Using technology to deliver amazing customer experience

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

meaningful tech logo

Season 1: Episode 1

Recording Date: 9.8.21 
Host: Anand Krishnan, Managing Partner, thinkbridge 
Guest: Bill Klein, Co-Founder & President, Consero Global 

Our guest today is Bill Klein, the Co-founder and President of Consero Global Solutions. Consero is changing the way business does finance with their innovative Finance-as-a-Service solution. We talk about their technology strategy and their technology platform that is a brilliant unification platform that simplifies their customer’s lives, a great example of meaningful tech. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Consero pursued a strategy of using a best-to-class solution stack that is already available but building their differentiator which is a unified delivery platform (“SIMPL”) that dramatically reduces customer friction. Think of it as ‘Mint’ for business. 

Anand Krishnan: All right. Hey Bill. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for your time today.  

Bill Klein: Thanks. Happy to be here.  

Anand Krishnan: All right, let’s jump right in, do you want to take a couple of minutes and, introduce yourself, uh, your background and also Concero.  

Bill Klein: Sure, so, bill Klein, President, and co-founder of considerate global and considerate. Global is a Finance-as-a-Service business, which really means we’ve kind of combined all of the finance, accounting services, and software that a company needs to sustain operations and to give them insights and information about what’s happening in their business, how they’re positioned from a financial standpoint and how the business is performing, over time. And we’ve really put that together way, into a package that allows companies to get scalability, visibility, and insights into, the company in a scalable fashion that will take them through the lifespan of their operations.  

Anand Krishnan: Great, perfect, perfect. And so that’s exactly what we want to dive into today. Talk about some of the interesting things you’re doing as a company, especially with technology. So, some of the questions are, specifically pointed towards, your platform, your tech strategy. And, things that you all do, in a unique way, to build on your tech strategy as well as go to market with it. 

So great. so just, as the first question, having worked with you for several years, considered a simple platform is, you know, I think it’s such a powerful unification. That takes the best of breed solutions out there on the market and brings it together, for your clients, that is easy to use scalable. It’s a very unique approach, instead of deploying multiple applications, to your customers can, can you explain your journey on how you landed on this particular strategy?  

Bill Klein: Sure, sure. No, it’s, [00:02:00] it’s a. It’s an interesting journey for sure. You know, I think, I think if you, if you flashback to when we were, you know, early on in the lifespan of the company and we were providing services and we have this vision of being, you know, a solution that could allow customers to leverage best practices and efficiency and have a scalable, efficient finance and accounting platform. 

That they could leverage to support their operations and not have to worry about. The finance and accounting function and building out teams and putting software in place and trying to come up with scalable processes for different things as their business grows. And so I think as we were looking to do that, you know, early on, we would often, we would often plug into systems that a customer already had in place, and we would inherit those and we try to make the most of those. And I think what we quickly learned along the way was we were never going to be great at what we do if we had to leverage all different applications, every time we were working with different companies. So it was more about hot. Solve a problem for customer a and they’ve got this application stack and then we have the same problem with customer B. How do we get access to certain information? And they have a different application stack. The nothing you learned from company a is relevant to help you with doing it faster when company B comes up. Right. You know, that was one of the big things with how are you really ever going to get true best practices if you’re working off different applications all the time. And so, you know, we really said we can have consistency in process, but if we want to be great, we’ve got to have a standardized application stack. That location stack is ingrained with our processing already so that when we onboard a new client, We’re creating a customized check for them with a certain set of tools. It’s that we’ve already got the process and the technology, and we’re just onboarding this customer onto our platform, which already works. 

And so I think that that was a big difference where that we saw was we really, that was our goal. And to do that, we started standardizing on these best of breed applications that would allow us to be effective at,, delivering our services to customers. But what that in turn led to was just what you kind of said earlier. 

Customers had to go log into, they had to interface in some of those systems we’re using, they have to approve a vendor bill. They have to approve an expense report. They want to see their cash position. All three of those things are in different systems. So we said, how do we have a front end that would effectively be a unification engagement layer would allow the customer, it would allow it to be branded as Consero and would allow us to simplify the customer, taking actions, seeing patient and not being overwhelmed by the interface [00:05:00] in one application versus another one, or there are different functions in these different underlying software that we may be using or not using per specific customer. And they shouldn’t have. Think about how to think about that or know that right. They should just get the information they need. So I think as you know, we started talking with you guys as an and I think that the whole idea of a unification layer that could interface with these third-party applications that were good at what they do, but we could make it easier for our customer make the deliveries. So that was really appealing in a way for us to have branding scalability. And, and a value prop above and beyond what third-party applications we were using. So that’s kind of where it started, yeah.  

