Karbon’s values in action (part 3): Create extraordinary outcomes

Stuart McLeodCEO & Co-Founder, Karbon

When John Freeman and I first conceptualized Karbon, we knew it needed to satiate the accountant’s desire for better and more efficient ways to work.

Historically, accounting software focused less on quality of life and more on the transactional tasks that come with the job. We knew that the next generation of accounting leaders needed and wanted more, but understanding those needs required us to look through a new lens.

That simple shift—away from the transactional and towards the transformational—has led to a tool that allows accountants to grow, meeting the ever-evolving demands of our rapidly changing world. 

The goal was a lofty one, made possible because of a team of talented individuals united in a shared mission and supported by our company culture. 

At the core of our culture lies Karbon’s values—the fundamental, agreed-upon beliefs that the Karbon team reveres. Just as we believe it is crucial to revisit vision statements from time to time, it’s equally essential to refresh and reconsider company values. Our leadership team recently revised Karbon’s values, emphasizing how they manifest in the day-to-day. 

This article is part three of a five-part series where I offer up my personal take on Karbon’s values—sharing the what, why, and how of the very core of our company. Today, I’m returning to my software engineer roots, reflecting on a value directly tied to the product itself. 

Karbon value: Create extraordinary outcomes with insight and determination 

“Delivering something simple, easy to use, and that works when you need it requires not only an enormous amount of insight; but the determination, dedication and time to do it right. We do more than just provide the obvious solutions. We challenge the status quo and draw on our experience, insight, and unparalleled knowledge of this industry to create a better way.” 

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a team of forward-thinking professionals with a vast amount of industry knowledge. 

John and I cut our teeth with Paycycle, our initial foray into developing software to support the needs of accounting professionals. When Xero acquired Paycycle, we both worked with the company to build out the Xero Payroll team. There, we became even more deeply embedded in the accounting software community, getting to know industry experts Sara Goepel and Pax Zwanikken—both are now familiar faces at Karbon. 

We also first crossed paths at Xero with Ian Vacin, our Chief Partnerships Officer and founding member. He, via his decade of experience in the industry, also brought former Intuit colleague Andi Ancheta into the Karbon family. 

At the most fundamental level, from day one, our team has been made up of experts in a niche field: software development for accounting professionals. 

But we’ve also been mindful of bringing on those more directly familiar with accounting. Tim Donohoue, our VP of Sales, became the first of many practicing accountants to join our budding startup. 

We rounded out our understanding of the industry with over 1,000 hours of video research to understand what customers were after, their pain points, and what kept them up at night. That research remains the genesis of the work we do today. 

Intimate—not just integral—solutions 

Unfortunately, our research confirmed something many suspected: it was assumed that professional services software, particularly for accountants, was solved. But, in fact, there was minimal effort to even evolve existing resources. 

The key word here being ‘assumed’. 

Not much had changed in accounting software over the 10-15 years before Karbon’s launch. Most accounting software focused on transactions, supporting task completion related to firm operations. Little was asked about how software could improve the lives of accountants. 

We wanted to do something different. Much of the available software was integral to the firm’s basic functioning. But we wanted to go deeper. We wanted intimacy. We aimed to become the accountant’s most cherished tool. 

Developing something that would become near and dear to our customers required us to look at the accountant’s day-to-day realities through a new lens, asking questions not yet explored by the more traditional solutions from the previous generation of software. Bucking the status quo, we sought to understand the psyche of the progressive accountant.

We focused not on delivering tactical tools but on delivering peace of mind.

The solution required us to develop a practice management platform that provides answers to previously unsolvable questions:

  • How can we integrate in new ways?

  • How can we improve morale in a distributed workforce while still offering peace of mind at the partner level?

  • How can leadership know who’s doing what, why, how, and when?

To arrive at answers to the previously unanswerable requires creativity and a paradigm shift. Take our solution for internal communication, for example. 

Embedding comment functions into emails and moving away from the traditional ‘BCC’ method was never something our customers directly asked us to develop. 

They didn’t ask for it because it didn’t yet exist as a concept. 

Instead, we learned about the internal communications of accountants. We studied what worked and what didn’t work, connecting the dots to arrive at a solution that would change the game for our customers. 

But we didn’t (and haven’t) stopped there. Like all values, our affinity for creating extraordinary outcomes isn’t just a reflection of what we’ve done. It’s also a reflection of where we’re going

Insightful invention instead of incremental improvement 

It can be easy for any SaaS company to get swept up in the incremental improvement trap. It’s not uncommon for developers to take customer feedback at face value and make minute improvements released in a slow drip, without any fundamental transformation in terms of ingenuity. 

‘Move this button there. Place this drop-down menu here.’ The approach results in change, but nothing groundbreaking.  

We avoid the incremental improvement trap by focusing instead on engineering new products and solving for new questions and pain points. By continuing our emphasis on R&D, we can build and ship new tools to solve new (and old) problems. It keeps us moving forward and enables our forward-thinking customers to remain on the cusp of innovative and extraordinary outcomes. 

Some of our latest initiatives include the recently launched Karbon Intelligence tool, invoicing and billing updates, and integration with Slack and Microsoft Teams. 

A constant eye on the horizon 

Our continuous commitment to research and development means we spend a significant amount of time with our customers, formally and informally. Even my anecdotal conversations with firm owners on the Accounting Leaders Podcast serve as a way for me to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry. 

So much of our commitment to extraordinary outcomes results not just from our deep industry knowledge but the empathy that comes with a team so invested in the community it serves. 

We get it. And we get it because we’ve committed our professional lives to knowing the stories, the realities, the worries, and the needs of our customers. By asking the right questions and exploring the needs of the industry from many perspectives, we can consistently deliver an ever-evolving product to help ever-evolving firms.

With an eye for improvement, innovation, and excellence, we’re eager to see what comes next for the industry.

Stuart McLeod
CEO & Co-Founder, Karbon

Stuart started his first business 11 years ago and has had many successful ventures, including Paycycle, founded in 2009, which he sold to Xero in 2011. He then built the global Xero Payroll team that delivers payroll software across the US, AU, UK and NZ markets. Stuart is now paving the way for smarter tools to improve how knowledge workers collaborate with their colleagues and look after their clients.

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