In this Prime Talk Podcast Video Sponsored by GETIDA – Melanie Shabangu shares her story of creating an eCommerce accounting empire. Melanie is a Partner & Director of AVASK – an International Tax & Accounting firm, shares her life story and her unexpected path into creating an eCommerce accounting empire.
Melanie was born and raised in South Africa and planned to relocate to Australia with her husband. During the transition, they moved to the UK, and Melanie started working for an accounting firm. She quickly saw the rise in demand for eCommerce accounting services with many traditional businesses starting to sell on Amazon.
Today AVASK is a global leader in eCommerce accounting services with more than 500 employees worldwide. Melanie’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for quality service are still major drivers in AVASK’s global growth.
Find out more about AVASK
Find out more about GETIDA.
Find the Full Transcript Below
Yoni Mazor 0:04
Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of prime talk. Today I’m really excited to have a special guest I’m having Melanie Shabangu. She is the tax director and partner of Avast. Avast is an international tax and accounting firm. I believe it’s based out of the UK United Kingdom. It’s doing a lot of great things out there in the e-commerce space. So, Melanie, thank you so much for coming to the show. And welcome.
Melanie Shabangu 0:28
Thank you. Thank you, Yoni. Nice to see you again. Over the camera. I know the last time we met was I think it was in Las Vegas.
Yoni Mazor 0:36
Yes, it was Las Vegas right before the outbreak. So um, you know, it seems like ages and ages ago. But indeed, it’s really good to see you again. Where are you based? Right now? Where are you located?
Melanie Shabangu 0:48
So we are located in Southampton. But where I live I live in a small village. Kolja Rumsey, which is an old English village market town. Absolutely pristine.
Yoni Mazor 1:02
Very nice. where I live. I mean, I live in northern New Jersey, we also have a town called Ramsey. I wonder if general extends from the same roots of an England. But I’m going to look at that afterward after the chat. Okay, so today the episode is basically going to be new is what’s you know, what’s your background? Who are you? Where’d you come from? Where’d you go to school? How’d you develop your career? So without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Melanie Shabangu 1:30
Okay, thank you. So my backgrounds. I came to the UK about 18 years ago, I was much younger than I am now. But I did my university, fortunately, in South Africa at the University of South Africa and came to the UK where I studied at Imperial College where I studied International Finance. And I went from there I studied, I specialized on tax, whereby I have got some various skills from accounting to tax to strategy to building exit plans to the advisory of the e-commerce world. That’s where I did my primary and first degree in, a college that was in South Africa. And then I came to the UK, went through to Imperial College wrote down my master’s. My career really began back in South Africa. So by the time I came into the UK, I had about four years of working experience under my balance. And then yeah, that’s been studying and working out ever since then.
Yoni Mazor 2:40
Got it. So we’re in South Africa, just to get some prospects in the Johannesburg area or Cape Town?
Melanie Shabangu 2:45
Oh, god, no, no, none of that. Wow. That is in Devon, Devon area in Devon. AmeriSpec. Nice.
Yoni Mazor 2:55
So you basically got your, your schooling over there. And then you started, you dived into the tax world in South Africa. But then we shifted into the UK, which I find interesting, because, you know, they probably share some similarities, but there’s probably you know, a different world now. And
Melanie Shabangu 3:12
in a way, it is completely a different world. But like I’ve always said, you know, if you’re talking about accounting, the methodology, and the structure of accounting is the same. Unless, of course, now you’re diving in into tax, when it comes to tax is a different animal. altogether. It’s like me saying I must speak Japanese is too different. But on the basics and fundamentals of accounting, that we’ve got to be using the same template, there’s a lot of similarities. And then I typed in, I would say the hardest part for me in my career was to move from a country by I was using a different accounting and tax system into the UK where I had to almost relearn literally every tech system that I ever knew. So it was something that was totally different. I mean, I use the basis and the foundation that I had already created from South Africa. And I use that to come into the UK. And that just became my tablet. And I worked extremely hard to basically pass through all the tax exams and be in a position whereby I could advise people, as well as much as the UK learning about European tax. So that is very, very complex. on its own. I can’t say I’m the best in the US, but I know a bit about US tax laws and all that. So it was just a brush-up module on that. So but I couldn’t really advise anybody on the US side. I can advise anybody on European tax and UK tax as well. So
Yoni Mazor 4:53
Definitely, you’re definitely the champion of Europe, but um, what was the trigger for the move that compelled you to I guess shift from South Africa To the UK and challenge yourself in such away.