Anand Krishnan: And so that’s kind of falls into the build and buy strategy where you use, your buy, the best of breed software out there and build your differentiators. Right. And what you did was essentially build that true, system of engagement. That helps you deliver your services at scale. That’s great. Awesome. Yep. Perfect. So, so in order to achieve that, obviously, you would have to take a very disciplined approach to technology, right? And you cannot just, you know, the way I’ve seen in my career throughout my career, you know, when, when there’s a technology discussion, it’s always about, you know, what, what the sales guys gave you. 

What you got sold in other words, and then you figure out how to use it and fit it into your business instead of the other way around, which is looking at the business problem and trying to solve it. So, can you talk a little bit about, you are a disciplined approach to technology and how you start, you know, with a deliberate, alpha concept without even building any. Talking to your customers and you have the strong product management competency that you developed and grew within consider over the last several years. can you talk a little bit about that about your disciplined approach to technology? 

Bill Klein: Sure. Yeah. And, you know, We, we, we try to be disciplined, obviously, you know, like all things in the company, it’s a work in progress and we’re better at it sometimes than we are at other times, but we’re certainly on the whole, we’re far better at it today than we were three years ago, right. Five years ago. And so that for me is the big thing. Are we learning from things? Are we applying those to our process to try to make sure we’re efficient? And I think the biggest thing is what you started to describe. You know, I’d say my biggest learning for everything and, and learnings. Rolling. Some things out that didn’t end up generating any value didn’t end up being as useful as we thought, because we didn’t have a good process to go from ideation to, the alpha-beta process to a general, general rollout. 

And we didn’t have the MVP concept that we have today. And I, I think that the discipline there is what. I’d say it starts with the upfront fact of us saying that everything that gets approved for funding any big, any significant new piece of [00:08:00] functionality that we’re going to build or a new application or a new, a new product that we think we should add to our application stack and, and obviously then support as part of our ongoing business for any of those things. 

We have a one-pager that we do where it’s where the whole goal is to say, what is the problem we’re trying to solve here? What do we need to solve the problem? What are the impacts that are happening and what will things look like if we, if we do solve the problem, what are the objectives, outcomes? 

That we think we can receive from that. And so I think that’s been a really big way for us that started with us having a discipline sign-off for this. And we’ve gotten better about what’s truly an impact versus just a, oh, this will save us time. Well, it doesn’t mean any right. It’s how much time. 

And do we really believe we can, we can recoup that time or it’s better for customers? You know, the transparency to customer what, how and what, what what’s the outcome about for the customer. And so, you know, that combining that with the cost element of what’s it going to cost us to build it, that’s really given us a place upfront to say, does this make sense for us to do it and to stack rank that against other ideas and that are being brought up to be enacted on. And is there a real business case for this? And do we understand what success is going to look like? I think that’s the really upfront first step in the process. And from there, we kind of decided what we’re going to do from there. Right? Sometimes if we can already have customer feedback about that, sometimes it’s customer-driven things where we’re going Hey, here’s customers who are asking about this. 

This is why they know. This is the value it’s going to bring them. If we do this other times, it might be an internal idea. Someone has it. This I think could be really impactful for customers. And sometimes you can get some decent feedback from customers on that upfront. Sometimes it’s a little harder without them seeing it. And so then the question is, all right, what are we willing to do? What are we willing to invest to get [00:10:00] to a point where we can get the customer feedback, right? That doesn’t mean we need to build this grand vision thing. It means how do we get to an alpha, to a true MVP where you’ve got just a minimum thing where a customer can use it and get a feel for what we’re really saying. 

This could do for them. Even if it doesn’t all of the bells and whistles, it’s got enough to give them a feel for it. And I think that part, and then we’ll have feedback and we can decide, is this worth going from initial? You know, either, either some kind of Alpha version of what we have or something a little further along, almost pull MBP, but then are we going to do more? 

And we’re going to invest more in this and that gives us the gate to do that. Other times we have that feedback upfront and we know we don’t have to do an alpha, we’re going to go straight to, you know, our MVP. And go through a beta process and then launch it. And so you know, and how long those betas are, depending sometimes on the complexity of the, of the of what we’re building and how much customer [00:11:00] involvement there is. So all of that goes into it. But you know, at different points, sometimes we got more of that customer feedback upfront. Sometimes we have to get it in the process. And so we try to be able to adjust to that, but, but that being essential to at some point saying, is this working, is this. Do something for us or should we stop investing in this? 

