How The Artsy Fartsy Entrepreneur Behind LessAccounting Is Taking On Quickbooks With Less

When I complained on Twitter that I was having trouble with Quickbooks, about a dozen people instantly told me to check out LessAccounting. I did. That’s when I decided that I had to interview Allan Branch, the entrepreneur who created it. I wanted to find out how he built the uncluttered bookkeeping app that has so many fans.

Allan Branch

Allan Branch


Allan Branch is the co-founder of LessEverything, the company that produces web apps like LessAccounting.



Full Interview Transcript

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Hey, everyone. It’s Andrew Warner, founder of, home of the ambitious upstart. Today, I’ve got with me a guy who has taken on the Quickbooks giant, his name is Allan Branch. His strategy is to give out less fewer features, fewer everything. He’s the co-founder of Less Everything, and his accounting program is called Less Accounting. I want to find out how he does this. I want to find out how you can compete, Allan, with a company like Quickbooks. So, why don’t we start by just telling people what this one product that I happen to know really well because I’ve been using it is, what’s Less Accounting?

Interviewee: Less Accounting is a bookkeeping applications [xx] you pay monthly. It’s for people that are confused and frustrated with Quickbooks, because Quickbooks is really written for accountants and people that know accounting and bookkeeping. Or, you are a person that had no bookkeeping system and you just want to make money. That’s the goal in any business, you just want to get the hell out of the accounting application and get back to work, back to making money because bookkeeping doesn’t make you money. So, we are here to bring you app from the shoebox or confused, pissed off and you’re trying to call into a tax support. That’s where we fit in.

Andrew: I’ve used the program before this interview. In fact, you and I connected because I was pissed at Quickbooks, it was just a pain in the neck to use. I twitted out that I was pissed at it and people just said, “Well, why don’t you try Less Accounting?” For some reasons, I hadn’t thought to do it, even though I know you, guys. I know you, guys, for the last COMP(?), I’m a media sponsor of the conference. I’ve seen you, guys; I’ve heard your philosophy for a long time. Somehow, it just didn’t click with me until your fans said, “Check it out.” I went, I checked it out. I didn’t have to re-enter all my PayPal information, I just hit one button and you, guys, sucked all that data in. I didn’t have to figure out how to use the software, I just made sense, and that, in many ways, is the embodiment of your philosophy. Right?

Interviewee: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Andrew: Can you give us a summary of the philosophy behind the company? This is just one app that you, guys, have made.

Interviewee: The philosophy or the tag line of Less Accounting is “Bookkeeping sucks, we make it suck less.” The philosophy of the company is just less is better, we’re here to build something very lean and very simple, try to be simple, simple as a bookkeeping application can be, it’s like an oxymoron or something.  But, we do things in small teams and no funding and our marketing is very genuine, that’s us.

Andrew: What kind of marketing have you, guys, done?

Interviewee: None. No. In 2008, we hired an SEO girl who just really highly ranked for accounting software, and we paid like, I think, close to $80,000 in Pay Per Clicks with Rapid Blue Pay Per Click company. What we found is people that are just Googling Quickbooks replacement, they’re not in the pain that you were that moment when we twitted back to you, because there’s going to be a barrier entry with an accounting application. There’s no click, click, boom! My books for the past nine years are set up, there’s a little bit of a threshold. So, you had to catch someone at that moment to be able to pull them out of their existing system, there’s a lot of inertia in the accounting software.

So, we found it’s much better to, instead of spending money, I think, Pay Per Clicks, thats something that’s great for import(?) buys, iPhone apps; you know, you’re Googling for bathing suit, a pair of shoes, or whatever. But I think for our application, it wasn’t the right thing.

Interviewee:So we backed off in the advertising. We spent money. We set up the books for you for free. We have a book keeper that will download your bank-stuff that will reconcile your account that will walk you through the application. And we will lose money on most of the users. But are we better off putting that money on pay-per-click? Probably not. The book keepers are worked out walfors and putting money into being remarkable instead of being banner ads and pay-per-clicks.

Andrew: I see. Okay. And what you are talking about by the bookkeeper reference is I saw when I signed up that I think it was the same day or the next day I got an email from a book keeper who said, I can help you get set up if you give me your information I will put it into the system for you and you’ll be able to go from there. And the hardest part of it is setting up because you got months of data from the past. You have to start sorting it, you have to try figuring it out. So that’s another thing you guys do to make it easier. And so that’s your goal and that’s the way you want to market by improving the product itself?

Interviewee: Exactly, right, if we set up at least ten new user’s books and eight of them leave, those two that stay love us. We’re best friends now because they were in a horrible dire straits and we came in and saved the day and oh my god they are going to tell everyone; their friends. And that’s just the way its worked out for us. Instead of buying cool banner ads we tried to be remarkable in our products and services.

Andrew: You know what I always wanted to know when I hear people say that you have to do less. I want to know what do you do. I mean you take a look at accounting, quick-books is a monster for a reason because there is a lot involved in accounting. You guys take them on, you decide your going to offer less; How do you know what of these thousand tactics, more than a thousand features, how do you know which one to focus on and just launch with those.

Interviewee: Yea so, whatever you launch a product that’s simple especially that’s accounting there’s going to be people that, oh my god you think that feature I can use as application. With accounting and book keeping there’s a thing called GAP, which is Generally Accounting Principles and..

Andrew: Quick pause Generally accepted Accounting Principles we lost the connection.

Interviewee: Wikipedia and like they teach it to you in school and that thing is that every business needs a balance sheet which has the assets and liabilities and depreciation and quick-books, they account for this huge broad range of businesses, from a huge business 500 employees, which is still a small business, down to one guy doing logos in his basement. They have things we can track, assets and for a small micro business, like us and you our assets are our computers. So why do we want to build a feature that the business owner has to worry about, understand add in when his CPA can take thirty seconds of the year and say here you go that’s the depreciation of your laptop this year. So we built that application for us and we figured there’s other people that need it and every day we get emails from people that say oh I need inventory tracking, I need this or I need that, so we could be very picky on what we build or we’ll turn into quick-books very quickly.

