Terms like API, real-time financial data, blockchain, cryptocurrency, financial data software, and cloud-based business management are all part of today's market. With the right tools and expertise, organizations can leverage new opportunities and take their businesses to the next level. One of these tools is SoftLedger.
Benjamin Taylor, CEO and Co-Founder of SoftLedger, shares insights on what SoftLedger is, how it works, and new opportunities that businesses can use to manage their financial data in real-time.
Megan: And thank you very much for joining me on today's episode of CFO weekly.
Benjamin: Hi Megan. Thanks for having me on
Megan: today. We're going to be discussing a product you co-founded soft ledger. Why you created it. What is it used for and what differentiates it in the marketplace? I'm looking forward to learning about learning more about both you and soft ledger.
So let's get started.
Benjamin: Sounds good.
Megan: First, let's start with you. Tell me about your career progression and how it is that you got to where you are today.
Benjamin: Sure. I started my career in public accounting at Ernst and young in the Washington DC area. Then I worked in financial reporting for Fannie Mae for a, for a few years.
Then when I, when I started at soft ledger, I was managing, uh, at the time a few different areas in the accounting department for a public company. And it took too long to close the books every month. Um, which is, well, let me just turn this off.
Megan: Yeah. Wow. [00:01:00] Um, did, did you have any kind of background in, uh, writing software?
Benjamin: Uh, no. Uh, I did not. So I, uh, pretty much it, it was, we were using a, um, uh, an old mid-market accounting system at the time, Microsoft dynamics, GP, um, uh, which was one of the first general purpose accounting systems. Um, and it. Uh, just took too long to get financial data from operations, into the hands of management.
That's kind of what I realized. And so I, I knew that part, but I didn't know how to actually build software. Um, and so I called up my longtime friend, Jeff Australia, who, uh, we've known each other since freshman year of college. And I, I talked to him about building a general ledger and ultimately convinced him to, to take a crack at it.
And so, yeah, that's, that's how we got.
Megan: Well, that's a great story. So as you look back, uh, throughout your career, are there [00:02:00] any like career moves or stories that stand out in your mind as being turning points?
Benjamin: Absolutely. One that comes to mind is that the move to a senior accountant role at a small public company, that is actually the company.
I just referenced that it was, I was working at way. It started soft ledger. Prior to that, I'd worked at very large companies where I felt a bit siloed to my particular area. And then when I made the move to, to that company, the smaller company was called Mattersight. I had a, had to take a significant pay cut and the advancement opportunities were a lot less clear.
But ultimately they ended up being a pretty pivotal, pivotal point in my career. I got the opportunity to take on some responsibilities that I was never exposed to before and even weigh on, uh, weigh in on things like customer contract negotiations. It, it really felt like I was providing more strategic advice to management then, um, then than I was.
Megan: Yeah. Someone who's worked for both small and large companies. I prefer small companies as well. I mean, there's [00:03:00] some people out there that like being specialists, but I like wearing a lot of hats.
Benjamin: Yeah. Yeah. I agree. Yeah. I guess I ended up going to the very smallest company. I started my own, but many hats, this
Megan: one, I bet.
So, in your view, how has the role of the CFO evolved over the last decade and where is it heading?
Benjamin: So I w I guess the, that, um, the answer to the last question, kind of parlays into this, uh, it continues to move toward a serving as a strategic advisor. I think organizations are generally more attuned to getting, um, uh, to the importance of sound financial advice.
And this is because companies with strong financial leadership, just, they do better. Uh, they outperform their competitors. Um, and I think that that having a strong finance and accounting function, uh, It's really a competitive advantage and, and mature companies are realizing that.
Megan: Yeah, I guess that [00:04:00] hasn't always been the case.
I guess accounting used to be more backwards looking, but more than ever, it's a definitely forward-looking role.
Benjamin: Exactly. Yeah. And I think connecting, um, obviously we see this from a technology perspective a lot, but connecting the backward, looking in the forward looking is really the holy grail. And it's tricky to set that up.
Right. But I think, um, uh, organizations understand the importance of that enough, that, that, um, that they, they invest in it. Okay.
Megan: So as the co-founder of soft ledger, tell me about this product.
Benjamin: Sure. So, um, uh, at Mattersight I, uh, the company I was working at, when I started soft ledger, it took too long to get financial data.
And so that's what this really comes down to is getting that process to be as quick as possible. Um, so, you know, at the time we had spent so much time manually configuring. Uh, spreadsheets to get into our old general ledger, just so that we could then export the journal [00:05:00] entries on, on the reporting side and update a spreadsheet.
