Tech­nol­ogy

> BY KATE WIL­SON

The Georgia Straight - - Contents -

Few peo­ple love their first job. Ian Crosby, co­founder and CEO of Bench ac­count­ing, was no dif­fer­ent.

As an 18-year-old aim­ing to get into the video-gam­ing in­dus­try, he called the CEO of a Van­cou­ver com­pany to tell him what was wrong with his or­ga­ni­za­tion and how he could im­prove it. Crosby’s go-get­ter at­ti­tude caught the at­ten­tion of the busi­ness, and he was hired to fill the only open role—book­keep­ing. He quickly found, how­ever, that it wasn’t a par­tic­u­larly fun job.

“I wanted to beta-test the video games, be­cause that’s what ev­ery­one wants to do,” he tells the Ge­or­gia Straight with a laugh, sit­ting across a ta­ble at Bench’s down­town of­fice. “I taught my­self Vis­ual Ba­sic for Ex­cel so I could au­to­mate as much of the book­keep­ing job as I could so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on it. But the big­ger ques­tion was: ‘Why was hir­ing me your best op­tion?’ It seemed crazy that there wasn’t a thing where you could go on­line and get a stan­dard fi­nan­cial pack­age.”

The idea be­came the foun­da­tion of what would be­come Bench. Ral­ly­ing his best friend from UBC, Jor­dan Me­nashy, child­hood pal Adam Saint, and Siberian coder Pavel Ro­di­onov, Crosby aimed to cre­ate a stan­dard­ized prod­uct that would do all the book­keep­ing and ac­count­ing for small busi­nesses or free­lancers.

“Bench does the sim­ple, sen­si­ble ba­sics in terms of ac­count­ing,” Crosby says. “So you don’t have to know any­thing; you don’t have to think about it—you just come to us and know that you’re go­ing to get taken care of and not have to worry about the IRS [or CRA] breath­ing down your neck.

“A lot of small busi­nesses or free­lancers view fi­nance with anx­i­ety,” he con­tin­ues. “There’s this not-know­ing as­pect. You can go and teach your­self on the In­ter­net, but then you’re won­der­ing if that ar­ti­cle was even right. You can hire some­one but, typ­i­cally, it’s re­ally ex­pen­sive. A small busi­ness can’t spend $10,000 on ac­count­ing, and ac­coun­tants won’t work for that kind of money. So we re­ally fill that gap.”

Bench dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self from other ac­count­ing soft­ware by au­tomat­ing the la­bo­ri­ous parts of the process and re­ly­ing on hu­mans to han­dle the more in­di­vid­ual el­e­ments of a busi­ness’s fi­nances. The com­pany uses ma­chine learn­ing to bet­ter or­ga­nize its cus­tomers’ deb­its and cred­its and be­come more ef­fi­cient over time.

“A lot of peo­ple talk about ef­fi­ciency and au­to­ma­tion, but it’s like an en­gi­neer’s ren­di­tion of ef­fi­ciency,” Crosby says. “They don’t re­ally un­der­stand the prob­lem, but they’ve con­nected two sys­tems to­gether and it’s now au­to­mated. The way we look at au­to­ma­tion is by look­ing at a per­son and work­ing out that they spend eight hours do­ing a job. How can we turn that into six hours? That’s how we’ve man­aged to cre­ate the cheap­est of­fer­ing but with high qual­ity.”

Shortly af­ter Bench launched in New York, the com­pany made the choice to move back to Van­cou­ver—a de­ci­sion that af­forded it more fi­nan­cial lee­way. Re­turn­ing to the city, how­ever, had its own chal­lenges. The Lower Main­land’s tech in­dus­try is rapidly ex­pand­ing, boast­ing a startup ecosys­tem ranked among the top 15 in the world. As a re­sult, lo­cal busi­nesses have to com­pete be­cause of an in­creas­ing tal­ent short­age. Bench—now Amer­ica’s largest book­keep­ing ser­vice for small busi­nesses and a grow­ing player in the Canadian mar­ket—has set an am­bi­tious tar­get to hire 100 peo­ple by Christ­mas. De­fy­ing the city’s labour short­age, it’s well on the way to hit­ting that num­ber.

“In the last month, we’ve made 30 of­fers,” Crosby says. “We’ve got an­other 70 to go. We’re hir­ing across the board, so sales, mar­ket­ing, engi­neer­ing, de­sign, and a lot of book­keep­ers.

“Bench has this unique pro­gram where you can come in no mat­ter what your back­ground is and learn the skills—so for book­keep­ers, you can learn how to do book­keep­ing. We’ve found there’s no cor­re­la­tion be­tween things that so­ci­ety tra­di­tion­ally re­wards and who’s ac­tu­ally go­ing to do a good job—even more so in this book­keep­ing world, be­cause there’s al­most no re­la­tion be­tween an out­side book­keep­ing job and book­keep­ing at Bench.

“We’re not look­ing for peo­ple who look a cer­tain way or talk a cer­tain way or have a par­tic­u­lar back­ground,” he con­tin­ues. “We’ve had phi­los­o­phy-di­ploma grads that are way more suc­cess­ful than top­in­sti­tu­tion ac­count­ing grads. What we look for a lot more is just at­ti­tude and peo­ple who are just ex­cited to go build some­thing to­gether.”

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