Andrew: So I understand why you wouldn’t want to deal with depreciation, your right, you have to go talk to your accountant anyway to find out how to deal with depreciation why build that into a basic application. I understand that there are certain easy decisions to make when you are trying to cut out some of the infinitely seemingly number of features that the competition has. But how do you know which ones you have to have in order to win over a customer.

Interviewee: You’re asking how the hell do two normal guys know how to build book keeping applications.

Andrew: I know you guys know how to build it because you built a web after a long time you guys have experience.

Interviewee: But what does a small business need to have actual voice.

Andrew: Yeah how do you decide.

Interviewee: Steve, his model is a book keeper, mine is a CPA. We have another CPA that works for us and they are all we run features past them and they’ll tell us we need to build this and I will say no, no, no, no you’re breaking into a hole. You build that feature you are going to have people asking for this this this this this and this and it’s opening a Pandora’s box of others features you’ll need to build. See we run things passed our CPA’s and then his family is entrepreneurs and my family has been running businesses, my grandfather was running car washes in the 1950s So I grew up in business and hear my dad complain about taxes and that sort of stuff and you know its really not that hard to build a booking application now at the surface level. It’s been three years since we launched this accounting we learned everyday, we find out that sent an invoice in Hebrew and we do a little thing

Interviewee:  We do, we do a little things like that, we find out about new things everyday. So.. about obscure countries that we don’t know anything about. So, it’s a learning process but we are really confident in our bookkeeping knowledge.  It’s not really that hard – it’s just data data collection.

Andrew: So yeah. What.. what features did you guys launch with?

Interviewee: So three years ago the idea was we should build an expense tracker. And then we had people saying “this was..”, you know. I guess Fresh Books was called second site at that time and there wasn’t that many invoicing application online and someone said “Oh, you should put invoicing in there” and we said “Oh, great idea! We’ll add invoicing but we we’ll add proposals at the same time ’cause this is pretty much the same thing. So, we add proposals and then people said, “I wanna track cash.” – another thing.  So we add bank accounts. And then they said *???* that’s how we’ll transfer our funds. So we added that. So, you know, *Less* Accounting was an expense tracker that got lots of feature creep on it. So, we’ve made alot of mistakes.  It turned out well.  I wouldn’t go back and build an expense tracker and keep it that way. So it’s turned out well but you know, feature creep, turned it into a full accounting – well, I would say, a full bookkeeping application. We say accounting people assume you’re doing taxes and that sort of stuff which…

Andrew:  It is bookkeeping. This is the kind of thing when you wanna keep track of how much money is coming in and how much money is going out and have a sense of where the money is coming from, which product is doing better and where the money is going out, who’s sucking up their cash.

Interviewee:  Yeah, and we’re trying to be the mint, of business accounting, right. We use yodely or our, for our, you know, our bank dollar *aggregation*. So we’re trying to get more into that sort of.. They have a really nice interface which is what 32 million dollars in funding gets you. We unfortunately don’t have $32M, we have about $32.

Andrew:  SO what that means is that, if you wanna tap into Chase bank that I happen to use or Citibank that I happen to use. I don’t have.. YOu don’t have to the relationship with those banks. You just work with yodely, you take my username and password, you pass it to yodely. You say, “Yo, you guys take care of it.” and they pull in all the data for you and then once you have the data, you display it nicely for me.

Interviewee:  Exactly.

Andrew: So let’s go through what you said here. You said you were going to start of as an expense tracker.  Did you launch with just an expense tracker?

Interviewee: What did we launch with?.. Yeah, we were just an expense tracker.  It was a dashboard, latest expenses and expense.. expense form. That’s how it was.

Andrew: Okay, alright. That sounds simple enough. And then the next thing you said was that people ask you for proposals…

Interviewee: Invoices…

Andrew:  ..and invoices.. invoices was the next thing. So did you add invoices right away?

Interviewee: You know, I would say we launched in February or March and then we added the menu a few weeks later between clients, you know. In the beginning it was much more of a.. oh, we had a few week gap between projects that do so much with *solice* accounting. And now we keep, we normally keep people on the project working and that sort of stuff at all times. It started out as a two-page application and now it’s like 80 pages with this tons of *commissional* logics.

Andrew:  Okay, so of all the things that people asked for, why did you pick invoices as the one to add next?

Interviewee:  Because we needed that, as well, and we didn’t wanna pay for *blinkx*.. *Blinkx sell* was actually the big and worthy application at that time and we didn’t want to pay for *Blinkx sell*. And it seemed so easy. You know, once you add invoicing, people say, “I want customized invoices, I wanna have a header, I wanna have a footer, I wanna put in my own logo” And so it’s just like this, “I wanna build some PDFs, I wanna build some as an attachment.”  And so it’s like this “Pandora’s Box” of feature requests.

Andrew: Yeah, Fresh Books is in the whole.. The whole business is around sending invoices and I didn’t understand at first why you need the whole business around invoices.  You can do can do it in Excel, you can do it in gmail and then I started using it and I realized, well, yeah, once you send it out though, you do want it a little customized and then once the person receives it, they don’t just wanna see it, they need an easy way to pay. So then you have to build a button that let’s them go to pay and when they hit that button, where do they go? Well, they wanna use paypal unless they don’t want to use paypal and then you’ve gotta give them that option. And so, that’s how you ended getting sucked into adding all kinds of features.

Interviewee:  Yeah, and its hard to build, it’s hard to build application when people are asking for features. It’s hard to say, “God, I love your idea but yeah, we’re just not gonna do it.” It’s.. it feels terrible.  You know, everyone like to say yes to things and make people say, “Thank you, you’re awesome!” but you know, saying “no” and “i’m sorry” and you know, “I really can’t do that” and “it’s not the right application to be with” sucks.