And that's what drove the reports. Uh, and so we thought, you know, how, how quick could this process be with all the advancements in cloud technology over the, of the last, uh, or software technology generally over the past couple of decades, um, there must be a way to speed this up. So how quickly. Maybe a lot of this could be available in real time.
And that's what really led us down this road of developing a mid-market accounting solution and starting to, um, try to automate every component of the, of the process of getting from operations to, um, uh, the financial data that management needs to run the business. So
Megan: you mentioned it being for mid-market.
What is the ideal customer for this product?
Benjamin: Um, so there are a few different ones, uh, but the, probably the single biggest, uh, ideal customer is, is, is, is a customer that has, um, or any organization has multiple entities and needs to [00:06:00] consolidate them easily in a single system. Um, Uh, that could be a company that's using multiple QuickBooks or zero instances.
They have 20 or 30 different entities or 80 different men needs even. And that maybe a lot of these are not overly complicated. There are a few operating entities that are, that are more complicated, but there's lots that are not, and they don't have a huge accounting department and they just want the complexity is really consolidating everything.
And right now they're exporting, um, all of them to Excel and updating a spreadsheet. And if something changes one BMDs, then they got to go back, update the spreadsheet again and do it. They'll do the whole process. If that's the pain, then that's a really good one for us as a, um, a CFO or controller at a, at a company that, that has multiple entities and then has a process like.
Megan: Yeah. I mean, I, I guess as I look at all the technology available, I'm surprised by how many companies still have quite a few manual [00:07:00] processes within their finance and accounting function.
Benjamin: There's a lot of PR it's tough to get it in with the constant close process and everything else. Um, so yeah, it's taken, it's taken some time still.
Um, and I think there's, there's a lot of, a lot of room for improvement for, for many, many organizations in that, on that.
Megan: Yup. So how is it possible for soft ledger to stay agnostic to various regulatory environments? And why is that important in a product?
Benjamin: Um, so yeah. Um, that's a very point that it's kind of critical to, um, to how we built it.
As you might've heard that math is kind of is the same everywhere. Um, core the core principles of accounting are the same everywhere as well. And similarly, the core function required functionality. And are you general purpose accounting? That's what we're describing here. That's what we are. That's what NetSuite is intact.
Microsoft dynamics, they're all general purpose accounting platforms. [00:08:00] That core functionality is the same everywhere as well. It has to be it's it's um, uh, you know, and so, so we did the same thing. Deliberately built our platform to be general purpose carefully, assessing every. Product feature and change to ensure that it's built to handle uncertainty.
And that's how we can remain agnostic because, um, you know, by configuring the chart of accounts, configuring other dimensions, like cost centers, uh, and your mappings to various reports, you can report in gap, uh, U S gap, local gap versions. Ifrifrst whatever you need.
Megan: And let's talk a little bit about the setup of this product.
How out of the box is it and how easy is it to get started?
Benjamin: Sure. It's, it's really easy to get started. That, that, that is something that we, we strive to do from day one is really build a product focused application where, um, excuse me, uh, everything is, is made to be to. Uh, quick to get up and running [00:09:00] self-configurable.
Um, and so we we've often found that our customers can get up, get up and running in weeks, um, instead of, instead of months, um, obviously there's a lot that goes into actually, you know, getting your data in the right format and getting it all, all set up to be important to the system. But once that's, once that's done, um, the process of actually getting in, getting your team up and running and getting them to learn it and getting to.
To be using us fully transitioned. That's that's it's it can be often really quick. Wow.
Megan: Um, let's talk a, for a minute about API driven accounting. First of all, I've never really heard the term, but what is API
Benjamin: shirts? Um, it stands for application programming interface. That's what an API is. And essentially what that means is it's a mechanism for using an application without the user interface integrations between [00:10:00] cloud applications generally use an API.
And if you built a cloud application 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, you probably built the application first, and then you built the API. So the API was more of an ad. And then it was something that was contemplated from the onset. Whereas today, if you build a cloud based application, API is, are likely on your mind as you're developing the system architecture, this results in an application that's fundamentally easier to integrate with other cloud applications because you're kind of, you're using the UI or the sorry, the user interface, um, uh, to program the API.
And then when another application needs to do. They're kind of doing the same thing. Um, so I don't, I don't know if that, um, no, it's kinda tough to figure out how that, how that fits in. I know it's thrown around, it's a little, little bit of a buzzword sometimes.
Megan: So does that basically mean that it's easier to kind of plug [00:11:00] things into a
Yeah. Yeah. Uh, and if you have engineers working for your company in involved in that, you know, developing your tech stack, this is, you know, we've, we've built it in the way that they're, um, it's like a, more of a standard way of, of integrating. So it's easier for them to use as well.
