Going with the Flo: A Chat with FloQast CEO Mike Whitmire
Mike Whitmire wasn’t even a decade out from graduating with an accounting degree when he co-founded FloQast, a software company created by accountants for accountants in 2013. Mike shares how he became CEO of a startup, how he keeps blazing his own path, and why he wanted to make a web series for accountants.
Season 3, Episode 11: Going with the Flo: A Chat with FloQast CEO Mike Whitmire | Transcript
Steve Soter: Hello, and welcome to Off the Books, where we surf the uncharted waters of accounting, finance, risk, and wherever else the waves take us. This episode is brought to you by Workiva, the risk, reporting, and compliance platform that simplifies your complex work and your beach-ready ab routine. Check it out at workiva.com/podcast. My name is Steve Soter, accounting enthusiast and Diet Coke aficionado. I'm looking forward to debiting a great conversation and happy to have you with us. I'm also happy to have Catherine Tsai joining me. Catherine, can you please tell the fine folks who you are?
Catherine Tsai: I'm not an accountant or Diet Coke aficionado, but I like asking questions, learning new things, and writing about them later. So I'm here to learn.
Steve: Well, thank you. Catherine, what's on the docket for today?
Catherine: You say that like you don't know. Well, Steve, today we've got Mike Whitmire, who is the CEO of FloQast, which provides software that automates accounting workflows. Mike actually began his career as an auditor and worked in accounting and saw a better way to work, which led him to co-found FloQast. Are you familiar with FloQast, Steve?
Steve: You say that like you don't know, Catherine. Yes. Both Mike and I spent time in public accounting. We both spent time at Cornerstone OnDemand. I'm actually a former FloQast customer myself and was skiing with a guy from FloQast when I tore my ACL two years ago. Plus, I'll admit it, I sometimes wear FloQast socks to church, so I realize I sound like a FloQast stalker. But I think as our listeners will hear, there are plenty of reasons to stalk the company.
Catherine: Steve is obviously crushing on FloQast. Let's hope he doesn't embarrass us as we get to our convo with Mike.
Steve: So, Mike, welcome to the podcast. I need to say up front, your team at FloQast is awesome to work with. You are no exception. So thank you very much for joining us.
Mike Whitmire: Oh, well, thank you for that.
Steve: Yeah, yeah. No problem. If you could tell us about your early career, what led you to start a software company? And maybe for our audience who might not be familiar with FloQast, few that that might be, maybe you could tell us a little bit about what the software does and how it helps accountants.
Mike: Yeah, happy to do so. So just for high level context today, I'm an entrepreneur, founder of FloQast, and so, journey here is a little bit weird because I started my career in accounting. So a very classic, very traditional career path through accounting, obviously majored in it, went to EY, worked at EY for about four years, got my CPA license, and then left there and joined industry and went to a pre-IPO software startup by the name of Cornerstone OnDemand. So I was the fifth or sixth person hired into the accounting department there. When I joined, we had about 100 employees, and we were getting ready to go public. And so it was a disaster when I joined. It was like no close process in place. We were going through our first audit. We were in the middle of implementing NetSuite, transitioning systems. New rev rec guidance had just come out, and then it's like, Hey, we're going to go public, let's draft an S-1, let's get all this stuff done. And it was just a complete headache and nightmare. And I can't believe we got through the whole thing, but we did.
And then over the course of the next few years, I ended up there a total of three years. And it was sort of like going public the first year, second year was getting SOX compliant, optimizing our close, making sure we could report effectively while scaling. And then year three was really focused on scaling and operations and how do we become more efficient as an organization. And so my experience at Cornerstone was incredibly valuable. Being in the trenches, actually doing the work, I was just a senior accountant. I wasn't like the controller or anything. I was someone in the, like I said, in the trenches. So I learned a lot about the problems that we had at that level and a lot of the annoyances and the one that really, really stuck out to me was the tie out and reconciliation process as it related to the month end close. Insanely frustrating. I could not believe how inefficient it was. It was status update meetings. It was tie-out binders and all this crazy stuff. And I was just like, Why are we, you know, the very classic "Why are we doing it this way? This makes no sense."
