Andy is the founder of Accel Financial Services. For the last 13 years, Accel Financial Services has helped small businesses and entrepreneurs discover their true direction, understand and take control of their financials, and leverage that financial knowledge to specifically command their own destiny. Born and raised in Atlanta, Andy graduated from Georgia Tech, worked in the finance and M&A side of the collections industry, until realizing small businesses didn’t know what they were missing when it came to understanding their financials. Andy and his wife of 13 years have two kids, live in Cumming Georgia, and spend much of the year thinking about their next Disney Cruise!
Shantel: Hi, Andy. Welcome to the Image More Podcast.
Andy: Shantel, thanks for having me.
Shantel: Of course. We have talked about you often on the show. So it's an honor to finally have you on the podcast. So thanks again.
Andy: Yeah. Man, I tell you what, you know that I love the show. I always take a lot of great stuff away from it. So to be on the opposite end of the originating side is really going to be fun.
Shantel: Well, thanks. Yeah. We're eager to learn more about your story becoming an entrepreneur and to kick things off, can you tell our listeners a little bit about what inspired you to take that leap and starting your own company?
| THE VISION |
Andy: Yeah. This will be the longest answer of them all, but I think it's a fun kind of story just the way that it worked. When I graduated college ... I went to Georgia Tech here in Atlanta. I started working for a company that we were doing mergers and acquisitions. My role coming right into ... I'm a single guy, out of college, not married. I got 24 hours in a day to work and had the energy at the time to do it. I was doing all this due diligence for these acquisitions. What do the companies look like? What are they going to look like when we buy them? At what point are we going to integrate certain pieces of them. It was just exciting, exciting stuff. It was continual learning. We did seven acquisitions over 17 months to take this company from $58 million the day that I walked in to north of $300 million 17 months later. So two years in a row we were fastest growing privately held company in Atlanta, on the cover of Atlanta Business Chronicle, and it was just action packed, fun stuff. Then I guess after 17 months there was another 18 months of the integration of where we were following the plans of what we said we were going to do after we acquired these companies. It started to get a little bit boring for me because it was just follow this road map. The challenge was over with and it was just more of, "Okay. Consolidate IT, consolidate payment processing." It wasn't quite as fun as it had been. I got a call from one of our competitors, a $600 million company. They said, "Hey, you're doing all this stuff over there. Come establish our plan to get out of bankruptcy." I said, "Wow. Does that sound like a challenge or what?" I established my team. We kind of crack in the code in nine months and said, "Here's the plan." Then month 10 and 11 it was following the plan of what we said we were going to do after coming up with the plan. I said, "Damn, here I am again following this road map." All of a sudden, I mean, it was boring. It got boring fast. Part of it was just the let down. So that's when my wheels started turning. I actually ran into Craig Johnson, whose been on the show. He and I grew up together. He said, "Hey, you're doing all this stuff for these big businesses. Come look at my little business." At the time, Matchstic's always been very innovative, very mature with their thought process. But they didn't have a good feel for their numbers. That's when I said, "Holy Moses. These small businesses are out there running their business, but they don't really know the numbers. They're not accountants. They don't have financial background, and they really didn't have an appreciation for this road map. This thing that I didn't like, they needed one." That's where we were able to really ... I saw the vision for Excel and I said, "Man, these people can't take somebody on staff, convert them into a financial analyst, and they're not going to go out and pay $170,000 for somebody to come in and work six hours a week to give them some counsel, some advice, and give them some accounting expertise." That's really when I got the idea for Excel and really saw the agility of the small business and all the fun challenges. Every day is something new so that boring road map never really gets boring because it's always something new and always something fun. So that's kind of how we go there.
Shantel: Well, that's amazing. It certainly sounds like you are a big risk taker with moving to a bankrupt company and then starting your business. Has that kind of been a consistent theme your whole life that you're willing to take those risks?
