Listen to this episode here: Growing by Focusing on Customers

This week in TALKING NUMBERS, we sit with Trent McLaren as he shares his story, Practice Ignition, and how the focus on customers has grown the business. Trent is the Senior Partnerships Manager EMEA at Practice Ignition, where they offer an efficient solution for accounting firms to manage client engagement including invoicing and payments. Trent also carries the mantle of the Accounting Thought Leader of the Year 2017. Let’s find out what his secrets are to kicking goals!

Trent, can you share something about yourself?

I’m a small-town country boy, and now I live in London. I grew up East of Melbourne, out in Warrigal and I was there until I was 18 years old and moved out to Canberra. Years later, I moved to Sydney, then London-it’s been a big transition. But it all started in a little 400-person town east of Melbourne called Yarragon.

How did you become the Thought Leader of the Year 2017?

The Thought Leader Award 2017 was a submission process, judged by three or four people. Ten people were listed and one person as the winner – ended up being myself. Interestingly, I’d already resigned from my time at Intuit and no-one was aware of it. I was sitting next to my General Manager and she knew. And interestingly, she’s now my Chief Revenue Officer here at PI (Practice Ignition).

Then I jumped on board with Practice Ignition as Head of Strategic Partnerships in Sales. That was July 2017. Since then we’ve raised a lot of money in the last six months and we’ve hired nearly 70 staff. My role is not as broad as it used to be. Thankfully, I can just focus on the one time zone for change, which is perfect.

Tell us a little bit about Practice Ignition?

Practice Ignition is a digital-like contract signature product, or a proposal product with a payment gateway. I always say if DocuSign and Stripe got together and had a love child, that child would be Practice Ignition. It’s a little hybrid of two things. Getting signatures and getting paid are bundled up into one product. What makes us unique is the product is built by accountants and for accounting firms, which means the reconciliation and process are designed to fit their habits and rules.

The whole point is that when you create a proposal, every single service item on a proposal will automatically get invoiced and reconciled against the payment that we’ve collected. It just takes out so many different jobs, for so many people in the organisation. I had a firm last week that cut down their debt book from around GB£60,000 down to GB£15,000 in two months, just because they were able to roll out our product and get all their clients and engagement with payments included.

Do you service any other industries or is it just the accounting industry?

Our niche is accounting services, and 10% to 15% of all the signups that come through are referrals from accountants most of the time. So, we get a lot of digital agencies. We get a few lawyers, conveyances, architects…anyone that needs a contract signed, proposal signed, and a payment collected can use PI, especially if you’re looking at monthly recurring services or maybe it’s ad hoc consulting work. We play very much in our niche because we know how to do sales and marketing for that specific category.

As you know, going into other categories requires more time resource and energy. We stick to what we’re good at. As a result of that, we get a lot of referrals from accountants to their clients. That’s our strategy and the way we push at the moment.

We’re always happy to chat with anyone to find out whether it will or will not work for them from our perspective.

Last September you completed series B round, raised AUD$26 million, led by Tiger Global?

Yes. When I met Guy (Guy Pearson, Founder),, he said there are three options for this business: either sell it, list it, or merge with someone else. In my head, I’ve always been geared up to “go big or go home”.

Fortunately, the number of customers using the product keeps getting bigger and bigger every year. When we did the raise last year, we were sure about continuing to scale and building the business. We’ve nailed down our channels and we knew what we could do with 2,500 accounting firms as customers. But how do we now get to 7,000 or 10,000? So, when we look at raising that series B, that $26 million, the next goal is double or triple our op-ex. We’ve added more salespeople, more success managers, more engineers and developers. We’ve got some massive releases in the next couple of weeks. Our whole purpose right now is just to make a better product for more people to use, and to make sure we maintain that support that we’ve been able to maintain today.

Is there anything out in the marketplace that competes with you?

There are other competitors doing what we do – there’s plenty of proposal systems and payment systems – but nothing that does both. That is the niche that we now exist in. That’s the new category we’re able to fold into.

Why London? Is the major part of the growth to capture the European market?

I moved to London February last year. At the time, we were pretty strong in Australia with a lot of good momentum, but it was not tax season in America and UK. Seven or eight months later, we’ve gotten really strong in America and UK. When starting to work for PI, I said I want to go work and live overseas at some point. Twelve months in, I had my first annual review, things were really good, so I ended up in London, very fortunately.

Can you share what you are aiming towards? Both here in Australia and globally?

We’re sitting just over 3,000 accounting firms globally. That number is growing every month, by a couple of hundred, which is amazing. We had such a big journey to go. If we keep focusing on accounting and in the countries that we’re already in, we’ve got years before we need to open up and move into other areas. The beauty of it is we still get those referrals from those accounting firms, which is great. We may flex into that a little bit more and make our product a little bit more seamless for people. There’s still such a huge opportunity for us.

What can you tell us about the founders, Dane Thomas and Guy Pearson?

They are the nicest guys I’ve ever met and to be honest, I’m super thankful. When I started, there were 30 of us. And you know, not everyone gets the same opportunity to connect and know the founders as well as I have.

I’ve been able to share some fun times, you know, a lot of beers, a lot of celebrations and all the tough stuff as well. But a hundred per cent, everything was born out of Guy’s idea, and Dane was the guy who was able to make it, build it and bring it to life.

Dane was one of the original Deputy Engineers and Developers before he started at PI. I think he was one of the first 14 engineers. You look at where they are now. You get someone like Dane paired up with Guy – they are amazing. It’s just been amazing to see them grow and develop year on year. As more incomes come in, they’ve had better access to better mentors and better leaders in their own lives. You couldn’t find two nicer people in that sense. They both want the best for their team. They don’t want to get stuck and be the next flunky start-up that treat employees wrong.

A piece of advice for our listeners?

The consistent thing I’ve seen between my Intuit days and the PI days is, focus on customer centricity, and actually understand who your customer is, what their pain points are, what they feel across your whole business. Not just from the product, but from sales and from success. It is so important because every time you go to a single meeting, every decision you make is all built around that same foundation. Anytime I speak to a successful business, they know exactly whom they’re solving for. They know the customers they are working with and what they experience, and they know how to design and build services around that.

Our biggest challenge was how do we keep that culture? How do we keep the culture of 30 people at 130 people? It’s not easy to do, but when everyone’s on the same page and you include everyone on the journey, even the new people. This is something we’re really conscious of, it’s making sure we’ve got a great culture. You feel welcomed, you’ve got space learning and understanding how we want to react and treat our customers. That renewed sense on customer focus and centricity exists within our culture.