Andrew:  So the way that you knew, from what I’m seeing in the audience in here and from you, the way you knew what to build of all these things that people are asking you for is by saying, “What do we need? Well, we do need invoicing, so we’ll do it, too.” Why not just pass invoicing to someone like Fresh Books or say, we’re not in that space, we’ll just set you up with an email – an email template.

Andrew: An email template. You hit the button…..

Interviewee: Right, right. Still looking, if we were to start out now we probably would. We probably would just hook up a bunch of API’s and offer a very very scaled down feature and say well if you want, ya know, better invoicing,go with these guys, absolutely.

Andrew: I see.

Interviewee: But at the time Freshbooks didn’t have an API or Blinkcell didn’t and we were, that wasn’t even in our mindset at the time. We were just ignorant, I guess, I don’t know.

Andrew: The next thing that I wrote down is bank accounts. So that’s the next big feature that you added. The ability to get information from banks. How did you know to add that.

Interviewee: No. We actually that’s a feature we launched, gosh I don’t know, a year ago. We added a bunch other little things between bank accounts as in just the ability to hand enter data. The importing stuff came much later and that was a huge undertaking. Months and months and months of work and it probably takes up a third of our support time. Oh this, Central Missouri State Credit Union is not syncing today and it’s you know. Its these little obscure tiny regional banks; and a lot of times, as bad as it sounds, we’ll just say “can you switch to a larger bank”. Because you know Yodlee will get back to us in twenty days they’re not the greatest for support. And actually that was one of the reasons why, no one knows this, not many people know this but, Mint went to Intuit because Intuit’s launching their own data aggregation platform and they’re trying to move away from Yodlee. If you look, Mint just released they’re supporting more banks now. That’s because of Intuit’s Data Aggregation Platform that they’re going to be opening up to the public.

Andrew: I see. So you guys in the future might be able to get away from Yodlee and their twenty day response time and go…

Interviewee: Yeah, you know, I think when you start giving them a million dollars a year, and having millions of accounts they give you lots of really great support, but we are a small fish in a big pond, so..

Andrew: I see. So you would then go and partner up with your big nemesis, with the makers of Quickbooks?

Interviewee: Oh well yeah, eventually yeah, if they offered us a great data aggregation platform we probably would switch to them. But yeah I guess you can call them my nemesis. That makes for a really great story.

Andrew: Let’s see what else then. What about one idea, one feature that you added that was an absolute mess that you had to take away.

Interviewee: We’ve done lots of little things like, what was the feature we took off the other day? Nothing big, we’ve been very selective with our features. I’m trying to; we removed one during our redesign and had a few people “him & haw” and no it’s better that way. It was cloning and invoice. Which was just poorly implemented. The feature is nice. To just be able to say, ‘i wanna copy of this invoice’, but the way we implemented it was just terrible and we took it out because it just made the UI horribly cluttered. We had like two or three people complain which was fantastic. We’re at a point now where if I change the color gray, I get twenty emails saying, ‘oh my gosh fantastic gray’. And then twenty emails that say, ‘What are you some sort of idiot? I loved the gray before’. So we’re happy. When you get no feedback, when you remove a feature and get no feedback it’s not a celebration.

Andrew: So, before we started this interview, I went and I used your site to prepare for the interview. I used it with my actual finances. And actually, what did I do? I used you with one account with PayPal. I had you guys suck in all the PayPal information that I had; the money I spent and the money I earned and then I went in and got this nice list of all my income and expenses. Then I said, ‘well this is meaningless’. I need to find a way to categorize it so I know how much money is coming from where. You guys have that, what is it Oakley that you use for live customer support.

Interviewee: Olark.

Andrew: Olark, yeah. It’s a start -that actually makes these little widgets that you put on you website so you can chat. I went and I chatted and I asked some questions and you noticed that I was chatting. How did you notice?

Interviewee: After the conversation Olark will email, you can set that up in your account, Olark will email ‘whoever’, a transcript. I like just to see what they are saying; the book keepers. We just started, we are kind of merging support to our book keepers ever since I bought February. Because we were finding no matter how great your applications, people are going to ask questions about book keeping. We were at a stance where we would say “we don’t really want to teach you book keeping.” Now we say “we’re going to teach you book keeping”. We’ll even get in your books and fix them for you. If you’ve missed transactions, we’ll do a reconciliation for you and fix it for you too.

Allan Brunch:So we hired two bookkeepers and they are doing support now, and I like to monitor what they are saying just to kind of keep in the loop and I noticed that your sub domain came across in the email and I said, Oh…l Andrew , got to impress this guy.aahhaa

Andrew Warner:You know ,that’s a reminder, even though the internet although feels all anonymous, I got to not be a Jackass because with this point, I was okay, but imagine, if I get in there like , “ You,Bastard, this feature is important , or You Son of a bitch, you dint  respond to it right away. And then I am on  with you s Alan, And I go to  a conference and see Alan, and we talk, and you can be as nice as possible but after you rant on somebody’s people and their product, forget it , you can’t win him over again

Allan Brunch:And you don’t want to make me mad , because I am six foot four , and three fifty . I am not

Andrew Warner:Well, so, it’s a good thing that I was really nice.

