Omar Qari is co-founder of Abacus, an NYC startup focused on reinventing the way businesses manage expenses. Prior to Abacus, Omar worked in financial technologies, where he spent time in both growth equity investing as well as SMB customer acquisition. Omar pursued his MBA at The Wharton School and studied Computer Science at Wake Forest University. He and his co-founders, Ted Power and Josh Halickman launched Abacus in 2014.
How did you get into the Tech industry?
Back when I was working in growth equity investing, I fell in love with the payments industry, and in 2011, when I got the itch to go deeper in more of an operating role, I began exploring startups doing interesting things in the payments space. I was introduced to Charles Birnbaum at Foursquare who got me jazzed up about what their team was doing around payments and so I spent the summer there. As luck would have it, that’s also where I met one of my future co-founders, Ted Power!
Tell us about Abacus. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
We totally get how important it is for businesses to maintain control while managing employee expenses. Unfortunately, existing solutions just push the brunt of the work onto employees in the form of “expense reports” when all the employees are really trying to do is get reimbursed. We felt like there was an opportunity to eliminate the entire concept of the expense report, to let software carry the brunt of the work while helping businesses retain control and getting employees reimbursed faster. The biggest reason the pain of expense reports has persisted for so long is because other solutions have just focused on trying to create a better expense report, when the underlying problem is actually how to get teams to more effectively communicate with each around a payment. Our vision is not just to help businesses with their employee payments, but to be the real-time cash flow layer for all business payments.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Abacus' success?
We love helping employees get paid more quickly, but it’s also truly important to us that this does not generate more work for administrators. It was important to us that we work with the tools that were already in their tool kit, so we focus on building out integrations such as Xero, QuickBooks, NetSuite, and corporate card programs. This helps admins reconcile faster and with greater accuracy than they were previously able to do and also helps Abacus fold neatly into their accounting stack.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
The most significant shift I see is the transition that services are making to becoming more real-time. In the previous generations of enterprise software, much of the information was processed in batches, perhaps nightly or weekly, sometimes even monthly. But now, there is an important movement away from batch and towards real-time. This impacts industries like transportation, where you can track drivers and deliveries exactly at the moment that they’re happening, legal services for creating and executing documents at the moment of exchange and of course in our own space of finance and accounting. At Abacus, we’ve done away with the entire notion of the expense report, replacing it with a solution where employees can submit expenses as they’re happening and get reimbursed before they even return from a business trip.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Talk face to face with at least 20 prospects, understand the core of the problem you’re trying to solve - if your solution is not 10x better than the alternatives, rinse and repeat. When it is 10x better (you’ll know when it is), quickly get the most basic version you can respectably sell into the hands of someone that is not your friend and start iterating - continue that for at least the next 5 years.
Describe the ideal experience using Abacus.
I fly to San Francisco, Uber about town visiting all my favorite clients, take a couple out for lunch, have a relaxing night’s rest at the Hotel Palomar, take the Caltrain back to the airport and before even stepping foot back in New York, the reimbursement is already waiting in my bank account.
How do you motivate your employees?
Honestly, I think the best motivation for an employee has to be working at a place where leadership isn’t just hearing you, but consciously listening to the team because they value your opinion and care about your personal development. I don’t think you need any fancy motivation techniques if you just genuinely care about your team.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
I’m imagining a nice BBQ grilled chicken breast and freshly squeezed lime juice sitting by a beach
What literature is on your bed stand?
Learning Go, the board game (not the programming language, although that would also be fun)
Favorite travel destination?
When my wife was living in Kenya for a few months, we (her whole family and I) made a trip out to a little island called Lamu and it was a magical place with some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had. I’m generally opposed to repeat vacations, but this is one of the few spots I’d make an exception for.
What's next for Abacus?
As we continue to scale, we’re finding customers come up with new and interesting use cases we never imagined when we first started. Abacus is quickly evolving from the fastest way to reimburse employees into the fastest way to reimburse anyone.