A career in public accounting helped prepare George Thomson to launch his startup TAAG, LLC (Thomson Advisory and Analytics Group) in July 2017. He spoke to Innovation Destination Hartford about his startup experience.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: Have you always wanted to start your own business?
GEORGE THOMSON: Yes. I was a partner at a certified public accountant (CPA) firm for the last 20 years and had a great run in that role but was ready for a change and a new challenge.
As a partner, you own part of the firm, so you’re technically a business owner. I thought that would fully satisfy my desire to own my own business—and it did to some level, but not completely. I got to the point where I wanted to find out what I could do on my own.
IDH: How did you develop the business concept for your startup?
GEORGE: I explored different opportunities based on my skillset and the work I enjoy doing. I knew I wanted to break out of the mold of a traditional CPA firm and I didn’t want to re-create my old job in my new venture.
When I came across the virtual CFO concept I knew it was right for me. It gives me a great opportunity to achieve my personal and professional goals. It would allow me to act as a company’s chief financial officer providing financial advice and strategies to small and medium businesses.
I believe that plays to my strengths as a professional. What I really enjoy doing is working with entrepreneurs, advising them, and helping them grow their businesses.
My target market is small- and medium-sized businesses, as they typically can’t afford a full-time CFO, but they need CFO-level expertise. I want to help them grow their business by making sure they have accurate information and advice in real time.
IDH: Tell us a little more about the advantages of having a virtual CFO.
GEORGE: I’ve worked with many entrepreneurs who were frustrated by doing the financial and accounting functions for their business. Often, they would try to do it themselves or have a relative or friend—someone without formal training in accounting or bookkeeping—help them out. It wouldn’t be done correctly and, as their outside CPA, I would end up fixing everything. By the time that was untangled, I would be providing information six months or a year after the fact. It was all reactive and less impactful.
If the entrepreneur is working with accurate up-to-date information, they will have proactive information and advice in real time. One of the mechanisms to do that is by co-creating with them a financial dashboard tailored to their company. The dashboard provides the metrics we need to monitor and allows us to see, in real time, where they are hitting their goals and where they having issues we need to address.
The company and I have access to the dashboard 24/7. So, as soon as we see something going off the rails we can have a conversation about fixing it, as opposed to looking back months later and asking: What happened?
IDH: What do you enjoy most about working with other entrepreneurs?
GEORGE: It’s fun. I admire the passion and vision entrepreneurs have for innovation and building their businesses. It’s also critical for Connecticut’s economy. Some of the bigger corporations have been migrating their headquarters to Boston and New York and having less of a presence here in Connecticut. They will still have offices here, but the decision-makers are no longer in this market, so there’s a vacuum to fill.
I believe the entrepreneurial community can fill that vacuum and allow the Hartford area and Connecticut to continue our legacy of being innovators. When you look back at the history of the state—all the manufacturing and innovation—it is amazing. I believe we have an ingrained entrepreneurial and visionary spirit here.
Small business has always been and will always be the driver of innovation and job growth. I believe in the power of small business. It makes me feel good knowing the larger business community and political leaders believe the same. I enjoy being in the entrepreneurial space and I want to contribute to its continued growth and success here in CT.
IDH: What challenges are you facing right now as a startup?
GEORGE: I’ve been telling people: I’m excited and scared to death all at the same time. I’m having a lot of fun with moments of frustration and/or being overwhelmed. There’s a lot to do and it’s important to step back and break it down.
Some of the things I thought would be difficult weren’t as hard as I thought. Some things I thought would be a no-brainer were more difficult, time consuming, and complicated than I anticipated.
It was also challenging to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the federal government. I helped clients do this for years. But, when I applied online I was rejected because I was already associated with other EINs. So, it became a process. It took almost two weeks to get my EIN. Most people can usually get one online in a matter of minutes. It was eye-opening, and it gave me a real sense of the frustrations every entrepreneur goes through.
IDH: You’re a strategic partner at the MetroHartford Alliance, how has that relationship added value to your business?
GEORGE: My experience with the MetroHartford Alliance gave me a broader view point of what was going on in Connecticut and the region. I see how everything is interconnected—and important. It’s not: My sector thrives while yours fail. It’s: If we collectively do well together, the whole region becomes stronger.
The connection with the MetroHartford Alliance also helped me see that there are many opportunities out there. While I was thinking of branching out on my own, I got some great input and advice from former Metro Hartford Alliance former President and CEO Oz Griebel; Nancy Wheeler, who is Senior Vice President, Executive Director Investor Relations; Julie Daly-Meehan, Vice President of Investor Engagement and Retention, and Rich Brown, Vice President of Investor Relations.
IDH: You said your focus is small- to medium-sized businesses. Do you plan to work with any specific industry?
GEORGE: I’m looking to build a niche. I work well with professional service providers, technology companies, and manufacturers. I enjoy working in those spaces. I know the mindset.
You can best help a business if you are deep into their world, you know what’s going on, and you’re aware of the industry trends.
IDH: How you are building your client base?
GEORGE: A couple of my clients from my former firm wanted me to be their Virtual CFO, so I started with a modest base and I’ve been building organically from there.
IDH: What advice can you offer to other businesses?
GEORGE: Listen, make mistakes, learn from them, adjust, and move on. Don’t get paralyzed and don’t quit.
IDH: What does the future look like for TAAG?
GEORGE: My priority is to get this thing up and running and make it viable. I think in two years’ time I will know whether I want to scale or just keep it as a small boutique firm.
If I have great systems, procedures, and processes in place and I can see an ability to scale it up where I can bring in other professionals to help me and oversee it, I’d love to do that. But will I have the appetite in two years? Or will I really love the flexibility of being in the virtual environment without being encumbered with a bigger organization?
I am open to either scenario. One of the things I’ve always said to entrepreneurs: When you start and build a business you need to look at the end game and keep in mind your exit strategy. Whether you sell the business to internal buyers, transfer it to the next generation, sell it to a private equity group or outside buyers, or take it public, at the outset you have to devise a strategy and refine it along the way that will allow you to achieve your ultimate goal upon exit. So, there is an appeal to me to building something that’s bigger than me that can be transferred.
Either way, looking to the future, it’s important to me professionally and personally to remain a strategic partner with the MetroHartford Alliance. I believe in the work they’re doing. I’ve made a lot of great connections and I want to maintain those and continue to build my network.
Learn more about TAAG