The path to the Aha! moment
If it weren’t for the financial crisis in 2008, LeaseQuery may not exist. The crisis led LeaseQuery’s CEO and Founder, George Azih, to take a role in accounting research at a Fortune 500.
It was a good job, but it was personally unfulfilling for George. “Without realizing it, I was looking for something I could lose myself in.”
Finding his mission
When an audit uncovered serious errors in the way the company accounted for leases, George was tasked with teaching the auditors the proper accounting.
As part of the process, he sought out lease accounting software – a search that was surprisingly unfruitful.
At the same time, George saw that an update to the lease accounting standard was on the docket of the FASB’s Emerging Issues Task Force.
Armed with the knowledge of the imminent rules change, and alarmed by the lack of tools available on the market, George saw an opportunity.
“I can’t not do this”
Lease accounting isn’t just a business opportunity for George. It’s what he calls an “obsession.”
While his work in public and corporate accounting was respectable, he knew he wanted to do more. Coming from a well-educated Nigerian family – his siblings have successful careers in law and medicine – the bar for success is high for George.
Finding his obsession with lease accounting enabled him to reach his full potential. “I felt like I was coasting through life. But once I found something I was passionate about, I knew I was on the right path.”
Lessons learned along the way:
1) The breakthrough that changed the business
One of LeaseQuery’s first clients was a restaurant chain. George assumed that other restaurants would be interested in the software, since so many of them lease real estate.
“I was on a wild goose chase chasing those kinds of customers and not getting much traction.”
That’s when he and the team realized that lease accounting wasn’t just a real estate problem. “Companies lease vehicles, equipment, computers, and so on. That expanded our total addressable market. Once we realized that, that’s when our growth exploded.”
2) Your weaknesses are also your strengths
Operating a business forces you to confront your weaknesses.
For instance, working in accounting doesn’t exactly prepare you to sell software. So George sought out an expert: his former University of Georgia roommate, Chris Ramsey, whose entire career had been in enterprise sales.
Now, the company has a high-performing 60-person sales department led by Chris, who has become LeaseQuery’s Chief Revenue Officer.
By confronting one of the company’s biggest challenges, George and Chris transformed it into one of LeaseQuery’s key strengths.
3) Let your people make their own decisions
In the early days of the company, George wore nearly every hat, which proved unsustainable as the company grew.
George quickly learned that deferring to LeaseQuery’s capable leaders not only saved him time, it also gave them more runway to focus on their strengths.
“I like to say I want to be the least powerful CEO in Atlanta. Let your managers manage.”
And that enables George to focus on his strength: being a product CEO.
He’s had help along the way
George has relied on a number of mentors on his journey as an entrepreneur:
Sal Inserra: Sal was a partner at the first accounting firm he worked for. A reliable source of advice and encouragement, George calls on him to be “the adult in the room.”
Walter Bowles: Walter was a senior leader at the Fortune 500 George worked for when he started LeaseQuery. Not only has he been a great source for guidance and mentorship, both of his children work for LeaseQuery as well. In fact, his son was the company’s first hire.
Emmanuel Azih: As George’s brother and an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering double major, Emmanuel was instrumental in helping George wrap his head around the world of technology. “Accountants are naturally allergic to technology. But my brother killed my fear of tech.”
Endeavor: Endeavor is a non-profit that helps entrepreneurs build thriving businesses. Read more about George’s experience with Endeavor here.
What success looks like
“I would love for LeaseQuery to be the PayPal Mafia of Atlanta. I would love to have people who worked at LeaseQuery go out there and start their own companies.”
With all of the tremendous growth the company has experienced, many LeaseQuery employees have seen first-hand what it takes to build a company. George hopes that they find their own personal “obsessions” and create their own businesses.
As for the business, George envisions LeaseQuery evolving into a company that does much more than lease accounting. “Ultimately, we want to make accountants’ lives easier using software. That’s the essence of our mission statement.”