Bob the CPA: This is Abacus, I’m Bob the CPA. Today I’m speaking with a couple of guys who are helping solve a huge problem for anyone with continuing education requirements. Their new startup helps you find free CPE courses and keep track of all your hours in a simple dashboard, and they say, the idea started from scratching their own itch.
Matt: When I made the transition from public accounting at PwC to industry, I was kinda out to dry on CPE. So at PwC and many other big four firms and other firms and other large accounting firms they kinda take care of that CPE for their employees but when I left there and still had an active CPA license, I kinda had to go out and do it on my own.
Bob the CPA: And then, I’ll tell you the simplest way to keep your passwords safe online. This is Abacus, episode two. Let’s go. Learn everything you need to know to have a successful and fulfilling accounting career. Whether you’re on the partner track or you’re making your own path, this is Abacus.
This is Abacus, I’m Bob the CPA. My guests today are Matt and Jamie, the co-founders of Encoursa, a new startup that combines free CPE tracking with an easy to use marketplace of courses, including a lot of free options. I caught up with them on the phone, right after a company brainstorming session. I was curious how Matt and Jamie decided to work together to solve this problem. It turns out, they were both working on similar projects, when a mutual friend introduced them. Here’s Matt.
Matt: To give you a little background on me, this is Matt speaking. I started my career in public accounting … I spent some time at PricewaterhouseCoopers after college and then I transitioned into industry after that. I kinda got the entrepreneurial itch to kinda go out and do my own thing after that. When I made the transition from public accounting at PwC to industry, I was kinda out to dry on CPE and what we’re talking about … to kinda give you my background that’s continuing professional education. So at PwC and many other big four firms and other large accounting firms, they kinda take care of that CPE for their employees. They offer lots of in person training. They track it all for you. But when I left there and still had an active CPA license, I kinda had to go out and do it on my own. So, it kinda became tedious and the administrative side took up a lot of time. I was using spreadsheets and taking lots of time to try and find courses.
So, I kinda identified that problem, that pain area and talked to some other people, colleagues and other people in the industry and noticed they kinda had the same pain that I did. I started to go to some networking events in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I’m from and I actually started talking to someone about the idea. They said they knew somebody that was working on something similar. That’s how Jamie comes into the picture.
Bob the CPA: Jamie comes from a slightly different background but he had the same problem. Here’s Jamie.
Jamie: So my background is on the industry side. I’m not a CPA but I have audit, internal audit background. I have a CIA or a certified internal auditor certification and there’s also continuing education requirements for that certification. So, while Matt and I came about the industry from different backgrounds, really the pain points were the same.
Bob the CPA: Anyone who’s started a business knows it’s not all smooth sailing, even with a great idea. Here’s what happened next.
Matt: So Jamie had all these great ideas but the problem is we had no one to build them. So, that was a struggle. At the time developers are really high demand, very expensive too, to go out and hire. So, we kinda hit a roadblock there. We had all these ideas we wanted put into play and help people find continuing education but we didn’t have anyone to build it.
Bob the CPA: Enter Jason. He’s the tech lead for Encoursa and he’s the guy who’s making this whole idea a reality.
Jason: Kinda spit balled some ideas with Matt and Jamie and what they were thinking about for the accounting industry. The more and more we talked about it and got together at Matt’s, it just seemed like we could really help out a lot of people. We really have some really great ideas for the future.
Bob the CPA: We’ve beat around the bush a little bit and by now you’re probably curious what these guys have actually built and more importantly, how it’s going to help you. Their startup is called Encoursa. It’s a web app that helps you find and track your CPE hours. I’ll let them tell you more.
Matt: We kinda look at Encoursa as having two main features for our users. First it’s a platform and a dashboard for users to be able to track their continuing education. So we see a lot of users that use Excel spreadsheets or just frankly don’t even track it at all and they have loose papers around from the support that they’ve gotten from taking the courses. Now some people go out and make some pretty sophisticated spreadsheets and they do work okay but we try to come in there and allow you to upload your course support in case you get audited. Put that right in the cloud. Store it there. Encoursa helps you track, not only your CP but your subjects within your CP. So in the state of Michigan I have to get eight hours of accounting, two hours of ethics every year. So I can kinda break that out on my dashboard in Encoursa. Then we also let you set deadlines and reminders. You get email reminders when your deadlines are coming up. So that’s kinda the tracker component.
The other side is really trying to be a marketplace for CPE. So we’re not creating CPE ourselves but we find that people go out there spend so much time trying to find good content that it’s kinda siloed all over the internet. So we try to bring it all together into one platform, make it searchable. Users can search by delivery method, whether that’s self study, live webcasts or in person live conference. They can search by the date range. They can search price, location if it is a live event and then they can also search by keywords too. So it kinda puts it together in one platform. You know, if you’re in a type of job and you’re wanting to improve on a certain area then you can go into Encoursa and really make that search and find content on that in seconds.
Bob the CPA: I spent some time in there last week and it looks really good. I especially like that you can filter by free stuff which, I think a lot of people once they leave their public accounting, don’t realize how expensive these courses can get. So having all those free courses right in front of you in one place is been very helpful for me.
Matt: You’re exactly right. When you’re at a big firm, they kinda foot the bill and you just kinda take it for granted but when you’re out on your own it adds up really quick. So if you’re looking for value in your CPE or trying not to spend a crazy amount of money to maintain your license … we kinda tailor to that type of person too, who wants to find good quality CPE but not break the bank.
Bob the CPA: Absolutely. Do you guys do anything to help people figure out what their requirements are for maybe their state or AICPA? Do you guys track that at all?
