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Finding comfort and accounting skills at Haskayne after tragedy

Alumna Rhondalynn Korolak develops award-winning app
By Caitlyn Spencer

Face it, many entrepreneurs don’t like data. If they did, they’d be accountants. For accountant Rhondalynn Korolak, BComm’89, LLB’92, this realization helped her Australian-based company create a new accounting app that speaks to entrepreneurs in a way they can relate to.

“I had been coaching for a few years and I realized that while cash flow was the most important facet of business success, it was also the area that most entrepreneurs deliberately avoided,” she says.

Korolak knew she had to find a way to communicate financial strategy to entrepreneurs who had little passion for accounting.“

My underlying premise is this: we cannot continue to try to sell our clients fruit when what they really crave is chocolate. To help them, we need to speak their language and feed information to them in a way they can digest and use to make their business more successful.”

So far her app, businest®, is getting a lot of attention. In October 2016, businest® beat competitors from around the world to be named a Top 10 finalist in Intuit QuickBooks’s $100,000 Small Business App Showdown in Silicon Valley. She was the only Australian finalist and the only tech team that’s 75 per cent female, compared to an industry average of just 12 per cent. One month later, businest® won Accountex’s “The Small Business App You Should Be Using” award.

“This small business accounting cloud revolution represents the biggest paradigm shift and disruption we are ever likely to witness in our lifetime. As BComm graduates we need to keep pace in order to stay relevant, and that means most of us will need to retrain ourselves and gain the skills necessary to create apps that solve real problems for business owners,” says Korolak.

The app, like many others, is focused on clients’ cash flow, but unlike the competition, it goes beyond diagnosing the problem. Businest® offers solutions and personalized business coaching, focusing on multimedia storytelling instead of overwhelming clients with accounting jargon.

Korolak started working on the app after writing her second book, Financial Foreplay, in which she walks readers through basic business terms in plain English. Her first book, On the Shoulders of Giants, was published in 2008 and was a bestseller that looked at 33 pieces of timeless advice. But it is not your average self-help book; On the Shoulders of Giants also details how she overcame her mother’s death in 1992.

Korolak was a student at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law when she learned her mother had been killed by her teenage brother and his friends. A year later, in 1993, Korolak returned to the Faculty of Management, as Haskayne was then known, to take the preliminary accounting courses in pursuit of her CA designation. She found that school was her safe place.

“The last thing that I did while I still believed that I was invincible, before the death of my mother, was excel at university. Going back gave me a renewed purpose and helped me get my life back on track. It reinforced the value of community and the sense of belonging and purpose I felt while studying. It also allowed me to reconnect with my love of learning and start to put the pieces of my life back together.

“Haskayne is the place where I effectively rebuilt my entire life again from the ground up. It gave me the focus and the foundation that I needed to start over, and it is where I connected with my love of numbers and my true purpose in life. The one thing that I can do better than anyone else in the world is take complex financial concepts and explain them in a way that is simple, fun, interesting and memorable. It’s sort of best described as edutainment — I engage the audience with stories they can relate to and that are memorable. Then, I slip the learning in.”

Through her app, books and coaching, Korolak has built a strong reputation as an expert financial communicator. Though Korolak was able to transition her extensive background in finance, law and accounting, she had to rethink how to approach her project when she transitioned into tech. While accounting relies on a systematic, thorough, formulaic approach, software development requires getting a product functional enough to start testing with clients, then optimizing the product as feedback comes in.The strategy is clearly paying of for Korolak and the businest® team — and their clients.

“Apps don’t fix problems. We do,” says Korolak. “As accountants we must aspire to be more than the numbers we crunch and the diagnostic dashboards we produce. Some may view our profession as boring or nerdy, but the truth is, when we do our jobs properly, we get to be superheroes. Our clients get to pay their mortgages, put food on the table, pay their bills on time, clothe their children, take vacations and provide for their families’ futures.”