Allan Brunch: No, we actually had a cus a bookkeeper or a cpr someone had a chat transcript and they actually asked a question , and she said,said , hold on one second, ill  look it up for you in the FAQ, because I do not have the answer right at the back, and this lady was just saying. “You better, answer that now, real quick, I am going to leave. I”ll tell my client, just to leave. I am like “Woh’ , So I emailed her  and cc’d her client, which ended up being her son, and said , “ you don’t talk to my bookkeepers like this, we can be selective , and if you are not going to be nice, don’t use our product”. And the guy calls in and say’s, “I am sorry, my mom has just always been rude. And I will switch bookkeepers; let my mom go somewhere else”. You know, having a small company, you can kind of pick whom you want to work  with and we want to have nice people and we expect people to be frustrated, but there is no need to be little people, you know , we are so used to calling Dell Tech support and  being mean to them, but when someone is truly trying to be helpful , we don’t realize that and we are not used to tech support truly trying to help us

Andrew Warner: You know,you are absolutely right, I just had an issue the other day, and nobody wanted to help me, they just wanted to keep me the freaking product. I had the product shipped all the way from USA and nobody cares like just deal with it. And so , it’s unusual to see somebody, who actually cares and we have got to learn to adjust to that . Actually, let me suggest this, because if  allworx is  listening, and I have interviewed a few companies who have used them,they might want to  put the picture of the person you are talking to and just let everyone know, this isn’t a robot and this is a human being you are talking to and it is really caring and it personalizes the whole experience.

Allan Brunch:Have you ever heard of Wufoo  as a sponsor and Kevin hale are the  founders ,They had  great talk and when he talks, they were  getting a lot of negative feedback or negative comments in their blog and he said, they put as a default value in the text area, something like, “everyone could use a hug, or everyone could use a smile” and he said that their negative comments and the rude comments just dropped after that. sort of , just a little of ,that’s nothing right ,  why when someone is about to say”fuck you” and you see, everyone could use a hug,ah they will be like okay.

Andrew Warner:That’s freaking clever. it does seem like one of Kevin’s moves, I like that

Allan Brunch:Yeah! He’s good. He is so articulate and smooth, and I am so sweaty and fat, its just that , you look at people like that , and makes you wonder. Is he going to interview me ?

Andrew Warner:Actually I am very grateful to you for doing this interview. I wanted to have you on for a long time. I think the first few times that I suggested ,we do the interview,you  had  other things going on , but I am really , especially glad that you are able to come on this week, because , I dint give you much notice, I just said, “Alan, come on, have an opening today, I need you

Allan Brunch:Well! I appreciate it

Andrew Warner:So let’s see, Iet’s see, so here’s my issue, My issue is , I get all this list of expenses and income, I need to sort it , I have to go in and sort it all by

Allan Brunch:Are you going to ask me for a feature, you got to talk to tech support.

Andrew Warner: I am asking you , no, no  I am asking this, Isn’t  one of the problems with this program that gives you less is , Yeah,they win you over quickly because they  could help figure it out, but when the time comes in doing things, when you really need for your business, like for me , it’s just sorting through to see from where the revenue comes in, for somebody else its some other feature, those features just don’t exist and so the product is underpowered, Now I was going to give my own example just to give people an understanding of what I am talking about . to illustrate it  using a concrete example, but the main point , I think stands is  , that ,programs that have less just don’t do enough

Allan Brunch:   Sure , There are features, that we will never build , that once your company gets 80 employees, that you are going to need, so  our goal is , as Jason says, people grow out of basecamp,we would love for your company to get so big, that you need to hire a full time accountant staff and bookkeepers and then might be more comfortable in quick bucks and whatever you are the most comfortable man in accounting software is that .

Interviewee: …and they might be more comfortable in Quickbooks.  And whatever you’re the most comfortable in in accounting software, use that.  Because if you’re comfortable in Quickbooks, I don’t want you to spend how many days or how many hours in learning a new accounting app, you should be working.  You shouldn’t be trying to learn new accounting applications.

So I’m not here to sell you on always being a user of ours.  I’m not here to transfer happy Quickbooks users to Less Accounting users.  But if you’re pissed off at Quickbooks and you don’t know what bookkeeping is, and you just need help, that’s where our application comes in.  But one day you very well might need to hire your own bookkeepers on staff and good for you.

Andrew: How’d you decide to have a couple of bookkeepers for your customers?  That’s an unusual move for a software company.

Interviewee: Yeah.  We were just getting lots of questions about how do I categorize this expense and no matter how many FAQs you do, and how many help tips, there are gonna be bookkeeping questions.  So we said we’re just gonna help people.  And I was doing all the tech support up until December, which was taking up an entire day, between 10 emails and 180, and chat rooms all the time.

So tech support wears you down with the same questions over and over gain.  So we use TenderApp now, which is an FAQ tech support ticketing system.  So we hired one bookkeeper and we actually cloned our books and said reconcile our accounts for us.  And she went through and cleaned up all our accounts for us.  And we liked her and we said go find someone else that you like.

And she went out and hired her assistant and replacement, whatever you want to call it, and it worked out well.  Most of the tech support you get is what do I categorize this expense as?  And there’s silly questions like we had this guy this morning say your app ate seven months worth of data out of my account.  No, let’s see why.  He said oops, I was building the report by the wrong date range.

So do I personally need to spend an hour figuring that out or should I be shoving that off to someone else?  At that point yeah, I do do customer contacts.  We send out a five-day email that says I’ll do a phone call with you, I’ll walk you through the application.  So I do have my hand in customer support.  But answering all those little questions, I just wasn’t getting any work done.  And I wasn’t giving the support that a bookkeeper can get because they’ll jump in and fix your books for you, and reconcile them for free, so.

Andrew: DId you see any increase in conversions either from samplers to customers or from customers upgrading.  Did you see anything like that?

Interviewee: We saw conversions more pay users per signup, you know.  I think it’s like 3% now people that signup and they’re paying, which is pretty high.  And then the stuff that you can’t really measure, which is a guy, Genuine Chris on Twitter said checkout Less Accounting, they have your back.  You can’t pay for that.  Like evangelists, you can’t buy those.  So there’s stuff you can’t measure.

But yeah, from day three, we probably said this is the right move.  Because you can either have a problem with Quickbooks and I can say fuck you, go get a consultant for $180 an hour, or Less Accounting, we’re here to help you, let us walk you through us, what don’t you understand?  Let’s fix your books for you.

Andrew: And this is a U.S. based the bookkeeper that you hired/?

Interviewee: Yeah, with a Master’s degree in accounting.

Andrew: Wow, that’s impressive.

Interviewee: Then we partnered recently with who integrates with us on accounting, who actually has former IRS agents and it’s like you can basically [sucker] down its accounting, fill out the tax forms, then hire a tax preparer from their list.  It’ll rate them like this guy answers really fast, and this guy is a former IRS agent, he’s a hard ass.  And they’ll let you pick and they’ll look through your books for you.  So that’s a cool  service as well.

Andrew: I see.  Anything else that helped increase your conversions or get people to stay longer?

Interviewee: Get people to stay longer.  The bookkeepers have been the best thing.  Anything you can do to empower users to feel like I’m really kicking ass.  As developers we’re always developing and developers think my end product needs more features or better features, and they think in that developer mindset.  And designers say oh my gosh, no one’s buying my product, I need to redesign it, I need more colors.

But very few of us that are building products, and developers and designers think about empowering our users and how can they actually do that.  Setup wizards are great, but I’ll give you an example…

I: They might be more comfortable in quickbooks. And whatever you’re most comfortable in accounting software, use that. If you’re comfortable in quickbooks I don’t want you to spend how many days and how many hours learning new accounting applictions. You should be working. You shouldnt be learning new accounting applications. So I’m not here to sell you on always being a user of ours. I’m not here to transfer happy quick books users to less occurring users. But if you’re pissed off at quickbooksand you dont know if bookeeping has and you just need help

Interviewee: I’ll give you an example, I love but I would have loved for someone to say ‘Let me help you set your app, your account up. Give me 30 seconds and I’ll help you’. That personal touch is, its scary to think that I’m going to be eating that expense for lack of that doubt and that pang. I think more apps need that hand-holding. We’re just trying to automate, automate, automate and we need to be coming back from that and say ‘we need to be giving some service’. And really good support and that sort of thing.

Andrew: Olark, what made you decide to try them?

Interviewee: Well we were using Campfire and it was great when we had one user on it, but when 7 people come in there and are saying, you’re trying to have a conversation with 7 people, it got to be hard, and Olark was recommended to me on Twitter. I guess some friends had used it so I signed up to them.

Andrew: Why did you decide to keep them? What made you know that, how did you know that that was worth the time?

Interviewee: Anytime you can help a person in that moment, and what we also do too, we can actually see when people are on the application, so we can see when you go online and through the chat, we can actually, we will ping people periodically and say like “Hey Andrew, if you have any questions just let me know.” If I see you clicking around a bunch, you can see the links people go to, and if I see you go from Reports to just kind of like a wierd flow, the bookeepers are supposed to say “Are you having problems locating data?” or things like that.

Andrew: Oh thats cool.

Interviewee: So they’ll watch to make sure you’re not getting frustrated. And that instant sort of boom! “I’m a real person, can I help you?” I think is fantastic.

Andrew: Yeah I saw that one of their plans does that. I don’t want to do a whole commercial about them but they’ve been coming up in my interviews and I’ve actually started to notice more and more websites put that little Olark live chat thing on their sites. So I’ve been curious about them and I went to their website before this interview to see what exactly you were doing with them and they have a plan that will tell you by user, by name and email address I think, who is on the site right now, what they’re doing as you said, and its interesting use of the product. Lets see what else we’ve got here. One of your, did you guys create or quickbookssucks as a marketing plan?

Interviewee: Yeah, we, so…

Andrew: Tell us about that.

Interviewee: Two years ago, before Twitter was huge, (I guess its always been huge), I was tracking, I was like ‘You know, I wonder if people are talking about Quick Books?’ and so I went and there was no RSS feed at the time, so I would search just looking for Quick Books and people were saying like “Oh mother fucker I hate these fucking..” just the worst things you could imagine, like testimonials, thats what they really were. And I was like ‘Oh my God we’ve got to put these on the site’. And at the time, the site was built on the API, but now you could do it with the RSS feed, but now its being spammed by, no one from Mentor was online,no businesses were on Twitter at the time and then we started reaching out to them saying “Hey if you’ve got a Quick Books problem..”. I think I invented Twitter spam actually, I’ll take credit for that. I had a teacher in college who invented the shaking banner and I invented Twitter spam. I’m just trying to give it back Andrew.

Andrew: I appreciate that, thank you.

Interviewee: But you know, we did the site and we had actually had the marketing SEO at the time and she’s great but she said ‘I don’t want to be a part of this. We are going to get sued.’ And we were like ‘That would be awesome! We would love that!’ And Interweb never sued us, I don’t know why, but we put a Less Accounting link on it and got a lot of great links and even people that said it was stupid linked us, so it worked out well. We still get 30 clicks a week from it, which is nothing, but its still something right.

Andrew: But now its all spammed. Now people have gotten you back because the only mentions of Quick Books on Twitter now are people offering Quick Books for Mac or Quick Books for PC, for $150 instead of $200. And thats all thats showing up on that site. But it still makes a point, Quick Books does suck.

Interviewee: Yeah, if you Google ‘Quick Books sucks’ we come up right, looking for a Quick Books replacement with ‘Quick Books sucks’ or ‘Quick Books blows’ and we come up.

Andrew: Thats a great marketing idea. So few people, I think in the audience, if I’m reading this right, are saying that chat isn’t scalable. How do you grow a business when you’re dependant on having bookkeepers to answer questions and to set people up with the site?

