Steve Dusablon

I think having this close relationship with our customer base is one of the most important aspects of my job. Our reputation in the industry is that we listen, and we fix it. Fast. And that goes a long way.

Mr. Dusablon is the Co-Founder and CEO of cPaperless, LLC, a company that provides paperless software tools and consulting services to the accounting profession. Mr. Dusablon has been the primary driver behind the company’s release of four paperless solutions and its ability to accumulate a client base of over 5,000+ accounting firms and 50,000+ licensed users of their products. For the past 15 years, Mr. Dusablon has been consulting accounting firms on all areas of paperless solutions, including: Electronic Signatures, Document Management Solutions (DMS), Client Portals, Integrated Workflow solutions, secure document exchange, scanning techniques, using Adobe Acrobat to create digital workpapers, deploying paperless audit software solutions, and paperless tax preparation utilizing Scan-and-Organize and Scan-and-Populate solutions. Prior to co-founding cPaperless, LLC, Mr. Dusablon served as the Vice President of Sales & Operations for Acct1st Technology Group, LLC, a leading provider of DMS, Client Portal and integrated workflow solutions to the accounting industry. Prior to joining Acct1st, Mr. Dusablon spent four years with SurePrep, LLC, where he served as the Director of Operations. SurePrep, LLC is the largest provider of outsourced tax preparation services in the U.S. He was responsible for overseeing the establishment of a 300 person tax processing center in Mumbai, India that processed over 25,000 US income tax returns each tax season. Steve worked at Coopers & Lybrand and was a Certified Public Accountant who earned a Bachelors degree in Accounting from the University of Southern California in 1990.

Where did the idea for SafeSend Returns come from?

The idea for SafeSend Returns came from being first to market with an e-sign solution, understanding the challenges, understanding that we needed to automate the workflow, and most importantly, listening to our existing cPaperless customers.

The number one thing that I can reiterate is always listen to your customers. Your customers will tell you the problems. Your customers will tell you what you need to solve. And these are real-world problems, and as long as you listen to them, and you strive toward solving that real-world problem, you’ll come up with something. And that, for us, was SafeSend Returns.

Now, I’d like to sit back and say that I’m brilliant and that I came up with this thing entirely by myself. But it started with understanding the challenges of electronic tax return delivery and of electronic signatures. I kept going back and looking at this paper tax return and saying “this is so successful, but when we go to electronic, it breaks down and fails. So how do we build an electronic assembly and delivery solution that mimics and mirrors what used to happen in the world of paper?” We needed a combination of mimicking paper delivery in an electronic format.

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

I wake up and I make a cup of coffee. Then I sit at my computer at home and I go through my email, get rid of all the junk so that what’s left are the things I need to focus on. To me, email is a to-do list. If somebody sends you an email it’s either junk that you have to get rid of or it’s an action item and there’s something I have to do with it.

When I see people with thousands of emails in their inbox, I freak out. Because that means there’s something in there that they didn’t do. For me, managing my inbox is probably the main way I drive my activity every day. Productivity is keeping my inbox under 20 items. This is one of the beliefs I try to share with my team.

The other thing that drives my productivity is making sure my calendar is accurate. And that everything is posted to it, and that nothing falls through the cracks — whether it’s my inbox or my calendar.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We build software that solves problems. First and foremost, we must understand the problem. And again, that starts with listening to our customers. Once we’ve done this, it’s time to have a brainstorming session with my key members. That could be my business partner, the head of development, or people who are product experts in each product. And for us, you must keep in mind that we’re building a product that nobody else has built. We’re the first company to solve these problems. And to solve the problems, you have to understand it, you have to find the right solution, you have to do use cases, and you have to think of every possible scenario that could come up.

After we’ve decided how you’re going to solve the problem, we write up a detailed instruction with screenshots and explain everything it’s supposed to do. Then it goes to development, they code it up, it comes back to us for testing, we fix it, and we release it. Our customers use the product, come back to us with feedback, and we iterate again.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Paperless! Going green. Electronic bio-transfer. We build paperless solutions for the accounting profession. Believe it or not, there are still so many people who prefer paper. But as we start to move forward with everything going mobile, people want to do things electronically. And that opens doors of opportunities for us. We can be more open to taxpayers receiving their tax returns, electronically e-signing their 8879s, and paying their bills from their devices, because that’s what everybody wants. It’s a combination of paperless delivery and mobile applications.

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

Making sure my inbox and calendar are always up to date. That’s really what it comes down to. I use Outlook, which manages my day through my inbox, calendars, and tasks. Even my golf lessons are in my Outlook calendar. Haircut appointments, dental appointments, everything is in there!

