Leah introduced us to Viki. She tries to knit on the weekends while managing her accounting business.
Describe who you were as a kid. I was born in Bosnia, and moved to Germany when I was 6. I spent the next 5 years living in Siegen. I spent a lot of time outside, running around with my friends, riding our bikes, climbing trees, playing soccer and other childish shenanigans. My family moved to Des Moines in 2001.
What do you remember about Des Moines in 2001? I remember it seemed a whole lot smaller back then. It's amazing to see how much we've expanded since then.
"I decided to jump into business ownership head first. It was petrifying at first."
Walk us through your journey to starting your own thing. Back in 2011 while I was going to college majoring in Psychology, I started working at the front desk of a local excavating company. At the time I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I found my love for accounting there and over the next few years I worked my way up the controller position. I was managing the books for several entities within the company.
Then one day it just kind of hit me that instead of working for just one employer managing several companies’ books, I might be able to go off and do this on my own for several companies. I started with getting a few clients on the side, and within a few months I knew I would have to make the decision to either leave my cushy fulltime job, or scale this side thing down. I decided to jump into business ownership head first. It was petrifying at first. I was very fortunate that I was in a great position with a great company so it took me a while to announce the decision. I had a great relationship with my former boss, and I was scared of tarnishing that. Fortunately, he was very understanding and supportive and actually became one of my first clients.
"Don't feel guilt or pressure to stay with what you thought you wanted to do."
For someone not knowing exactly what they want to do when they grow up, what would be your advice to them? Don't settle. Try all of the things that sound good and you'll find something that sticks. Don't feel guilt or pressure to stay with what you thought you wanted to do. It's never too late to change your mind.
Along the way, who and what helped you to keep pushing forward? First and foremost, my wonderful husband Matthew Stodden. He has always been the rational side to my emotional brain. When I had the idea to start my own thing, he was the first person I talked to. He was so supportive and encouraging from the minute I told him what I wanted to do. I knew that if he could see the dream then I could go for it. Because if there was any logical reason why this wasn’t a good idea, my brilliant husband would’ve gently and honestly expressed his concerns to me; however, he has believed in me and has been my biggest cheerleader from the start.
My best friend Ashley, she has been my main person in many different times through my life. We have called each other throughout the day just to bounce ideas or just to process a situation. We send each other motivational quotes and remind each other that “You’re a badass, and you got this!”
Additionally, my vision for what I want my company to grow into has also kept me pushing forward through the sticky times. There are a lot of accounting, bookkeeping and tax prep places in Des Moines, and most of them are great, but I want to be something different. I came into this thing with a background in construction, but as I get to know more business owners and sign on more clients I am really finding my niche in the local small, edgy businesses. I remember at a lunch meeting a few years ago someone said to me “You don’t look like any controller I have ever met.” She meant it in good way, and I was flattered. My job might not be glamorous, but the companies I work with are, and they are what makes me more than just a paper pusher or bean counter.
And of course, my amazing clients like Leah Ackerman and others for whom I get to become an extension of their venture and I get to stand in the background, keeping them on track and cheering them on from the sidelines as they go and build their own dreams. It’s such an amazing support system to have so many small local businesses working together and bettering one another.
Okay. Now you have to share one of your favorite motivational quotes. "Happiness is a mindset for your journey, not the result of your destination." Anything about happiness and breaking out of this winter rut that everyone seems to be in is especially appealing these days.
"So just hang on, give it a true solid effort."
Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them? Hang in there. For me it felt like I was playing pretend at first. I am not a natural born salesperson and the idea that I would have to go out and find clients and convince them that I am good enough for them to pay me, that was the scariest part of it all. That first Friday that I didn’t get a paycheck, the way I had every Friday since 2011, I was ready to call it quits and head back to my old job, but I am so happy I didn’t. So just hang on, give it a true solid effort.
As cliché as it may sound, you really only get back what you put in, it’s so true. Find a support person who will tell you the truth even when you may not want to hear it, but who will also remind you that you’re courageous and that you can do this. Get yourself a great accountant. Someone who you are comfortable with. You will be so grateful you do, and you’ll save so much time and money in the long run.
"Get yourself a great accountant. Someone who you are comfortable with."