Andy: Oh man, even when you just even said the word risk taker and called me one, I was just like, "No. No." It's calculated. I've always been an unbelievable planner. It's not risk if you know what you're doing. One of the things I always kind of say to myself and say to our clients is by doing what. What are we going to do to have this idea turn into reality or to monitor progress? So to me it's never been risk. I want to progress. I'm always looking for something more. But it's always with some very precise calculations of what do the next steps look like? I don't think of it as risk really at all but more of a planner, if you will.
Shantel: Okay. Fair enough. Well, from an outsider, you're brave and it sounds really exciting.
Andy: Thank you.
Shantel: Yeah. So how do you ... Can you actually tell the listeners, back up a little bit and what Accel Financial ... What do you guys do and specialize in?
Andy: Yeah. We do predominantly accounting. That's kind of our entry into companies. We'll come in and get the accounting strictly. Nine out of 10 of our clients work with QuickBooks. QuickBooks if they've kind of done on their own the best they know how to do it. We'll come in and get the financials setup. One, so they're telling them the truth. So they know their financial position. Then we'll start to work on the plans. This risk that you talk about. What are our next steps? What do we want to do? What should the company be doing? Where do you want the company to be in a year, five years? And then start looking towards the future. So we take and leverage this financial accuracy that we'll take off the business owner's plate, put them back into the revenue generating role. Get them out of the accounting. We'll take on that accounting. Then we'll get the information so we can start working on the business and really driving it. It's a proven process. I think of everything in loops. How do we close the loop? We'll be able to really kind of go through the cycle of saying where do we want to be in 12 months? Where does that mean we're going to be this month? Break it down into four weeks. Where do we want to be this week? What are our objectives? What do we do next week? And get them really into kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will, of executing, achieving, and then making sure they're goal is always known and where they are in the process. It really kind of gets into I guess really the business management side of it, but really turning the vision into an executable action, which then turns into reality.
Shantel: So once you get to that phase where you've kind of laid out the plan and you created a good rhythm and got all the books up to date, how do you continue to kind of stay challenged I guess on the client's side? I imagine ...
Andy: I think ...
Shantel: Go ahead.
Andy: Oh, go ahead.
Shantel: Just saying, I think owning a business I'm sure it's a challenge in itself, but on the client's side on the day to day work, do you kind of find yourself like, "Okay. This is kind of getting boring?"
Andy: I would say if you're not careful, it could, but then it really doesn't because I mean companies, especially in the size in which we work with a lot of folks. The $1 million to $5 million there's always something new and there's always that next process. The thing that a lot of companies get stuck with is they try to tackle everything at once and they end up getting nothing accomplished. So part of what we try to make sure that we're doing is always keeping the task at hand, first things first if you will. We know what's going to be next, next, and next. But to keep focused on the initial one, you don't get bored because you always know what the next one is because of the size of the company and the pace at which they're growing, you can really ... You don't run out of things to do. So there really never is a boring factor. I think with the growth side, again, it's always something next.
Shantel: Mm-hmm. Well, yeah. I guess looking back and for our listeners, Andy is our amazing teammate on the accounting and bookkeeping side. Just thinking of an experience share there. Andy, I know we've been working together every week. We'll find that we're in this stage of the business. We need to have more clarity around our cost of goods sold and/or our advertising fees and how that breaks down so we can project a little bit better. You are right. You're constantly helping us innovate and building out reports that kind of fill those needs in those moments as we're growing. So thank you.
Shantel: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about how ... Well, when you first took that leap to start the company, was Matchstic your first company, Craig, and then was that scary? How were you feeling when you were like, "Okay. I'm going to start my own firm."
| THE CALCULATED LEAP |
Andy: It was scary. My wife and I had been married maybe for 14 months at the time. She was pregnant with our first child. We had just bought a great house. Right, I guess, after Andrew, who's now 12 ... Right after he was born, I said, "I'm starting my own company." She's like, "Wait. What?" Just like I said to you, I said, "Here's the plan." Kind of the first thing you realize is the plan never really works out. Not in a bad way but it just never completely comes to the exact vision. But Matchstic. The way they've progressed, their maturity, they're like you guys.
Shantel: Hey, Andy.
