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Redefinición de las operaciones de las pequeñas empresas en la era digital

Irana Wasti, Chief Product Office at BILL
Irana Wasti, Chief Product Office at BILL


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Irana Wasti (00:00)

What's interesting is when we look at the state of financial automation report, 85% of SMBs say they want AI. But the way I look at it is it's our job to figure out how to bring this really powerful technology to the SMBs in a way that's most useful for them. Because, in fact, SMBs shouldn't be demanding AI. They should be demanding a solution that's automated, that recognizes things that don't have to be manual anymore, that provides the insights that they don't have to think about or search for. That, to me, is how AI will show up for SMBs through all these technologies.


Announcer (00:42)

Welcome to Paychex THRIVE, a Business Podcast where you'll hear timely insights to help you navigate marketplace dynamics and propel your business forward. Here's your host, Gene Marks.


Gene Marks (00:58)

Hey, everybody, it's Gene Marks. And welcome back to another episode of the Paychex THRIVE podcast. Thank you so much for joining me. Whether you're watching on YouTube or listening to us, we are very happy that you're here. And by the way, if you need any advice or tips or help in running your business, by all means subscribe to our Paychex newsletter. You go to You will get tips and help, plus links to some of the older episodes of this podcast. Let's get to it. My guest today is Irana Wasti. And thank you so much for joining us. Irana is the Chief Product Officer at BILL, an accounts payable management platform that I have many clients that take advantage of, that I speak about a lot when I speak at so many associations. I've been a fan of the company and its CEO, Rene for a number of years. So, first of all, Iran, I'm really glad that you're on. Thank you very much for joining.


Irana Wasti (01:49)

Thank you, Gene, for having me. I'm excited to be here.


Gene Marks (01:52)

Yeah, it's fun. So, let's talk technology. I know before we started recording, I was kind of giving you a little bit of a heads up of where I wanted this conversation to go. I mean, for those of you guys that are listening or watching, Irana has got quite the storied history in the world of small and mid-sized businesses. You were with Intuit, the makers of QuickBooks, right? You were with GoDaddy as well. You were with Sage. Now you're with BILL. You've been, you know, you've interacted and have a lot of experience with a lot of small and mid-sized businesses and all on the technology side. Right? And I'm kind of curious. Like, you know, your thoughts are like, you know, how has technology changed for small- and mid-sized businesses over the course of your career working with technology companies?


Irana Wasti (02:43)

Yeah, it's a great question. I've dedicated my entire career to serving SMBs. And as you mentioned, with all the companies I've been at, I had a privilege of serving SMBs around the globe. I've had a chance to visit SMBs across the U.S., across Europe, Middle East, in India, and it's just always been an eye-opening and a very inspirational experience to engage with SMBs that we serve at scale, across all the companies I've been at, including at BILL. SMBs are the backbone of our economy and communities, and that's true for every geography around the world. And what I've seen is, over time, and especially in the last five years, is this tremendous digital acceleration of SMBs adopting technology solutions. So I'll give you an example. Before COVID did you know that half of SMBs didn't even have a website? They didn't even have an online presence.


Gene Marks (03:40)



Irana Wasti (03:41)

Yeah, exactly. Fast forward. COVID happened, pandemic happened. Those SMBs needed to show up online, they needed to be found. And that began that acceleration of digitalization and adoption of digital solutions by SMBs, to a point where now, post-COVID, on average, we're seeing SMBs have at least seven solutions that they use day-to-day technology solutions to operate their business. And that's just the beginning. We are talking to some of the customers that have 75-point solutions, because, again, as that COVID and pandemic came in, it accelerated that need to be online, collaborate online, manage your finances online, workflow automation online. All of those needs came in, and all of these point solutions got adopted by small businesses, which I think is really exciting. It's really exciting to see SMBs adopting the technology, but it brings the next opportunity, the next challenge. And how do you navigate this tech stack?


