Matt Paff has been involved in accounting in Australia for decades and is a recognised commentator on the accounting software industry. He runs a software consultancy Value Adders.
Matt is a fellow business founder and owner in the business technology sector has vast experience and countless runs on the board from personally running hundreds of accounting and payroll implementations, owning a couple of consulting businesses and a shareholder and General Manager of a leading mid-market vendor.
WhichAddOn has been given some intimate and significant insights into Matt’s life, this in-depth interview explores what Matt has achieved professionally and personally to date, what motivates him to be a leader in his chosen fields and few of the things he believes the future holds.
WAO: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in a family trucking company in Taree, a country town about 3 hours north of Sydney with a population of about 16,000. I was pretty good at school but when I finished, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, all I knew was rather than limiting myself to the professions that those that were good at school at the time were supposed to do, law or medicine, I just wanted to be in the business world, somewhere.
So I moved to, what at the time I thought was the “big smoke”, Newcastle (Australia) to attend university and gained a degree in Business and simultaneously completed an executive traineeship with Coles Myer (supermarkets and department stores).
After travelling the world for a year, I landed in Sydney the day the Olympics started. I then landed a job at an accounting and payroll software company as “marketing assistant to the Export Manager” the day after the Paralympics had finished, from an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald.
In Sydney and Biztech I have remained ever since, where I now find myself married to a beautiful Sydney girl for the last decade and together we’re in the deep dark depths of raising 3 gorgeous, yet exhausting kids, whilst running a couple of companies!
Part One: Personal Story and Experiences
WAO: What is your current gig/job/passion/project?
I seem to like doing things in 3s. I have 3 kids and I have 3 companies/projects/passions:
- Value Adders – my consulting company specialising in independent advice to biztech software vendors on the product and go-to-market strategies as well as about software vendors, with independent vendor selection projects for mid-sized companies looking at accounting, payroll, HR tech extending to ERP.
- vSure – a regtech start-up that specialises in streamlining the management of compliance related to validating employees work rights. In Australia, if you employ staff you have a compliance obligation to validate everyone’s (100% of your workforce) work rights at the point of onboarding AND for those on temporary visas, throughout the cycle of employment. vSure makes this easy.
- Apps4 – recently, with my wife, we launched a conference vehicle, specialising in industry-specific events that showcase the technologies built specifically for those industries. Apps4 Wholesalers was our first event which we hosted in Sydney in May and are taking to Melbourne in October.
WAO: How long have you been working on this?
Value Adders started in 2015.
vSure I became involved in 2016.
Apps4 has been an idea about 2 years in the making, but we finally got serious in February this year and made the first event happen.
WAO: What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
I’ve been working around biztech for 19 years. I have had roles and companies as diverse as sales, channel management, technical support, ERP implementations, General Manager and Head of Product Strategy. I feel I have accumulated a unique perspective of biztech and I love using that to help others who don’t have my experience, short-cut to the answers that have taken me nearly 20 years to be able to give.
I derive my motivation (and income) from genuinely adding value, which saves my clients time, money and/or stress. And that’s how the company name Value Adders came to be. Apps4 is a way to scale what Value Adders does. And vSure is an example of a scalable product that adds value by saving our clients time, money and stress in meeting compliance obligations.
WAO: Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to what you’re doing today? Can you share one?
Apart from learning about the Johari Window and reading the book, Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni, there is no doubt, being ripped off by a business partner that I had trusted and thought I knew, certainly was a life-changing event that set me on the path that got me to where I am today. It gave me the motivation and hunger to be successful.
Hernan Cortes is a well-known Spanish conquistador famous for the quote “burn the ships”. In short, upon arriving in the region of Veracruz Mexico, Cortes ordered his men to “burn the ships”. The retreat was not an option. There was no going back.
And this is where I landed in late 2015. I wanted to sever my ties with my past. There was no going back. Being successful was my only option. For my family financially and also as an affront to my former business partner!
No doubt, the best thing I did career-wise, was to focus on building my personal brand and profile, clearly independent of the company from whence I had come. I did this by blogging, attending and speaking at industry events. I saw a strong, forward-looking, personal profile as being step one in rebuilding career-equity.
And this is exactly how it has come to be that I have been fortunate to consult to companies all over the world. Value Adders and my blog has led to paid work in Asia, the US, Russia, and Europe. I’ve met some of the best people one could hope to meet. People who inspire and motivate me. I worked with clients who teach me so much, whilst I deliver value to them. It is also how I met the founder of vSure and what lead to me being able to launch Apps4.
Part Two: Industry Insights, Observations and Predictions
WAO: What do you think have been some of the key industry milestones?
