Building The Future Together: An interview with Chief Product Officer and cofounder, Ellen Choi.
Ellen Choi is a driven, entrepreneurial, and business-minded Chief Product Officer. She also just happens to be the only woman cofounder at Aiwyn, keeping pace with, while sometimes ahead of, the “guys around the table.” Entering each meeting with a calm smile, Ellen’s grit and determination shine through; hers is a voice to be heard, always providing inspiration and new ideas for those fortunate enough to find themselves in a conversation with her.
Ellen has been very intentional on honing into the concept of listening so she can truly learn where and how she can make a difference. “When I was connected to the Aiwyn co-founders, it was clear that we shared the same vision. We quickly started to research and investigate the processes at professional services firms. Our team had many detailed conversations with our prospects with the intent to gain a deep understanding of their day-to-day struggles. We also wanted to learn their goals from a tactical standpoint in order to achieve their larger business goal. It helps us learn what type of solution they need to transform their lives. Within these conversations, we just kept hearing about accounts receivables - areas including payments, collections, invoicing… and more. It was very clear to us that the accounting profession was a space where we could make a difference. For me, it was the lightbulb on building the modern, frictionless software that I had always wanted. It also aligns directly with my personal goal coming into Aiwyn: to listen and understand our customer’s pain points in order for us to build a solution that promises a positive change in their work day-to-day.”
Creating a company out of a revolutionary idea is not for the faint of heart. The initial days of building Aiwyn were truly spent “hitting the ground running.” “If you have the right personality to build a start-up, it's truly exciting. Otherwise, it's absolutely terrifying. The initial start of Aiwyn was a great experience for me. We had so much demand and limited resources; we had to meet our prospects and customer’s needs while not losing focus on our goal and overall vision of the company. By raising that initial traction with these customers and prospects, it enabled us to raise the $14MM seed funding, which helped us to expand our resources and accelerate our product development process.”
It took a large effort in a small team to establish Aiwyn, and even as the company grows, you’ll notice a common trend of values within each employee that relate directly into the company’s core values as a whole (courage, build, trust). This was very intentional on the founders’ part. “It was not enough for us to be just commercially successful. Branding and core values are intangible outputs that really put meaning behind the company and set us up for growth. As co founders, we dove into workshops that helped us pinpoint what our North Star was and how we wanted to get there in a meaningful way. Additionally, we took a very thoughtful approach while developing our brand to pair nicely with our values.”
As you might assume, building a new tech solution is no easy feat. Many companies take years to develop new products. The Aiwyn team is composed of industry experts who are veterans in the tech world and the accounting profession. Pair that with the collaborative efforts of customers, and you get a solution that is proven to work! “We had such an audacious goal that we needed to achieve to prove a solution to the challenges that accounting firms were facing, so we needed to look at each component, piece by piece. We built Intelligence-Based Billing™ one module at a time. As each module launched, more lightbulbs would go off providing more possibilities for us to grow and build even further. The initial launch of Intelligence-Based Billing™ was rewarding, but my job as CPO is never complete. Instead, this proved to me that it's not just WHAT we are creating but instead HOW we are creating our solutions. It's been extremely effective and the outcomes the accounting firms are getting is amazing.”
Aiwyn started in 2020, which was also the year that the world saw intense challenges and a demand to quickly evolve. We saw this time as a great opportunity to help the accounting profession solve their challenges.
“Looking at the macro society factors, the pandemic created a lot of shifts, including economic uncertainty. The accounting firms did not know if they would actually be paid by their clients whether due to logistics of getting a paper check to their firm or even bankruptcies. Accounting firms were not equipped to have great visibility into their cash flow in a meaningful way because it was not a pressing need before the pandemic like it is today and moving into the future.
Accounting firms recognized that they needed sophisticated solutions in order for them to understand what was happening, like in accounts receivables for example. The demand for this solution became instantaneous. The pain point increased exponentially every day that the pandemic persisted.
There was also a shift in employee behavior - everyone was working remotely. The old model of printing out paper and dropping off at someone’s desk couldn’t work and the firms had to rethink their work flow. And as one can expect, consumer behavior shifted in a way - older generations became more comfortable with digital technology. No one will go back to paper invoices or paper checks once they find an easier, faster, and happier way to go through the process.
There are also exciting trends within the accounting industry. One is generational change - Gen Xers, who have more confidence and trust in utilizing technology, are now becoming firm partners and decision makers, and they demand better technology to run their businesses. Another is the shift from compliance to advisory services and the emerging trend of the rise of Client Accounting Service (CAS). For us, bringing in new technologies to aid them in that shift is a superior value proposition for firms.
The shifts are here to stay, and we are here to harness that need and build great solutions for it as we progress further into the future.
Let’s take a moment to pause and take in what you just read. It is evident that Aiwyn is nowhere close to the end of developing innovative solutions. In fact, with recent shifts, the possibilities are seeming to be endless. Aiwyn’s foundation has clearly set the team up to pinpoint every challenge within professional services and address it. “We already have really strong customers and partners that we work with ongoingly. We know we are going to continue building meaningful solutions that can be built on top of one another. We want our software to be transitional, allowing our customers to take a gradual approach to a streamlined process without completely abandoning the process they already have in place. The natural progression for us is to continue to work with our partners to reimagine their struggles so we can build new solutions to improve every part of their experience. It's been a green field for us to work together in and it's really exciting. Our platform has a very API-first approach, and we recognize that there are so many opportunities out there to extend the options for accounting firms to mix and match solutions.”
Aiwyn is always looking for partners to build the future with them. They pair well with customers who are curious about finding better ways to do their daily tasks. “The future can always be ten times better if we take the time to figure out how we can get there and then make it happen; we’ve definitely seen that already in the solutions we’ve created. We always come back to our customers: we are a customer-first company. We focus on what customers are struggling with, their pain points, and what they are trying to solve. From there, we figure out how our expertise and creativity can build a solution that makes a huge, positive impact.
Technology advances every day and it gives us a growing opportunity. We’ve seen advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning over the past few months that were not even conceivable five years ago. Our goal is to harness these possibilities and use them to help fix pain points. I always come back to our mission: Unlock time and money for professional service workers. We intentionally set this mission at a higher level so that it gives us a meaningful goal that cannot be capped for growth.”
In true Ellen fashion, she left me with this: “Looking into the future, if the sky's the limit - we should think even further past that!”