From college rock band to becoming an accountant

Accountant & Bookkeeper Stories

5 min read

Ever thought of becoming an accountant? Read about Michael Doan’s journey from a high school rock band to co-founding an accounting firm.

Michael Doan didn’t always have his sights set on becoming an accountant. His original love was music. He took drum lessons all through high school, and in college played in a rock band. His move into the world of accounting started as a backup plan to support his musical career. Now Michael is the co-founder of Basis 365 Accounting, an outsourced accounting agency based in Orange County, California.

Business and bookkeeping in a rock band

As a child Michael wanted to play drums in a rock band. But music wasn’t his only passion. “I’ve always been business minded,” recalls Michael, “and I’ve always been interested in business.” One of his favourite movies as a child was The Secret of My Success. In the film, Michael J. Fox plays a young man named Brantley Foster who poses as a Wall Street executive. The movie inspired in Michael a life-long fascination with business.

Michael was first introduced to accounting in high school. It was an intro to bookkeeping class that he remembers enjoying. Combined with his interest in business, he had discovered another possible future career. “I can’t remember ever wanting to be a police officer or fireman,” he says. “It was either going to be music, or I was going to be involved in business somehow.”

Throughout his school years, Michael experienced a tug-of-war between his love of music and his fascination with business and accounting. When he started college, Michael’s passion for music ultimately won out – he decided to major in music.

Changing paths at the crossroads

Along the way, Michael hit a crossroads. He loved playing the drums but it didn’t offer a clear future. He knew he either had to go all out with music or pick a career that would give him a more stable life – “I had a certain level of musical talent, but I went through a self-assessment and realised I didn’t have what it takes to fully pursue it,” Michael reflects. “You have to have that mindset where you tell yourself ‘do or die’ and I just didn’t.”

He decided he needed a backup plan. The practicality of a career in business appealed to him, as did the idea of becoming an accountant. Influenced by his bookkeeping experience in high school, he chose to switch his major to accounting. And he quickly found it was something he enjoyed.

“I started learning about public accountants, and how part of their job was going out to client sites. And how the clients changed every few weeks or months,” says Michael. “The idea of working with different companies was interesting to me, so I decided to get into public accounting.”

Michael Doan
Co-founder of Basis 365

Lives in 
Orange Country California, USA

Specialises in 
Technology startups

Before Basis 365 
CPA and controllership

Music, business, reading about recent tech developments

New technology solving old problems

Michael started his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orange County. In the early 2000s when the first tech boom happened he started doing controllership work for a number of start-ups. Michael soon discovered a new passion – technology.  

When the dotcom boom fizzled out Michael returned to public accounting. But he continued to keep up with technology. He read about new companies and innovations at night and thought about how these entrepreneurs could best monetise their ideas. “I find it endlessly fascinating to see the different business models people come up with to make money,” says Michael. “A lot of people will come up with a great and unique business model. But it’s often not so simple from an accounting perspective.”

Solving these problems for small businesses was Michael’s main reason for becoming an accountant. Together with longtime friend and former colleague Rhett Molitor, he started thinking about ways to help small businesses grow – Basis 365 was their answer.

Becoming an accountant to support startups

In 2012, Michael and Rhett started Basis 365. The two self-described tech geeks mainly served startups and web-based businesses. They wanted to help them stop worrying about finances and instead concentrate on growth – outsourced accounting was a good way to do this. “For the majority of owners who are starting a small business, the idea of wanting to do your own accounting is crazy,” Michael says.

“For the majority of owners who are starting a small business, the idea of wanting to do your own accounting is crazy.”

Michael and Rhett shared a wealth of accounting experience, and also understood how young tech companies operate. This helped them provide strong advice to emerging businesses. “When we started Basis 365, our primary focus was not to build a traditional CPA firm,” Michael says. “We wanted to take that traditional CPA model and flip it on its head.”

“I think the great thing about what we do at Basis 365, is we use accounting to help business owners accomplish their goals,” says Michael. “Accounting is a vehicle that helps them get there. It guides them on their decisions and helps them stay focused on what really matters.”

Growing pains of new technology

Despite his accounting and business experience, Michael admits starting his own firm hasn’t been easy. Trying to balance his own grasp of technology with that of his customers, for example, has proved an interesting challenge. Although he has embraced the benefits of technology, Michael is aware many of his customers aren’t quite as tech-savvy.

“With us being accountants and technology-minded, we could use any tool we want,” Michael says. “But we need to ask ‘is it a tool that’s easy for our customers to use and understand?’”

Every business is different, so Michael customises his service for each client to give them the insights and guidance they need. This presents another challenge, as some parts of the process need to be tweaked to scale successfully. “It’s been a game of continuous improvement. We’re honestly learning some of this stuff by trial and error,” he laughs.

Seeing businesses succeed is the reward

The team at Basis 365 uses their knowledge and experience to interpret accounting data. This equips them to help each client they deal with to make smart financial decisions. But for Michael, the appeal of becoming an accountant has always been seeing small businesses innovate and grow.

“It’s not always about the taxes or the technical accounting. If we’re going to help businesses, of course we need to be proficient in those things,” Michael says. “But what’s really exciting is helping business owners achieve their dreams.”