Behind the scenes with Blake Oliver, Cloud Accounting Weekly - Part 1

October 23rd, 2017 by Trent McLaren 7 minute read

Blake Oliver, the creator of Cloud Accounting Weekly, and a well-known name in accounting sat down with us to chat about his life, experience in the industry, and why he decided to spend his spare time compiling a newsletter to encourage forward-thinking change in the industry. The following is our conversation transcribed:

Lizzy: Blake, would you tell me about yourself, your history in the accounting industry, and your role as an advisor today?

Blake: I have a pretty untraditional background. In school, I was a music major. I play the cello. After school, I got a job managing a music store. The owner tossed me his QuickBooks file, and that’s how I got started with bookkeeping. I really enjoyed the complexity of the accounting system, so in my downtime at the store I learned the ins and outs by reading the manual and experimenting. Because I knew how to do something that most others didn’t, I became the QuickBooks guy at every job after that one.

After a few years, I realized that I was doing better as a bookkeeper than a musician, so I went back to school to study accounting at UCLA. At the same time, I started Cloudsourced Accounting, an online bookkeeping company designed to disrupt the traditional accounting model (hourly billing, desktop software, etc.). And it worked! We were early adopters of cloud technology including Xero, Bill.com, and Expensify. We were selling outsourced accounting using fixed fees. Within three years we had acquired over 200 customers. That was when Cloudsourced Accounting merged with an accounting firm called HPC, a Xero Platinum Partner here in the U.S.

Now I’m at Armanino LLP. We’re the largest California-based accounting and consulting firm. We’re also one of the fastest growing firms in the country with over 1000 employees and 100 partners. Today we’re doing over 100M in revenue and have expanded outside of California with an acquisition in Dallas. Because we’re a large firm, partners and staff are at all levels of cloud adoption. My department, Outsourcing Finance and Accounting, is one of the groups leading cloud adoption at Armanino. We only use online accounting tools for new clients, and we’re big fans of cloud add-ons and the consulting opportunities from specializing in the cloud ecosystem.

Lizzy: Blake, from cello to accounting is a pretty big change. Have you found any similarities between the two?

Blake: Definitely! Playing a musical instrument is about mastering a system. You do something with your body, and you get some results in return. It’s really just figuring out how to do that and then repeating the process over and over again until it’s the same every time. These movements could be pressure on the bow, or where you put your fingers on the fingerboard - it’s a system. Accounting and technology are the same; they’re systems, just like music.

When you integrate different accounting systems, you have to visualize the flow of information from one platform to the other through the entire accounting cycle - from the original source document to the final posting in the GL. Seeing the big picture is the most important aspect of technology consulting. This flow is the same in music, whether you’re performing or composing.

Another similarity is self-discipline - The discipline it takes to sit in a room for six hours a day and practice. Learning to practice has done so much for me in terms of being able to sit and stare at a problem on my computer screen. This sort of problem solving is actually way easier than practicing scales because accounting offers more variety.

People say, “You used to be a musician, don’t you find accounting boring?” and to be honest, I have to tell them that being a classical musician is very, very boring most of the time. The actual creativity is just a fraction of the time you spend as a working musician. But it’s what everyone sees when you’re on stage. But think about it, how often are you actually on stage? Not that much in comparison to how much you have to practice. The performance is only the tip of the iceberg. I find that what I get to do in the accounting world is often much more creative. The problem solving for clients is a lot of fun.

Lizzy: So, you have a son… Do you hope he follows in your footsteps and plays the cello, as well?

Blake: Well, that’s an interesting question. It’s possible.

Due to a random genetic condition, my son was born without any hearing. Completely deaf. People hear that and say, “Wow, you’re a musician, that must be really tough for you.” It’s sort of like the plot to the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus.

Except my son received cochlear implants when he was thirteen months old. My family is very fortunate to live in L.A., not far from UCLA, where they have an amazing team of doctors that specialize in this type of surgery. My wife was able to get our son into an early program that made it possible for him to get the cochlear implants very early. When he was fifteen months old they were activated, and he’s been hearing ever since.

Now he’s almost three, and he’s doing great. It’s an incredible technology and we’re so lucky to live at this time in history. It’s incredible. All of this technology is happening right now, and it’s changing my personal life in addition to my professional life. Some of the kids with these implants are even studying music. The sound processing keeps getting better and better. It’s my hope that maybe someday my son will want to go to the symphony with me. My son is pretty much a cyborg - he actually meets that definition according to the dictionary. We’re living in the future.

To bring us back to the subject at hand, all of this technology is allowing us accountants to work with clients all over the world. We can collaborate from anywhere. It’s all really neat.

This wraps part 1 of our behind the scenes chat with Blake Oliver, founder of Cloud Accounting Weekly, stay tuned in the comings week as dive further into his background and story we hope you've enjoyed the first instalment.

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