Why does accounting have to be so complicated? That was the question today’s guest, Ian Crosby, asked himself. And from that question, one of North America’s largest bookkeeping service for small businesses was born. His answer also led to an innovation which has implications for the compliance professional. Ian is the co-founder and CEO of Bench, and he’s talking about taking the grounded route to innovation — and how it’s always about the people.

Humble (and frustrated) beginnings

Ian was a bookkeeper in college and came across the problem of: how is there not a place you can just go on the internet and get perfect bookkeeping out? People have to either figure it out themselves or hire an expert and have no idea if that person is good or doing it right. Why is there no “Gmail for Accounting”?

This is a huge problem that’s been overlooked and he couldn’t get the idea out of his head, so he jumped right into it.

The Bench brand of business leadership

At a surface level, bookkeeping can seem really ‘back office-y,’ but when people get on top of their finances, they get a sense of direction and feel powerful. He and his team are out to make a difference in the lives of as many human beings as they can, and that’s what it’s really about: the people.

So Ian had to discover how he can connect people to purpose, and the cultural principles that really work for them as a team. It’s that culture that allows Bench to have people keep figuring stuff out and powering their growth. It’s not about Ian at all. It’s about the people in the rooms he’s not even in, talking about what the company is going to do next, having the best ideas surface to the top, and having a team that can carry it out successfully.

On innovation

Innovation isn’t doing new things for the sake of doing new things. As a culture, Bench is very focused on the problems they’re trying to solve — and then what naturally pops out the other end is new. You can’t force innovation. You can just set it up with the right ingredients and let it happen.

The importance of simple, effortless, and portable bookkeeping

What it really comes down to is: you should have this stuff at your fingertips. You need to know if your business is making money, if you’re still going to be making it months from now, how to file your taxes, and so on. But you don’t need to be spending hours of your own effort. Part of being a successful business is having an awesome team around you that can let you do awesome things without you having to put in a lot of effort.

Bench rejects the idea of garbage in, garbage out (i.e. that you’re responsible for your books being wrong because you told your bookkeeper the wrong things). The way they’ve built their culture is: we care about your books being right. They take responsibility for your finances the same way Ian takes responsibility for his daughter not running out of the street. Will he let her get run over just because she didn’t look both ways before crossing? Of course not. And you need someone like that on your team.

Tips for business leaders

Once your business becomes more than just you, it’s all about the people you bring on. Your job must switch from having an awesome strategy to making sure the people and culture are the strongest they can be. That was the point Bench really started taking off.
Have a clear understanding of what you’re here to do in the world, have everything come from that understanding, and just do it. That’s integrity and a powerful foundation for all your endeavors.


Ian Crosby | Twitter | Bench