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Complete Consulting Firm Management | Brian Saunders from BigTime Software

In this episode of UpTech Report, we speak with Brian Saunders, the founder and CEO of BigTime Software, a cloud-based software for professional services firms. They like to describe it as “the operating system behind the greatest consulting firms on the planet.”

Saunders is a graduate of the University of Chicago. He’s lived through the boom (and bust) of the ’90s, the financial crisis of 2008, and the last decade’s explosive growth in the technology sector.

In our chat, Brian shares how he’s grown the company to more than 2K customers in dozens of countries, a few hurdles he’s had to overcome, and how he continues to innovate.


Brian Saunders is the founder and CEO of BigTime Software, a leading provider of cloud-based software for professional services firms. BigTime is billed as “the operating system behind the greatest consulting firms on the planet.” With thousands of customers in dozens of countries, BigTime was recently named one of the top 100 Software Companies in the country by G2. They are also in the 2019 Inc 5000 list – a list of the nation’s fastest-growing independent companies and were awarded a gold Sammy award for the best ERP software firm in 2019.  

Mr. Saunders is a graduate of the University of Chicago who’s grown up inside technology. He’s lived through the boom (and bust) of the ’90s, the financial crisis of 2008, and the last decade’s explosive growth in the technology sector.  

He’s a member of the Forbes Technology Council and has been featured in that magazine’s online publication (as well as Inc, Fast Company, Built in Chicago, Smart Company, CIO Magazine, and elsewhere).

Find more info: https://www.bigtime.net/


Brian Saunders is the founder and CEO of BigTime Software, a leading provider of cloud-based software for professional services firms. BigTime is billed as “the operating system behind the greatest consulting firms on the planet.” 

With thousands of customers in dozens of countries, BigTime was recently named one of the top 100 Software Companies in the country by G2. They are also in the 2019 Inc 5000 list – a list of the nation’s fastest-growing independent companies and were awarded a gold Sammy award for the best ERP software firm in 2019.  

Mr. Saunders is a graduate of the University of Chicago who’s grown up inside technology. He’s lived through the boom (and bust) of the ’90s, the financial crisis of 2008, and the last decade’s explosive growth in the technology sector.  

He’s a member of the Forbes Technology Council and has been featured in that magazine’s online publication (as well as Inc, Fast Company, Built in Chicago, Smart Company, CIO Magazine and elsewhere).

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Alexander Ferguson 0:00
In this episode of UpTech Report, we speak with Brian Saunders, the founder and CEO of Bigtime Software, a cloud based software for professional services firms. They like to describe it as the operating system behind the greatest consulting firms on the planet. In our chat, Brian shares how he’s grown the company to more than 2000 customers in dozens of countries, a few hurdles he’s had to overcome, and how he continues to innovate. All right, thank you, Brian, for joining us. I’m excited to learn more about big time and also how you are innovating as an entrepreneur. First off, tell me what year did you start the business? And like, where is your Where are you located?

Brian Saunders 0:40
Yeah, right. Right. Sure. We’re a Midwestern company. So we’ve been in Chicago for a long time, I actually sold the last company that I started and, and, you know, we were a software services company. So we basically did consulting, like product consulting, you know, product market fit. And I thought that we didn’t really have anything to manage that entire firm. So we grew, we, my partner always says, we learned every lesson we learned through just brute experience, you know, like, every every mistake, you could make, you know, all the stuff that we tried to figure out. Oh, so that’s why we manage capacity, just all of these numbers that fit in professional services. So I thought all right, you know, partially, we wanted to start big time, because I wanted to, you know, eat the dog food, so to speak, you know, I get tired of consulting with people and saying, do these four things, they do one and two, and skip three and wonder why four didn’t happen. So that was part of it. And then part of it was there was just no tool out there to help companies go from 510 consultants all the way up to 50 or 100. And it’s a it’s a huge struggle.

Alexander Ferguson 1:36
So your industry specifically is professional services.

Brian Saunders 1:39
Yeah. Right. So we look at it as kind of three legs of the stool, right? Like, we serve a lot of what they call AC E, right? architecture, engineering, and construction. So we have a lot of hard hats, but we have a lot of architects and engineers, and that’s one leg and then the second leg is IT services. So everybody who does a project, right? Mostly our customers are the you know, everything has everything they do as a snout to tail, the snouts exciting, and the tails terrifying. And they need to manage that whole beast, right. And then we also do a fair amount with just regular what you consider management consultants. And they could be super specialty scientific, you know, we have nuclear engineers, and guys who are underground doing geothermal and just all sorts of stuff, but But ultimately, they all do the same thing. They all have a project, they all have to manage it, repeat it, figure out how to get their people to be more leveraged

Alexander Ferguson 2:22
that type of thing. Wow. And you have about you said, 2000 customers? Yeah, just over 2000. Right, exactly. Right. Each of them you’re helping to track their time, but they could be doing this themselves spreadsheets. So tell me even more like what’s the pain point that you’re helping to solve for them and really provide a whole next level of solution?

Brian Saunders 2:43
Yeah, and it’s interesting, because a lot of them start out with spreadsheets. Right. So that’s, that’s kind of a classic beginner. And, you know, you talk a lot, we talked before the interview about entrepreneurs, and kind of how things start. And honestly, before your 10, or 15, people, you know, we don’t really offer a lot of value to a three or four person firm, you gotta get out there and just do the work you do. Right, like, be a great consultant, be a great engineer, you know, do great buildings, build great software, you know, be good for your clients. But as you grow, where that gets really hard to manage, right, because think about it, if I’ve got 10 Guys tracking on a spreadsheet, I don’t know, until they handed me the spreadsheet, where do we stand, right, and I gotta go backward to talk to customers to figure out okay, well, wait a second. You know, I know, you told us that you only wanted to spend 20 grand this month, but you know, we did something really cool. And the positive is you get all the benefit from that. And the negative is we got to come up with something that either I either I have to eat that extra money, you have to pay more something, you know, we split the middle, but either way, it’s not a fun conversation. So you would rather be on the front end of that. And that’s what cloud based software lets you do. And then a lot of these firms, you know, they’re they’re virtual. Now you don’t have an office with 30 or 50, consultants, you might have guys all over the country at that site, face to face interaction anymore, not face to face. And so you get tools like Slack that are built around consolidating those teams, and I get that we use Slack internally, you know, I’ll select somebody sitting outside my office, but instead of getting up and talking to them, but most of the people who are using that system are trying to integrate these disparate teams. And so for a services firm, that means how much are we supposed to spend? When are things do what’s done? And what’s not what’s dependent on the stuff that I’m doing? What should I do today? And then, hey, help me feed that up the chain so that I don’t have to have endless meetings to explain. So wait, where are we at

Alexander Ferguson 4:30
again, so it really helps the ability when they’re having more and more consultants to to scale and to automate all this tracking. So it’s faster response time both for managing it and then also for client feedback. Tell me though, there are other tools out there that track time. So tell me more about like your technology, the IP behind it, what’s different about it?

Brian Saunders 4:49
Well, so a lot of that is not necessarily IP that’s driven but more kind of workflow and process and you know, I don’t remember if you’re allowed to to patent workflow anymore. I’m not sure how to change, but but most of it is about the, you know, stepping into that journey that somebody goes through when they start a project, right. So it begins with a conversation with the customer what they want, and it turns into a budget. And then it turns into kind of this vision and that vision then gets executed. And all along the way, people have to be connected. So it’s not just about Hey, Alex, what did you spend an hour doing this morning? Right? It’s actually about stepping back and saying, how does that hour fit into the entire context? Not just to the project you’re working on, but also your team? Are you doing the right stuff? Do we have you focused on the right tech? You know, you’re getting the professional education you need? Are you going to be able to get this along with a nine other things you have on your plate done? And if you do have to make hard choices, which ultimately, it’s all about priorities? How can I help you be smarter about making those choices, our guys might be on a plane talking about what they did three hours ago, they might be you know, in a client site coming back and trying to summarize what happened that day, right? So professionals have a much different day to day workflow. And that’s, I think, what sets big time apart, we might be one of the only kind of Time and Billing systems out there that are zeroed in on that consulting experience.

