I'm Jessica Mah, CEO and co-founder of inDinero. AMA!

I started inDinero in 2010 — as an accounting software and services company taking care of back-office affairs for hundreds of businesses throughout the U.S. I have since grown inDinero to multi-million dollar revenues with over 250 full-time employees and have been featured in the Forbes and Inc 30 Under 30 Lists. My goal now is to grow inDinero into being the leading accounting provider for businesses.

Ask me about the key mental models that have served me as a founder, how I built a multi-million dollar business, what growing inDinero as a hybrid of software and services has been like, or anything else around the SaaS/startup world.

I will be here on March 26th at 4 PM PST.

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Note: This AMA is closed for new questions, but you can check out the existing conversations below.

In this AMA, we had Jessica Mah — the co-founder and CEO of InDinero, a Y Combinator alum, a strong advocate for women in STEM, and a passionate pilot — share her thoughtful insights on. Dive in!

Jessica’s brain pickings: :brain:

Here are some curated links to help you know Jessica’s journey and thought process a little better.

On pivots, PR, and KPIs:

  • "We shifted gears and now we’re actually happy about providing services. This is going to be a huge differentiator for us that no software competitor in the market will have. That’s the shift that all of us should start making.”

  • “We really have to care about training and culture more than any of our SaaS peers because we’re bringing on dozens of people every single month to the company. Now I’ve got a full-time professor. All he does is facilitate training at my company. I’ve got a small group of people who actually make sure that we have a great culture.”

  • “It’s easy to pick KPIs. The hard part is having the habits and rituals in place to make sure that all of your people are analyzing them, every single day.”

  • “My PR guy and I were working on the Inc. cover story every single week for a year. No one would pick it up. One day, the president of the magazine calls and says. ‘We want you on the cover.’ How do you go from no results to a cover? It takes a lot of persistence.”
    Source: Jessica Mah of InDinero: 20 to 200 Employees in 24 Months

On the importance of having a community:

“Build a strong community of fellow founders around you, because you’re in for a very long and potentially lonely ride if you don’t! I’m proud to have built a strong community of 100+ badass female founders in SF and NYC, and they give me confidence and inspiration when I need it most.”
Source: Q&A with Jessica Mah, Cofounder of inDinero

On dealing with challenges and reviving a startup:

“In the beginning, because of my age, I got a lot of wunderkind attention. It’s important to stay humble and not get carried away by early success — but the same is true of failure. Neither necessarily lasts. So, when InDinero was in trouble, I just talked to my parents and friends, lay low and focused on results.”
Source: A Reversal for InDinero, a Once-Struggling Accounting Software Start-Up

Stay in touch: :sunny:

You can follow Jessica to stay updated with her discoveries and insights:

  1. Jessica on Twitter
  2. Jessica on LinkedIn
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Thanks for doing this session, Jessica! :slightly_smiling_face:

There’s much to learn from inDinero’s amazing journey.

Looks like inDinero has really found a scalable sweet spot between services and software. Most SaaS companies either entirely refrain from delving into services or defer it (and restrict it) for future enterprise customers. What’s fascinating to me is that you’ve made it work with SMBs.

— How and at what point in the journey, did you learn that this combination was, indeed, scalable?
— I’m also curious about the kinds of feedback loops that exist between services and product teams. In what ways have they evolved? How do you ensure one’s constantly making the other better?
— As a founder, what do you personally love the most about this particular way of building?

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Thank you for doing this AMA, Jessica. Appreciate the time you are taking for this.

As founders, all of us have erred and have had our share of setbacks (I joke around saying nobody makes more mistakes than founders). Having built inDinero almost from scratch in its second innings, it’ll be useful to hear about:

  1. Even in a small team, learning from organizational failures isn’t quite straightforward. And without assessing them right, we’re unlikely to avoid them next time around. In that phase of transformation, how differently did you look at some of the mistakes and what really helped in doing so?