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would say never open a restaurant. My first business ventures were a manufacturing company for competitive roller hockey pucks and a restaurant chain. My dad told me not to start the restaurant, but I thought the concept was too amazing to pass up. We opened the first store, and it was really successful. We opened stores two and three and they tanked. Soon, we had a falling out with our partnership and ended up going out of business. So, my advice to everybody is never open a restaurant. We were wildly successful in the beginning and failed miserably in the end.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Client portals fail. It’s changing a little bit and people do agree with this now, but five yrs. ago, all the tax vendors were selling client portals as the end-all-be-all for secure file transfer and for ways to deliver tax returns to your clients. They don’t work because they require a username and a password. And if I’m sending a tax return and the receiver has to log in with a password one time every 12 month, they’re going to get frustrated and not use it. Five years later, people are beginning to realize now that we were right!

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

I take golf lessons once a week and I try to play once a week. I think I used to be a workaholic, and I’ve learned that I must shut it off sometimes. My mind is always going about ideas, but I really try not to bring my work home with me anymore. If you’re anything like me, I highly recommend turning it off leaving your work at home. You must.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We wanted to differentiate ourselves from competitors. We were looking for something to drive activity and opportunity. We didn’t know what it was. Our one strategy was recognizing that electronic signatures were going to find their place in the tax and accounting industry, we just didn’t know how they’d be used or adopted, because the biggest demand for them was on e-signing 8879s, which the IRS didn’t allow at the time.

So, we tried it with engagement letters, and we had people using electronic signatures anyway. So, because we experimented with electronic signatures, it put us into the position of being a first-mover advantage.

Then, what I personally do — especially with my new clients that start using SafeSend Returns after their first tax season or extension season — is schedule a call with their team. And I sit there, and I talk to them. I give them some statistics about how many returns we did, and then I ask them about their process. “What did you do? Who did what? How did it go? What were the challenges you faced?”

I think having this close relationship with our customer base is one of the most important aspects of my job. Our reputation in the industry is that we listen, and we fix it. Fast. And that goes a long way.

We ended up developing something that didn’t exist in the marketplace, which was SafeSend Returns, and we can attribute our success to that single product. I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to imagine we were going to build SafeSend Returns. The strategy was being first to market with e-singing and simply experimenting with it.

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

They say the average entrepreneur has seven ventures before they’re successful, and I’m right in line with that. If you look at how many businesses I’ve started, it’s probably close to seven. As an entrepreneur, you just have to know that if that thing fails, there’s a saying out there: “If you’re gonna fail, fail fast.” What you don’t want to do is invest years and years into a venture and to not be successful with it. That’s why entrepreneurs jump from company to company until they find something that’s going to work. Although I had the failure of my restaurant in my past, I had also had success, so I had faith in myself. I didn’t want to sit and sweat over it. I learned from it, I grew from it, and I moved on to the next item. It’s just in my DNA, I guess.

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

I’m so ingrained and engulfed in what I do every day that I don’t have time for coming up with ideas that aren’t centered around my existing business.

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

I work really hard, and I don’t take vacation enough. But when I do I like to go scuba diving in tropical locations. In May, I booked a trip to Cozumel, Mexico, and when I got to the airport there were first-class upgrades for $100. I was on vacation, and I had an opportunity to sit first class for very little money, so I jumped all over it! I liked starting and ending my vacation on the right note.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Visual Studio Team Services. We call it VSTS. What this is, is a development tool. It’s a bug tracking system for us. Every idea every problem every new feature or functionality gets put into this program and then my entire development team uses it to do specking, add screenshots, and all sorts of documentation and correspondence going back and forth between developers. The success of my business, being a software development company, is 100 percent dependent on this program.

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

“The end of jobs.” It’s basically a quick read about getting rid of the 8-5 type of job. It’s about the gig economy, people not necessarily being full-time employees, and technology removing white collar jobs, and things along those lines. It’s useful for anyone interested in getting out of the daily grind, or curious about what the future of work will look like.

What is your favorite quote?

“If you’re gonna fail, fail fast.”

Key Learnings:

• Start your day by decluttering your inbox to 20 emails or less and start taking stock of your priorities. Don’t start working until you’ve done this.
• Listen to your customers. Call them, listen to their feedback on your product or service, and show them you care.
• Always iterate after hearing about the challenges your customers are having. Solve the problems fast.
• Differentiate yourself from the competition by finding something specific you can improve upon and experiment with.
• Failure is bound to happen. Pick yourself up and try again. It might take several ventures before you find a company that has the success you seek.


Steve Dusablon on LinkedIn: