Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello there! I'm Alan Chen, a seasoned accountant with years of experience working for powerhouses like Riot Games and EY in the big four.
My current business is FreeCashFlow.io, a tax and accounting agency primarily catering to the financial intricacies faced by online influencers, youtubers, streamers and entrepreneurs.
Youtuber CPA, Content creator CPA , Live streamer CPA,
Whatever you want to call it.
We help online content creators with their bookkeeping & taxes!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Starting off with a master's in accounting, I walked the traditional path, diving deep into the corporate world. I slugged the crazy hours in my early 20s and I worked with billion-dollar companies while in my time at the Big4. It was very tiring but gave me the training I have today. Then I moved over to Riot Games which is a massive video game publisher, based in LA. COVID happened and living in LA, I witnessed the rise of digital entrepreneurship through youtube, selling content for creators.
While still working my FT job, influencers in the gaming and live-streaming industry crossed over to content creation industry. And 1-2 of them, knowing that I had my background in accounting, reached out to me to ask for help on how to manage their finances.
The rapid surge of platforms and their creators caught my attention because when these 1st 2 clients approached me, I realized the financial gaps they faced.
A lot of these online influencers started their business, came into money very fast, and did not have the financial literacy to manage their finances, accounts, and especially their taxes. A lot of them also maybe never had a ‘real job’ before, so they lacked credit scores, and needed a lot of guidance in terms of understanding tax forms, understanding revenue is NOT equal income, and that you NEED to pay tax or you will get fined by the IRS. Not only that, a lot of influencers / digital adult online creators are always shunned by other financial institutions and firms because of the stigma of their industry. Pairing this unique understanding of the industry with my time as a traditional accountant in finance, I started freecashflow.io to serve this underserved audience! Take us through the process of building the first version of your product. We began by doing extensive research, understanding the challenges these entrepreneurs faced.
We had to hop on multiple Zoom calls with our clients to understand what they wanted. From erratic payment schedules to working with talent managers or agencies, we tailored our offerings to cater specifically to their needs. Most online creators/streamers want: A trusted accountant they can talk to and seek financial advice from Their tax forms are to be settled by their accountant.
Want to know how much their expenses are and how much they get to keep.
Want to be able to ask questions that are personalized to them. Want an accountant that speaks their language from day 1: e.g.. growing social media following with content distribution across platforms, how to differentiate yourself from other streamers, upselling subscriptions with chat, content schedule, partnerships with other streamers, reducing taxes with business trips by flying out to shoot with other streamers It may seem easy to operate an online creator business, but there is a ton of specialized knowledge for someone to know to be successful in this industry. (Just like any industry, it takes hard work)
So we launched our 1st product/service with these core functions: Our clients can chat with us anytime with any question on Slack We handle all their 1099 form filling, and any other form filling required We handle their incorporation (if they have not already and advise on everything including business structure to incorporation) We provide financial statement reporting, so at any point in time, our client can take a look I have many private conversations with our client relationship, and I enjoy serving this group of customers because they are so down-to-earth and easy to talk to.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our first two customers were gamers/streamers who knew me before I started the business. When I felt like this was a viable business, I bought my domain, launched my website, and incorporated my company. Then back to focus on providing good work for our first two customers. We had to pay customers before launching anything official! Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers? Trust and expertise have been our pillars. And for some people, in an industry where it is a bit of taboo or ‘hush hush’, a lot of our customers come from word of mouth. For example, a creator/streamer has become a customer of ours. We do a good job for them, we help them settle their tax and accounting pains. Then they refer their friends to us. I know this sounds simple, and it's not some ‘insane marketing strategy’, but it is that simple. Good work is rewarded! Besides word of mouth, we also get some customers from writing very specific educational guides. For example, we have written an Tax guide that has gotten us customers as well as produced YouTube videos about the topic. For example, this is the link to the tax guide: (Ultimate Guide to Taxes)
You can take a look at this video I created (technically it's content marketing!) To retain customers, we do an overall holistic job for our online creator customers. We try to over-deliver and provide them with the best advice for their situation. Understanding the emotional and social challenges our clients face, in addition to their financial ones, sets us apart.
For example, 1 of our clients who is a big name in the industry (cannot disclose the name, but you might have heard of them on Twitch or Twitter! :) ) And she is sitting on a big pile of cash even after paying her taxes. We recommended that she invest her earnings to maybe buy property or buy businesses so that she can take care of her family forever and set them up for life. She has since bought stuff like hair salons, petrol stations, and a lot of property. We suggest that they also invest in stuff that produces more income for them because content creation may be a temporary thing for them and they would like to diversify their income. In every sense of the word, you can say, we operate like a ‘family office’ for these creator clients, as we help to guard them, do all the tax and bookkeeping paperwork, protect them, and suggest how to grow their money for them. How are you doing today and what does the future look like? Today, FreeCashFlow.io is thriving with a growing clientele. We are expanding our team and hope to serve more clients in the online influencer. 1) We want to be able to open a physical location in the future (if possible). 2) We also want to throw a mastermind or event sort of thing called the “Online creators mastermind” where we throw an event inviting our clients to a physical location, and we invite experts to talk about different things like marketing, tax, partnerships, etc. We tried initiating this at the start of the year 2023, but encountered some obstacles with ‘event licensing in California’. So if you have the expertise or know how to maybe do this, please reach out to me! With digital professions on the rise, our vision is to be the go-to financial guardian for Online businesses. In the process, we have also picked up e-commerce customers, businesses who are doing Shopify and Amazon FBA, people in the venture world, and SAAS companies. 3) In the time being, we are also planning to launch a SAAS platform that will help serve these online creator customers with our service delivery. We hope that our platform will allow our customers to log in, to be able to chat with us, and also access all of their financial documents in 1 place. Software is a different animal to deal with, but we hope to launch this to the market! Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous? Absolutely! One key lesson is the importance of empathy in business. Personally, I feel, the general public may have certain perceptions of online businesses, and adult content creators and view them as ‘illegitimate businesses’ or ‘not real businesses’. Understanding the emotional and social challenges our clients face, in addition to their financial ones, sets us apart. When I speak to our clients, they are just normal people. They have families, emotions, and hardships they face in their lives. They are people who want to do better in life to support their family.
That is probably why I learned that you can never judge people based on what they portray to the world. I have many private conversations with our client relationship, and I enjoy serving this group of customers because they are so down-to-earth and easy to talk to. This was very different from the type of clientele I had in the past who were cocky, had an ego, and so on. I feel the most advantageous thing I would tell people is to serve your customers well, common sense, right? But have empathy, be a nice person and the $ will follow. “It doesn’t cost you anything to be gracious to others”, is something I learned from my parents. And that’s what I feel is why our clientele is growing and why people refer us customers. What platform/tools do you use for your business? We use Quickbooks as our standardized platform for accounting, and Excel sometimes. To keep communication seamless, we use platforms like Slack and Trello for internal operations. What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources? Find the intersection of your expertise and passion, and look for gaps in the market there. But more than that, always remember, that business is as much about understanding people as it is about numbers. Build trust, and show empathy, and success will follow. Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out? Focus on serving the needs of your customer and you will never be wrong. Be as helpful as you can, people notice! Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now? Yes, we are looking for certain types of people: Bookkeeping staff/accountants (if you have ex-big4 experience, that would be a plus) Talented full-stack developers who have experience building SAAS for accounting Talented website frontend developer (WordPress is ok)
Where can we go to learn more?
You can find me, Alan Chen, CPA at these social links here:
If you want to book a call or talk for 30+ minutes with me about your situation, I’ll drop a link here.
I answer the support chat on our website, so if you just want to chat please use our support chat on the bottom right of our site!
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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