Zen and the Art of Weekly Accounting: An Inquiry Into Systems
Part 3 of an Infinite Series
I can be whatever
the system needs
me to be…
Ultimately nothing. – Jeff Abrams
About Part Three: An Inquiry into Systems
Part Three is an Inquiry into Systems. It has three sections:
Section 1: Backstory – How did we get here? [. ].
Section 2: Today – BrightZen Systems 2023 Year in Review – [ ]
Section 3: Tomorrow – The Best Story We Can Tell [ ]
Section 1: Backstory – How did we get here?
I was his mentor, now he’s mine
I hired my nephew Jeff when he graduated from SUNY Binghamton. I was his mentor, now he’s mine. Jeff worked with me at a portfolio of startups from 2011 through 2016. When he left Assembled Brands in 2016 he moved to Texas to become the CFO of a collection of online real estate companies. One of the companies he worked with was one founded by Matt Stamer. When we delivered the gift to Matt it was one of the gravest diagnosis we have ever delivered. A few months later he wound down operations. A few months after that Jeff and Matt co-founded Broker Generator.
The business of Broker Generator was less important than the mindset with which Jeff built it. Broker Generator wasn’t the first business Jeff tried to start and it wouldn’t be the last. Jeff seemed to stop thinking of them as businesses and more as profitable revenue streams that required more of less of his effort. But to summarize Jeff’s mindset in a sentence like that wouldn’t do it justice.
Zen and the Art of Weekly Accounting is the story of Jeff’s mindset. It’s the story of building a garden that we tend to that pays us. It’s the story of documenting that story in a repeatable way for others to follow. Its the story of a fractal of partnership. It’s the story of a family partnership with 100 year philosophy. Its the story of a system to build systems.
Jeff said, How do you want your day to be?
I said, All The Work would be done for me!
Yada Yada, “The Work” did we.
It wasn’t long, we’re in year three.
Now our days and nights are free*
What you speak is what you see
It must be true…it’s poetry.
I don’t ‘yada yada’ the work.
– Jeff Abrams
* not free.
We Believe in Big Visions and Positive Unit Economics
We’ve always been attracted to companies with Big Visions and Positive Unit Economics.
To connect everyone to an online world that improves the human condition
A global community of individuals empowered to pursue the work they love.
Most of our work with these and other companies focuses on the unit economics. Weekly Accounting is a way to see your unit economics sampled weekly over time.
Right data, empowered team.
Weekly Accounting helps people make progress on the right metrics weekly. When you put the right data in front of an empowered team, they get better. We’ve seen these kinds of results after implementing weekly accounting and creating Monday Morning Metrics (MMM).
When an empowered team can see the right data sampled weekly, they get better.
So what is the right data? That’s the Art of Weekly Accounting and we’ll cover more of that later.
Before we get to that, let’s talk about one of the biggest vision imaginable.
Today is the best day ever
We imagined the biggest vision we could imagine:
To accelerate humanity’s evolution to the next level of consciousness
I’ll always wonder how to do that.
Trevor also introduced me to the he called The Boot Sequence. It starts like this:
Today is the best day ever.
I am free to do whatever I want.
I am the master of my universe and
I am the narrator of my own epic story.
It makes the space to begin to write your own epic story.
Before I learned the boot sequence and put “I am a writer” in it. I never wrote anything but pithy emails. Since then I’ve probably written over 250,000 words. Somewhere around 150,000 words poetry appeared.
The Intention and the System
It starts with an intention,
And turns into the word,
Sample progress in a row set
Precise, like hummingbird.
Compare the row set to intention
An accounting every week
Make predictions of the future
The system then will seek.
If still not good then you will know
Exactly what to do
Mind or system has to change
The fix is up to you.
Reimagining Venture Financing
Assembled Brands is a $100 million fund that I cofounded with Adam Pritzker, one of the co-founders of General Assembly.
While we were building that I added this line to my boot sequence.
I am re-inventing venture financing for the 21st century.
At Assembled Brands we’d say
Because as consumers become more aware of what is in their products, where they come from and where they go, every single product in every single category will need to be reinvented.
The incumbent financial system, for a variety of reasons we’ll explore later, didn’t seem to be up to the task.
The Assembled Brands Playbook
Assembled Brands incubated and launched three consumer brands. The Line, Protagonist and Khaite. Investing in brands felt like a random number generator to me. Venture investors were bidding up valuations well past our comfort zone. Luxury consumer brands, the way were were building them, seemed to require a lot of upfront product development investment before gathering any data on product market fit.