Melanie Shabangu 5:04
I think I’ve always been very, very, very, very curious. Very curious. That’s one thing that I could say it was the fact that you know when you get to a stage with, I feel like there is actually more that I could get out of this England was going to be a pass-through because I was looking at Australia at the same time. So UK, it was just going to be something for about six months to a year with the view that I will be moving to Australia. So Australia was the destination for me when I came to the UK, but the UK obviously smothered me because it was just sold only and I think it’s because my neighbor was from upload, which is called Yorkshire, which is very much very close to and I grew up with him. So as well as my colleagues, most of them were from London. So for me, it was more like I just come home, everything was just so normal. The house was smaller, though, so we didn’t have a swimming pool here, like the luxury that we had. So I just thought it was just it was just beautiful. I would say just beautiful. It’s more like life, I would say the green. I think that’s what attracted me.
Yoni Mazor 6:16
Wow, that’s kind of unbelievable. You guys stuck in England, in the UK on your way to Australia. That is a very unique perspective to have. But nevertheless, the UK swallowed you, you know, it’s its own comfort. But I guess also the business opportunity was there. I mean, it’s one way one thing to get stuck on your destination. But I will assume that you found work and your professional career simply compelled you to keep pursuing a year your position where you were in England, is that the case? I mean, professionally, or I guess in the industry level What happened? What we what year are we talking about?
Melanie Shabangu 6:52
Yeah, so this was a 2012 when I co-founded Avast. And the reason why I co-founded Avast, I know that sellers of women especially, talk about reaching a glass ceiling in their career. For me, I can’t say it was the same. My story was really different. My husband was had just completed his Ph.D., and he was going to be going to work get taken into work already with the European Union. And I thought to myself, what is it that I could do that is going to make it easier for me to be able to travel with him wherever I go because I had already tasted a bit of the traveling that he was doing. He was working between Poland and Switzerland. And so I was moving from one country to the next on weekends this weekend in Poland, and then the following weekend, I’m in Switzerland. So I found that’s fine. And I thought you know, what is it what job can I actually have? That’s gonna make me to have my clients with me wherever they go. And yeah, I thought well, what is it that I’m good at? I’m good intact. And it was already helping a handful of friends that are some of them that in the film industry that scriptwriters and I thought, you know what, I contacted one of them. And I said You know what, I’m gonna be leaving my job full time. And I wanted to come over and, and support me Now give me more money than what you’re paying me now because this is not going to work. And he fortunately he agreed. He said, Okay, no problem. What are you looking at? I was like, Okay, I’m looking at 10 grand a year. So I counted that if I’m gonna be having about 2030 clients, I can carry with me wherever I am. And even if it meant that I got half of my salary, and I’ve got that lifestyle, that works, right. And, and he agreed he co came on board, the company that I was working for at that time, they turned around and said, No, we didn’t notice we will not we don’t want to let you go, we want you to continue servicing us. And now they gave me half of my salary. Now, it was a no-brainer. And I just thought, thank God for that you’re going to be paying me not being in the office, half of the salary is gone.
Yoni Mazor 9:08
2000 2012 you basically realize that you have to stay on the roads, you know what your husband working for the EU, the European Union. And you were able to establish for yourself, I guess a format where your current job, you know, is giving you half your salary. But telling you you can be off you can you know, you’re free to go and work physically wherever you are established. And then you’re able to go around, you know, a number of your own clients basically to basically become your own business owner, correct?
Melanie Shabangu 9:39
That’s correct. That’s correct. I remember only on Saturday we actually went out for breakfast in infibeam village code teaches that which is down south London, and I printed my first business cards for Avast in their two machines.
Yoni Mazor 10:01
Also, that was the birth of Avast when you basically were able to basically this first class that came in. That was the early beginning of us.
Melanie Shabangu 10:09
Yoni Mazor 10:09
Yeah, that was God and what’s the meaning of the name any meanings to the name?
Melanie Shabangu 10:15
Well, I’ll tell you one day when we have a nice glass of wine.
Yoni Mazor 10:21
One of the villages around London because I’ve never been to England. So be nice to discover how green it is compared to the New York area.
Melanie Shabangu 10:32
Absolutely stunning. It’s stunning. I always tell people that around my house, I’ve got about 70 trees around. That’s how green it is. Absolutely stunning. But yeah, so that was a bit of a virus project, my first business card and we thought, Okay, this is getting real. I had already resigned from my job that given me some of the work that I was going to be doing offsides.
Yoni Mazor 10:55
How long did that take how long to take basically, from the morning creative, ask until you were basically able to spread your wings and leave your work?