Alexander Ferguson 6:10
Got it? So packages, why’s that you base by per user? Or like,

Brian Saunders 6:15
What’s your most SAS firms do that? Yeah, I mean, everybody struggled a little bit with how to structure that, and we break it out by user. But really, what we figured out on packages was, we do we do have larger packages for larger firms, right, but it’s really packages for larger workflows, right. And so think about, you know, a 10 person organization, or 20 person organization that you run, let’s say, you might want to look at every invoice and just make sure before it goes out it jives with what you believe the client needs to see, you’re gonna know internally, wait a second, you know, we had problems with this client or hold on, we, you know, we did a ton of work overtime for them, and I just talked to them about, you know, you’re gonna know stuff, right? As the company gets to 40 and 50 and 100 people, you know, you might have to have two or three people looking at that to make sure that that invoice jives, and they’re gonna, it’s a conversation as opposed to review, right? All the way back to pricing. Our feature sets are really divided into things that are complicated versus simple. But as your company grows, the system can grow with it.

Alexander Ferguson 7:16
Start simple. And then as you grow, you can pay for more and get more complex as you have the ability to go 100%. So what about partnerships or API’s or the connections had that you’ve established? If you found any that that you’re currently using? Or looking at incorporating?

Brian Saunders 7:33
Tons? Yeah, um, API’s and enterprise software or integrations and enterprise software is a pretty big, it’s a hot topic, right? Which, you know, it’s probably why you asked the question. The problem is that a lot of them are checking the box integrations, right? And so are you integrated with for example, you know, NetSuite. Yes, check. But when you get in there and actually try to integrate stuff? Okay, well, wait a sec, like this has to be a lot deeper and a lot smarter. And I mean, if I update the phone number in big time, and I update the fax number, or cell phone, and you know NetSuite? Can I integrate those two? Or do I have to choose one or the other, right? So that simple idea is what we call deep integrations. And we only do probably half a dozen of those, a couple of accounting packages. Salesforce is important, we do a fairly deep integration with slack for workflow and notifications. But that’s kind of where we, we tend to focus those those specifics. And then we have an API to deal with a lot of the other stuff. Business intelligence is big, too. So we push all this in front, because it’s cloud based, right? So. So BI tools are used to having a database wherever it is, where it’s hosted, that they can pull from. So if you use Microsoft bi, or you use Looker, any of those, you kind of need something a big repository in which all this data pushes. And so we support a couple of those repositories so that people can get their own bi.

Alexander Ferguson 8:57
I appreciate your perspective on you know, API just being a checkbox, but actually, are they are they useful? Obviously, as you’ve grown over the years, you’ve you’ve faced different learning curves or things you’ve experienced like that. Tell me what’s one difficulty that you had to go through that you were able to learn something from the others can learn from your experience?

Brian Saunders 9:15
Yeah, that’s a fair question. You know, so I would say, you know, one of the things that’s key, obviously, I have a, again, a Midwestern bias here, right? My bias is figure out the value chase the value, you’ll figure out the tech right. And the reason I say that is because it’s a hell of a lot easier to have a bottom line and talk about financing than it is to like basically be talking theoretically about what the bottom line might be eventually. So So you know, Chase value is my my first advice, but then as you start to think about investors, their personalities and their approach to how they help you and mentor you is way more important than their cash, especially in today’s market. That might change in a year or two, but in today’s market, who they are and the value they bring provide sitting in a chair across the room is way more important than the check they

Alexander Ferguson 10:03
got. That is a powerful point of the board member and the I love that they already gave you value before they went on with them.

Brian Saunders 10:14
And think about its personality too. Like I get some, some people need to have their butts kicked, like I need somebody to push me some people, hey, you know, I’d like you to point stuff out. But But I want you to help me some people need personnel. It’s a personality thing. And so every investor has an entrepreneur out there whose personality meshes with theirs. And it’s much their responsibility is ours to figure out what fits right, like good solid, ethical investors will look at entrepreneur and say, you know, he and I are going to clash or she and I are going to clash, it’s not going to work. So I’m either going to get another partner involved, or, you know, I’m going to take a pass on the investment. But unfortunately, you just have to own that yourself. Because at the end of the day, it’s your company.

Alexander Ferguson 10:59
So five years from now, where do you see your company?