  2. How have those early mistakes shaped the culture at inDinero, especially the way failures are perceived and dealt with?

Thanks,
Rajaraman

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Hi Jessica,
Glad to e-meet a fellow YC Female Founder :slight_smile: What mental model did you use to decide on building the services layer and deciding what services to include in that layer?
The reason I am asking is because it is a question we are currently grappling with for Wingman.

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Hi Jessica,

Thanks a lot for doing this AMA with us. It was great to read about your story and your pivot. We, Kriyadocs, are a document collaboration platform focused on the publishing domain. We started off as a pure services play and now are a SaaS company still providing services to our enterprise customer. The challenge for us is to be product led while providing services to provide a complete offering for our customers. Its a good one to have :slight_smile: Here are my questions

  1. My wife and I run our business together. She runs operations and marketing while I run technology and sales. She is in the integrator and I am the visionary :slight_smile: It was interesting to read about you and your co-founder working together and living in the same apartment to make sure all your attention was on the business. Now imagine having kids together as well. For the most part, we complement each other but we do have our hair splitting moments. How have you and your co-founder adapted your roles and interactions to make things work over the years? (I just noticed that Andy Su is no longer listed as part of your leadership team but it would good to get your perspective nonetheless).
  2. How do you make the product and services combination work? Do you have situations where your services org complains about the product not being where it needs to be? On the flip side, do you have your product team complaining about services promising too much from the product?

I look forward to your insights.
Best regards
Ravi

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Thank you for doing this AMA, Jessica.

With COVID-19 forcing most companies to work remotely, do you see the same team structures and processes working with minor tweaks or are you thinking of more fundamental changes? I understand that inDinero has switched to remote recently and hence these are early times. Would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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Hi Jessica! It’s great to meet another founder who’s been building their business for more than a decade. Congratulations on all of your success!

A number of folks here are asking questions about your services and product strategy and mix, and I’m also really interested about that.

How do you view services revenue versus product revenue internally? Do they have the same value? Do you view one as a leading indicator of the other? Also, curious roughly what percent of your revenue each bucket accounts for and is there a target healthy mix you try to reach or maintain, if you’re comfortable sharing those numbers.

Thanks so much!
Brendan

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Hey Jessica, thanks for taking time out for this AMA!

You’ve been in the b2b SaaS game for over a decade now, how do you see the landscape changing over the next decade?

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Hi Jessica, Great to meet you virtually and thanks for doing this AMA. I would love to hear your thoughts on recruiting / hiring employees for your organisation. How has it evolved over the last decade (early stage to growth phase) & how will it change going forward with more virtual workforce ?

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Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for joining this AMA and asking some incredibly interesting questions! :slight_smile:

Sorry, but there’s a change of plans: We’ll have to postpone the AMA to a future date.

Due to the current COVID environment, there were some urgent, last-minute things that Jessica had to tend to. And so, she wouldn’t be able to join us today. That said, Jess will be here in a few weeks to answer all the questions.

Also, we understand that this is a tough, uncertain time for founders around the world and we are actively trying to curate the future AMAs around how you can cope with the situation and come out stronger.

If there’s anything specific that you’d like to see in these future AMAs, or if there’s anything that we could help you with, let us know.

Thank you again!

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Probably after the first 30 customers! Until then, I took Paul Graham’s advice on his advice of “doing things that don’t scale” and this seemed very uncertain in the early days :slight_smile:

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I love just thinking about how to drive customer value… and it ends up that many of the best solutions won’t just involve just software. You look at some of the best enterprise software companies out there and there is often a professional service element to it. Software people are quick to dismiss this.

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Thanks for your questions! I think having an objective third party to assess helps a lot. It’s very easy for us to learn the wrong lessons or just not learn any lessons from mistakes, given how crazy workload in a startup can be. As or right now I am leveraging two executive coaches, my therapist, and two more business consultants to help me figure out how I’ve screwed up and how I can improve and how we can improve the business. I also have my former COO now as a board member who I trust to be objective in telling me what he thinks the mistakes have been and where we may be repeating mistakes because we didn’t post-mortem properly.

