Mathew Heggem – CEO of SUM Innovation

I recommend that overachievers occasionally break up with their to-do lists. It’s OK to say, “It’s over.” Let yourself go through these mini rebirths. Change is a part of life. Stop holding on to the things that don’t help you achieve your goals, and recognize that yesterday’s goals might not be relevant today.

Prior to his role as CEO, Mathew Heggem served as the development and communications director for The Bookkeeping Center, an agency that assists individuals aspiring to enter the accounting workforce. A graduate of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program, Mathew is responsible for the #SUMTech initiative, which explores the intersection between accounting and technology.

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Mathew didn’t take the typical path to accounting. He graduated from Goucher College with a major in dance and a minor in religious studies and pursued a career as a professional dancer.

He’s now a member of the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program, The Sleeter Group, and the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. He’s also board president for the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce and a student of the Feldenkrais Method Training Program in New York City. His expertise spans leadership, marketing, social media, and communications, with a specialty in nonprofit and arts management. Within the accounting profession, his focus is predominantly on accounting technology.

In his quest to change the traditional view of the accounting industry, Mathew teaches accounting and bookkeeping workshops to startups and young entrepreneurs at the Fashion Institute of Technology, WIX, and several other organizations throughout New York City.

Where did the idea for SUM Innovation come from?

When I took over management of The Bookkeeping Company and started to build the bookkeeping side of the business, I soon realized that our clients needed more than just bookkeeping. I began bridging the gap between what I was handed and what I knew it needed to become, and SUM Innovation was born. We’re not your typical accounting company: Our clients are looking for a white glove solution that’s an extension of their brand. In a world where everything’s personalized, we understand the importance of a customized accounting solution.

Accounting is the structure of a business that’s embedded in the DNA of every organization. That same structure could give you information on the health and well-being of your organization. It’s not just about compliance and tax obligations.

I wanted to create a team that could embrace a more collaborative and engaged way of working with clients. We aren’t your usual accountants, and our clients appreciate that. We host events, have fun, dress casual, and welcome clients into our family. Clients are balancing risk with reward, and they can’t do it without a smart set of financials. That’s exactly what I hope to achieve with their organizations.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I try to get up at the same time every day, have a light breakfast, do some yoga, and head out before 9 a.m. I love having a balanced routine throughout the morning because it sets a clear tone and intention for the day ahead. That said, I try to stay flexible throughout my day so I can respond to the needs of my growing company but leave room for some preplanned activities and spontaneity. I use Evernote to stay on top of my weekly to-dos and keep track of what I hope to accomplish with every meeting.

To clarify my purpose for each day, I pull out a piece of scratch paper, set the timer for 25 minutes, and freewrite to clear my mind. I then remind myself to take care of what I need to so I can end every day feeling happy that I’ve done what’s beneficial for my team, our clients, and the health of my organization.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I bring ideas to life by staying true to who I am and following my own path. I create the structures I need to be successful and pay attention to the things that matter most — friends, family, loved ones, happiness, and health. The rest of it is curiosity and instinct. If I have a hunch, I’ll follow it. And if I feel it’s the right thing to do, then I trust my instincts and pursue it with consistency and vigilance.

Sometimes, I learn lessons the hard way — don’t we all? But, more often than not, it’s the right move to achieve our goals. I also know that I’m only as strong as my team, and if there’s a setback, I have to examine myself first to see if I’ve done my part as a leader.

I work with my team on a regular basis so we can learn from our experiences and achieve the greatest success possible for our team, our clients, and the people who rely on us for business support. With our team approach, we can help our clients grow inside and outside their balance sheet. Ultimately, it provides a sense of purpose and achievement that helps me bring ideas to life.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Conscious capitalism — I know that traditional corporate hierarchies are not the business structure of the future. I’m also incredibly curious about the employee-owned company idea!

But building a great business is about more than a game room, free beer on Tuesdays, and crazy perks that most workplaces don’t have. Rather, it’s about creating a company that does something good for everyone it engages: from its interactions with clients to the corporate footprint it leaves to the sense of equality and fairness it exudes. I’m excited to see more businesses recognize that ideal and work toward supporting a more conscious sense of business practices.

I’m most enamored by the idea of “digital plumbing.” With tools like Zapier and technologies like Hubdoc, the quest for #ZeroDataEntry is so much closer than we can imagine. Less data entry means more qualitative thinking, enabling us numbers folks to act as our clients’ trusted advisors.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My Feldenkrais teacher once said, “The tortoise wins the race,” and I try to live by my interpretation of this idea: You don’t have to go fast or sacrifice your well-being to achieve the greatest result. If you slow down, you can do more by doing less.