Interviewee: Right, no if its not scalable, its not scalable. They’re saying ‘Oh if you have 90 000 paid users you can’t scale..’ Fuck yeah you can because if its profitable from the beginning its going to be profitable at the end, hopefully. If we can set up 10 books and its profitable. If 2 of the people start paying, or one of them, and that ratio continues, it scales. You just keep hiring good book keepers”

Interviewee: [35:00] And that ratio continues. It scales. You just keep hiring good book-keepers and people that will impress. And the argument of, oh, that doen’t scale, fuck that. Does that mean you shouldn’t try? You know? Is it, oh? Well, you know, one day if we ever get to be so successful, we won’t be able to continue to support. God, how. Let me get to that point. You know? That’s a [inaudible] argument, you know?

Andrew: [35:28] [inaudible]. That’s it. That’s an interesting point, too. I had the founders of Air B and B dot com on here. And when they weren’t making money and figuring out how to turn a profit. Paul Gramm, their investor, said. Do things that aren’t scalable. Go fly to your where your, which is your biggest market. Just live in that market. Talk to as many people as you can. You can’t scale that. You can’t ever talk to everybody.

Interviewee: [35:52] Sure.

Andrew: [35:53] But at least you’ll learn for now. And then you can grow based on what you’ve learned.

Interviewee: [35:55] And trying to be scalable is not remarkable, you know? I think it’s just. That’s just a great quote from Paul Gramm. He’s such a smart guy. People like that, Seth [inaudible], Kathy Sierra, and, you know, Derek Suthers. I just want to kidnap them and keep them in my dungeon of awesome. And just tell me something awesome. Yeah. They’re just. They’re so smart. It’s just, you know. I read their blog. And I’m just like. I’m an idiot. They’re just so smart.

Andrew: [36:27] Well we obviously agree. Before we started here, people were saying that you were one of their favorite bloggers. Yeah.

Interviewee: [36:30] [inaudible].

Andrew: [36:32] [inaudible] is the way you read 37 signals and Derek [inaudible] ideas.

Interviewee: [36:37] Single-handedly bringing down the Internet.

Andrew: [36:40] Speaking of bringing these people together and just learning from them. You’ve got a conference called Less Conf. Why would you put a conference on?

Interviewee: [36:50] Well, we can’t afford to go to Web 2.0 Expo. It’s like two grand for a ticket. I would love [inaudible] future web apps [inaudible] Ryan Carson loved those conferences. You know, we just wanted [inaudible] conference that we wanted to go to, people that we find interesting. And last year it was. It was kind of crazy. We went to a front end design conference in Tampa. It was a small hundred-person conference, very intimate. You had to talk to the speakers, go to lunch with them. And it was just. I came back. And I was like.

God, we should do this. And we threw [inaudible] conference in seven weeks and had like a hundred and seventy people show up, hundred and sixty. And just got, you know? We broke even. And but just had so much fun and met some really great people and made some great connections. And then if you really looked at it with a sense of marketing. And we. And Less Conf isn’t like the less accounting, you know, infomercial. We don’t even put our banner or anything on anything. There’s no, you know, less accounting show.  You know, you can’t measure that sort of marketing. I think you’re going to see more and more small regional conferences that are charging low ticket prices that are going to let you talk to the speakers, and have that connection, and focus on being intimate in sort of a huge, and looking for Microsoft sponsors and that sort of thing. You’ll see a lot more regional conferences.

Andrew: [38:16] What did you guys charge for a ticket last year?

Interviewee: [38:19] Two hundred bucks, something like that.

Andrew: [38:21] Two hundred bucks? So you’ve. You have a hundred and seventy people who showed up. My guess is maybe a hundred and twenty of them paid the full price, which is two hundred, give or take?

Interviewee: [38:29] Yeah. That would be fairly [inaudible] a few tickets and discounts, sure.

Andrew: [38:33] You get speakers. You have to give out tickets to them, since they’re making the trip and putting in so much work. I understand. How do you get over a hundred people to pay two hundred bucks when you’re not in the conference business?

Interviewee: [38:45] Yeah. Right. I don’t know. We have some really dumb people that follow us.

Andrew: [38:49] But how do you? Is that what it is? It’s followers?

Interviewee: [38:50] No. No. We have. We have some really great friends, right? Like most of these people, I really feel like I know. As silly as it sounds, right? Like, you know, I had. My kid. A couple of years ago, people were saying congratulations. Hundreds of people. Peoples. I keep saying that. And they were all saying congratulations. And [inaudible] a beautiful baby. You really feel like you know these people on Twitter. And then you meet them in real life. And they’re the same person they are on Twitter. And you become friends, you know?

The people that follow me on Twitter, and that I follow on Twitter, probably know me better than my brothers and sisters. I don’t even follow my sister on Twitter. Because she’s boring, you know? I follow people that I think are interesting. You know? How we got a hundred people to come. Well, we picked really great speakers, I think. And we just. We had a silly logo and just. We just tried to throw a conference that we want to go to. And if people want to come, great. And people came. And it worked out well.

Andrew: [39:54] You promoted it on Twitter. You promoted it on your blog. You promoted it with a beautiful website, …

Andrew: …what else did you do to promote it?

Interviewee: What else did we do?  Just our friends.  Emailed our friends and said hey, if you can buy a ticket and come, and tell your friends.  And we have great friends that dragged their other friends there.  Who was it?  Seth Jordan mentioned it, but someone said that once you have a thousand fans you don’t need…you just need friends.

And that’s what people don’t get.  Just be genuine.  Most people are genuinely nice, cool people.  You can carry on a conversation, have a beer, talk about music, TV, whatever.  But they’re scared to be that person.  They’re so scared to say shit in their email that their personality doesn’t come through and you can’t fall in love with them.

Like we gave away a ticket today to a [Less commerce ? 40:57] to this guy for a contest and I said make sure you bring an extra pair of underwear because you’re gonna shit your pants.  And that might turn a lot of people off, but that’s who I am.  I think people, they’re not gonna like you if you’re not genuine.

