Growing up in Upstate NY, Matt Gardner was uncertain about his future career path. Eventually, he decided to pursue an accounting degree from SUNY Oswego as a safe and secure option. Matt followed the conventional route of public accounting and professional services, spending nearly a decade at a regional accounting firm. Despite his accomplishments, Matt felt unfulfilled and lacked enthusiasm for his work. Motivated to make finance more engaging, he co-founded Gardner & Capparelli in June 2016 and started offering an approachable solution for Gen Z and Millennial-operated small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
Soon Matt and his team at Gardner & Capparelli connected with several early-stage technology, video game development, software development, and SaaS companies, as well as traditional SMBs led by next-generation leaders. As they worked with these customers, they noticed three recurring opportunities:
- They were overwhelmed by back-office responsibilities and needed help outsourcing their financial operations.
- They required fractional CFO advisory support to navigate the intimidating world of finance.
- They had vibrant, energetic, and creative company cultures that inspired Matt to model his own business as a start-up.
Addressing these challenges, Gardner & Capparelli grew exponentially and eventually got rebranded as hiline, a national Finance-as-a-Service company working with over 150 customers nationwide. The outsourced accounting services organization specializes in accounting operations, strategic finance, HR, payroll operations, and tax services. Additionally, hiline’s financial systems management solution, hilineOS, allows for tremendous scale and provides a comprehensive FinOPs technology solution by integrating platforms such as QBO, Bill, Divvy, Gusto, and Basis, along with its own internally developed RPA solutions and API integration work.
“As we built our company, we were fortunate to connect with prominent content curators and Twitch streamers, some of the biggest in the world. We delivered quality work and developed a strong rapport, which led to referrals within their close-knit community,”- says Matt. “Although their income generation methods may differ from traditional businesses, they share similar needs in managing their operations. These individuals benefit from sophisticated tax planning strategies to support their unique financial circumstances.”
Matt aspired to create something remarkable and unparalleled, a venture he could be proud of. So, instead of creating another accounting firm amongst the already existing 100,000 firms, Matt’s goal was to revolutionize how founders and operators approach financial operations for their businesses. Hiring an in-house CFO or controller has traditionally been perceived as a safe bet, but Matt and his team challenged that notion. A single individual cannot compete with the comprehensive finance team hiline offers, nor can most in-house finance professionals effectively procure, implement, integrate, operate, and maintain the necessary financial systems for the modern business environment. Matt, along with his co-founder, Jim Capparelli, successfully positioned hiline as an accelerant for its customers, providing superior talent and technology with significantly higher ROI while costing roughly half of what it takes to hire a skilled in-house financial professional, which frees up valuable capital for businesses to invest in growth and innovation.
Matt believes that starting a business over the last 6.5 years was not easy. The first three years involved finding hiline’s footing, establishing its position in the market, and developing a go-to-market strategy – a formidable process for any new venture. However, the COVID years brought even greater hardship, affecting everyone globally. The finance industry had to contend with numerous new considerations, including PPP loans, ERC, and overall sustainability. Matt and his team worked tirelessly, putting in long hours, including weekends, to ensure their customers could weather the COVID storm. As a result, hiline could maintain its own sustainability, with only one customer lost due to COVID-related impacts.
Recently, the delayed effects of the pandemic have started to impact the economy, causing instability in the banking system and posing significant challenges for institutions like SVB. However, during these difficult times, hiline has demonstrated its resilience and reliability by surpassing expectations to ensure that its customers effectively manage the risks associated with rapidly evolving events. As a bootstrapped enterprise, hiline has become adept at capital allocation, mastering the art of quickly pivoting and learning from failure.
“The challenges of the past 6.5 years have been a gift in a way, as they’ve hardened and strengthened our resolve. Business builders in this era are developing a sense of grit and perseverance that can only be earned during difficult times. While not everyone is up for the challenge, we have risen to meet it head-on,“- explains Matt.
AI Will Change the Future
Matt feels the advent of AI presents immense opportunities for the finance and accounting industry rather than being a challenge. AI has the potential to enable unprecedented scalability within the sector. While some may resist adopting new technology out of fear, the emergence of AI presents incredible opportunities. As automation and technology streamline various tasks, finance and accounting professionals must reskill and focus on developing adaptability, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, analytical skills, storytelling, relationship-building, and decision-making skills. The future of the profession will require a more dynamic workforce to capitalize on these opportunities. This shift in focus also extends down to educational institutions and raises the question of how quickly the rest of the profession is prepared to adapt.
As a finance-led company, hiline deeply understands the consumer, finance, and the intersection of their needs, which sets it apart from its competitors. hiline’s branding resonates better with its target market than traditional CPA firms whose names have been on the wall for a century.
“We can also compete with venture-backed product-led companies because we’ve modeled our business to operate in a similar way. While some of these companies have raised substantial funds to address the same issues, it can be challenging to be both a product and services company. The leadership team sets the tone, and a product-led founder may struggle to create a culture that aligns with a service-based organization. Although we all build and leverage technology for scalability and unique customer experiences, our expertise in finance sets us apart. We excel in our field, creating superfans for the right reasons. Our customers are attracted to us not because it’s trendy but because of the value we provide,”– explains Matt. “Being bootstrapped has its advantages, as we don’t face the pressures of chasing valuations and growth. Although reaching this point was challenging, our flexibility will benefit us as we prepare to navigate the economic conditions in the coming years.”
hiline has set its sights on becoming one of the leading companies in fractionalized strategic finance, with ambitious plans for growth and scaling over the next five years. The organization is determined to be the driving force behind the rebranding of the entire finance and accounting industries.
On a personal level, Matt is eager to lead hiline through its next growth phase and explore opportunities in adjacent businesses. The following 5-10 years in finance promise to be filled with tremendous opportunities for those who seek them. In addition to leading hiline, Matt enjoys advising businesses and engaging in angel investing. He also feels delighted to apply his learnings to benefit more early-stage companies and derive immense satisfaction from watching teams work to solve challenging problems, transforming their ideas into successful businesses.
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