Gene Marks (04:43)

It's definitely a big challenge for a lot of business owners navigating it. Cause they're under resourced. I'm working on a piece right now for the Guardian about technologies that were hot during COVID that are kind of not making it post-COVID, which I also find interesting. QR codes is a big deal. I thought QR codes are going to be the thing. You go out to restaurants, you use them. A lot of people are doing that during COVID I talk to a lot of clients, and I'm reading, like, they're like, that people prefer to work off of a menu, like, weird stuff. And I'm wondering in your experience, are there any technologies right now that you think that are just, I don't know, if you could just shake some of your customers by the shoulders and be like, why are you still using this? You need to be stepping up to something much better. Do you see any technologies that you think will, you know, not make it over the next few years because they're just too old school?


Irana Wasti (05:40)

Yeah, I think where I see this showing up more and more is as the SMBs had to very quickly adopt the point solutions available to them, what we're seeing next, and this is where the shakeup will happen, is that when you have all these point solutions, it creates the challenge of how do you manage across them. And so, for example, even in the space on financial operations management, which is where BILL sits, if the more solutions you have, the harder it is to piece together the one thing you want have see consistently, which is your cash flow. And so being online and getting that visibility into managing your, let's use again the financial operation space online, is a great step forward. But now the next sort of both demand from the customer and the opportunity we see, and again, that shakeout will happen is, but how do you integrate this? How do I make sense of this if I have all of these tools? And by the way, it's not all automated still. So, you still have manual processes, you still have all these partners to work with. How do I then piece it together now? It's a step above all manual. Absolutely, but it still needs to come together. And so, I think that that next step and the shakeout will happen when you start to see the solutions to become more integrated and by integrating, it becomes more value-additive versus a digital version of an offline solution.


Gene Marks (06:55)

Couldn't agree with you more. You know, it's funny, Irana, like a lot of my clients, my firm, we have about 600 clients, and many, we're in the Philadelphia area. So many of them are, as you can imagine, family-owned businesses, you know, private companies and dirty, unsexy industries that make metal pipes and distribute corrugated containers and things like that. And they're run by older people. The average age of the U.S. small business owner is 55 years old. And that pretty much shows the demographics of my clients. So, there are many clients of mine that I've yelled and screamed about, you need to move to a platform like BILL, for example. And they don't do it because they're like, hey, man, if it ain't broke, why fix it? Do you think that the passing of this generation, as they grow older and the younger generation comes into play, are you seeing right now that those younger generations will be driving more of that technology adoption?


Irana Wasti (07:52)

I think there's a couple things I think, yes, younger generation, as they grow up in a lot more digital-first space, and they're a lot more familiar and probably more risk tolerant about adopting solutions, will help to lead that next wave of innovation. But I think another thing will happen, and we see this happen, is that those SMBs exist in an ecosystem, and they exist in an ecosystem of people who advise them, for example, accountants, or they exist in an ecosystem of different tools they use, where all those, those tools potentially will start to introduce more functionality in. So, I'll give you one example. We've announced, BILL announced a partnership with Xero. And the idea behind that partnership and more partnerships is that we want to serve our customers where they're at. And so, if you happen to adopt it as Xero, as your solution for financial management, but you still need help automating your bills, paying your bills, then why not discover BILL use cases through the platform you're familiar with? So, one of the things we're trying to do is instead of pushing people to sort of adopt a new technology, learn new partner, learn new provider, let's meet you where you're at and what you're already comfortable with already. And so I think that also will help. And again, in coordination with the influencers, like accountants, help those SMBs adopt the technologies that are right for them in the experience flow that also feels more natural.


Gene Marks (09:16)

I'm curious how you would respond to your customers, because I get this question a lot. Everybody is looking for the silver bullet in business platforms. I get asked frequently. BILL is a perfect example. It's a great platform. It manages accounts payable and receivables well. But it's not necessarily. You just said it integrates with Xero, it integrates with QuickBooks, all these other accounting softwares. My clients say to me is like, why is it there's just one application that just does it all? You said just a few minutes ago that integration is an issue and that needs to be resolved. And yet, we're still in 2024, in a place where if a business really wants to take advantage of all these technologies, they need their accounting software, they need their banking to integrate with their bank, then they need to integrate it with a payables management platform, and maybe with a CRM, and maybe with a quoting application or an inventory management system. Do you foresee at all, I mean, this really hasn't seemed to change, at least for me, in the past 25 years of doing this, and I'm sure you've seen the same thing, where do you think this is going? Will there be one day that nirvana of a single integrated system that just the business owner pays the monthly fee and they get it all? Or is that just not reality?


