Unless you’re an accountant, you’ve probably never heard of BlackLine. The US-based accounting software business is one of those IT success stories that flies under the radar because it’s not in a very glamorous industry. It hasn’t attracted the hype of Uber or Snapchat, which is a shame because the story of its founder, Therese Tucker, certainly deserves attention.
BlackLine’s cloud-based software as a service (SAAS) is a backend solution that automates and reconciles financials for accountants. BlackLine is recognised as the pioneering company in the enhanced financial controls & automation software category. It has almost 2,000 clients using its software and counts Coca-Cola, eBay and United Airlines among its biggest clients. Its October 2016 initial public offering (IPO) saw the company raise $146 million and achieve a valuation of just over the magical billion-dollar mark. Tucker’s share in the company after the IPO stands at about $150 million.
As the founder and chief executive of BlackLine, Tucker’s story is an inspiration, especially for female entrepreneurs. Recently divorced and the mother of two small children, she founded the company in 2001 when she was in her late thirties. Since then Blackline has become one of the big success stories of accounting software and an innovator in its field.
Before starting BlackLine, Tucker worked as a computer programmer and developer for software company SunGard before becoming its chief technology officer. She had been bitten by the computer bug in university and loved the challenge and creativity of programming, as she told the Financial Times.
“Once you get bitten by this idea that you can build something out of nothing, that is just this addictive idea,” she said.
But working for someone else wasn’t cutting it for her. She wanted to pursue her own vision.
Unperturbed by being a female tech founder and having to bootstrap her fledgling company, Tucker went through the twists, turns and pivots that often accompany the creation of a great company. Her experience would be familiar to many entrepreneurs toiling away in obscurity and surviving on the smell of an oily rag.
“I wouldn’t sleep for three to four days before payroll [was due] because I would be so terrified I wouldn’t be able to pay the employees . . . many times I would end up calling one of my mentors and asking them to loan me $30,000. It is very humbling to have to beg from your friends,” she told the Financial Times.
Her idea for wealth management software gave way to an idea to close a gap she spotted in the nitty-gritty area of general ledger reconciliations. After that, BlackLine soon started its growth trajectory. Her decision to make BlackLine’s software available in the cloud on a subscription model in 2007 also panned out well, as big companies looking to scale back in the wake of the global financial crisis appreciated the cost savings gained from such an arrangement.
Along with the continued growth and success of BlackLine, Tucker has also been able to build a strong workplace culture that has been recognised with numerous awards, including being named by Fortune Magazine as one of the best SME workplaces in the US, and as the “best place to work in Los Angeles” for the fifth time running this year by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
At a time when the media’s focus is so often on the inequities and problems faced by women in business, especially in the tech field, it’s worth sharing and celebrating the stories of female entrepreneurs like Therese Tucker.