Megan: And so as we look into the future, um, cryptocurrency obviously becoming very big these days, how do you think that that is going to impact accounting?
Benjamin: Yeah. So, um, great question. And we, we really. We we wrote, we're really excited about blockchains and blockchain based assets, like cryptocurrencies, other related technologies that have come up as, as part of this as well. Um, and we, we think once they're used widely, they'll help to automate certain aspects of accounting.
Um, that said, you'll always need a general ledger to bring everything together. And so I don't think that, [00:12:00] um, you know, there's a lot of, uh, uh, uh, Excitement around maybe automating the whole stack. And I don't think it's quite to quite be that. Um, so the, the general ledger is it does kind of, doesn't make sense to live in a blockchain is how we view it.
Um, but there's, there's a lot of exciting things that, you know, individual processes, certain industries that could, could really leverage blockchain, um, based ledgers to, to help out a lot. Um, and so, yeah, I think the second part of that was w what, um, I guess w what mainstream adoption looks like, and when it happens, it's still tough to say, More regulatory clarity will certainly help particularly around stable coins.
These are like representations of us dollars or euros that, um, that, that are out there and are getting a little bit more attention right now. Um, and it's, it's a bit of a [00:13:00] chicken and the egg problem. So, uh, You know, they're used a little bit more than regulators come in and I'll put some regulation around them.
And then maybe that there's a little bit of a pullback and then it's a few years and they're used a little bit more and then there's more regulatory attention. So it kind of it'll take a while before it's, you know, they're really widely used. Uh, but I think one step. Once it's clear how F how these assets are being used.
Um, when, when there's a lot of business being, uh, a lot of economic activity being, uh, based on them, then, you know, kind of that, that comes together a little bit clearer to see, okay, this is what the future state of them looks like.
Megan: Yeah. I mean, it's super exciting concept. And, um, I was driving through a very small country town, not too long ago.
And, um, I passed by it like, uh, an auto mechanic who. Was advertising that they were accepting [00:14:00] Bitcoin for payment. Yeah. So maybe it's not as far away as we think it might be.
Benjamin: Yeah. Yeah. It's it's, it's certainly, I mean, uh, you know, a few years ago it was, it. Uh, I think a lot of people learned about it and then it kinda, you know, it, it, there was a little bit of a LOL and for mainstream kind of, uh, uh, it being out there.
And I think recently it's uptick to get, and there's a lot of tools like that, that make it, uh, that make it easy for any business to accept it. And so, um, yeah, we're, we're excited to be, uh, serving companies in that area and, uh, and being kind of at the forefront of this new. Yeah, this new trend.
Megan: How are you changing the product to incorporate cryptocurrency?
Benjamin: We built out specific functionality for cryptocurrencies. Uh, so in, and this was a little over three years ago that we released that. Um, and in 2017, [00:15:00] late 2017. Uh, we were receiving some inbound interest, uh, from, from, uh, companies about, about our functionality or on crypto. And, uh, it was something that Jeff and I were were interested in, uh, separately.
And, you know, as we went from. Uh, further into it, we realized this is, it's kind of like a lot of these companies are doing, uh, many IPOs, at least, uh, you know, from a, uh, from a regulatory compliance perspective. That's, you know, we, we thought, okay, that's probably what it looks like to the sec and other regulatory bodies.
Um, and so we thought this is going to be something that they really, they really need to be tools for, for these companies to. Um, to track these really complicated assets and complicated transactions that they're doing with a very small team, maybe not even any full-time accountants on the team. And so that's what we, we that's when we decided to build out all of this functionality, uh, for, for these assets.
Uh, [00:16:00] and yeah, we've just been developing that ever since. And, um, and as you're using them, You know, as part of your business, you're paying vendors with them, you're accepting them as payment, holding them, holding them on behalf of others, it starts, it just gets really complicated. And so that's, we've just kind of prioritized what we think is the, are the right features to still stay general purpose and still stay as our mission of getting all the, all the companies, all of your financial data, um, quickly into the, into the hands of, uh, management, uh, But, uh, but being able to serve these, these complex, uh, crypto asset and use-case yeah,
Megan: it sounds like you guys are definitely ahead of the curve there.
So realtime financials might seem like a pipe dream to many companies who like, as we discussed, still struggle with month-end close. So what is your advice for companies on getting to a point where real-time financials are a reality? [00:17:00]
Benjamin: For sure. It's, it's a big goal to set. It will definitely take some time to get there.