Irana Wasti (10:39)

It's an interesting question, and I think two things for me come to mind. I think there's two variables to take into account. One is running a small business requires running multiple, what we in product world call, jobs to be done. Right, there is the job to be done of growing your business, of acquiring customers, of managing your financial operations, of managing employees. If you have employees, there are various jobs to be done. And I think when I talk about integration, for example, is the way we think about it, is how do we make sure we solve holistically for a job to be done? In our case, managing cash out, managing cash in, managing cash flow, those are jobs to be done. And then how do we extend solving for those jobs to be done with some adjacencies as well. So, I think that's one flavor where I think it introduces a lot of that variety where one solution that fits all jobs is probably really challenging to achieve, but potentially could be done as more companies embed with each other and partner with each other. But I think the second part is, and this is where you also see different types of solutions, is SMBs are so cover every possible industry that there is no homogeneous SMB out there, right? Every SMB has cover. Again, it's an industry or they have a certain need or certain requirements. And so, what you also see emerging are horizontal solutions, which is what BILL is and platform. But you also this emergence of vertical solutions where they solve for those jobs to be done, but for very specific verticals, which is also going to be important. And therefore, when we think about aggregating or integrating, we got to be careful that again, what can we solve more in a horizontal fashion and then where do we go and partner to solve for the more vertical needs? So, to me, I feel like those two factors is part of what creates this kind of a one-fits-all solution for SMBs more challenging. But I do wonder that as we start solving for those integrated jobs to be done, because today they aren't integrated, right. There are multiple cash out solutions to manager managing the cash that leaves your business. So what I refer to as cash out, there are multiple ways you can manage cash coming into your business. And that's just in the financial operations space, like as we start to pull through that end-to-end experience across a job, then we can see how we can bring more jobs together within one solution.


Gene Marks (13:08)

So, you're the chief product officer at BILL. Okay. You love your product, right? You're very much involved in the product's development. I'm sure you have a sales team that goes out and introduces BILL to many SMBs. And there are many SMBs that don't move forward with BILL. And it must drive you nuts, because when you look at the application and the platform, you're like, you're probably like, I don't understand why any SMB wouldn't be doing this. What's the pushback that you get from business owners that don't move forward with this platform? And what would you say to them? To say, diplomatically, you guys are crazy. You really should be moving forward with this.


Irana Wasti (13:55)

Yeah. Every single one of those interactions is definitely a feedback loop for us from a product perspective of how can we articulate the value of this technology better and the value of the technology can be achieved whether you are really small SMB, if you are sort of in the middle of SMB, pack more established SMB, or on the upper scale of SMB. And so for us, the feedback that we hear about and try to incorporate into our products again ranges across. If you're a smaller SMB, a lot of the feedback we get is how do we continue to simplify the experience so that the learning curve is easier, faster, and the value of that return of you on your investment. The investment that SMB would put into using this product is evident from day one. As we go up the size of SMBs that we serve, so established SMBs and beyond, there's more functionality that we are constantly continuing to add to our product to make sure that we cover more of those use cases. As I mentioned, we cover more of that breadth in some of the areas we start to go into some of the more vertical solutions that apply to a larger vertical, for example, like inventory management and others. Those are kind of the ranges of feedback that we hear. And again, it's a really great feedback loop for us to make sure that we are improving our product experiences, both from the ease of use of the experience itself and the richness, the depth of the functionality that we offer. And in fact, again, based on that feedback, some of the innovation that we've been delivering in our product is very much tied to that feedback. If I may, I'll give you a quick example. One of the key feedback points we get from our customers is that it's great to automate your workflows. It's great to manage cash out and in. But what about cash flow? How do I get a 360 view of my cash flow? It always comes back as the number one ask we get from our customers. And so, we launched a functionality called insights and forecasting. Taking into account all the data that we aggregate and we see from our customers against their financial operations, we now elevate the value of our platform by providing insights and forecasting to them as a step forward into providing that 360 cash flow view and more to come on that evolution. So, like, that's an example of where again, that feedback loop was really important because now it gives us a chance to provide incremental value and it gives us a chance to provide more reasons to invest in BILL solutions for the customers. Like that's where you'll come to get your cash flow needs.