And my inspiration for leaving was really I was the revenue guy. So I use Salesforce a lot. So I was constantly logging into Salesforce, looking at opportunities and closed/won, things like that. And I realized like, Hey, Salesforce is for a sales executive. It helps them manage their team, keep them on track. Do we know if we're going to hit our number or not? And accounting is kind of similar. I know it sounds weird, but you have a lot of people who are working on a team but are siloed off because they have their own things that they need to get done. However, we have a company goal, right? The goal in accounting is not hitting a revenue target, it's hitting a deadline. And for us in accounting, deadlines are non-negotiable, right? You're a public company, you're reporting, you have all these deadlines you have to hit. And so it struck me as very similar, except just different goals in mind. And so I said, Hey, why isn't there something like a Salesforce for controllers, for CFOs to manage their accounting department and really make sure everything's on track and looked around and didn't find anything, didn't find anything I liked.
And so I left in 2012, and that was when we started working on FloQast. And now fast forward to today, so we help with the month end close process. We have about 450 or so employees. We've raised about $200 million in VC funding to date and have 1,500 companies closing their books on FloQast and doing more operational work as well. And it's been just a lot of fun building our software and selling it to the market and helping teams close their books faster, more accurately. And then the very fun development is now FloQast is actually being used for a lot of things outside of the close process. We've seen that usage expand naturally to take on more of the operational workflows that are living under the office of the CFO. So stuff like tax, compliance, payroll, commission preparation. There are all these little random workflows that accounting has to deal with as well. And we've been supporting those through the buildout of FloQast. So as it stands today, we're now an accounting operations platform, helping just drive excellence under the office of the CFO.
Steve: That's awesome. It's interesting how spheres intersect. I'm actually a former FloQast customer when I was in practice and actually used to work for Cornerstone OnDemand, so we've kind of got two —
Mike: There you go. And I'm very proud Cornerstone is now a client, and I am a former Workiva auditor. I audited several clients that had Workiva in place.
Steve: Oh my goodness, look at that.
Catherine: It's like two degrees of separation there.
Mike: Yep, totally.
Catherine: Well, you make it sound so easy when you left to go start FloQast. But how did you make the leap to doing that?
Mike: Um, well, OK. So yeah, it was certainly not easy. I've always been entrepreneurial. I know I've always wanted to start my own company, and then it was just through my exposure to Cornerstone. I'm looking at the SaaS business model, and that was my introduction to software as a service was Cornerstone, and I was like, Whoa, this business model is amazing, for starters. And then I happened to identify a problem that I had. And then what really gave me the confidence to leave was the last project I had at Cornerstone was we acquired a small company in New Zealand, and the company we acquired was a couple million bucks in recurring revenue. And they basically bought the company and they're like, Hey, Mike, we need you to go and audit this business, restate the financials into GAAP because they're on New Zealand, whatever. Make it into U.S. GAAP compliant. Upload all the opening balance sheet and then get the close in place, get the operations up and running and, you know, transition everything to NetSuite. And that was an amazing project for me. It was really a blank slate. I got to just approach it from how I thought was the best perspective, and they signed a three-year contract.
So what that meant is I was going back in time, and the company was only two and a half years old. So I was auditing every single transaction from the beginning of the company. And so by restating their books, I got to see almost every move that they made every quarter. You know, here's where they hired engineers. Here's when they hired a design person. Here's how they closed their first 30 deals. Here's when they hired a salesperson. Here's how they supported those customers. And so from the numbers, I got to see how a SaaS company was started and built, and it was like I was looking at the blueprint for how to do this. And so I'm like, OK, I have the idea. I understand the business model. I've seen how it's done. I have a good sense of how you can actually do this. And then it was just having the confidence that I might as well go. I'm going to quit. I'm going to give it a shot. I got three or four months to go figure it out, and if that doesn't work, then you're gonna have to go back to accounting and do that again. And that's quite the motivating factor to make some stuff happen. And, you know, reality of accounting, pretty easy to find another job if you need one. So I figured it was a low risk, high reward decision, which I'm very happy I made that decision.
Catherine: Was it on your roadmap to be a CEO of a company before you started FloQast?
Mike: No. So my thinking was always if I stayed the traditional career path, I'd probably get to a CFO one day. That was sort of where my head was at. And then in founding a company, you know, that's how it goes.