If all you do on Twitter is just tweet links and tweet links and tweet links, or re-tweet.  If you’re not talking to people and just being genuine, people are not gonna know you and  people, they’re not gonna [be] like I need to go to this conference because Allan is a cool guy, just to support Allan.  I don’t know why people care, maybe they like me.  I’m pretty fucking likable, Andrew.

Andrew: I know it.  I’m seeing it in the audience too.  What was it, let’s see some of the comments about the cursing in here.  Yeah, people are really commenting on the fact that you said, well you said it, I’m not taking the blame, you say fuck a lot.  Allan, fuck the shit.  What is…this is just…

Interviewee: Yeah, my mom is probably gonna listen to this interview.  What’s funny is I curse a lot more when I’m not around my parents.  I really watch what I say around my parents, it’s really weird.

Andrew: You do?  I guess I do too.

Interviewee: It’s like an 8-year old kid or something.

Andrew: There’s something else too about the way I think it will draw a crowd to the conference.  You’ve got to stand for something.  You stand for it in everything you do.  Less is the name of the company.  It’s the name you give every one of your products.  It’s the philosophy behind the business.  True?

Interviewee: Very true.

Andrew: And with many people, it’s really resonating.  A lot of people on here and in the chat room are telling me about how they read you and how they look to you for ideas, I get that.  So you stand for something.  You had a following on Twitter, you had a following by email, you charged all your friends to hang out with you when you were. [inaudible 42:48].  Let’s talk about expenses then.  Did you pay for the speakers?

Interviewee: We ended up, actually, with the exception, we gave Derek Sivers’ travel, and we bought Gary’s books, and that was it.  All the speakers, we just said hey, we hope to break even on this and they’re mostly people we know.  And most of these people are just genuinely nice, generous people.

Andrew: So none of these speakers, you didn’t have to fly them in?  You didn’t have to put them up?

Interviewee: No, they came on their own.

Andrew: And when you say that you did buy Gary’s book, you mean Gary Vaynerchuk’s book?

Interviewee: Yeah, Gary’s Crush It! books.  The venue held 500 or 600 people, and we had to buy 600 of Gary’s books at like $10 or $12 a piece, and 160 people came.  So now I had these huge pile of Gary’s books and I was like what do I do with these books?  I had 300 books in my garage, so I put them on Amazon and resold them; and I was like the number one seller of Gary’s books for a few weeks.  So that worked out well.

The silly thing with conferences you don’t think are expensive, the coffee was $2,000.  And people are drinking a $100 gallon of coffee.  So when you throw a conference you think venue.  No, venue is cheap.  It’s all the little things people say like I wish we had a better lunch.  I’m sorry, the lunch was $22 a person for the little shitty wrap you had.  And that’s why conferences don’t give you lunches, because they’re so expensive.

But we broke even and it worked out well.

Andrew: I think a big reason for those expenses is because of the location.  The location forces you to use either their catering services or one of their approved catering services, and those are way more expensive than just going across the road and buying a sandwich and a cup of coffee for yourself.

Interviewee: Exactly.

Andrew: Why would you want to be in the conference base considering that it’s so different from everything else you’re doing?  Why not crank out a bunch of the I hate Quickbooks type of websites, maybe one that scrapes other blogs and shows what they’re saying about Quickbooks.  Or, things that are cheaper, easier and more in line with what you’re doing?

Andrew: Things that are cheaper, easier and more livelier than what you are doing.

Interviewee: Because that isn’t excitement. I’m full of bad ideas and my mind is… Hang on my phone is ringing that’s my line.

Andrew: Right on microphone systems that entrepreneurs love.

Interviewee: Exactly. I should have set them to not ring during a certain time period. But I didn’t

Andrew: Hell no. I love you.

Interviewee: But… so… but that is excitement. So I’m a creative person artsy, fartsy kind of nerdy and with the coming application we can’t do a logo that has Thor on it and lightning bolts and ninjas. So… it was fun right? And who cares that makes a ton of money or not. This year we are going to make little bit money but who cares I had a good time and market became a little loaded better and met some more people and got to blow out some great ideas.

Andrew: Ok, you come across to me as someone whose obviously very likeable and want to have a beer with you. You seem happy with your job. You are doing what you love. You’re putting together a conference because it’s fun. You’re designing software because you’re an artsy fartsy person. I’m wondering if you, do you worry? Are you somebody who is just always this way or do you have a period in the middle of the night when you wake up and you go “oh what am I doing here less accounting people need more accounting it’s too tough.”

Interviewee: Yeah. I think well I’m normally very jovial and Steven… when I actually… I joke too much around him and he ends up getting really pissed at me and like “give me a break.” But I do get… everyone has self doubt, right? And they worry about… Everyone has worries. I have kids and I have a wife. And everyone has worries but we’re doing the right thing. I don’t doubt our product. Every damn thing you need a ratio. And oh my god a text chord and then all of a sudden I get this email from this guy who says I love your application. I’m just like “we are doing the right thing”. So there is a little… I’m never… I don’t have any hot sweats cold sweats inside. Oh my god we’re paying the bills, we’re making money, we’re profitable. People are liking the applications and people are signing up for  more uses every day. I think we have a bright future. There’s always a big company that needs a small simple accounting application or book keeping application. And me I think any sort of leap… but I’m always a person that likes a simple bubble setup. Like it was 2001 and I got out of college and people were saying “you shouldn’t freelance. There’s not a lot of jobs out there.” And I was like “let’s do it.” I partnered with Steve, I never even met Steve. We met in person three months into the business, right?  So I partnered with the guy and people said “you are going to partner with a guy you’ve never even met” and I said “this guy I’ve been working with him for six months, I know him. He’s done nothing but made me a better designer and better in what I do.” And so when anyone someone says whenever questions an idea I always say “it’s probably a really good idea.” This shows no great idea people think is smart and makes sense. And my screen keeps going.

