In a recent merger with Catching Clouds, Matthew focused on crafting a mutually beneficial deal, not just the best deal for Acuity. This helped to foster team spirit post-merger.
Matthew holds sacred a three-way commitment between employer, employee, and client: for each to leave the other better than they started.
Atlanta-based accounting service provider, Acuity, has been growing by leaps and bounds, surpassing one milestone employee count after another. According to Co-Founder and VP of Sales and Marketing, Matthew May, those milestones haven’t been without bumps in the road.
“Growth is expensive. We took this thing from a million bucks run rate to somewhere around 11 [million] this year. The years that we grew the most were the hardest from a cash flow perspective, particularly if you're not going to take investors. It's just really hard to bootstrap growth,” Matthew says.
Having pushed through the rocky cash flow days, Acuity is now flourishing with 150 employees and a recent merger with Catching Clouds. However, each growth bump forced Matthew and Co-Founder Kenji Kuramoto to shift how they operate as leaders along the way.
As Matthew explains, “As a leader, you’ve got to develop skills that are changing all the time. The skills you need to be a leader of 10 people—which, when I started, it was with 10 people—is way different than at 50 [people]. There's a big cliff. And then at 150, it's just a totally different skill set.”
Matthew shares his experience growing Acuity with Karbon CEO and host Stuart McLeod on episode 32 of the Accounting Leaders Podcast. Recorded during Acuity’s first-ever million-dollar revenue month, Stuart and Matthew discuss the merger, using others’ strengths to fortify personal weaknesses, and the sales pipeline in the digital age.
Matthew learned a lot about business ventures from his father, who was also an entrepreneur. One of his biggest takeaways: choose the right business partner with whom to share the highs and lows of business.
“The loneliest place in the world is to be a single business owner and have something incredibly successful happen, and you really can't talk about it,” Matthew laments on the podcast. “There's no celebration.”
Matthew found that partnership fit nine years ago with Kenji Kuramoto, whose kindness and outgoing spirit often make Matthew play the ‘bad cop’ role. He cites Kenji’s ‘life of the party’ attitude as both his greatest strength and weakness.
Together, Matthew and Kenji make a well-rounded, complementary pair.
“The nice thing about partnerships is that [Kenji] can be imperfect and I can be imperfect. We mesh and surround ourselves with people that fill in those gaps.”
When it came to filling the personality and strategy gaps, Acuity’s latest merger with Catching Clouds was the perfect complement. Its fluency in e-commerce helped to fill out Acuity’s offerings. Matthew credits Catching Clouds founders Patti Scharf and Scott Scharf for bolstering Acuity’s leadership team.
“To Kenji’s credit, he had built a six-year relationship with the Scharfs. They were interested in having a deeper bench from a support perspective. They were at the 25-person inflection point where they still didn't have a management team to support them,” Matthew says of the merger. “We had kind of pushed through that at 50 people. When they met our management team, they saw that they would be able to try to do what they were already doing at scale.”
And thanks to their experience with past acquisitions, Matthew and Kenji knew how to smoothly integrate the new partners.
“Alignment on the merger was a huge-ass deal,” Matthew tells Stuart. “It was about getting to a fair deal, and not the best deal for us at the time. Because… in a merger, you're going for a ‘we’ afterward.”
Matthew and Kenji placed the importance on becoming an integrated business family rather than having a ‘winning’ and a ‘losing’ company. It’s a growth-oriented mindset that any merging businesses can benefit from.
Recommended reading: Transparency and the ‘Great Reshuffling’ with Acuity’s Kenji Kuramoto
Kenji and Matthew have always been skilled at coming up with challenging yet attainable short-term goals, like quarterly sales targets. But one behemoth always eluded them: the big hairy audacious goal, or BHAG for short. Since the Catching Clouds merger, they were finally able to hone in on what would motivate them.
“Revenue goals didn't sound very fun. None of us get real jazzed about that. And growth for the sake of growth doesn't do it,” Matthew says. “But when we start helping people, that gets really exciting. So we finally had a BHAG that mattered.”
So what’s Acuity’s BHAG? To help 5,000 small businesses by 2030.
Kenji and Matthew plan to track their entrepreneur count twice a year and report it to employees at their annual all-hands meeting, AcuityCon. They plan to celebrate each milestone number as it comes and continue providing excellent service to small businesses.
Of course, there’s no meeting Acuity’s 2030 BHAG without a laser-focused sales funnel. As the VP of Sales and Marketing, Matthew has plenty of insight to share on reeling in the right small businesses for Acuity. He starts with a basic litmus test: Does the company use Slack?
If the prospect uses Slack, they’re likely a good fit for Acuity because of their tech readiness. Sales representatives identify 10 potential prospects per day and use the Slack test first.
From there, they run what Matthew calls a 'five by eight', meaning five touches over eight days. Usually, this involves three emails and two phone calls.
Hearing this, Stuart recommends trying direct mail gifts as another strategy to move leads further down the sales funnel—one that lends a personal touch. For now, according to Matthew, Acuity funnels potential clients into a drip email campaign that delivers a mix of helpful tips and sales content.
As the two discuss sales, Matthew notes that it’s important to not have too many ideal client profiles (ICPs). He shares that while Acuity currently has four ICPs, “we did our fastest [conversions] when we had one ICP.”
Focusing on one persona means more targeted results. But Matthew also recognizes that sales ultimately involves a delicate balance between prospect quantity and quality.
Few companies have been spared from the impact of the Great Resignation, and Acuity is no exception. Regardless of what’s going on globally, Matthew holds sacred a three-fold corporate commitment between the client, employee, and employer.
According to his philosophy:
Employees should leave the company better than they found it
Employers should give employees an environment in which to grow and learn
Clients should be better off after having worked with the company
Given this mindset, Matthew is understanding of the fact that it might be time for an employee to move on. He acknowledges that each employee is on their own growth trajectory and Acuity may not be their best opportunity at a given time.
“When people say they're thinking about leaving, I ask them one question: ‘Is this better for your family?’ If they answer that this is better for their family, I stop,” Matthew explains.
Though employees inevitably come and go, Matthew keeps to Acuity’s value proposition for employees: flexibility. Since it works primarily with small businesses, Acuity may not be able to pay as competitively as EY or similar, but it offers a flexible remote work lifestyle that appeals to anyone craving more time with family.
As the world moves into a post-COVID world, maintaining that flexibility while many return to the office will keep Acuity an attractive option for those in the accounting field.