Productive partnerships and community cultivation: a conversation with Thriveal’s Jason Blumer
Jason Blumer, CEO of Thriveal and Blumer & Associates, is committed to helping fellow accounting firm owners grow their businesses by focusing on community and culture.
The difference between a disorganized firm and a quality, highly operationalized firm is millions. Jason shares his secrets for taking a firm from good to great.
Just because you and your business partner both have equity doesn’t mean you’re automatically in agreement. Jason offers up lessons about adding a partner and transitioning into a new business relationship.
Few people embody accounting leadership like Jason Blumer. As CEO and founder of Thriveal, an organization that supports the growth and professional development of entrepreneurial accounting firm owners, Jason’s changing the way individuals engage within the industry.
The serial entrepreneur is CEO of not one, but two successful companies—and has also lived the humbling experience of launching a now-defunct digital marketing signage business.
Not only does Jason support the growth of financial leaders via Thriveal, but he also supports creative entrepreneurs in need of financial coaching and consulting services as CEO of Blumer & Associates.
As a coach, speaker, and educator, Jason offers a unique perspective in the accounting space. He joins Karbon CEO and Accounting Leaders Podcast host Stuart McLeod to discuss why mergers and acquisitions are all the rage, how to build and scale quality accounting firms, and why Jason’s committed to disrupting education for CPAs.
The conference circuit crystal ball
According to Jason, mergers and acquisitions in the accounting industry aren’t going anywhere. They continue to be a topic of conversation at accounting conferences—one of his temperature gauges for what's in vogue within the industry.
On the podcast, Jason and Stuart hypothesize about why so many M&A deals are being cut and share their opinions for the shift:
1. Baby boomers are building up their firms to (finally) exit
"I thought the baby boomers were going to be done by now," Jason admits. However, he and Stuart believe that many boomers hung onto their ownership roles longer than anticipated due to the 2008 recession.
Now, boomers are finally taking a step toward retirement and looking for an out. That means some are selling at record-low prices, while others are acquiring small firms with the hope of merging for higher returns in the near future.
"They're just looking to buy their golf course membership," Stuart jokes.
2. Mid-sized firm owners are tired and want out
Many mid-sized owners have been rattled by the pandemic and are ready to move on to other opportunities.
"It's hard to be in the middle," Jason says. Familiar with the challenges that come with scaling a business, he believes that many mid-sized firm owners struggle with the risk and economic tightrope they must walk as their firms grow.
And since well-organized cloud-first firms are going at much higher rates in the 3x-5x range, why wouldn't some owners look to sell?
Stuart points out that there are advantages to selling up into a firm that offers a wider array of services. According to him, "It just makes sense to be able to bring your technology-forward client base into a larger firm that can do audit, tax, and advisory.”
3. Larger firms are capitalizing on the discounted rates to bulk up for future gains
The perfect storm of burnt-out firm owners and wannabe retirees means many accounting firms are on sale. Larger firms see the clearance price points as an opportunity for long-term financial growth.
Jason hopes that those looking to sell because they're feeling burned out will hold on and weather the current pandemic-driven storm. In his mind, "they're losing their why temporarily, and it's flipping them out."
Nonetheless, Jason believes it's important to wait and see what's on the other side of this global catastrophe before giving up on a career path. "It is hard. But I'm saying the hard is not forever."
Building and scaling a (quality) firm
While it shocks both Jason and Stuart that many firm owners are okay with selling at such low prices, Jason knows that the difference between an okay firm and an excellent firm is millions. He’s well versed in helping motivated firm owners find a path forward and create optimized companies with healthy cultures.
The only problem? It takes a lot of work.
“It’s really hard to build and scale a good firm. It takes a lot of maintenance. …There’s a lot of caregiving you’ve got to do with your team. You have layers of leaders, senior members, and team members who need care at different salary levels.”
Even when firm leaders invest in standardizing practices and building foundational processes for their firm, they must acknowledge that their systems require ongoing maintenance.
“One flaw we see is that owners think they can just let [their teams] hum. That [approach] does not work,” Jason warns on the podcast.
Creating a culture and monitoring teams is especially challenging for virtually based firms.
Jason’s team at Thriveal has been virtual for eight years. As a result, he’s experienced his share of ups and downs.
“Building a culture that is considerate, consistent, and intentional takes a lot of work,” Jason says. “[The amount of work] is wild.”
He counterbalances the problem with regular all-hands meetings, a foundational part of Thriveal’s unique growth model called the “Prototype Components Model for Growth.” Jason teaches it at his company’s signature event, Deeper Weekend.
Service rhythms are a big part of Thriveal’s Prototype Components Model for Growth, which requires a minimum of one team meeting per week. Jason personally implements more with his team. For larger organizations, he recommends layering on project management huddles that are technical and client-focused conversations.
“But the weekly all-team meeting is a culture-based meeting, and that rhythm is the reminder that I’m part of a team, I’m part of a culture,” Jason says.
The meetings are also an opportunity for leaders to participate in active leadership, share visionary insight, publicly celebrate wins, and call the team on growth opportunities.
He and his partner also meet privately with team members on a quarterly basis for a temperature check to understand their employees’ struggles, successes, and individual needs.
“Lead in a rhythm,” Jason emphasizes.
Recommended resource: Scaling your business: why, what, and how
A perspective on productive partnerships
As solopreneurs and small-firm owners grow, they often need to bring on additional leadership.
Many growing pains can come as firms move to a partnership model, but the benefits are worth the initial struggle.
“There are limitations,” says Jason. “You can only get so far fully by yourself.”
Eight years ago, he asked his COO, Julie Schipp, to become his partner at Thriveal.
“She was not looking for ownership,” he recalls. “But I explained to her, ‘I need you to legally own the place, so you act like you own it. … I need somebody that’s as committed as I am.’”
Over the years, he’s learned a lot about the unique business partner relationship. In particular, Jason now understands that while joint ownership comes with some pain points, growth requires giving up control.
“Owning and then being on the same page are two different things,” he laughs.
Deeper Weekend: Redefining professional development for accountants
Helping entrepreneurial firm owners navigate the nuances of leadership is what Jason and his team at Thriveal do best. He’s committed to providing authentic education opportunities for accounting leaders to grow.
Deeper Weekend, one of Thriveal’s many professional development events, is one way that Jason brings leaders together for an educational experience that transforms the lives of attendees.
“It’s the anti-accounting conference,” Stuart explains on the podcast.
Jason caps the conference at 100 attendees to encourage relationship building and optimize time for those in attendance to share ideas with one another.
He believes that everyone at Deeper Weekend, not just the speakers, add value to the experience. To that end, he strives to ensure that discussion and sharing occur throughout the weekend. The format allows leaders to learn new strategies while also reigniting their passion for the industry.
Jason often curates the event with out-of-the-box experiences, inviting speakers outside the accounting space to offer unique perspectives.
“It’s a whole new world,” he says.
Jason’s priority with Deeper Weekend: providing a deep dive into what it takes to run and grow a firm by teaching the structure, models, and commitment required for success.
Most leave inspired. But occasionally, Jason’s had attendees walk away from the experience deciding that they aren’t ready to take the next step and grow their firms. Either way, Jason views it as a win. For him, it’s about transforming the lives of those in attendance.
At this stage of life, Jason feels he’s hit his stride and has found home wearing his educator hat.
“I am really made to create, teach, write, and speak,” he says. “I can do those forever.”