Shantel: Sorry. Can we pause real fast? It looks like the … Oh geez. So Andy, was Matchstic one of your first companies and then how did you feel when you took that leap for the first time?
Andy: As we've said, as you kind of questioned saying risk take, for me it wasn't risky. I had a plan of what we were going to do and a way to achieve it. When I started the company, my wife and I had been married I think about 14 months. We were pregnant. Andrew who is now 12 had just been born. We just bought a new, great house. Everything was happening, and I said to my wife, "I'm going to start a new company." She said, "What are you talking about?" So the leap was calculated. I think as you know from starting a business and from life in general, you envision it one way, different things happen, you got to adjust to them, and always be aware. But the leap was definitely scary, but I had confidence and a little bit of ignorance both going on at the same time. But Matchstic was definitely a springboard in the way that they helped us learn how to think. Craig is an awesome networker. That word of mouth marketing has helped us to where we got kind of a tribe going within a lot of their folks who were able to sign on with us. But Matchstic and I always look back and think about the first clients. We pulled up some reports from 12 years ago and looked at the first reports, Craig and I did, and kind of laughed at look at what we were looking at then. Look at the size of the numbers. But look at how much we didn't know at that time. But they've been a great help and really kind of took what could've been a scary leap, even though it was calculated, to even have them as a partner as well, was definitely something that we still, Craig and I, still talk to this day. They're still a client and we still kind of trade ideas. So they've been a very good help and took what could of been and still was very scary, but made it a lot more comforting.
Shantel: That's great. That is probably really nice. When I'm sure as you kind of approached the conversation with your wife to say, "We already have a client so don't worry. We still have a little bit coming in."
Andy: Yeah, but at the time we were both broke. So Matchstic said we'll do it on trade. So that's what that was kind of ...
Shantel: Oh gosh.
Andy: We have a client, but they're going to give us a killer logo that still exists today. It's definitely stood the test of time. But we got a good client but they're not going to give us any money.
Shantel: Well, how have you been able to secure new business moving forward? Is that mostly word of mouth or are you actively selling?
Andy: A little bit of both. Sometimes you sell when you don't intend to just by asking, running into the right person asking the right questions, or just asking questions. Other times you've done and helped us. You get very good at word of mouth response. So it's kind of been a good, steady natural growth. We've seen that the selling hasn't been anything that we've had to really focus on because it's not something that we're continually trying to do. Right now we're doing a little bit more of internal refinement to get some of our processes and mindset better, and actually even getting pickier on some of the clients and even some of the roles we'll take within companies. So that evolutionary thought process with client acquisition is definitely something that we're currently going back to and saying, "Who is our ideal client? What role do we play in their life, and how can we really help them?"
Shantel: I think that's great. Are there oftentimes when you guys get so integrated in a business that they would like you to be full-time or they have bigger needs that sometimes you guys aren't able to fill at the current capacity?
Andy: Great question. That's something that we had to learn and still continue to not struggle with but try to be mindful of. I tend to be and I won't say I tend to be. I was going to say I tend to be hands on, but I definitely am a control freak. That is hard for me to come in and not yet fully engaged and a little bit deeper than either we contractually were supposed or even are getting paid to do. But with that I think we always find every client is different and you find your rhythm. I always say you learn how to be married, you understand when they say this, it means that. That's one thing I think we've done very well with, if I say so, is really understanding how we fit in with each client because everyone absolutely is different. So we got to understand kind of what they do need. We got to understand how they're thinking about it. That's something that for me I really had to try to do because I don't tend to think that way. I tend to think very task at hand and forget to think about what is somebody else thinking or drop back and think a little bit for me what is a little, I guess, the softer side of things.
Shantel: Mm-hmm. Well, yeah. I'm sure in the service space and I can relate it's sometimes tough to say no, especially when you know that you could do it or it could be an additional revenue stream. But staying true to that niche and kind of that market you serve as you grow is challenging.
