Today we are talking with Meryl Johnston of Bean Ninjas. Bean Ninjas manages bookkeeping for businesses in the US, Canada and Australia using Xero accounting software. We are interested in hearing Meryl’s journey of creating this productized service.

Meryl and her business partner launched Bean Ninjas in July of 2015. Their goal was to hit 20k by the end of 2016. Things have been going well, and they are going to hit that goal earlier. Prior to Bean Ninjas, Meryl ran an accounting consulting business doing project based work. Her partner Ben was running a tax practice.

Meryl and Ben met in a mastermind group. They both found their businesses hard to scale. They had read Dan Norris’s 7-Day Startup book and decided to go for it. They met for three days and built a website and launched their business. They landed their first paying customer that same week.

They spent the first six months talking to people about bookkeeping and trying to discover their pain points. Now eight months in, they are focussing on building their team. They validated the concept through conversations in their accounting practices.

They first targeted large businesses, but the time and scope of the projects made them not very viable. Then they discovered that focussing on smaller and online businesses was a much better option. Niching down the product to a business with 4 or less employees and a team of VAs reduced the complexity.

Most of their customers are referral based from connections made in communities they participate in. They do plan to do more outbound marketing in 2016. With a business like bookkeeping it is more difficult to acquire customers, but it is also harder for a customer to leave. This helps keep the churn rates lower.

Ben has a tax background, so he is able to facilitate and oversee hiring for different countries. Bean Ninjas focuses on bookkeeping, so tax issues still go to the tax attorney. They hire local people for their team after having some pitfalls with a foreign team. They track time by invoicing submitted by the team member.

The workflow consists of setting up a card in Trello. The bookkeeper will complete the plan and they create a customized checklist with notes. They use email to login to Xero. They use Help Scout for customer requests and communication.

Some common issues that entrepreneurs have is not using an accounting system at all. They usually need an account setup along with some catch up. They also might need some education about balance sheets etc. They also have issues with setting up Xero.

This was an exciting show. The similarities between our startup methods and Meryl’s were interesting.

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