Andrew: That’s ok. You’re on a Mac right? Mac screen dims every few minutes.

Interviewee: I’m actually on an old HP.

Andrew: Oh ok.

Interviewee: Just Kidding. No actually I just bought a new Mac Pro, I 7, 8 Gz RAM, solid state Hard drive.

Andrew: I can’t wait  to get back to the U.S. to buy real equipment. I am… they tax the hell out of every bit of electronics here. How is anyone going to create an internet company.

Interviewee:  Right

Andrew:  How is anyone going to compete in the world if they have to buy computer equipment here that’s fifty percent more expensive than in the US when their salaries are a fraction, a small fraction of what it is in the US.  It’s just it pisses me off to see that. I can always go back to America buy my electronics at the local Apple store but I feel like a lot of countries when they tax foreign products they end up putting their own people at a huge disadvantage a huge disadvantage.

Interviewee: I’ve heard. Yeah. By giving them… going after not as good equipment, right?

Andrew:  Yeah. And then they are behind, and how can they compete?

Interviewee: But let me as the solid state you get solid state, it’s crazy fast.

Andrew: That’s what I’m going to on the port. Conferences we talk about, we talk about philosophy, how much money you guys making?

Interviewee: I can’t… I’m making great limit. Let me just tell you that we probably pay ourselves too much. Just probably pay ourselves less. And we say less everything’s ever food and money.

Interviewee/Allan Branch:  50 -We pay ourselves too much and we do very well but I do drive a 2004 Toyota Camry and that tells you anything. It’s paid off.

Andrew Warner: I was smiling as I said that question because we agreed before the interview that you wouldn’t be giving out the numbers .Let me ask you this stuff, today you have my numbers, first of all are you going to tell everyone what my numbers are? If I go into your chat room and piss off one of your tech support people? Will you tweet out, “Hey Andrew makes this much money on paypal.”

Interviewee/Allan Branch:   Right, that would be a quick way to ruin a company like ours, like I said, “Hey ,Did you know Andrew, is about to bounce the next cheque, hope that cheque’s not  for two hundred dollars.”

Andrew Warner: Good Lord!

Interviewee: tweet tweet

Andrew Warner: That’s why I am being so nice here, that’s why I am going softball question after softball question, softball question. I have got to protect myself.

Interviewee/Allan Branch:    We take Data protection very seriously, so seriously that I don’t even have access to the service. cause I am not a developer. And Steve says,”No, you’ll just try to do something and suck it all up.So,You don’t need to get acess to that service So I push and somebody else deploys. So we take it very very seriously, so seriously that the co-founder does not have access to the data

Andrew Warner: So you know how much I am bringing in? You know, how much money, the rest of the users are bringing in? why aren’t you guys yet saying , what your revenue numbers are?

Interviewee/Allan Branch: Yeah , you know, I meant  to have that conversation with Steve here recently, and because we are a very transparent company, we try to be except for the number’s ,we never aren’t really talked much  about that, You know, we are 50% supported by our applications and 50% supported by our consulting. At this time last year, we had half the team that we have now. We have four developers, three designers; two of them are part time, and two bookkeepers, so we have a decent payroll. But last year, we were a much smaller team, that could be because we had around 10% supported by application, so you know projections are crap but if words are to be believed, projections, we have been going up,but you know ,that is a policy we are going to change, or probably will change but I sure wouldn’t  want to say it now and then ,Steve says. “Alan, you idiot”

Andrew Warner: I should have gotten permission before

Interviewee/Allan Branch:     Yeah, I know, Steve’s in Australia , He is travelling he is in the air

Andrew Warner:  I should say this, I always ask this, but I don’t always think that everybody needs to answer that. There are times, when a companies are growing, it makes no sense to reveal that,. There are times , when it is absolutely does, it gives people reassurance. It’s not right for everybody to answer it, I never push beyond. I talked to you before, so that we get a sense of where you stand, So Iwhat am trying to say here is that just because I ask, it doesn’t mean that I always  everybody need to answer that or that’s the magical question, that puts a value on the guest , it just a question, helps us understand the value of business

Interviewee/Allan Branch:     I would tell you this, I would step over the line, I make over a hundred thousand dollars a year ,Ill say that much, Now I could probably do a lot more by doing just consulting, or probably  by picking up a job in a large corporation I could make more money,but I make over a hundred thousand a year. My wife doesnt work.I have got a good size house, Personally I have no debt and Steve and I have been talking about it lately, saying we need to be more open about our personal finances, because you go out and buy a humongous house and now you have a nine thousand dollar home mortagage. You got to get a job and thats going to affect me because if I am going to buy  a new car, I’ll talk to Steve that I am going to be taking debt, and that sort of thing, but we live very close by and Steve and I make good money and the company is profitable and not many people can say that and we are proud of that

Andrew Warner:  Definitely not, well thank you , thank you for doing this interview with me, I wish I was in the United States and I can come to lasscom and I am really glad to be supporting the conference in any way I could. A year ago , I remember seeing the conference when it got launched and saying I got to get to know these guys at some point and I couldnt go to this conference then, and here I am a year later, I gotten to know you and you have been very helpful

Interviewee/Allan Branch: Well, if you ever change your mind and decide  to come, I will give you a great deal and give you a free ticket

Andrew Warner:well I am going to put that on so that people can go and try it, try out less accounts and less is it less,

Interviewee/Allan Branch: less

Andrew Warner: Well we have got the company name,whats the blog

Interviewee/Allan Branch:b.everything

Andrew is the company name,b.everything is the blog

and is the website I use

Well there you go , thank you alan for this interview, thank you all for coming and give me feeback, i see Alan constantly improve his website

Andrew: I see Allan constantly improving his product based on feedback.  I’ve gotta learn from that and ask you guys for feedback too so I can improve what I’m doing on Mixery.  Come back to Mixergy, give me your feedback, and I’ll see you there.

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