Matt: So what we’ve found, especially in the CPE industry is that every state has different requirements. So one of the challenges Jamie and I faced early on was, do we wanna build an application where you ask 20 questions to every user. To give you an example, in Michigan, the deadline is in June every other year verses if I’m in California and I’m a CPA it’s based on my birthday. Other states have different requirements. A lot of them are year end deadlines, different subject requirements. Some states, depending on what type of job you have … if you’re some type of auditor you need certain subject requirements. So, we didn’t really wanna build some convoluted app that just asks 20 questions. We kinda wanted to let the user own that information.
So when you do add a certification to Encoursa, we make the assumption that you do know your requirements and you put it in there or at least you can go on to your state board site and reference those. Once you get it into the app it’s there and it’s set for you and you don’t have to continue to go back to your state board site and look it up again. It’s kinda set. So when you build out your certifications it’s more of a user owned process and we provide those fields for them to own that process.
Bob the CPA: That makes sense, especially with how many different states there are and then like I said, AICPA has their own issues and I’m sure it’s even more once you get into the CMA, CIA. I bet … that’s a lot to manage.
Matt: That’s exactly right. So, we found that the requirements and the deadlines were all different across all of these finance and accounting based certifications and licenses. So we wanted to build a platform that was flexible enough to accommodate all the variances in the requirements that they all have.
Bob the CPA: So the website seems pretty built out and almost fully functional it looks like. How long have you guys been in business so far?
Matt: We’re actually a brand new startup. We actually had a soft launch in July, on the 16th and we had our press release on July 21st. We’ve done really, really well reaching out to our professional networks and just getting good, organic growth. We’ve gotten great feedback along the way from people, both within industry and former public accountants who are now on their own, working independently or for smaller firms. We’re really excited about the trajectory that we’re on. We’re currently considering ourself in open beta so we’re totally free for users and we just finished up this week with a planning session to talk about what Encoursa version two will be. So we’ve got a lot of exciting things coming down the pipeline.
Bob the CPA: The one thing I noticed when I was signing up is you guys are currently offering a free plan. Is that something you plan to continue doing or what is your strategy going forward?
Matt: Yeah, so it’s interesting you asked that. Jamie just flew in from Seattle, last couple of days, so we’ve been collaborating as a team to talk about our version two. It’s gonna be 100% free for users to sign up with Encoursa and use the technology as well. So the application and the tracker is always gonna be free. In version two, we plan to offer a subscription based model. So, we’re gonna get other CP providers on board. We’re gonna publish CP too. We’re gonna have our own NASBA stamp to be able to issue that. We’re gonna offer a subscription based model where users can pay a yearly fee and come one place, find all the CP and then be taken care of all in Encoursa.
Bob the CPA: That’s great. So, you just come in, take all your courses and have it all be tracked right there for you. That’s really nice.
Matt: Yeah. So we’re gonna offer self study. We’re gonna offer webinars. It’s all gonna be there. It’s gonna be one flat fee. You know what the number is and that takes care of all your CP for the year.
Bob the CPA: So while I have you guys, is there anything I haven’t asked you yet that you really wanna make sure you get across to the audience of accountants who are listening right now?
Matt: The only thing I would say is that accountants out there, they’re very busy professionals. Some are working 60, 80, even 100 hour weeks and to maintain your license it shouldn’t be a headache. You shouldn’t spend just as much time on the administrative side as you do actually taking the content. So that’s the pain we’re trying to alleviate. We’re trying to make it very simple for them. We’re always trying to improve that process too. So for anyone who wants to check out Encoursa and sign up for a free account, get on there and if there’s something that you don’t like on the app, shoot us an email. We’re always happy to connect with you and try to make it the best we can for you.
Bob the CPA: If somebody wants to give it a try, where can they find you?
Matt: They can find it at Encoursa.com E-N-C-O-U-R-S-A dot com and it’s 100% free to sign up.
Bob the CPA: Fantastic. All right guys, I appreciate you coming on the episode. This has been great.
Matt: Thanks, it’s been great to join you today.
Bob the CPA: Thanks again to the Encoursa team for being on this episode of Abacus. You can find links and show notes for everything we just talked about by visiting AbacusShow.com/2
Each episode I like to share a tip or tidbit that while probably not life changing, will hopefully help you out in some small way. This is coaching notes. If you’ve never heard of a password manager before, listen up. Whether you’re securing client data or banking online, there’s two rules you need to follow to keep the bad guys out. Number one, don’t use the same password on multiple sites. You may trust your bank to keep a secret but do you trust the small shop you bought a phone cover from two months ago? When the crooks break into smaller sites, the first thing they do is try the passwords on the bigger sites like your banking and your email account. Don’t make it easy for them. Use different passwords on every site. Number two, all else being equal, longer passwords are better. Having long, unique passwords is the best way to stay safe online and protect your clients data. But remembering dozens of super long passwords is next to impossible on your own.
Password managers were created to solve this problem. Here’s how they work. Your password manager is a program on your computer or online that automatically generates a random password every time you sign up for a new site. It remembers all of your passwords and keeps them safe in an encrypted file. You only need to remember one strong password that let’s you access this file and the program does the rest. I’ll have links to a few of my favorite password managers in the show notes to help you get started. You can find them all at AbacusShow.com/2 and that’s your coaching note.
Thanks for listening. If you like this episode, it’s fast and easy to click on that five star rating in iTunes or your podcatcher of choice. Don’t forget, you can get links and show notes for everything we covered today or check out all of our past episodes by visiting AbacusShow.com, see ya next time.
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