Anand Krishnan: Yeah. I mean, those are all tenets of a good product, thinking product-based organization. Right. And one of the things, when we started engaging with you all, is, you know, the appreciation for actually having and developing an internal product competency. I remember you, you know, you’re talking about investing in bringing a product manager, building a product team that really tests all of these you know, the hypothesis that you had, and actually helping with this disciplined approach. I mean, when I started with y’all, I didn’t quite appreciate why, you know, you start product first, instead of engineer first, my background is let’s start with an engineer. Right. And so, after that, I developed this notion or understanding that. Engineers can build whatever you ask them to build. But the hardest problem to solve is knowing what to build and when to build it. Right. And so I think that was a, you know, it was great learning for me, in general, working with you. 

So having that, if we can jump to the, you know, slightly, a slight variation of the previous question is, I know your prior background before, founding Consero was, was in the product space. And I know you brought some of those learnings. And you, you, you started, with, you know, setting up the product team within the concern of first, even though, you know, you were a small company at that time several years ago, you started with the product first. And so, what is your general product ideation process look like?  

Bill Klein: Yeah, so I, I think I, you know, I touched on that a little. I think the big thing is we. Anyone in the company, everyone has ideas, right. And that’s great. And we want to encourage flowing those ideas through this has been one of the big things I think that taking a process that is, is manual or in Excel files and getting it into where it’s in a piece of software. For me, one of the biggest pieces of value that come out of that is now people just can’t arbitrarily change what they’re doing. Cause it happens. Sometimes, you say, this is the standard way we’re doing this as a template, but when it’s an Excel thing, someone can change right. And they go, oh, this, this would be better if I did, if I just added this in here or if I change this or if I allowed this to happen and next thing you know, You’re doing things differently on different accounts. And that the thing is you, you would’ve wanted to know maybe that person who said they wanted to make a change, that maybe they had a great idea, but if they do that’s something we should be doing everywhere, not just that person who does that. Right. Or, hey, maybe they don’t fully understand how they should be using that thing. And maybe they’re, they thought they needed to do that before. We deal with that a different way using the thing we have. So once it’s in software, they have to go ask somebody about that. Right. And now they can’t just change it. And that’s really helped us funnel all of these ideas and things and bringing more of them to light and putting them into our ideation process, where we stack rank things. You know, we go through a regular planning process across the whole business, not just product, but in product. You know, we’re always going through that and we have these big things where literally we’ll say, all right, here’s some of them. Here are some of the big things that have come up, whether they were internal ideas, from, you know, the product team, whether it was direct customer feedback and requests, or whether it was the service delivery team saying, Hey, here are things that would really help us in the process or things we think would help the customer, wherever that is. It gets those into that process where we can really understand the impact of what we’re talking about doing, why it matters would be, and then what the cost would be. And we can stack rank those against each other, you know, to say, look, this, this has some value, but it’s, it’s really hard to do. This thing has some value and it’s really easy to do. That’s probably going to get prioritized, you know, higher. So it’s that combination and really looking at them holistically and being able to compare it, them to each other, but to do that, you really need those impacts and, and being able to quantify those impacts, not just to us you know, ambiguous language, which again, we, we, it’s hard. 

It’s, it’s one of the hardest to do. And, and one that took us a lot of time and a lot of, lot of stumbling to do it, but you know, you guys helped us through that process a lot, and I think we’re in a better place. Yeah. Perfect. Yeah. Yep.  

Anand Krishnan: And I see this all the time with, several of my clients. A lot of this is practiced in what I call theory. Right. Applying it, in reality, it’s really hard and it’s great to see that you are as an organization since you started with that product [00:16:00] first approach iterative approach and you said, let me follow that discipline, even though, you know, simple was a very, very, very small application at that time evolve into this, a truly disciplined product organization that delivers that. So that’s fantastic. 

Bill Klein: I think to your point on like one of the biggest things I found in that was, you know, obviously the people are critical and we’ve got a team. And I think one of the things that we found, the attributes that are so important on that team to help drive that process is number one, not being afraid to be challenged because, you know, as you know, sometimes you got to ask why 10 times to get to the impact, right? Yeah. And I’ve seen it firsthand where we had someone on a service team and said, Hey, a customer, my customer wants an export function here. They want to be able to export this one view. And that was their feature request. While our product team said, Hey, why do they want to export that? Well, they want to dump it into Excel to do some other analysis. And they said, are what analysis? What are they trying to see? And we ended up doing a call with the customer and the product team asked several more questions about why and what are you trying to see? And what, what view are you trying to get? And in the end, the person, the customer showed us the view. They were trying to get. And the product names at all. We can just put that view straight in the product, right? So how much better is that? Right? Rather than an export function, where now they still have to do a bunch of Excel stuff just by understanding what they really wanted. We got to the real thing and we had a much better solution. Customers that ended up making them happy and saved them a bunch of time. So I think it’s being like, have that mindset is really critical to driving that product function.  

Anand Krishnan: Love it. Ask why 10 times, right. It reminds me, it reminds me of you know, the classic, Japanese Tatiana’s method, which is how do you do root causes? Ask why five times it’s called the fiber. The wise. And so it’s, it’s similar to that. If you want to get, get the right product direction, ask why 10 times. Great. All right, [00:18:00] and so with that, you talked a little bit about the team and, and challenging the team and challenging ourselves. You know, interestingly you started off when you started building a product, you, you were pretty sure about building an internal product organization. However, outsourcing your engineering, and related processes, to us so you know, just reflecting back on that decision, what how do you think it has played out for y’all and, you know, what would you recommend, if somebody asks you how to set up their tech organization?  

Bill Klein: Yeah, that’s a that’s a good question. So when I look back to our situation, right? And, and again, I, I always hesitate to give advice without understanding people’s situation. You know, ours was. We did, you know, I have a little bit of product background, but we had no one who had, who was a technical engineering software engineering level person in the whole company. And so when we were thinking about, you know, building our building a product, we knew we needed the product. You know, I think in, you had discussed that and you had said the same thing, that that’s really the part that’s core to the business and something that, you know, the company should own and you need that conduit the actual development stuff, you know, we, we really thought a lot about when you guys came to us with your, with your model and how you guys worked. It was similar to what we were doing for our customers on finance, accounting. We were bringing in some of the software, we’re bringing the process. We were bringing the people and expertise and it’s hard. Our customers sometimes think, you know, our companies, we talk to think, well, I’m either going to use Concentra or hire a controller. And, you know, the odds of that controller. Excellent at all the things we can be excellent at because we’ve got different people heading the different functions, all who have different experience and skillsets, that’s hard to do. And we thought you know, should we hire a developer or work with think bridge? And you know, when we really do it through the process, it was, it was silly to compare, hire a developer when we need part of an engineering manager and we need part of a coder. We [00:20:00] need a part of a UI UX person. We need part of a QA, all of that stuff. And how do we use it? That the person’s writing good code. Right. You know, that’s, that’s another thing. There’s no review, there’s no oversight. So I think that for us, it was such an easy sell because it resonated so much with what we talked to our customers about and that you can leverage an organization to get that bra experience and exposure and you don’t have to be the expert out in and, you know, so for us, it was a super appealing thing from the beginning, from that perspective. And I think that’s why the partnerships have been, so strong along the way too, is that it’s you guys, the volume look at the point where we decided it’s really got to have a VP of engineering in house. We did that and we talked about what now we would own that you guys were owning and we take it up, but we still, you know, work with the bridge for all of the actual coding and all the work and all the QA and all that. And that’s been a great relationship. That’s expanded since we had the VP of [00:21:00] engineering in there. So I would say that, you know, more than anything, it’s, what’s your expertise. What’s your core competency and expertise. And where do you want to be spending your time and effort and, you know, stop that like someone else who does it all the time might be great at it and is there really, is there an advantage to you or is there, is there a conceivable way you’re going to be better than that from out it? And if so, is that, how much is it going to benefit you to be 5% better or better, even if you could do that, you know, is that worth the time and effort to go and build that? And it’s like the make versus buy thing you talked about earlier with technology, right? Like if I go spend all the time building this product in-house, we can buy it today and already be using it in a few weeks or we can go through the whole process. And that’s how we thought about the function and its evolution. And it’s worked out well, you know, we’ve been here. Like I said, adding that leadership role as we grew and needed more that perspective. But it’s been able to us to keep that underlying foundation and knowledge base and a team that, you know, we get from you guys to be able to do that. And you can augment when we do new things, you can bring in some different skill sets that again, we’d have to go find individually on our own right.  

Anand Krishnan: Yeah. Great. Yeah, absolutely agree. It’s been a fantastic partnership. We’ve grown, we’ve learned a lot from you. You know, and, and we’ve been taking some of those practices to our other clients and, you know, that’s how we are, you know, sharing that knowledge. So, so thank you for that. That’s been fantastic. So, and so, you know, just to wrap this up, just a final question. What is, is, you know, you thought about, you’re in a services business at your core, however, what you are successfully doing is applying technology on top of those services to deliver tremendous customer experience and value. Right. so when you look at other services companies, what would you generally, [00:23:00] if you were to give them a, you know, a couple of words of advice on how they should look at technology, what would you.  

Bill Klein: Yeah. So I think where, you know, whatever your business is, right? Some, some companies, you know, that a service that what that is, I think Open Table is a service, right. But that can be almost completely automated. Whereas our service, you know, there’s, there’s some advisory component to what we do and some guidance and, and helping customers be comfortable. And then there’s the underlying. You know, getting the numbers from things into the general ledger and compiling the financials and using reports and things like that. That’s much more of the stuff that wherever we can, that’s where technology can really help you. Right? You can automate things. You can make your process not only automated in turn, it’s not about the less people well doing it. It’s about the people you have been able to focus their time on higher-value activities. [00:24:00] And, you know, if you can automate bank reconciliation, That’s great. Like you can, you can, you can get to a thing where you automate, Hey, here’s all the things that matched. Here are the things that don’t reconcile. Now, someone can go figure out why those don’t, what are these items that are standing out, right? 

Like, so it’s how do you automate that baseline set of stuff so that the people you have control more value. And then on the flip side, it’s about how do you make it easier for your customers? To engage with your, with your service and how do you use technology to do that? Right. And that’s where we built that front end of simple, where now they aren’t confused. They don’t have to go into some big confusing system to get information about, you know, customer revenue by customer trends. It’s an easy thing for them to get in digest and they don’t worry about going to the wrong place, or I haven’t logged in to this tool forever. It’s the same place where they’re approving bills and it’s the same place where they’re looking at their cash. And so it’s, it’s really, for us it’s been about those two things. Where can we automate, which sometimes is customer experience? On the backend reliability and enabling people to do higher-value work, not in tying out different numbers. And then on the front of how do you allow customers to have more transparency, which helps everyone, right? That’s the thing customers, don’t what people are used to for at least for us, from our service. They’re used to the black box. Like they, oh, I gotta have this person sitting here. Yeah, because in the world, you’re in that first one is the sole conduit to any of the information. 

So now we’re bringing the information and we’re making it transparent by having it on a dashboard and in a place where you can get it, right. You don’t, you aren’t as beholden to the person in the seat, sitting at their computer. And so for us, that was a big part of it. It’s transparency, information availability, and then automation on the backend. 

And those are the two places we apply it. Like you said, we’re still a service. Business people still, what they want in the end from us is that information they’re getting accurate timely information [00:26:00] about how they’re doing in the business. And they’ve got controls around their cash to me, you know, nothing happens that shouldn’t and those are the things we generally are putting in place for them. But the, how we do it using software gives us. In quality efficiency and customer satisfaction that allows us to help them have a better experience.  

Anand Krishnan: Great. Yeah. So if I were to summarize that essentially amplifying your people through technology and delivering that customer experience, as you said, you know, when you buy software, you typically use most of it, if not all of it. And then, you know, as the software gets complex, it becomes more and more complex for your clients and you abstract those complex. So it becomes easier for your clients to consume consumer services through those products. So that’s a fantastic, thought and advice. Thank you for that. That’s great. Well so though that was, an enriching conversation for me, hopefully, it was, for you as well. That’s all we had for today is there any [00:27:00] final words that you would like to share with the audience?  

Bill Klein: No, I think, you know, I think you’ve hit it on the head. I think though it behooves. You know, service businesses to be looking at, you know, people say we’re a this business, we’re not a technology because that can be true, but that doesn’t mean technology. 

Isn’t a key component that can really be helping you accomplish objectives and can make a material impact on your businesses, you know, service, quality, profitability, and other things that, that just help you be a stronger overall company. And, you know, that’s, that’s where I think we’ve, we decided early on. There is a big place for technology to be applied, whether it’s in, on your onboarding or your ongoing service delivery or whatever it is and so really looking at that through a challengers lens and not, not just buying into. You know, oh, for us, that would be hard because, you know, ABC, D E every everybody’s got those. 

Right. But are you really committed to that and know you’re digging in and are you really [00:28:00] challenging things? I think that’s the starting point to launching a successful, you know, technology, enhancements to any business.  

Anand Krishnan: Great. Excellent. Thank you for that bill and appreciate your time and good luck with all the growth that’s happening here. 

Bill Klein: Yeah, thanks, Ron. And really appreciate the really appreciate the invite and the conversation.  

Anand Krishnan: Thank you. All right, man. Bye bye.