Gene Marks (16:30)

For example, makes sense. Your honor, who is the perfect prospect for BILL? When you bump into a prospective customer, you think to yourself like, oh, this is a slam dunk. This is absolutely great. This is the kind of customer that we're looking for. Describe that to me.


Irana Wasti (16:49)

Yeah. When we think about who is our ideal customer profile across the SMB spectrum, because SMBs again, are wide, really, really wide. It's the most wide spectrum there is of all the different categorizations. We look at what we are calling, we call established SMBs. So SMBs that have the needs to and have the cash flow that comes in and out of their business and therefore have the need to both manage, automate it, and then hopefully with our help, optimize it. And so again, that's a range in itself, right? There's so many established SMBs, and for some it means established SMB meaning less employees, but a lot more complexity of their business and the revenues and spend of their business. For others, it might mean more complexity around workflow automation because of the managing employees and processes. So again, even the definition of established SMB ranges. But again, the idea is that if you can benefit from automation managing of financial operations and you want to optimize your cash flow, that's the category of the customers that we build for.


Gene Marks (17:54)

Fair enough. And how do you justify return on investments when a customer is considering BILL? So obviously the investment being not only obviously the subscription fees, maybe some consulting fees, but then certainly there's an internal investment of time for somebody to be involved to get this up and running. There's natural challenges and bumps in the road. So, what's the return on that investment? What do you say to your customers.


Irana Wasti (18:20)

I think there's multiple layers of the return on investment that we look at. The initial layer. If you're using our tool to automate your financial operations, we will give you, you will get the efficiency, you will save time by using our product, and you get more control over your financial operations. I think the next layer becomes where you get to manage how the cash comes into your business and leaves your business. For example, through our platform, you get access to a lot of different payment options, which can accelerate the payment that comes into your business, or it can help you pay your vendor faster, because, again, you wanted to minimize the time from when the cash comes into your business and the cash leaves your business. We give you an option, for example, to get sooner. So by providing invoice financing as an option. So there are multiple options that we give to our customers to really help them manage better of how the cash again comes into their business, when it comes into the business, and when it leaves the business. And then I think the next, and the third layer for me is small businesses have said to us through every study we've done, they need real-time data to make forward-looking decisions, not just look back, let's look back a month or six months or a year and analyze, but can I have real-time data to make forward-looking decisions? That's key. And that's that next value as well that we are providing and want to continue to provide more of to our customers. That's an unsolved need in the marketplace that I think BILL is very well-positioned to solve. And we're sort of showing our first step there with our forecasting product.


Gene Marks (20:00)

That's great. So again, you've been around in the technology space for a while with some major players in the technology space. You've seen Irana, and again, I'm not going to date you, it's fine how long you've been doing this, but you've seen, obviously, the coming of the internet. You've seen mobile apps, you've seen mobile payments, you've seen, obviously, the rise of social media, and now we have AI. Give me your thoughts on AI. Or is it overhyped right now? Is it really reality? Is this something that is for a business owner to really be spending time on in 2024? What are you telling your customers?


Irana Wasti (20:40)

Yeah, it's a great topic, and I don't think it's a hype. I think it's a true technology innovation that has been with us for some time, and it's getting accelerated every day. What's interesting is when we look at the state of financial automation report, 85% of SMBs say they want AI. But the way I look at it is it's our job to figure out how to bring this really powerful technology to the SMBs in a way that's most useful for them. Because, in fact, SMBs shouldn't be demanding AI. They should be demanding a solution that's automated, that recognizes things that don't have to be manual anymore, that provides the insights that they don't have to think about or search for. That, to me, is how AI will show up for SMBs through all these technologies.