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Congrats on getting to do YC! I was following advice from Steve Blank’s “Startup Owner’s Manual” book which basically talks about getting outside of the office, surveying your customers, and figuring out what they would actually pay money for. And in our case, it involved “making sure the accounting and taxes just got done.” That might have been 100% software but I knew it would require some people as well. Perhaps I could get it to 90% software 10% people. I wasn’t entirely sure. But the mental model revolved around serving a customer need and focusing on that above all else.

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We’ve been fairly distributed for years, so the switch to 100% remote has been fairly seamless. It has also exposed me to certain things we absolutely need to improve at, which include sharing intel in meetings and documenting results over Slack or elsewhere. I’ve always wanted to be a remote business and it also works better for the way I want to build my life and the way I enjoy building my teams.

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I think many entrepreneurs make the mistake of splitting out services revenue and product revenue. In some cases you can and should do that and just charge for services separately, but often times this is not the case. With inDinero, 85%+ of the offering is blended. And by blended I mean the customer is paying a flat fee which includes both software and service, and how much of that is product-driven versus people-driven doesn’t really matter to the customer. At the end of the day, the customer just cares about getting the end result that they’re paying for. Obviously, the goal is for the vast vast vast majority of the blended work to actually just be software-driven. There’s no easy way to calculate how much is software versus people, nor do I think it really matters to think about it that way. Investors are also most focused on gross margins and that is probably the best financial indicator to show how much of something is people versus software.

For the 15% that is clearly services revenue and where there is zero hope of automating via software, we split that out separately. I think < 20% is a fair standard for SaaS businesses.

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My co-founder Andy remains one of my best friends, a board member, and close confidant. We had our ups and downs, but we’ve managed to stay in close touch and I’m excited to be an investor in the startup he’s now CEO of. We eventually split because he wanted to be the CEO of his own business and didn’t just want to be the CTO or tech guy… and I can’t at all blame him.

There’s an Inc Magazine article about how we went to marriage counseling together. We had a few moments where we fought and he suggested we get coaching or joint counseling to work out how to best argue with each other and it was actually quite helpful. Also helped get me on the cover of Inc magazine :stuck_out_tongue:

We also established clear ownership areas and swim lanes. I worry about X, he worries about Y, and we’d have collaboration and information sharing about Z. We also worked in isolation in different parts of the office or home so that we didn’t see each other all day long.

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  1. I think B2B SaaS is going to see even higher valuation multiples given what’s happened with COVID. Investors want to find companies that are truly sustainable during good times and bad. B2B SaaS certainly fits the bill.

  2. More competition driven by more investor access and funding, which will significantly drive up costs of customer acquisition and in many ways force companies to raise significantly more money than what they might have needed to in the past decade.

  3. Old school businesses will be SaaSified by the end of this next decade. We’re doing it in accounting and I am actively exploring other industries to SaaSify as we speak.

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Early stage we were incredibly unstructured. Frankly, we did not know how to hire. We also could not attract a lot of talent because we were 20 year old kids working out of the house or apartment. Now with about 300 employees and a full-fledged recruiting team and people who are actually devoted to employee screening and selling, we’re getting better candidates, and have a much more thorough process that works.

I think one of my biggest regrets early on was not hiring a general admin who could oversee recruiting for me. I did so much of the interviewing and screening of candidates myself. I was a truly awful CEO for the first few years and I am still kicking myself for mistakes I made a few quarters ago. I found myself to be a lazy recruiter with too few candidates to evaluate because I just didn’t have the time to cast a wider net. I also didn’t know how to build a more structured process and objective way of evaluating candidates.

I’d recommend reading Who which is a fantastic book that we base our recruiting/hiring off.

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