Andy: Yeah. There's a book that I'm reading. I am a member of kind of a side bar thing that I trade a lot of ideas with entrepreneurs. There's a book. It's called Essentialism. I think it's been mentioned ... I know it's been mentioned on one of the prior podcasts. In the book, I believe it was from there, there's this quote where if it's not a hell yes, it's a no. That's kind of what I've tried to do lately to make sure that we're really staying not over committing. My tendency is to say, "Sure. We can do that." But no, Andy, stop. If it's not hell yes, the answer should be no.
Shantel: Yeah. That book has been on my bedside table for a while. I've heard it so often I just need to finally listen to it. I think it's a good one.
Andy: Yeah. It's definitely. It'll make you rethink a lot of things in a good way.
Shantel: Would you say there's anything that has been so influential in your business success, whether that's a piece of advice or a process or program that you use that really stands out?
| IT'S LONELY AT THE TOP |
Andy: I'll tell you, a piece of advice that I got a long time ago. It was from the president of the company that I went to work for out of college. He and I are still close today. Play golf together all the time. He's really I'd say my true mentor. He's been very helpful. He said something years ago. He said, "It's lonely at the top." Thinking about that, I don't think it means lonely like you don't have any friends. But you got to make the decision that is the right decision even if it's not popular. That has always stuck with me of trying to make sure that whether we're helping clients make decisions, whether it's making company decisions, or even just decisions in general, remember that it's lonely at the top. If you're expecting to not have people pissed a little bit at times, you're going to probably make the wrong decision. So that ones been really something that stuck with me forever. Process is something you and I've talked about this recently that really has taken our 2018 ... I was telling my wife just the other night that with five weeks into 2018, I think we've gotten more accomplished and we've increased our thought process and our ability to get things done through this debrief concept. The thing that I've done every single day this month is look at at the end of the day one, what am I grateful? I think that keeps things top of mind because it's easy to lose sight of those, especially for me. I'm always trying to fix things so I always forget to kind of look at the good things. I'm looking at the problems. I'm saying, "How do we get rid of them?" So I remind myself what am I grateful for, different every single day. Then what are three things that were good that happened during that day that we need to say, "What did we do to set the stage for those to happen or how did they originate so that we can do more of that?" But then some of the things that happened that were bad. How did we let that happen and how do we make sure that we don't have that happen again? That kind of thinking, that's another example of where I say completing the loop, has been a process that I look back on and say, "Man, here I am 40 years old, 41 now. 41 years old and if I had thought that way when I was 21 ..." Man, it's been impactful. So that process has been really key, the debrief of take it apart. Why did it happen and then how do you make sure that you have something in place to understand how it's not going to happen again if it's bad or if it's good, how do you amplify it?
Shantel: Mm-hmm. Doing that every day on kind of the negative pieces. So on the debriefing of what didn't go so right, does that ever become a little overwhelming? I mean, I feel at least in our business there's something every day that we are learning from. It's not the most fun in the moment, but really focusing in on that, does that ever become a little overwhelming. "Well, shit. I don't have the solution for that yet," or, "How am I going to solve this problem? I don't know, but I have to move on to the next thing right now."
Andy: Sure. Yeah. Here's kind of a process because that did start to happen. Right out of the gate, I have a laundry list of all these things that I never wanted to have happen again, and it's like, "Holy mackerel. How am I going to get anything done next week because I got to tackle all this stuff." It kind of lead me to a secondary kind of debrief. Whether I do a debrief every single day, but then when I get to the weekend, I kind of reassess the week and then plan out my next week to say of that laundry list because you're always going to have things that you can improve on. You're always going to have things that you can fix, need to fix, want to fix. What are the ones that I'm really going to work on next week based on what's really important and where we are with our own progress or client's progress so that we can make sure that we're not one, harping on the negative all the time, but then also going into full blown it's always fixing stuff and you're never really progressing. So that's kind of how that reset every weekend has been a really good thing that has helped me kind of make sure that I am keeping things prioritized and working on the right thing, not little, tiny, rinky-dink thing that gets you sidetracked during the week.
Shantel: Yeah. Definitely. It seems like you're able to then prioritize those challenges and figure out a true solution as opposed to getting sidetracked.
