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Bootstrapper Q&A: FileThis CEO Brian Berson Discusses The Business Of Running Your Life


Minyang Jiang

The mantra for disruptive finance service FileThis is simple. The company believes running your life is like running a small business. This is designed to make running the business of running your life easier.

FileThis is flexible enough to work with individual consumers, professionals, and even companies that work with consumer documents as part of their business.

Brian Berson, CEO and co-founder of the company, talked about the inspiration for FileThis and the attraction the concept had for people like Guy Kawasaki, Norm Meyrowitz, and others.

Finally, he shared his dream that FileThis may eventually become the digital personal assistant for practically everything humans do on a daily basis.

IN.CREDIBLY: How did you become an entrepreneur?

BRIAN BERSON: I’ve always been entrepreneurial in spirit – either working for smaller companies or developing startups. I think that just comes from wanting to solve problems.

I think that’s where I feel like I excel. I’m always tinkering with stuff and finding solutions to problems that people are having.

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My first startup was a font management company. That came out of problems I saw because of the industry I was in. In general, people come up with ideas because of problems they see in their immediate area.

Given that, what was the inspiration for FileThis?

That came from a very personal experience. My mom developed early Alzheimer’s. My brother and I flew to Houston where she was living. We had to downsize the stuff from her house to an assisted living facility and that meant going through two giant filing cabinets containing 20 years’ worth of documents.

It involved making a lot of quick decisions – keep this, throw that away and so forth. It turned out we threw some important documents away. We literally spent something like 12 months trying to recreate those documents.

I sat there and thought, “Here we are in the 21st century and we’re still working with paper.”

If those two giant filing cabinets had been digitized, accessible and searchable, we wouldn’t have had to do what we were doing. That was the inspiration for FileThis.

Once the idea was born, what was the process of developing the original consumer product like?

Originally, I thought I would just scan documents. After four hours and about 20 or 30 documents, I said, “This is never going to work. We need to automate this.”

That was about the time I was following Mint, later sold to Intuit. I thought, “Wow, this is exactly what we could do.” Most of the documents we’re talking about – bank accounts, credit cards, bills, insurance and so forth are online with the businesses people interact with.

The problem is that nobody logs into all these 20 or 30 places all the time to get the documents, manually download them and organize them. In addition, they are not searchable.

What sets FileThis apart comes down to automation. Most other solutions require you to upload your documents. Can you imagine doing that with 4,000 documents? It’s not feasible.

We went the direction of aggregation, which allows you to link all your accounts to FileThis. We support over 500 of the largest institutions.

We’re not just finance-related. We’re not trying to compete with Mint. Running your life today is like running a small business. FileThis helps you run the business of running your life.

Although we’re not doing it yet, one day FileThis will be able to look at your data and compare it as an aggregate to other people in your neighborhood. It will be able to say you’re using 20% less power than your neighbors — that’s great – or you’re using 20% more, which is not so great.

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That covers the consumer side of FileThis. You also have a service for professionals, right?

Early on, we had a lot of interest from the accounting space. We were contacted by CPA.com, which is the technology arm of the AICPA. Their interest was the use of FileThis as a solution for the accounting industry as it moves away from the desktop environment into more of a cloud-based solution.

Accountants make most of their money during tax season between January and April. The problem is they actually do most of the work from the middle of March to the middle of April because they can’t get clients to give them the documents they need. They spend most of those two months just getting clients to “send the damn things.”

On the other hand, if they give FileThis to their clients, those documents automatically flow through the client back to a repository. They can automate the whole thing and the documents are coming in automatically in January.

This is what we call FileThis Pro Services, which is a client/server model. We sell it to the accounting firm directly and they give it to clients. As documents come in, they are shared back to the accounting firm.

We’ve been doing this part of the business for less than a year now and it’s getting a lot of interest.

Related article: Why “Tax Season” for Your Business Should Start Right Now

There’s also a relatively new Documents-as-a-Service (DaaS) side to the business. How did that come about?

It started with an interesting guy named Chris Johnson. Chris worked for Pitney Bowes and was involved in a small, almost incubated company within Pitney Bowes called Volly.

They were doing something in a space called digital mailbox through which they hoped to get various brands to let them digitize bills, statements and other documents and provide them to customers.

For various reasons the brands were not forthcoming with documents, so Chris asked about Volly forging a deal with FileThis to use our system for document retrieval. That eventually became our DaaS system.

Any business that requires consumer documents in order to do their work could use our DaaS system. This could include accounting platforms, like QuickBooks or Xero, or even mortgage lenders, which could benefit with something that speeds up and automates the process. It all looks very, very promising.

You’ve attracted interest from some heavy hitters in tech and finance. How did those connections develop?

I went to the very first Evernote developer conference in 2011, I think it was. Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Alltop.com and former Apple chief evangelist, presented at the conference. Guy was an adviser for Evernote.

We chatted and after some follow-up correspondence, Guy invited me down to Palo Alto. I showed him FileThis. He was jumping up and down and said, “You know what? This is the single biggest thing Evernote needs.” Eventually, I asked Guy if he would be an adviser and he said yes.

Norm Meyrowitz had been president of product for Macromedia for 10 years right up to the acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe. He was responsible for all the Macromedia product line.

Norm sent me an email right after we launched our beta version and said he’d been looking for something like this for a long time. He ended up investing in the company and becoming an adviser for us. Later Norm became a member of our board of directors.

John Wortman, owner and CEO of a mid-level wealth management firm in the Midwest, thought FileThis would be great for the wealth management industry. He contacted me and said, “We want to implement FileThis across our firm.”

Eventually John and a number of clients invested in FileThis in our very first seed round and then follow-on rounds. John is currently on our board of directors along with Norm. Actually, both John and Norm started out as advisers and then became board members.

You mentioned that Guy, Norm and John are or were advisers. What, exactly, does an adviser do?

Guy’s role and the role of all of our advisers is simply to make great suggestions. They help look at the product help direct us and introduce us to people who might be interested in what we are doing.

We view FileThis as a personal assistant for running the business of helping you manage your life. Our advisers help us stay focused on that vision.

What’s next in FileThis world?

Running your life isn’t just all about financial management. Managing digital health is something we would like to help with. Helping you stay on top of your utilities is another.

Having that knowledge brought to you is much easier than the work required to go dig it up. If FileThis could just provide that information to you without you having to think about it would be so helpful.

We’re at the crossroads of FinTech, productivity and lifestyle. It’s really about consumer intelligence. It’s about bringing all the parts of your life together to help you manage, as I said, the “business of your life.”