We wanted more data.
We offered The Gift to our network of brands. Several months later we had built 150 Integrated Financial Models, compiled them in a benchmarking database, and identified the characteristics of the brands we’d want to invest in. Those characteristics became the “Credit Box” the investment criteria that we raised $100m from Oaktree to pursue.
We were surrounded by Algorithmic Lenders – companies with super high valuations that loaned money based on data only.
We had a Credit Committee – people making the decision based on data weekly.
As the story would play out, the algorithmic lenders, except for Shopify, imploded.
Looking Back On It
The Dialectic of the Credit Box: I left my day-to-day responsibilities in early 2020 because lending companies suffer from the limitations of what I call “the dialectic of the credit box.” The dialectic is that it’s the Credit Boxes of the lenders that came before us that created our opportunity, but it is our own Credit Box that limits now our opportunity. We can only do deals that fit in the credit box as negotiated with the Sr. Secured Lender.
The 8-4-1-1. I noticed that It took four years to go from concept, initial funding, team built, $100 million in funding, weekly processes installed in a business with a path to profitability. No, as a part of the Credit Commitee, I spend one hour per week.
8-4-1-1: An Intention. Take a job that takes you 8 hours a day and make it take 4 hours per day. Then make it take 1 hour per day, then, the big leap – one hour per week.
The 100 Year Philosophy: The Pritzker family was one of the first private equity firms in the world. To oversimplify it, a multi-generational partnership, in this case an uncle and a nephew, could see something others couldn’t see. When they started buying companies, many of the companies owned the land the businesses operated on. The Pritzker’s realized they could borrow money against the land and that would make the company much more affordable. In the hotel space they also developed structures that separated land ownership from hotel operations and from the brand on the building. Each layer of that stack carried different risks and rewards and so could be financed differently.
From Adam and Assembled Brands in particular we also learned about the benefits of a holding company structure. I think Jeff could see this part of it more clearly as well. He realized the sooner we started building our own equity in our own businesses the longer we would have to grow it together.
Most bookkeepers suck: From 2016 until now we looked at the financials of over 5,000 companies. Simply put, most of the financial reports we looked at lacked quality. This remains a big opportunity.
Section 2: BrightZen Systems 2023 Year in Review
My partner Jeff Abrams and I formed BrightZen Systems LLC as a partnership in 2021.
The BrightZen Systems portfolio now includes four revenue streams:
- Weekly Accounting – A CFO, bookkeeping and data services company.
- Phoenix Strategy Group – A boutique strategy and M&A advisory firm.
- Dean Wynn Financial – A provider of leads, tools, training and services for fractional CFOs.
- DataLinks.io – A provider of ETL microservices for small businesses.
Each of the firms is in a different stage of development with different management teams. Together the companies will enter 2024 with Annualized Recurring Revenue of $2.7m up 156% from the prior year.
Weekly Accounting, Inc
BrightZen Systems incubated Weekly Accounting as a profitable CFO, Bookkeeping and Data Services company.
In January of 2022 we spun the business out of BrightZen Systems into Weekly Accounting, Inc. Weekly Accounting nearly 100 clients with revenue ranging from $0 to $30 million dollars. Before this year, 100% of the revenue came in from referrals to Jeff or John. In order for Weekly Accounting to grow beyond Jeff and John, we would need to build a system to sell and service the customers without us.
We tested a number of value propositions on Facebook, selling bookkeeping, CFO, analyst and data services at various price points and with various taglines. We found success and added nearly 2 customers per week in Q2 and Q3 from marketing channels. Jeff employed the “I do – We do – You do” technique. He sold the first few clients himself, then he helped Myriah sell them and then Myriah learned to sell them on her own.
Growth exercised the weekly accounting team. We were not well prepared for the new type of customers. We lacked basic operational follow through. Simply put, no one owned the onboarding process end to end primarily because we hadn’t developed one year.
Dean Wynn Financial
More to follow
Phoenix Strategy Group Strategy
Phoenix Strategy Group generated a quarter of million dollars of retainers and deal fees in its first full year.
- At the base level, we plan to build the CFO Services revenue to $40k per month so the partners can get paid $10k per month. We don’t want to grow this revenue stream long term because it is services revenue that takes a lot of our time.
- At the highest level we will manage a fund and cash flowing assets in the long run. We operate businesses that we own.
While talking to over 1,000 companies in 2023, we identified an opportunity that we believe we could and should raise money for – Zodhi co.
Introducing Zodhi Co.
More to follow.