Andy: Yeah. And you do see, I think, kind of as you alluded to of which ones, hey, you know what, that's not even anything to worry about. Either that one will work itself out in the wash or that one just with a comment. Mention to a teammate that one can be fixed. But it does keep you sane because you can probably drive yourself crazy if you're continually always have this gigantic list of things that list would never end.
Shantel: Right. That's great. Well, I mean, speaking of kind of those lists of things that you can't wait to tackle a solution, is there anything that's on your plate today that you can't wait to pass off to a teammate or someone, maybe outsource that piece of your own business at some point?
Andy: Yeah. That's a tough question. One of the things that I always try to do is make sure I'm aware of myself, which is one of the hardest things as a human being because you always have a reason why you do everything. There's that borderline is it reason or is it an excuse. Is it a shortcoming that you think is the norm. But the hardest thing for me, honestly, is delegating. I mean, I don't know what in the heck is so freaking difficult about it, but it is the hardest thing. I mentioned earlier, I absolutely, self admitted, and I shouldn't say self admitted because everybody else around me has admitted it long before. Control freak like you wouldn't believe. Even when you're asking a question, my mind is saying, "What do I want to work on next? What do I want to work on next?" The last thing I'm thinking is what should I get off my plate, which is a terrible backwards way to think. That's been the toughest thing for me is giving up the control part of it is knowing that when you delegate it, you're going to have to at times accept the way people do it. It's their own way. It's like, "Oh, man. Not the way I would've done it." Breathe in, breathe out. But that's been the one when I look at what Excel has done and what we could be, me as a person, where could I be now if I could delegate better, maybe even just delegate. I often wonder. That's one of the biggest things, personally, that I really have on my plate to work on is the real delegation.
Shantel: Well, I mean, it is tough. You then have to know that you have to have the time carved out to coach and lead and train and sometimes just thinking about that can be a little bit more overwhelming than the task. I'm not making an excuse because I think we all know the value of delegating. But yeah. I feel you there. Andy, we got just a couple more questions for you. First, where do you see the company in the next five to 10 years and/or what's next on the horizon?
| EXPLORING THE BIGGER SCOPE |
Andy: Yeah. We're going to keep a presence within the small business world. I think with a lot of this stuff that we've done for some clients lately that I'm seeing that we can play a larger role in larger companies. We had a guy who grew his company threefold from $3 million to $9 million in about three years. Great growth and the money that he paid, he might of paid us over that three years maybe $120,000. I was like, "Man, that guy got an unbelievable deal to do that. We should've charged or thought about it." But really it was just the hey, you know what, let's just get in there and execute. So it kind of let me see if there was a little bit of an opportunity to get in with a little bit bigger scope. I came from a background from the $306 hundred million company. There's a lot to be said for what those companies do. I think we can add a little bit more value. So I want to kind of investigate that area. Never forget the smaller companies that do need some I'll call it more elementary help. But at the same time I think there's the bigger scope there as well as there are some things that we do here that I'm really looking at. I'll probably run them by you one day with how we track for time, plan for time, even just plan out the week. How does it feed into the year that I think we can get some traction there with the entrepreneurial world to kind of get ... Kind of like we say with financials, we got a good plan to achieve financial results, but I think that we have a good plan to get some personal results as well that I'm kind of batting around a little bit.
Shantel: Well, I'm excited to follow along and hopefully you'll still talk to us little dogs down the line.
Andy: By the time we get to that point, you guys are going to have outpaced us by far.
Shantel: Andy, how can people get in touch with you and learn more and inquire about your journey and/or your services?
Andy: Yeah. You know me and you hear the podcast. I love to talk about that stuff. Send me an email Andy@AccelFinancialServices.com. Services is plural so hard to fit on all their little forms, but Andy@AccelFinancialServices.com. As I say, I love to talk about it on the phone. We can shoot around ideas, whatever. Always fun.
Shantel: Great. Well, thank you so much, Andy, for carving out the time. We really appreciate it.
Andy: Shantel, thanks for letting me be a part of it. It's been a huge help for me listening to these, and I'm glad, as I said, to be on the other end and help produce one.
Shantel: Thanks, Andy.