Jessica Mah, CEO of InDinero, discusses her career path and how flying a plane is similar to setting up a business.
Having finished high school at the age of 15, Jessica Mah went on to follow a fascinating career path. She attended Bard College at Simon’s Rock, an education institute for students who are ready to begin college early. She then studied computer science at UC Berkeley and graduated from the Y Combinator start-up incubator with InDinero.
Today, she’s the CEO of InDinero, the cloud-based accounting and tax software firm that she co-founded in 2009. She grew the company from her dorm room to a business with more than 250 employees, all while mentoring budding entrepreneurs and being a DJ.
What motivated her to set up InDinero was her own dislike for doing taxes when she wanted to focus on her entrepreneurial ventures.
“I hated accounting!” she says. “I knew I couldn’t be the only entrepreneur to loathe back-office work, so I decided to come up with a solution.”
That idea grew into what InDinero is today, offering businesses software along with access to a team of accounting experts led by a financial controller, which could act “as an extension” of a company. The platform has worked with businesses such as Slack, Stripe and GitHub.
But Mah always had an entrepreneurial side. “I dropped out of high school when I realised my side hustles were providing me with a higher income than my teachers’ salary,” she says. “Really, dropping out of school and growing as an entrepreneur got me to where I am now.”
The highs and lows of being a CEO
Mah says that a combination of things led her to setting up her own business. “I’m high energy, a problem solver and I just go after what I want.
“I had an idea for a product and service, and customers who wanted to buy it,” she adds.
But being a CEO hasn’t always been easy. One of her biggest challenges to date was having to lay off the majority of InDinero’s employees when the company’s business model needed to be transformed in its early stages.
“I had to revamp my idea of what InDinero was going to be,” she says. “But seeing the company grow into what it is now and working with an incredible team to grow it even further is definitely the most rewarding part.”
Another rewarding aspect, she says, is “the opportunity to meet and work with new people”.
“I’m constantly getting to work with and meet incredible entrepreneurs and professionals in different fields.”
Being a pilot and a business leader
Beyond Mah’s work as an entrepreneur and CEO, she also flies airplanes. But what made her interested in getting a pilot’s licence?
“It’s freaking awesome and fun!” she says. “It also gives me tons of freedom to do whatever I want, when I want, on my own timeline. I’m incredibly mobile and have even been able to fly during the pandemic because of it.”
Mah adds that leading a business and flying a plane have many things in common.
“When you’re flying a plane, you’re really just executing a plan,” she explains. “Most of the skill involved in piloting is being able to make a plan in advance and think about what you’re going to do up in the air, while you’re still on the ground. Then executing that plan.
“This parallels running a company because it’s all planning and executing those plans. I typically spend the first hour or two of my day planning, and the rest of the day executing those plans.”
To those hoping to someday become an entrepreneur or business owner, Mah shares some advice. “Start trying to sell your product or service as soon as possible.
“Talk to people about your idea and get feedback. When you know you have people willing to spend money on your product or service, that’s when you know you’re in business.