Brian Saunders 11:04
Yeah, it’s a fair question. You know, we, I want to get deeper into these organizations, there’s so much more workflow outside of just tracking the back office that we can facilitate. So we will for sure grow, we’ll probably do some international work, we’re working on that. Now. Kind of the English speaking, the problems that we deal with aren’t strictly, you know, kind of US and Canadian, they’re all over the world. As we move up market, we have organizations that are, you know, not just hundreds but 1000s of users, and they have offices all over the world. So I think we need to be able to approach that geographically, which has some technology challenges, but then beyond that, there’s a whole series of workflows that extend from what we’re doing today. And the more we can facilitate that, I think the better off we’ll be, we’ll make the community, right. So even something as simple as you’re an architect, and you need it services help, and why can’t you come to the community that understand how to deal with that? Or, you know, how does one architecture firm with a ton of say, you know, CAD resources, leverage those resources where other firms might need them for just a few weeks, right? So how can we help our clients help each other? I like

Alexander Ferguson 12:09
division of growth of global scaling. And now I have to look into other languages and interactions, but also the community growth, figuring out how can I rate the different partnerships and collaboration and improving on your product. And now with this rounding funded funding round that you you have the means to be able to pour growth? You have to provide the direction of clarity with where you going? And the vision? Yeah, you got it. Exactly. Any thoughts on overall of then, future, you kind of touched on a lot of these difficulties to scale a business, both your own or even other entrepreneurs have what it takes to scale and the difficulties that you mentioned, you’re going to have to face?

Brian Saunders 12:47
Yeah, so So and a lot of that, like I said, you need partners that help you go through it, like, you know, I’m, again, I’m an old man, so so I don’t have much ego left, right. So somebody can help awesome come in and help. That’s what we’re looking for. But ultimately, as the company grows, you know, there’s some core values there about, you know, what we think about our customers, how we treat each other, you know, the types of people that we want to cultivate, and nurture. And helping to instill those values, while scaling up is really tough, right. And so a lot of scale is process. And a lot of that kind of growth, round funding involves bringing in some horses that are just really good at the things that we used to skate by doing right. And the hard part is making sure that all those really powerful, high powered people are knitted together with a set of values that mean, you know, 510 years from now we build the company that will all be proud of, right. And so you know, their job is to drive sales, like good, Hey, your job is to drive growth of the company, so that we’re all proud of it, I’m going to look up into yours, and we, you better have given me enough direction that we’re built, the company we’re building is the will be intended to build because my job is to drive sales, right? So. So that type of thing where you get these guys moving at a million miles an hour, and you’re still trying to keep them, you know, herded somewhat into a set of values that you’ll be proud of is, is is a real challenge.

Alexander Ferguson 14:07
For you personally, how are you innovating? Where are you looking for? Where are you looking to get your new insight from?

Brian Saunders 14:14
You know, it’s funny, because everybody talks about innovation or, you know, creativity as like a thing that you study or that you you know, it’s an effort and I think it’s all about exposure. So, you know, I tend to get out of the office a ton, I tend to go to conferences that have nothing to do with with you know, enterprise software just so that I can hear what other people are saying you know, it’s sitting in the audience is just some no name guy at disrupt and listening to people talk about, you know, AI and what they’re doing in the in the healthcare field, et cetera. You know, I come right back with people I need to talk to and and, you know, potential for change that just, you know, is sparked on the side, right. So a lot of creativity is just being exposed to a lot of ideas. And so that’s that’s kind of where I draw my inspiration from it. You know, I, you one of the things that you’ve talked about before you know things that you read things that you pay attention to blogs that you’re on. And for me a lot of that is get outside of tech and understand how things work.

Alexander Ferguson 15:11
If are any books that you’ve been reading lately or audio books or podcasts, anything come to your mind that someone else

Brian Saunders 15:17
Okay, so first off, everybody has to listen to Malcolm Gladwell revisionist history, like that’s a must. That’s an absolutely must. If you’re talking about podcasts, that’s a must. It’s phenomenally creative. And he also has this great. Yeah, he’s he grew up as a reporter. So he knows this, you know, he can do a gotcha interview just as well as anybody else in the market, right? Like, don’t let him fool you. But he’s also got these insights that are driven kind of outside of the norm. And so his approach to questions which is often kind of looking at it from the side is is just really interesting to listen to

Alexander Ferguson 15:51
love it. Well, thank you so much, Brian, for joining us. Where can people go to learn more anything you’d direct them to as

Brian Saunders 15:58
listen big time dotnet feel free to email me if you have questions. I’m on LinkedIn. So that’s a great way to get a hold of me and and hopefully we’ll get a chance to help all those companies out there grow.

Alexander Ferguson 16:09
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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