How FreshBooks CEO Don Epperson Thinks About “Dimensions of Scale”
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When Don Epperson took up the mantle as CEO of FreshBooks, he was tasked with helping the company grow to new heights. Now, fresh off the heels of a major acquisition and new funding, Don is bringing out all the stops to grow the business into a global powerhouse. Speaking with SAAS NORTH, Don shared how he thinks about “dimensions of scale” at FreshBooks.
- Think about growing through multiple dimensions: product, markets, channels, partners, and segments.
- Make sure your operation can support and empower your growth goals.
- Beware of barriers to scale that will hinder you no matter how brilliant your strategy is.
Don Epperson became FreshBooks’ CEO in January 2021. Almost a year into his role, he’s now focused on the future and bringing FreshBooks’ growth story to life. Speaking with SAAS NORTH, Don shared his view on growth and the “dimensions of scale” strategy he’s using to build FreshBooks.
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Growth is about reaching a mission
FreshBooks has an ambitious goal to be the best platform in the world for “owners,” the name it gives to the small business owners and solopreneurs that use its software. To Don, that means always keeping the voice of the customer intact and thinking of growth as a way to get even closer to customers.
“In every meeting, we have the voice of the customer,” said Don. “It’s usually in the form of a video from a real FreshBooks customer, sharing how we’ve been able to help them realize or scale up their passion. That’s what keeps us going.”
On a more tactical side, Don has scaled companies before and brings that knowledge into FreshBooks. So while the ethos of growth is about supporting owners, the realities of growth come in the form of that Don calls “dimensions.”
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FreshBooks originally scaled almost exclusively by product-led growth. The company, bootstrapped for its first decade, invested profits into product development. Don said this led to paying customers in 160 countries despite the fact that in the past, FreshBooks only seriously focused on one language (English), one region (Canada and the USA), one time zone (primarily Eastern Standard Time), and one currency (primarily US dollar).
“Our product accelerated growth in the early days, but it became a question of how we can do things that will increase our scale further,” said Don.
A big part of that was multi-currency and multi-language support, among other things, which are now staples of the FreshBooks platform.
The first dimension Don looked to was purposeful market expansion. If the FreshBooks product was already popular organically in 160 countries, then chances are if the company focused on certain markets they would experience even more growth.
This is also where acquisitions came into play for FreshBooks, as buying a company with an existing local customer base and existing relationships - such as their most recent acquisition of FastBill in Germany and Facturama in Mexico - would accelerate market-based expansion.
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Don said FreshBooks originally reached customers primarily through search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) strategies. However, the next dimension of growth focused on expanding beyond this single strategy into more channels.
“There are a ton of different channels we can use to communicate with customers,” said Don.
As the company grows, Don is particularly looking to grow a direct sales organization that can communicate with owners en masse and leveraging technology channels such as app-based growth, following in the footsteps of tech giants like Hubspot and Microsoft.
Another dimension for Don and FreshBooks is their partner ecosystem. Being a small business management and accounting software, Don said an obvious growth opportunity is further partnering with accountants so they can share FreshBooks with their clients.
Beyond accountants, Don is also looking to reseller partners who can add FreshBooks to their roster of small business softwares.
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The next dimension is to create updates, systems, or processes to support specific segments of customers, including:
Languages and local nuances: Adding feature sets to comply with local regulations, for example payment verification stamps which are common in Mexico but virtually unheard of in Canada and the US.
Owners who do custom work: Expanding FreshBooks’ tools for on-spec work such as legal support or creative agency work.
Jobs-based support: Adding new feature sets that take into account trade-skill jobs such as a plumber or other productized services.
Order-based support: Tweaking the FreshBooks platform to empower selling digital goods such as songs, ebooks, courses, and more.
No growth without a people foundation
While growing into a mission is exciting, Don’s very focused on the background infrastructure - talent, resources, and technology - so that the team can reach FreshBooks’ ambitious growth goals. This is what Don refers to as the “nitty gritty details” that are critical for success along every dimension of growth.
On the other side, Don’s also worried about breaking down what he calls “barriers to scale” such as capacity limits on teams and ensuring that analytics and data flows are in place to inform strategies going forward.
“You can’t scale, you can’t integrate other organizations, you can’t do anything unless you have core foundations of finance, HR, data analytics, data science, and more in place,” said Don.