And maybe it's not practical that a hundred percent of your financials will ever be real time. It just depends. Every business is unique. There's always some edge cases. Sometimes the reality is, you know, there are certain things that just won't be real time, but it's, it's all about running down the list of all the processes that create financial data and removing friction where you get.
Maybe it's only a few things to be real time for now, and somethings need to be batched, but you can start working on those. You know, it doesn't, it doesn't need to all happen at once, but the important part is, is having that idea of, okay, let's get everything as fast as possible, and let's just go down the list and see what we can do.
Because as I think through that, there are some things that could be a lot, lot, a lot quicker, and some of them kit could be available in real time. Um, but it just cutting out the, cutting out the friction directly connecting things with.
Megan: Yeah. I mean, I I've looked at finance and accounting as a profession.
Um, [00:18:00] and, uh, the term I've heard for the last few years is perpetual close, um, as opposed to month end close. So do you think it's feasible that most companies or even, you know, many companies can get to a point where end close is no longer a thing and they're closing basically on a daily basis.
Benjamin: Um, I think there will always be some monthly close because there are going to be monthly financial, uh, reporting requirements and other just financial, certain financial reports that need to be locked down and say, you know, this is the state of them at this time.
Here's all the support. Here's your, how the, how the system existed at that point in time. Um, so I think there's always going to be something like that, but, um, that doesn't mean that during the month you can't start to get. Uh, things a lot quicker. And so maybe those, those real time, the data that's available, that's able to be available in real time.
Maybe this [00:19:00] is your, your, um, customer facing invoicing and, uh, revenue for, uh, revenue that there's no timing difference for. And you can just book it with the transaction. Maybe, maybe you could see that right away and maybe. Uh, expenses that could appear right away and you can get a little cut at what, what your margins are earlier in the month, but then there's some things like accruals and estimates that aren't going to be available that month.
I think that that's some hybrid of that is probably where we're at this.
Megan: Yeah, I guess, using technology to maybe get to a point where the month end, isn't quite the fire drill. It is for many companies
Benjamin: these days. Yeah. That would be great. Cause there's there's enough room for improvement that even a, uh, uh, just a faster process.
That's not necessarily even, uh, uh, mostly perpetual would be, would be, uh, in many cases, uh, uh, of a welcome change.
Megan: And lastly, as a business leader, what is keeping you up at [00:20:00] night right now?
Benjamin: Um, you know, just, uh, you know, we, we, uh, raised, uh, some money, uh, earlier this year to expand our team. And we've been doing that before.
Several months, um, and grow, grow, grow quicker and all the, all the things that, um, we haven't, hadn't been able to do prior, um, prior to raising that capital. And so I guess just, you know, aligning everything together. Um, you know, the, the big thing is, is developing a predictable and scalable process for generating revenue, um, and, and, and, you know, doing that quicker.
Uh, and that's always, that's always tricky. So that's, that's probably the biggest thing, but there's always a lot of little things, but, uh, Yeah.
Megan: Yeah. Crazy times we live in for sure. These days. Yep. And thank you so much for being my guest today.
Benjamin: Thank you for having me on. Yeah, this was, this is great.
I really enjoyed speaking with you and learning about soft ledger. It sounds like you're both doing great things and I wish you continued success in the future.
Benjamin: Thanks. Yep. [00:21:00] Same to all
Megan: of our listeners. Thank you for tuning in and please tune in next week and on Tobin. Take care. All righty.
In this episode, we discuss managing critical financial data, API-driven accounting, and real-time financials among other topics.
Perspectives on the CFO's Role
CFOs continue to move toward serving as strategic advisors. A strong finance and accounting function gives a competitive advantage, and mature companies realize that.
''Organizations are generally more attuned to getting the importance of financial advice. And this is because companies with strong financial leadership do better, and they outperform their competitors.''
Managing Critical Financial Data
SoftLedger is a software product that provides real-time visibility to critical financial data. Its cloud-native business management platform and APIs help organizations manage their distributed operations and assets. The product automates in real-time the manual work of configuring financial data.
''We deliberately built our platform to be general-purpose, carefully assessing every product feature and change to ensure that it will handle uncertainty.''
API stands for application programming interface, a mechanism for using an application without the user interface. With blockchain technology, they will help to automate certain aspects of accounting. SoftLedger also has built-in specific functionalities for cryptocurrencies.
''We've prioritized what we think are the right features to stay general purpose and still stay as our mission of getting all of a company's financial data quickly into the hands of management.''
For more interviews from the CFO Weekly podcast, check us out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player!