The IBM PC. The IBM compatible. Windows. Computer networks and servers. Y2K and the dreaded 2 digit year problem. The introduction of GST. Bank feeds (yes, BankLink was doing this BEFORE Xero and the cloud). The Cloud. SOAP and then RESTful APIs. User experience design and Agile development. Mobile. AI and ML.
WAO: What do you think are the industry relationships that matter most?
Relationships that are built on trust and a genuine desire to help. Ones in which value is recognised, delivered and acknowledged.
WAO: Have you been resistant to any of the change you have been exposed to and have you experienced resistance from others? What were the key sources of support or resistance you encountered?
Humans naturally are change resistant, particularly as we age and biologically our neural pathways become fixed and difficult to alter. Business technology moves so fast and as thus, is so incongruent to fixed opinions and use-cases. I have always been that kid who asks too many questions in class. I have always wanted to understand WHY things are how they are and this translates so well into this industry. I’m always drilling down to the WHY, “I understand your question, this is the answer to that question, now can I ask you WHY did you ask that question? WHAT problem are you actually trying to resolve?”
WAO: Tell our readers about some of the memorable characters you have met over the years?
I’ll never forget walking into Denis from Caringbah’s office, circa 2004. Denis chain smoked Winny Reds (strong ass cigarettes) and even in 2004 it was un PC to smoke in your office, but Denis owned the company and the building, he needed to smoke in his office because the stress of his business, his staff and his crap system (that I was there to represent and be berated about). Denis wanted to see me to tell me to take our invoice (about $70/month) for maintenance and in his words, shove it up where the sun don’t shine. After hearing him out I asked him about all his businesses and how he got there.
Denis was the true definition of an entrepreneur. His first job was as a brickie’s labourer at 15. He started his own bricklaying company at 18. Got annoyed with his supplier and started his own sand and gravel business at 19. By the time I met him Denis was about 45. He still owned both businesses but had diversified to the importation of boats, own a retail boat shop and a marina.
So after establishing that with all those businesses Denis had done alright for himself and $70/month was actually a pittance for the core system that ran all those companies. I proceeded to ask a series of BUT WHY questions about how he used our system, I walked out of Denis’s office an hour later with a signed upgrade that took him from $70/month to $350/month and resulted in $15k worth of consulting (for our channel partner) over the next 6 months.
The best part of the story is Denis rang me up 6 months later, unprompted and just ‘cause he’s that sort of guy, to thank me. I’d done his fiance out of a job by automating what she did, but she no longer came home crying every night ‘cause of how much she hated the data entry. His job was so much easier because he could trust his staff to do things by using the software. He’d even given up the “darts”.
Ultimately this phone call set in motion a fire in my belly to start my own company and in 2006, I started my first business implementing ERP software.
Part Three: Reflections and Lessons
WAO: What is a lesson for someone starting out in the industry that you would like to share?
Learn about brain plasticity, learn about the Johari Window and read the book, Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni. Always ask WHY. Never assume. Have fun on the journey, because the destination may not be where you think you are going today.
WAO: If you could do anything over again, would you do anything differently?
Listen, don’t tell. Understand, don’t judge. Have fun along the way. Stretch more.
WAO: How do you view your contributions to the industry? In what ways? What are some of the things specifically you accomplished?
I think I have established myself as a genuine, independent voice, who is willing to offer an opinion without fear or reprisal nor fear of being proven wrong. Every year I publish a blog on my predictions for the year ahead. And at the end of every year, I review how I went, publically. Few people risk being wrong and even fewer call themselves out when they are wrong. I have no shame in being wrong, as I see it as proving how dynamic our industry is!
Achievement-wise, happy clients and money in the bank are both important. The ego that comes from being invited to attend, speaking at and even being recognised as “that guy” at events around the world is nice.
WAO: What were the skills you had to have to do what you just told us about? Where and how did you learn those skills?
A level of fearlessness. An understanding that mistakes are part of the learning process. That constantly learning is critical. That the more I know, the more I know I don’t know…
WAO: When you think of the future of the kind of work you’ve talked about here, what gives you a sense of hope? What makes you concerned or worried?
Technology taking away the mind-numbing and mundane gives me a sense of hope that humankind can elevate itself to a higher level of thinking. To more human interactions. To more life and less “work”.
WAO: What’s next for you in your work? What are you looking forward to?
Building the Apss4 business. Taking Apps4 Wholesalers on the road and starting the next Apps4 event (maybe Apps4 Hospitality, or Apps4 Retailers).
Getting vSure out there and educating the market about the compliance obligation and why vSure is a no-brainer value proposition.
Continuing to work with great clients, write articles that stimulate thought & debate and travel the world through Value Adders.