Gene Marks (21:34)

I just have to interrupt you. I know that you're rolling here, which is great, but I just, I couldn't agree with you more. I mean, you know, as a, as a person that's running a business, you know, it's, it's, it's your job. You're, you're the chief product officer at BILL. So, it's your job to look at AI and incorporate AI as additional features and functionality within BILL. And then it's our job as your clients to be beating you up and asking you, well, what do you got for me with AI? How will you improve my operations? How will BILL make me more money? Because you're incorporating AI. So, I think a lot of business owners, they think like, well, we've got to be developing our own solutions or investing in this on our own. And I always say, like, no, no, you go to your vendors like BILL and you say to them, what are you guys doing? And then you're the one that's supposed to be spending the money and investing so you can keep us as happy customers. Do you agree with that?


Irana Wasti (22:29)

100%. 100%. Like you said, it is our job to integrate this technology, just like we integrated mobile technology and other technologies of the past into the experiences that solve the job. Again, the way I look at AI, it's an amazing enabler for us to deliver on all of those value proposition that we just talked about a few minutes ago. And so it's for us to find a way to make things more efficient, to make things faster, to make things more hands-free, less error-prone, more insightful, all of these things. Oh, and by the way, we can have those, all those things show up for you as a customer in different formats. It doesn't have to be just one. You know, it doesn't just have to be like, you know, charts and bar charts. It could be an engaging, conversational experience, like a copilot type of experience. But just like before, you used to engage with customers through web versus mobile, there's different formats that we would bring that technology to the customer. AI, gen AI. But it's got to solve a need. It's not a standalone thing. It's a tremendous enabler of achieving the goals that we just talked about.


Gene Marks (23:41)

Do you think, do you one day foresee AI as solving some of the integration problems or some of the pushback that you get from customers where customers can just conversationally ask their AI agent within BILL, hey, we're using Xero, we're using QuickBooks, this is the version. Please integrate yourself and you know, or to provide instruction. We have a certain vendor with these, certain payment requirements. Please set them up in this way. Alert me when a payment request comes in related to this type of product. Do you foresee AI acting as an agent in that way one day in the future?


Irana Wasti (24:16)

Absolutely. And again, I think part of what we can see coming with AI is that not only can it can and should do these tasks for you, but it will also learn from your behavior. Based on your behavior, we can update how we make decisions on your behalf, always giving you an option to change, to change your mind, so to say. But I think the other thing I would add to the list that you just said is integration creates an opportunity to bring more data together. And that's where AI use cases can thrive as well. The more data we bring through the integrated platform, the more we can analyze that data, the more we can provide insights based on that data. And that's where again, AI, generative AI is going to help us to make sense of all of this data, that it's no longer a static, it's not just a report, it's actually smart inside, smart real-time inside as well. So that's another use case where it will be really helpful.


Gene Marks (25:11)

See if you can guess the answer to this question. Again, I speak like 50 times a year to these different associations and we have a lot of clients and we talk about AI and technology all the time. And there is a high level of interest. People want to know the functionality, where it's going, what type of things we can help their business. Can you guess, though, what the biggest issue is? It's the number one question I get all the time from my audiences about AI. Can you guess?


Irana Wasti (25:37)

Where to get started?


Gene Marks (25:40)

No, that's a good try. Which, by the way, the where to get started question is a huge opportunity for people in the technology space because all these functions and features will be great if as long as somebody gets it set up and people get trained, they know how to use it. But the biggest question I get all the time is about security. Irana, it's just I look out at this room of hundreds of business owners and they're like, really? We're going to trust, no offense, BILL with our data because it's all the promise of what they're going to do or whatever they're going to need to use our data. It's going to go to the cloud. People have issues with security and the privacy and the confidentiality of their data because it is despite what Nvidia is doing, despite what Microsoft might be processing at the laptop or the desktop level, most of it is still going on in the cloud. And these companies do grab data. What do you say to customers about that? How do you make them feel more comfortable that the security of their data, even in this world of AI, is not as big a concern maybe as they think it is? Or do you not say anything at all?


