Matthew Phua | Harvest Accounting

Matthew is one of the co-founders of Harvest Accounting. This Humans of Harvest, we learn a little more about Matthew's background, how he came to start an accounting firm, and some of the challenges faced along the way.

1. What's your story?

I'm originally from New Zealand, and had dreams of becoming an architect in my younger days. During university I ended up switching over to accounting and began my career after graduation in an accounting firm back in 2008. I wanted to experience living abroad and moved to Singapore in 2014 without much of a plan, simply to work overseas and do some traveling.

Along the way I found love, and married a Singaporean girl, and decided to stay in Singapore for the long term. Around the same time, the job that I had initially enjoyed was feeling increasingly stressful and stagnant, with super long hours. I started noticing advertising for Xero popping up in Singapore, and was curious as I had known about Xero many years ago in New Zealand, with my previous firm being one of the early adopters.

When I mentioned the idea of running an accounting firm with Xero at the core to my wife - and all the benefits that come with Cloud - she was excited about the idea, and recommended I speak to her friend Bryan who was also in a similar situation at his job. We met one day for a coffee and there and then over a handshake, decided to quit our jobs and begin Harvest.

Four years ago in 2018, Harvest Accounting had no clients and began as a hunch that an accounting firm could be built better as cloud first from day one, and small businesses in Singapore would appreciate going fully paperless with their accounting.  

Fast forward to today, we’re proud to have a strong and dynamic service oriented team, and to have worked with many inspiring business owners who have put their trust in us even since month one.  

In just four years we have attained Xero Platinum Partner status, the highest level of Partner Status. There is still so much that we want to improve on and achieve, especially with tech moving so quickly these days. It feels like another beginning. We are excited to innovate and build for years to come!

2. What’s the most satisfying part about what you do?
I enjoy being able to work with many exciting businesses and passionate, energetic business owners and be able to make a difference with technology and cloud solutions.

I didn't realise before starting the business, but the one area I feel most excited and satisfied is working on our systems and processes, and designing dashboards to unlock the data within our business. I enjoy looking out for new apps that fit into our tech stack to make sure our business continues to scale and run smoothly, as we add more clients and team members.

I also want our firm to have a strong focus on training and learning, so it has been rewarding to see our young team get stronger and more capable each year with more skills and confidence. Having a happy team that is self motivated and enjoys working at Harvest also brings me a lot of satisfaction.

3. What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you move forward?

Each year has come with its own challenges. The first year was all about getting our first few clients - a lot of cold emailing, going out in the day to meet and win new clients, and coming home at night to do the actual work.

My co-founder Bryan is more naturally extroverted, but after closing some sales, answering countless client queries, speaking in front of our team, and at several events (even live radio), these experiences have really helped me grow in confidence in this aspect.

I think the challenge, but also the fun, is that as a bootstrapped founder we have to wear so many different hats each day.

A morning could be spent discussing technical accounting questions with the team, then jumping on a sales call with a new prospect, then meeting a vendor for lunch to discuss partnerships, then thinking about what’s next for the firm in terms of strategy, or marketing, or how to run operations more efficiently. No week is the same but that’s what makes it never dull!

4. What's the best piece of business advice you would like to share?

Building and training a team that works in sync remotely and in different locations has been key to our success so far. It's been quite a mindset switch to learn to delegate to your team with trust, and to build a capable group.

You have to switch your mindset from being a "great accountant", to thinking about how to build a great business that can grow. How to build and train a team, and get great systems in place so we can scale and grow without pain.

This is true not only for accountants, but for many other service based businesses.

You have to learn to put down the tools, and work "on the business" instead of "in the business".

5. How has working with Harvest Accounting and using Xero impacted your business / life?

The business very much started with lifestyle in mind. We had the idea that we could build a business completely online, and be able to work from anywhere with all tools in the cloud. Even poolside in Bali! Little did we know that Covid-19 would happen and we'd be forced into lockdown. Thankfully, this forced more businesses to adopt cloud solutions like Xero and we grew a lot in the period. Emerging now from Covid, I'm still enjoying being able to work from anywhere and it's been a huge benefit to be able to spend time with my two daughters who are currently both under two years old.

We've also met so many different and diverse business owners, vendors and other helpful people that we'd never have met if we never took the leap and stayed in our corporate jobs.  

6. Shameless plug for your business:

You'd usually go to see your traditional accountant once a year and drop off a big bunch of folders to file your financial statements with ACRA, and your tax with IRAS, but we want to do more at Harvest.

Harvest Accounting is a digital-first accounting firm that is passionate about streamlining operational finance and reimagining workflows. We are like an extension of your business, thanks to tech we can produce timely and relevant monthly reporting for better decision making - instead of outdated, annual financial statements that are five months old by the time they’re ready.  

We love implementing tech solutions to digitise processes like staff expense claims, and help make payables a breeze.

We love to help small businesses win!