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A tax firm discovers a unique niche—serving expats—and scales to a team of 50

By Verne Harnish

During 10 years of living in Argentina, entrepreneur Greg Dewald discovered that many American expats were behind on filing their U.S. taxes–and spotted a gap in the marketplace.

“Most CPAs understand tax law for Americans in the states. As soon as you are filing from abroad, it’s a whole other can of worms.”

To close that gap, Dewald founded Bright!Tax, a firm he runs with business partner Katelynn Minott, CPA, who is the firm’s CEO. 

Twelve years later, Bright!Tax helps Americans in more than 200 countries prepare their taxes, using cloud-based technology.  “We have been in rocket mode from Day 1,” Dewald says. 

After Dewald read my book Scaling Up: Rockefeller Habits 2.0, the company’s leadership team began working with Scaling Up Certified Coach Herb Cogliano to put the systems in place that would support the company’s rapid scaleup. 

“We had reached the point as an organization where we felt maxed out,” says Dewald. “We used all of the tools at our disposal. We knew there was so much more. We weren’t sure how to get there. Scaling up was the roadmap. It opened up an entirely new vista for us. We’re learning new ways of thinking about doing what we do.” 

Here is how they applied the Scaling Up Platform to grow the company to a team of 50. 

Hiring A players

Given that Bright!Tax has always been entirely virtual, hiring people who have the ability to perform independently in a flexible environment and embrace core values such as “Strive for perfection” and “Be extremely kind” has been an important key to successful growth. As the company expanded, it began using the Topgrading system for hiring, coaching and retaining talent. 

One thing the company looks for is team members who will thrive in – and contribute to — its people-centric culture. “We’ve flipped ‘The client comes first,’” says Dewald. “Our people come first. It radiates outward.”

Taking the pulse

To make sure its people are happy, Bright!Tax conducts weekly pulse surveys with its team. One recent question was “Do you feel the company offers the flexibility to achieve work/life balance?” 100% of team members agreed. 

“Especially in the accounting industry, where there are many deadlines, to be able to achieve that is not only a tremendous feat but a huge pride point for us,” says Minott.

Prioritizing strategy

Bright!Tax’s people, aware of how much the company prizes them, have brought tremendous passion to serving clients—and are working hard to achieve a BHAG of serving 250,000 clients in 10 years. One area is in the client experience. The company charges a flat fee of $489 for most tax projects, bringing simplicity to the process of filing taxes. 

If clients have a quibble with a bill, the company offers to let them pick a fee.  “It’s a little bit scary,” Dewald say says. “But clients are blown away that you’re giving them that choice. If there is a hiccup and we are making something right, a client is even more loyal.”

Bright!Tax measures its progress with a client survey similar to the Net Promoter score. In one sign of their success, the company has won an “EMMA” – short for an Expatriat Management & Mobility Award from the Forum for Expatriat Management – for the past five years. 

Getting more done in less time

Adding daily huddles has helped the all-remote team stay aligned, building engagement and participation. Although the team was apprehensive about the time commitment of huddles at first, says Dewald, “the feedback we’re hearing about the daily huddle is phenomenally positive.”

Given all of the work its leadership team has done to build a strong foundation to scale up, Bright!Tax seems to be well positioned to continue that growth in the future. Cash flow has been strong from the early days of the company, and continues to be as it scales up. “We’ve been very fortunate to have a healthy business from the start,” says Minott. 

As Cogliano sees it, the willingness of the company’s leaders to put the systems and processes in place to scale has played a big role in achieving that sustainable growth. “They were open to looking at their business differently and adopting new scaling up tools and frameworks to increase employee engagement among their staff–while improving accountability and discipline throughout the organization,” says Cogliano.

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.