From XU Magazine, 
Issue 19

Q&A Jesse Burgess Founder and CEO OnPay

Since 2007, Jesse Burgess has worn every hat in the payroll world. He dreamed up OnPay (short for the then-novel idea of Online Payroll) while running an old-school payroll service, and launched the company in 2009. Twelve years later, OnPay has around 10,000 customers, a new accountants’ program, an “Excellent” review from PC Magazine, and certification as a Xero app partner. As OnPay steps into the limelight, Burgess’s approach to building software is becoming clear to everyone who’s paying attention: Do way more for your clients.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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XU: With so many payroll providers that serve accountants, why did you decide to enter the fray?

JB: We felt like we were meeting some needs for small businesses (plus their accountants and bookkeepers) that other providers couldn’t. It’s a long story, but OnPay was originally part of a traditional payroll company that had to figure out how to take care of every kind of company that came our way. When we launched our online product ten years ago, we felt like we couldn’t leave any of our existing clients behind, so our payroll simply had to be able to serve everyone.

And that’s the approach we took when thinking about accountants, too — no shortcuts.

XU: How were you able to do that? It seems like you ultimately have to make some kind of tradeoff to get something out the door.

JB: Well, we’ve never felt like it was OK to say “OnPay doesn’t do this or that.” So, the real tradeoff we had to make involved time.

XU: Where do you think current providers came up short?

JB: You know, there’s been so much improvement in the market in the past five years — I think other providers do a lot of things well. For example, it’s become an expectation, rather than a luxury, to offer cloud-based payroll, automated tax filings, and accounting software integrations.
The thing is, we always kind of viewed those things as tablestakes, and we didn’t — and still don’t — think it’s fair to charge more for them. We also think it’s important to address every niche case, and that a payroll provider is in a great position to do a lot more than just pay your employees.

XU: So, what is it that makes you different?

JB: Our “do everything right” approach manifests itself in a few ways. First, we can serve clients of any size in any industry. A lot of small business payroll providers struggle with paying 500 (or even 100) employees and contractors, but OnPay can handle them with ease. For example, we process pay runs faster, and we offer tagging and filtering options that make it possible to handle a larger team.

Next, we also had to make sure we could process payroll for overlooked industries that have special tax requirements, like farms, nonprofits, clergy, and restaurants.

And when it came to accountants, serving this broad cross-section of small businesses was a good first step because accountants usually have a diverse set of clients. When we took some time to figure out the specific needs of accountants, we saw a lot of providers that marketed to accountants with reseller discounts, but not that many really had an accountant-specific product. That’s where we saw an opportunity.

XU: What did you feel like accountants weren’t getting from the available payroll providers?

JB: It looked to us like accountants and bookkeepers needed more help getting all their clients’ finances in one place, that they needed to be able to do it scalably if they wanted to grow, and that they needed a way to drive more revenue by adding additional services. Through our research, we also saw that small business owners expect their accountant or bookkeeper to be able to recommend payroll products, so we wanted to make sure we were there to make accountants look good, too.

In terms of features, we built a Partner dashboard that lets accountants see all their clients in one place. We also saw that some accountants are more actively involved in the payroll process than others, so we created six permission levels to allow accountants to run payroll themselves or let their clients take the reins.

Finally, we made sure our integrations with Xero, QuickBooks, and other software allowed extra flexibility.

XU: What does OnPay’s integration with Xero look like?

JB: We’re a certified app partner, so first and foremost we’ve made sure everything we did was up to Xero’s specs. But we know different accountants like to do things differently, so we built in the ability to do lots of customization.

For example, OnPay’s integration includes custom item mapping. Accountants can also track wage expenses by individual employee, Department, Pay Type, or Tracking Categories. This advanced expense tracking lets Xero users set up custom reports and view their (or their clients’) finances in the way that makes the most sense for them.

We also hire payroll experts who are certified by the American Payroll Association for our support team. That way we can ensure accountants and bookkeepers are dealing with someone who’s basically a peer when it comes to technical payroll issues. And we also make our team available to help with account setup and migration. Time-consuming tasks like migrating prior wages or setting up custom expense mapping in Xero also fall on our shoulders, not yours.

XU: What else can your clients expect from OnPay in the coming months?

JB: It’s our goal to set the new standard in payroll, and that means being more to our clients than just a piece of software. With that in mind, we just launched a complete HR product that will help clients automate a lot of regular HR tasks and stay compliant. In addition to Xero, we’re also integrated with QuickBooks, TSheets, Deputy, WhenIWork, and Tanda, but there are a lot more partners we’re working to add. And there are more payroll and benefits tweaks we plan to make to continue serving businesses in a way that nobody else can.

Why leave it there?

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