Irana Wasti (26:52)

I think if you use an example of BILL, and what I would say is BILL has been building out its solution for 17 years now, the category leader in this space. And part of what we offer, part of the value we offer is providing that trust and building that trust with our customers. Because regardless of how technology evolves, the customers who choose BILL already trust us to process their payments, bills, invoices, they help us. They provide the data so we can execute those processes on their behalf. And what we're now saying is that, again, the more processes that the SMBs put through our system, the smarter we can make the technology and the more we can make the technology work for them. So, to me, especially when it comes to BILL and how we approach data and how we use the data that's provided to us by our customers already, is the idea as to how do we make that data, how do we make that data work for you? Better real-time. But it's built on the trust that the customer and us has, because that's why they choose us in first place. They choose us to bring all of their financial operations data and all the integrations that the customer chooses to use through BILL, right. It's all customer-led choice. We don't do anything on customer's behalf that wasn't driven by the customer, but those actions generate the data and the documents and the payments that we process through our system that we need to continue to leverage in the most insightful way for the customer. So that's kind of my answer specifically within BILL now, different companies have different approaches. Whether you use something that's publicly available versus in-house. In our case, again, all of the data is generated by customer's choice.


Gene Marks (28:38)

You know, it's a great answer to even embellish on that. I mean, a company like BILL that's been around for 17 years now, I mean, this is, your whole business model is based on security of your data. I mean, if you were being breached or there was issues, it would completely tank your business. So you have every motivation in the world to make sure this data is secure and get private and that things are doing on the up and up. Otherwise, it's just not a, it's not a sustainable model for the future. You know, I like to say that to audience. I also, by the way, I also say that it is a risk and reward decision. I mean, as great as a lot of technology companies are, nobody is perfect. And we always, we still do read about breaches. I mean, it happens. But I don't know, man. Like, you know, if I look at the reward for implementing a system like BILL and the cost savings, the return on investment, you know, the better productivity, the better information I get. I know there's still this risk out there that there could be some data issues. Who knows the best intentions as you have? This is just me talking now. I weigh the risk versus the reward. And to me it's always like the reward seems much greater than the risk. But again, that's just me talking.


Irana Wasti (29:51)

Absolutely. And again, I think when you compare it to what customers use, otherwise, the manual solutions, the paper solutions, things that are stored in spreadsheets and shared in spreadsheets or over messages, like, again, this is definitely a step up, a huge step up on integrating the processes that, by the way, enable the lifeblood of your business, the cash to flow, right?


Gene Marks (30:16)

Yeah. %100. And, you know, you get your car to drive to the supermarket, you're taking a risk, do you know what I mean? But you're going out to get food for your business or you're going out with your friends, you know what I mean? Life is full of risks and rewards and we all have to be sort of evaluating that in the minute that I have. And you've been fantastic, Irana. So, I really appreciate your time. Again, as the chief product officer at BILL, doing a lot of stuff. What do you got coming up that not only your customers, but prospective customers would be excited about in the short term and even in the long term, and you better be good because accounts payable management, let me tell you, it's not exactly the most exciting topic in the world. So there's your challenge. What should we be?


Irana Wasti (31:01)

Appreciate the challenge. And what I'll say is, as I mentioned earlier, through every customer research and customer conversation, it is fascinating to see how much of cash flow management and trying to optimize the process happens in people's heads manually or doesn't happen at all. And yet it is the reason the businesses, it will differentiate the businesses from surviving, thriving, or not existing. And so for us, a lot of innovation is being put forward to make sure we provide that for insights and cash flow forecasting capability to our customers. Then we can also support with all of the other experiences we have. Like I mentioned before, all the payments experience and so on. That's part one and that's really important and it's truly an unmet need in the market. But part two, and we're investing a lot in bringing BILL to where the customers are at. We want all of SMBs, you know, to use our solution to your earlier question, who do we solve for? We want to solve for all. All SMBs need the solution. This will help them thrive. So, let's find them where they're at and enable them with the BILL experiences by partnering with partners like Xero or financial institutions and more partners. So those would be our top two areas I would say we want to focus on, which we know will help small businesses get better and navigate any kind of a change in the environment today and hopefully into the future.


Gene Marks (32:27)

You've been listening and watching Irana Wasti, who is the chief product officer at BILL. Irana, thank you. Thank you so much for your time. Was very educational and enjoyed speaking with you and would love to speak with you again in the future.


Irana Wasti (32:38)

Thank you, Gene.


Gene Marks (32:40)

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