Ben Tse of AccountMate Software: Building a Successful Niche Player, Internationally
A long time ago, AccountMate Software CEO Ben Tse mastered a simple formula: Start small, think big, work hard, finish what you start, and never quit.
AccountMate writes and sells web-based accounting software, and although its products compete with heavyweights like Microsoft and Intuit, it has not tried to be all things to all people or to expand at the expense of its ability to service its product and customers at a high level. Consequently, AccountMate is regarded as a small but powerful niche player with adaptable products for small and mid-sized clients. The collapse of the dot-com sector has had no impact on the company, a testament to its sound business model and its loyal client base.
The value AccountMate's clients place on the software is best illustrated by example. For the last two years, Solutions Enterprise in New Jersey has been using AccountMate software with a web-based interface for its order entry and other functions. Tse says that before Solutions Enterprise adopted AccountMate, the company needed 15 personnel to perform data entry, with increasingly high-maintenance, DOS-based software. AccountMate and other technologies have transformed the business, and now about 40 employees use the system for their respective functions. The business' transaction volume more than doubled last year.
"Our staff work side-by-side with AccountMate clients, including CPA firms," said Bart Nachimow, president of MIBAR Computer Services, an Account- Mate vendor. "Many of our specialists are cross-trained in accounting. What makes the relationship so successful is that we work with clients very proactively to leverage the software in every way possible. The result is a single point of service wrapped around a very versatile product."
Last year, Tse and longtime business partner Dennis Lo sold AccountMate to Softline for $8.5 million; Tse stayed on as CEO to steer AccountMate as it continues to grow, and Lo remained with the company as vice president of development. "This business was my life for many years," Tse says, "and selling it the way I did and at that time was absolutely the right thing to do. I'm 47 years old, and I was starting to think about the future of the business beyond my lifetime. The arrangement with Softline gives me assurance that the company and employees that I care about have a secure future, and that my role is a very active one."
AccountMate's main office of about 40 people is in Novato, Calif., a long way from China and Hong Kong, where Tse began in a below-poverty level environment. China remains a core part of AccountMate's global business; most of the software development is done in China, and many of the staff are multilingual. Tse uses his knowledge of both Asian and American cultures, languages, and business practices to create a global business that has plans to continue expanding in Asia and to launch an Australian division in 2002. Before its sale to Softline last year, AccountMate had opened a 35-person technical support office in the Philippines and a 20-person office in Beijing, where the company employs computer scientists who write software in Chinese.
While working at an optician's shop in Hong Kong at age 18, Tse met an American tourist who was so impressed with Tse's personality and drive that she eventually persuaded a California congressman to expedite Tse's visa to the United States. That American tourist, Marjorie Lichtenstein, remains a close friend of Tse and his wife, who have named their daughter after her. Settling in California, Tse continued his accounting studies, absorbed American culture, perfected his English, and began practicing accounting after graduating from college.
When Tse and Lo met in 1980, they used their combined skills in software programming and accounting to operate a tour company. A few years later, Lo's family invested $100,000 in the two friends' new venture: accounting software. SoftTech, Inc., was born, evolving into AccountMate. And the rest is history.
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