Steve: Well, let's talk about the CEO role just a little bit because I think all of us, myself included, well, maybe not you, because you are a CEO, but the CEO just sort of has this almost like hallowed kind of halo around it, right? Like, everything they say is of course gospel truth, they sign off our paychecks so naturally, there'll be some deference. But FloQast has clearly been a success. And now, Mike, you find yourself with the CEO title of a successful growing software company. I mean, what is that even like? Do you think it's different because you're the CEO of a company that you founded? So maybe your role as a CEO might be different from somebody who came in after the fact? I mean, just like talk us through that just a little bit. We don't talk to many CEOs on Off the Books, to be honest with you.
Mike: It's been very odd for me. Like I said, I was a senior accountant when I started the company, right? So I wasn't some VP of finance who was used to running organizations. It was new to me. So I very much just tried to start a company and run a culture and treat our people the way that I would have wanted to have been treated when I was a senior accountant. Which kind of means you do things a little bit differently when you really care and think about the people who are individual contributors at the company. I think that's very helpful in starting the business because the general trend is we need to figure something out. I've never done marketing before. I have to figure out marketing, so we do a little bit, we get it up and running, learn enough to be dangerous, and then you hire someone to actually take that function over and go run from there. But by having to figure basically everything out up front, you get to learn a little bit about every single department.
And then as you scale as a company and you hire more people, as long as you hire good people and you want to learn from them, you can learn so much more about every way that a company runs. Like our new CMO, I have learned so much from him about how to run a marketing department, and it's been really beneficial. But with the CEO title, what I found is, very early on, since I was in the trenches with a lot of our employees like, you know, getting stuff done and trying to make it work, there's a relationship there where they're very comfortable speaking to me candidly. There's not that inherent level of respect that you might think for a CEO. Like, if I'm doing something stupid, our early people have no problem telling me that and calling me out on it. And I love that. Like that is my favorite thing. And then as you get bigger, the reality is the CEO title in and of itself is intimidating for a lot of people, so they might not want to question the CEO. They're just going to do whatever I say. And that's been tough for me because I do have a big mouth. I run my mouth. I'll say things that are maybe half baked ideas and people will just run with them. So I've really been trying to check myself and not run my mouth as much as I used to, because I'm now recognizing that if I throw out an idea that I had last night, it might not be the best idea, and people might run with it. And so I need to be very, very careful about what I actually say to anybody at the company!
So yeah, it's weird for me because it's not—and every CEO is different. Everyone does different stuff. I'm very in the weeds. As a founder, you want to know a lot of what's going on, and you're very much focused on product and market fit and the customer. And that's sort of your angle. I don't mean to slam on external CEOs, right? But when you bring in a professional CEO, a non-founder CEO, it's going to be like a banker background or an MBA. And they're coming in and they want to drive profitability. It's not about vision and everything. It's about like quarter to quarter earnings and how do you run a shop? And so it's very different. And being a founder, I'm in a unique position where I have a lot of power in the relationship with my board and my investors because there's a much lower probability of me being fired. Professional CEOs, it's like, if you're not delivering, let's turn it over. I'm allowed to be a little more brash and make bolder decisions and moves. And the board is going to be more supportive of that because we've already done many — I've already said we're going to do many crazy things. We've done it. So I have a bit more of their trust of like, Hey, here's this other crazy idea I have. For example, FloQast Studios, which I think we're going to touch on a little bit later. That's something a professional CEO never, ever would have done that. That has to come from a founder, and it particularly has to come from a founder to be good. So it's a very unique role. No two CEOs are the same. I'll even say that because I asked our investors if I could shadow all of their CEOs and see how they operate. And they're like, No, they're all different, and you do your own thing. The way this one operates is not how you should operate, and we think you're doing a good job and you're good at your strengths and you hire for your weaknesses and keep doing your thing. And so everyone's different. There's not, there's really no job description for a CEO. It's kind of wild.
Steve: Mike, so if you carry it out as far into the future as you can, and FloQast has, I don't know, 20,000 employees and billions and billions. I mean, is there an inflection point where you say, you know what? Maybe I can't be thinking about this as a founder anymore because this thing has now grown to such a scale that maybe that's a different skill set. Not to say that you couldn't do it because you clearly seem like a super capable professional at this point. But I'm just wondering, is there an inflection point where maybe what you're talking about, being in the weeds or whatever, doesn't play out or doesn't help in order to continue on that trajectory that theoretically FloQast could be at some point in the future?
