CEO/Founder of SkyStem, Shagun Malhotra is the visionary behind the product and user experience. A CPA, CIA, as well as being an experienced auditor and process consultant, she designed ART for accountants. Having gone through the broken and inefficient process various times over, she believed there was a more efficient and user-friendly way to do reconciliations. Being process focused, Shagun injected processes within ART to deliver a product that is highly integrated and user-centric. Although not the most glamorous part of accounting, it is the last line of defense to identify errors and/or fraud and hence a critical process.
This realization became the spark that compelled Shagun to found SkyStem, a SaaS provider aimed to create an affordably priced solution to help automate month-end close and reconciliations.
Q: What inspired you to found Skystem and what were the main challenges you faced?
I started my career in the travel and hospitality industry, and through my experience in audit and investigative accounting, I ultimately fell in love with the world of audit, controls, and the accounting process. I was asked by a troubled financial services giant to lead the year-long remediation effort due to a failed regulatory audit. This happened due to broken internal controls around the month end process. After a year of arduous work, long hours and teamwork, we were able to deliver a clean audit and retain the banking license.
Due to my experience in various projects and being immersed in the accounting world, I knew firsthand the multitude of problems and risks accountants face when employing manual methods to close the books and complete reconciliations. Whether it's a large corporation or a mid-size company, closing and reconciling is part of the routine function of the accounting department. I also realized that existing platforms with automation in this area were barely existent, priced quite high, and often beyond reach for mid-sized companies.
Mid-sized companies are often operationally complex and can benefit from automation during the close. But they lack the excess capacity and resources to make a large investment and undergo a multi-month implementation. This motivated me to found SkyStem. ART, SkyStem's flagship solution, was brought to the market shortly after.
Q: Did you start the venture alone?
Yes. I started this venture on my own. This was a huge step for me. I started my career in public accounting and have worked in Fortune 100 companies such as Marriott and Freddie Mac. My work focused primarily on internal controls and risk mitigation in both, the international and domestic arenas. However, I knew it was time for me to take the leap and help accounting teams shorten and simplify their month-end close process. Building this company wasn't easy but it’s definitely rewarding to see all our growth and accomplishments from the start. I have no regrets, SkyStem has grown into something more than I could have ever imagined.
Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
SkyStem strives to bring soul to software by providing intelligent and intuitive solutions that eliminate redundant work and provide our customers the opportunity to focus on more dynamic and fulfilling work. We emphasize the human touch, so that customers get the best of both worlds – cutting edge technology paired with fanatical customer service. Our offering, ART, is sold as SAAS on an annual subscription basis and has three different packages depending on need. ART was designed to meet four criteria: robust in features, easy to use, fast to implement and reasonably priced. SkyStem’s core belief is that software should be robust, but never break the bank or cause unnecessary business disruption. As a reflection of my background in the hospitality industry, SkyStem emphasizes a customer centric philosophy.
Q: Do you think luck played a role in the success of your company?
Success is more about determination and resilience than luck. The strides SkyStem has made are first and foremost a result of my teams’ tenacity and fortitude. I believe that luck is one of the factors responsible for success but is definitely not the sole criterion. More than luck, it’s our privilege of networks, support and experience we’ve had from the start.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
Accounting is filled with so many micro processes and tasks and there has always been limited focus on the small things that make the accounting world tick. I would like to continue to build and refine our current product to mirror what our customers need. As we continue to acquire customers, I am always amazed at, and grateful for, how many great ideas are delivered to us by them. Continuing to inject intelligence into our tool will enable our customers to do more with less and we want that vision to be a constant focal point.
Q: If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
A great business coach who could have guided me along the way. I started this company with vision and enthusiasm to help others in the accounting world. If I had received more mentorship earlier on, I probably could have made fewer mistakes. Strategic vision, commitment to innovation, and a progressive leadership approach has been essential to the success of SkyStem. My personal involvement in many aspects of entrepreneurship, such as being a member of a Department of State panel for women entrepreneurship and being a judge for the New York City Business Plan competition, has made me a known leader in the community. Through these programs I meet and mentor women entrepreneurs to motivate them to strive for their dreams. This has also helped me keep a pulse on the market and what other women are doing. By maintaining a progressive leadership philosophy and involvement in every department, women at the company have excelled in their roles and have learned firsthand what it takes to run a company. I have also encouraged my employees to take classes that will enable their career success and to strive for their passion.
Q: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
I draw inspiration from different people around me. My parents have always been a crucial part of my life, I come from a family of hard workers and problem solvers. They are very supportive and loving people who have modeled me into a successful and strong woman. My mother is the matriarch of the family and has been a constant source of inspiration and supportive of my dreams. She offers the best advice and pushes me do more. She firmly believes anything is possible. I’m blessed to have enjoyed living in various countries, attending prestigious schools and have been given the tools to expand and grow my life.
Q: What are your favorite books?
There are so many books that are special to me and have influenced my life, such as Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Each have themes of standing by your convictions even when others are not on your side and being able to be vulnerable to allow growth to take place.
Q: What's your advice for female founders who are just starting out?
You can’t do it all. Focus on your strengths and hire qualified people to do the rest. You can accomplish more sometimes with a really passionate, smaller team than you can with a huge squad of people. I’d advise new founders to be conservative with their hiring.