But this is a mindset; listening makes everything possible. Of course, watching “Drop Dead Diva” with my husband and our Princess Kitty or dancing around the apartment on a Saturday morning to Teresa Brewer’s “Music! Music! Music!” also helps me achieve the balance I need to be productive.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I first moved to New York City, I had to figure out how to make some quick money in the big city. I answered a Craigslist ad for a production company that needed help setting up a fashion show in a Chelsea studio. I arrived bright and early, ready to offer my assistance. I spent about eight hours doing random tasks for this production company — and never got paid.

I learned that there are folks who will take advantage of you if you’re not careful. We’ve all been hustled at one point or another, but the one thing that changed from that point forward was my level of interrogation and discretion in selecting people to work with. The bottom line is if I can’t trust someone, then we can’t do business together. With this mindset, I can protect my time and the value I bring to the table. But I also understand that trust doesn’t happen overnight.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have gotten back to dancing again sooner, spent more time with family, and enrolled in the Feldenkrais certification program sooner. I’m now taking dance classes again and have recommitted myself to the practice. I learned the hard way how important it is to find balance in life and business.

As for my business, I would have done one more day of planning. The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is so true and something I take seriously. Of course, you can plan until the cows come home, and at a certain point, it’s a matter of rolling up your sleeves. But a little bit of planning can go a long way. I would have also ditched the dirty word “should” from my vocabulary earlier.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I recommend that overachievers occasionally break up with their to-do lists. It’s OK to say, “It’s over.” Let yourself go through these mini rebirths. Change is a part of life. Stop holding on to the things that don’t help you achieve your goals, and recognize that yesterday’s goals might not be relevant today.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Trusting the process and letting go of expectations. Life and business are spontaneous acts of creation. Sometimes, people want things to happen a certain way and achieve an outcome they visualize in their minds. Visualization is, in fact, a great tool for achieving goals. But it’s easy to get so fixated on outcomes that you don’t put all your focus on the tasks at hand. Worse, you can overlook the many (better) opportunities that exist. Don’t get distracted from achieving your goals. But don’t become so focused that you get tunnel vision and end up at a dead end because you missed the sign three miles back!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A few times, I chose to hire someone out of need rather than culture fit. This never works out. Culture is all that matters at the end of the day.

One thing I’ve done to prevent this from happening is to systematize the hiring process so we can’t rush it. We have several steps before we offer someone a position. I involve several team members in the hiring process so we can fully understand our prospective employees before bringing them on to our team.

I hired an HR manager to make sure we adhere to best practices in a people business. Hands down, HR is the most important side of my business because clients buy into our staff when they hire SUM Innovation.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Selfishly, I’d love it if someone invented a device that dispensed food into a cat’s bowl with the press of a button on a remote. When our lovely Kitty starts meowing around 8 a.m. on a Sunday, this device would allow me to feed her without getting up. This is something many cat owners would spend money on!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I’m torn between dinner at a restaurant with my husband and a recent Ruby on Rails workshop at General Assembly. Both certainly have their merits, but I’d have to say dinner with my husband was priceless. It’s important to spend time with the people you love; life’s too short to spend all your time working!

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Evernote is my lifeline. I would not be productive without it because it helps me focus my right-brained tendencies and fetch notes when I need them. Sublime Text is another favorite application because there’s nothing worse than reformatting something over and over again as a result of the “time-saving” copy-and-paste method.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Here are the three most important books to my development as a leader:

The Potent Self: A Study of Spontaneity and Compulsion” by Mosché Feldenkrais“: This book will give you the framework for understanding what you’re capable of as a human being.

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne : From this book, I was presented with the opportunity to innovate within my industry rather than adhere to the constructs of a limiting status quo.

Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content” by Mark Levy : This is a great book to introduce freewriting into your practice of problem-solving. Whenever I hit a roadblock or just want a fresh perspective, I set the timer for 25 minutes and write away. It never ceases to amaze me when I discover a potential solution in the end.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Mosché Feldenkrais: This man developed the Feldenkrais Method, which has been a huge influence on my life. I truly believe that others should take the time to study this guy’s method. Everyone will be happier for it!

Adrienne Clancy: Adrienne taught me about getting things done! She’s built a sustainable and intelligent business in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area as a choreographer and dance educator at ClancyWorks Dance Company. I had the opportunity to dance with her and work alongside her as an assistant for years. She was my first business mentor and is a testament to the power of hard work and creativity.

Carol Dacey-Charles: Carol has been my life coach for several years now and has her own coaching practice, Why Not Thrive? As we continue to work together, I’m amazed by the way she gets me out of my head and focused on the things that matter most.

Danny Mizrahi: Danny is the CEO of Contango IT, a premium IT company based in New York City that also happens to be a client. I’ve often said that Danny is the businessperson I admire most for his ability to create structure, clarity, and purpose. He’s a smart guy and a benchmark for success, and he happens to be really nice, too.


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