Mike: So I don't know if it's company size as much as whether you're private or public. It's who's holding you accountable, because when you're a public company, quarterly earnings, what have you done for me lately? That's how you have to think. That's really hard. I mean, you have to be a Google level company to be able to tell people, I'm investing in the future. Don't worry. And even they hit every freaking quarter and are investing in the future at the same time, right? So it changes because you have investors who you don't know. They can sell the stock based on something they don't like on an earnings call. Whereas my current investors are not going to sell their stock because I'm going to try something that they don't like, right? So just very different dynamic. And it's not company size. Like I'll even say, Koch Industries is still owned by the Koch brothers, one of the biggest private companies in the world, and they make bold decisions that public investors would not be on board with. And they can do that because they still own the company and can do what's right for the business in the long run. Whereas being public forces you to think a little bit more short term.
Catherine: Do you think FloQast would ever go public?
Mike: Oh yeah, totally. I want to build a public company. I know. I say all of that. But then my goal is to ring the bell, and like, I view it as, I'm a big baseball fan. To me, that's like making the major leagues. It's like I'm grinding through the minors right now. I feel like we're in Double-A. We're ready to make stuff happen, and I'm hoping to ring the bell and go public one year. And that's my version of making it to the major leagues.
Steve: It's awesome. Awesome.
Catherine: Well, you mentioned FloQast Studios. Should we talk about it?
Mike: Yeah, I would love to. So this is a passion project of mine that I think is really important for the industry as well. So we launched a studio. We carved out a separate arm within FloQast, and we funded it. And the goal of FloQast Studios is to educate and entertain accountants. And it's a group that's created by accountants for accountants. So the group reports directly to me. I'm heavily involved in a lot of the content ideation, the development of that. And then we have a really great team that goes and can execute on that and make stuff happen. And so we announced the studio I want to say six months ago, and then our first project was like a big project. We wanted to come out with a splash. And so we released a comedy series called PBC. PBC stands for prepared by client for those who have not been in the space. And it's just a very, you know, very specific accounting term that is like the point of contention for the audit and accounting relationship. So very inside baseball joke around that. We titled the series that, and we went out and we wrote this story around an auditor transitioning into private accountant. She joins a pre-IPO SaaS company. They scale. She learns all about the antics that go on inside of an industry department and very much follows my career trajectory, just from the lens of a slightly different person.
And so the idea was to tell the story of an accounting department, try to get out in the world what accountants actually do right? If you tell someone you do accounting, they're going to be like, Oh, can you help with my tax returns? And most of us don't do taxes. And so I wanted to highlight there actually, there are accountants who work inside of companies. They do these things called closing the books. They help issue financial statements. They pay payroll. They do a lot more than taxes. In fact, they don't do any taxes. And then there's also this audit world where you have this team once a year, they come on site. Their job is to beat up all the work that you've done and effectively grade your quality of accounting department. And it's a relationship and a dynamic that's super interesting. It's this weird tension, but friendly and all at the same time. So we wanted to highlight that in a style sort of similar to like The Office or Silicon Valley. And I'm very happy with how it played out. Seems to be getting really, really positive reviews. And so that's released on YouTube. FloQast Studios is the account that it's under and show's just called PBC and would recommend you check it out.
Steve: I would second the recommendation. I mean, the production quality, the humor. I mean, I've checked out—in fact, when it first hit, I actually sent it to a bunch of people, just like did you see FloQast—like you will not believe what you guys are doing.