Talk to us about one of your good days this past week. I had several client meetings early part of last week, and I felt like I was bouncing around from one thing to the next, and I really enjoy spending time with my clients. Especially this time of year, when I’m trying to get everyone squared away for year-end and get their taxes done. It was just a very productive and satisfying day. Sometimes I can put in 10 or 12 hours in the office, and feel like I have not gotten a single thing done. So any day that I feel productive is a good day.
And one of your not so good days. Monday I had to make one of those tough business-owner decisions. That’s the downside to being the owner, you have to take all of the credit for any disciplinary actions you take with your employees. There is no “we have to” or “we decided to” just “I” It was a horrible feeling for so many reasons. But that’s the way it goes and sometimes you just don’t have any other choice.
It was one of those days that made me question my own karma. Regardless of the not so good days, I try to keep positive vibes as much as I can. I was getting so frustrated with everything that day, I tossed my laptop on the couch seat next to me, and when I picked it up again I saw the email from you, which turned my attitude around. It reminded me how thankful I am for what I do and for the great clients that I have. The good always always always outweighs the bad.
"I like people who can think independently and who view the world differently."
Super happy we could make your day better! That would be tough. Walk us through your process of hiring and interviewing to get the right fit. Oh, I never look forward to interviewing. You really don't know what you're getting until a few months in. I try to ask questions that aren't typical during interviews, just to get a feel for how they think. I like people who can think independently and who view the world differently. I don't micromanage, I look for the person that I can hire and point them in the right direction and then sit back and just let them do their job.
What's keeping you busy? Year-End and Tax Season. Trying to make sure my clients are ready to close out their books for 2016 and that my office is set up and ready to take on all of the individual tax preparations that we have coming up. At the same time trying to deal with the things that come up around the office everyday.
If you were given any spare time this coming weekend what would you want to do and why? Drink some red wine and read a book, and maybe knit a little. It’s been a while since I’ve had a guilt-free unscheduled day to do some of the things I like to do to really relax.
Someone just moved to the area. Where do they need to visit first? East Village. I love that area so much. Every time I find myself down there I am so full of love for this little big city of ours. There’s some amazing local businesses there and the people are the best.
Who is someone you look up to and why? Like I mentioned earlier, my former boss has been a big support for me. He is definitely my business mentor. I have come to him with many questions and concerns. He is unbelievably business savvy. During the time I was working for him I witnessed him build his empire, and his understanding of the way the business world works is admirable to say the least. He is just an all around great guy who is incredibly generous and has had such a positive impact on the people around him. He has been like a safety net for me when I first went off on my own, and that has given me the courage to take some of the risks I’ve taken. Every problem that I’ve come to him with, he swooped in with a solution like some kind of businessman superhero.
What is something your former boss would always say that you always think about? It's not really about the things he would say, it is his outlook on life that inspired me. He never seems too attached to his business ventures. He seems to know what the important things are in his life, his family his employees and people in general. If he ever gets too involved in something he always finds a way to even out and get back to the important things, if that makes any sense. He always has a new business idea, he never sits still long.
What are you most proud of and why? I am most proud of my belief in myself and my dream. The fact that my will to succeed has always outweighed my fear of failure. It’s been amazing to find so many strong and inspirational women to walk this path with me, and I still get “imposter syndrome” but the longer I do this the more I think “Why not me? Why not all of us?”
"This is home for me. I wasn’t born here, and I’ve lived in 3 different countries and a handful of different cities, but in 2001 this became my home."
Why Des Moines? This is home for me. I wasn’t born here, and I’ve lived in 3 different countries and a handful of different cities, but in 2001 this became my home. Most of my family is still in Europe, but I am home in Iowa. My favorite part of any trip I ever go on is coming home. The people are the best here. There is so much small city charm but so many big city opportunities. Also, people from Des Moines really LOVE Des Moines, and I really like those kind of people. There’s just so much positive energy around this place, how could you not be happy here?
If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be? This was a tough one, I had to consult my brilliant husband on this. My wish for Des Moines would be to keep growing the local economy like we are. For more young entrepreneurs to go out and do their thing and keep making Des Moines unique. There is so much art and culture here, my wish would be for everyone to immerse themselves in it more.
In three months what do you hope to accomplish? Above all, survive tax season! Also, to attract more clients with a love for Des Moines and with a unique passion. The kind of people that usually don’t hang out with their accountant or bookkeeper, so I can show them that we’re not all the same.