks may not know about and perhaps should, a hidden gem. Randomly actually, like I actually think one of the underrated most amazing things for me is just around like the metro park system, to be honest.

Like the metro parks are amazing and the hiking is like incredible in Cleveland and it's something you don't necessarily think about because you don't really think about like hilliness even, I guess, right?

You know, and I always say to people like I grew up like snowboarding in Cleveland and they'd say, you know, wait, what?

You know, like Cleveland's got that and you actually don't necessarily see that so much like in like other parts of Ohio per se, but Cleveland's unique being on the water, sort of being still like connected to sort of those Appalachian Mountains.

And so I think that the metro parks are amazing, beautiful, I love, you know, in particular, like my wife and I love going to just like Squares Castle and like hiking around there. I think it's cool. And so I don't know if it shows up if you like Google the best things to do in Cleveland, but it would definitely be on the top of my list of recommendations.

Yeah, I think semantically one of the hidden gems in Cleveland and I don't think this necessarily gets nearly enough credit on a domestic scale is Cleveland food scene is actually madly impressive. Having lived and spent a lot of time in the Bay, I think there are certain restaurants in Cleveland that definitely are on par or some even better than the food out there.

Again, the reality is the options and the optionality maybe necessarily isn't as vast, but on a quality from a quality perspective, there are some incredible, incredible food spots out in Cleveland. So I think that is something that I really do enjoy about the city.

Well, Anees, Kato, I really appreciate you both taking the time and coming on and sharing a bit more about the work you're doing at Bina. It's really fascinating what you guys are doing and I'm pumped to follow along. Appreciate you having us, Jeff. Thank you so much. This was fun.

Yeah, for sure.

If people had anything that they wanted to follow up with you about, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Anees at, Cono at, and so just A-N-E-E-S at I'm more than happy to answer any questions or direct you to the person who could. Right on.

Well, thank you. Thank you both again. Really appreciate it.

Cheers, Jeff. Have a good one.