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Steve: And now back to our conversation with Mike Whitmire, co-founder and CEO of FloQast. Well, Mike, let me ask this question, and I'm sort of like tying a few things together here. It's probably going to be a long-winded question. I apologize. And it might offend some of our audience, but I've always had a theory that in general, there's just certain types of personalities that are attracted to certain careers. Like maybe this is just me, but I swear every dentist I know is exactly the same. The offices smell the same. They act the same, whatever. That's probably a little bit unfair, but it seems like at a very high level, you could say that with other careers. Real estate, accountants, attorneys, whatever. And let's go back to accountants. It's almost like FloQast has kind of captured this like cultural personality phenomenon, the sort of OCD maybe socially awkward in some cases. I mean, that seems really, really intentional. And so do you tie back FloQast Studios, and I know you said it's meant to educate and entertain, but I've got to believe there's some commercialization thought here. Does that circle back to just the notion that, Hey FloQast really understands this audience, and now we're kind of proving it, not just through our software, but through some of the other kind of branding and FloQast Studios, for example. I mean, should I not tie those two things together?
Mike: No, it's totally true. I mean, the fact that we are — that I'm an accountant, my co-founder's an accountant, 40 percent of our company has a background in accounting. I hire accountants everywhere. We love giving them a new shot to try a new job, and having that domain expertise in-house is incredibly important. So what I've found and really the point of — a big part of me wanting to do this is there's a traditional way to market in the B2B world, right? You put together white papers, case studies, webinars, best practices, blah blah blah, all that stuff. But I was an accountant. In my years in audit, I met dozens and dozens of accountants through my different engagements, and then in my time, at FloQast, been to a lot of conferences, hit the circuit a lot over the year. I think I've spoken at Intact's conference six times at this point, and so I've gotten to meet literally thousands of accountants over the years. And what I've learned, the conclusion that I've made is it is very fair to stereotype accountants professionally. Very, very fair. We got to be OCD. Things have to be accurate, you know, we have to work efficiently, we're under-resourced, and you're very methodical about stuff. So that's fair professionally. But when you get outside of that, accountants are people too. They're just people. There are cool ones, there are nerdy ones. There are loud ones, there are quiet ones, there are organized ones. There are mis- organized ones. I'm horrible at my own finances. I prioritize FloQast above everything else, and it's like I might forget to pay a bill. And so I'm a mess with my personal finances.
But FloQast and our clients are great at it, right? So there's a personal side and then the professional side. And what I saw on the conference circuit was a lot more of the personal side of people. And I started to come to the conclusion that accountants are a lot less lame than people believe they are. That's driven by a stereotype. That's a stereotype that's put out there through entertainment within our society. That is created by shows like The Office, right? By having the accountants be the lame people in the back who are nerds like, they're the ones who kind of create that stereotype. And so I wanted to reflect how accountants actually are based on my experience. And I find it really funny because some people watch the show and you'll see comments like, Oh, nobody's like that in accounting. Actually, I worked with that person. They were based on a person I actually worked with. So no, you're wrong. And it's nice because it is starting to break down the stereotypes a little bit of what accountants might be like outside of work. And then the reality is in terms of getting the FloQast name out there, the benefits for us is we like to hire accountants, as I just mentioned. So this is a good recruiting tool for us to get FloQast on the radar of people. Here's our brand a little bit. We're more lighthearted, don't take ourselves as seriously. We get the industry really well. And so that helps recruit people. And then obviously awareness for new clients and then more brand affiliation with our current clients who like what we're doing and enjoy working with a company who produces this type of content.
Steve: It's the redemption of Oscar, Angela, and Kevin from Dunder Mifflin, right?
Mike: It's yeah. Yeah. And those are famous characters, which kind of bums me out because they've created a lot of the stereotype of accountants.
Catherine: You should have a walk on or a guest appearance. Steve or Mike.
Mike: We had other characters from The Office on the show. So Meredith is our CFO, and Creed is randomly the manager of a taco shop. So yeah, we do have some Office characters on there. We chatted with Kevin's agent. It did not work out. I will tell you, I'm not a fan!
Steve: That's interesting. That is interesting.
Mike: The other thing is we're in L.A., right? So we have access to all of these people, like we film the show at our office, right? So we could do these things in a fairly affordable way since we are in Los Angeles and have access to talent.
Catherine: Can Steve and I be walk ons like just in the background? We'll be making copies or something.
Mike: If you want to. I'm not gonna pay for you to fly to L.A., but yeah, perhaps.
Catherine: I'm going to make my way on the show.
Steve: If we show up on studio one day.
Mike: Yep. We'll have a lot of fun things in the future coming out of that as well. In addition to the show. But yeah, overall idea, educate, entertain and try to change the stereotype a little bit.
Steve: Well, it's awesome. In the vein of entertaining people, Mike, as we get ready to wrap up the podcast, we are going to try to entertain with this somewhat silly closing question of the day. We've been asking a lot lately about career changes that people would make, and I feel like you would be a perfect candidate to ask that question to. But I'm not because we've done a ton. So now the question is, if you were to pursue the perfect sandwich, what would it be and why?
Mike: Like, pursue the perfect sandwich or what's my favorite sandwich?
Steve: You know what, if pursuing is driving to your favorite sandwich shop and buying it, great, or if it's putting something together in your kitchen, fine. What is that sandwich going to be?
Mike: I'm going to tell you my favorite sandwich, and it relates to FloQast because my co-founder is Chris Sluty. He and I majored in accounting together at Syracuse, so I've known him ever since the college days. And in college, we used to have a late night sandwich order called the Artemis from a restaurant called Dorian's and just on an Italian sub with fried chicken cutlet with ham on it. Russian dressing, lettuce. It was just so. And, you know, maybe I was just drunk, but I don't know. At the time it was so good. It's like my favorite, and it has that nostalgia factor going back to college. We loved it. We ate it all the time. So the Artemis, I'm going to say is just my favorite sandwich of all time. And it's literally, maybe not even the taste of the sandwich, but the whole experience around it. And then if I'm going to make my own sandwich, let's see. I'm a big BLT fan. Like, I like the, you know, a club sandwich or a BLT. That's kind of my jam. So I would just say, Yeah, on sourdough bread. Give me some really good — I don't like my bacon too crispy, a little crispy, a little chewy, quality lettuce on there. Mustard, mayo, just like give me the classic BLT is a favorite sandwich of mine as well.
Steve: That is awesome. And FloQast has clearly grown because Chris actually used to be my contact person when I was a customer. I'm assuming he's not taking a lot of customer calls now.
Mike: Yeah. Chris was our old head of customer success. He's moved on too. He now oversees products, so he's our chief product officer. But yeah, that's a great example of all hands on deck when you're starting the company. Chris was probably replying to support tickets. You know, he and I did the first certain number of set ups on our own. And so, yeah, it's how it goes. And in some regards, those are the fun days.
Steve: Awesome. Catherine, how about you?
Catherine: There is this deli in Denver that has since close called Masterpiece Deli, and they had this sandwich. Was toasted. It had smoked turkey, arugula, cranberry sauce, brie and oh. Pear slices.
Mike: I love brie and pear. That's a very L.A. sandwich, I will say.
Catherine: Steve, what's your sandwich?
Steve: There is a local sandwich shop in Provo, Utah, and it's called Sensuous Sandwich, and the sensuous sandwich that they sell, it's got turkey, ham. And then it's pretty basic. Mayo, mustard, lettuce, whatever. But the bread, it's soft. It's sweet. Oh, it just makes a sandwich. So that would be top on my list.
Mike: The bread is so key.
Steve: It really is right. It really is. I give my wife crap because she complains about the buns for burger joints, and the bread doesn't matter. But then I think about a sandwich, like, it's all about the bread. Well, that wraps up our conversation with Mike Whitmire, co-founder and CEO of FloQast How did it go, Catherine?
Catherine: You were totally fanboy-ing on FloQast and hating on real estate agents and attorneys. What's with you?
Steve: Wait, what? We're going to do this right now? Look, who doesn't want to be like FloQast? Was I a little unfair to realtors and lawyers? Maybe. But I'm pretty sure our listeners followed and at least somewhat agreed with my point. And I'll just say, if there's a company that can make socks that fit me better than FloQast's, I'd be all over that. The door is wide open. I mean, to be honest, not even my Workiva socks fit that well. Maybe it's just luck. I don't know.
Catherine: Well, your luck's going to run out if we don't wrap up this episode. Big thanks to Mike Whitmire for joining us today. And big thanks to you, dear listener, for surfing along with us. I'm Catherine Tsai. That was Steve Soter, and this has been Off the Books presented by Workiva. Please subscribe. Leave a podcast review, tell your buddies if you liked the show, and feel free to drop us a line at email@example.com. Surf's up, and we'll see you on the next wave.