Melanie Shabangu 11:05
I literally it was, it was about a month, a month. I didn’t wait, I wasn’t leaving the company completely. I was taking the work. So it was me resigning from my contract, me being told that I don’t have to save the contract in the office. Because I’m taking my work with me. I can leave as soon as I can, and start servicing the company off-site and establish myself. So I would say I didn’t have the hardship that other people may tell you. But I think the hardship that was there from a business point was now once you’ve got to this level, whereby you Okay, I think like an entrepreneur, you don’t just stop to Okay, you always want to reach the highest level, I suppose we started I actually employed a cold calling company, they were going to be getting us business. So within I would say within six months, we had our first 100 clients. Now, this was growing, it was growing, which means that I now the dream of being able to travel with my husband, it went from being 120% to just getting lower because all of a sudden you cannot do what exactly you’re planning to do, which is you traveling all over the world. Now because you’ve got to go and meet these clients face to face, you’re going to have to have meetings, there is a lot of bookkeeping, that is coming through. It’s not only just audit that you’re going to do it, you’re going to be doing forensics, you are now doing bookkeeping, bookkeeping is it’s huge is the basis of a company but it is so mundane. Life just changed after that,
Yoni Mazor 13:09
yeah, businesses rely on you, I guess, on the daily became, you know, instead of once in a while somebody some company needs, you know, a fresh pair of eyes to look at what’s going on. It’s actually they’re allowing it to be the backbone of their, you know, tax, you know, purposes and news. And that is very demanding. And it’s I find it shockingly incredible. That’s from the mindset of I gotta set up a new format so I can spread my wings. It created such a huge, tremendous business opportunity for you. In such a degree we’re basically sitting on I have to land over here. And I guess the next discussion was with your husband, what are we gonna do about this? Because this opportunity that you were able to create yourself was so large and immense what happened because you know, I did you eventually were able to where you eventually able to spread your wings and travel. What happened after that.
Melanie Shabangu 13:59
So I did manage to travel for less than a year, literally less than a year, I was able to travel. And after that, the business just grew. And because I knew people in e-commerce, some of them that were working for Amazon, and I knew international tax. So everything just came naturally I started speaking to Amazon to see if I can service more of their sellers. And I will say Avast was one of the first companies or actually the second company to be listed up on Amazon and to service Amazon sellers.
Yoni Mazor 14:41
But Amazon UK, that’s you in Seattle,
Yoni Mazor 14:46
UK amazon.com amazon.com in the sea. How did you find that? Let’s go back a little bit before we dive into the Amazon world. So 2012 you establish the Vatican and why did you pivot into Amazon?
Melanie Shabangu 14:58
So we pivoted into Amazon In late 2013,
Yoni Mazor 15:02
Got it. So like a year, year and a half, you’re doing this and yeah, for a year and you had tremendous growth like you mentioned era, you know, within a short run more than 100 clients up to that point Who who are you trying to target what kind of businesses, any businesses?
Melanie Shabangu 15:17
It was that amazing it was brick and mortar those businesses, but we had to have a lot of inquiries already that were coming through from Japan, Japan was that my first e-commerce client came from Japan. So that was the first line that ever came through. And then there were loads of them that were coming through, just through our websites, and making inquiries and with regards to a VAT registration in Europe, and we just really started helping them. We got, we got to, I think to 210 odd clients. And then that’s when we started working with Amazon now.
Yoni Mazor 15:56
Basically, from the old traditional industries of brick and mortar, e-commerce was simply knocking on your door saying, Hey, we need help. And they’re like, well, what a door. So let me open it, then he reached out to Amazon and Seattle. Yeah. Just made a phone call how I mean, who do you call over there? Well, you
Melanie Shabangu 16:14
know, putting a person who knows somebody isn’t
Yoni Mazor 16:18
always the person that knows the person. Yeah.
Melanie Shabangu 16:21
I can’t say I knew I knew somebody who knows somebody. And that department was literally new. First, it was a department that starts with via the UK team. And because of the time difference, they were going to be moving that department into Seattle, so that it can be able to speak to be to the e-commerce sellers at their, at their timezone. So from there, I basically moved over to Seattle to try and work with the team that and that’s where we use but of course, they wanted to know if you know what you’re talking about if you’re really servicing Amazon sellers, but here is that you have Are you a registered proper accountancy firm? I know there are those of us that are so much bouncing all over the place at the moment? Do you have the correct paperwork, and you know what you’re talking about, and demonstrate and show that you have helped, or you’re working with Amazon sellers. So I always say the process for us it was harder than but because we had everything in place, we had a system in place we knew when we were talking about, it just became obvious to them that, you know, we’ll put them on our program, and we will be referring business over to them and we’re gonna start working with them. And that’s just wearing a fast, literally, we just took off, we seriously just took off. There was a lot of wind along the way. But I would say who says that you an airplane never takes off against the wind?
Yoni Mazor 17:54
So this was 2013? Yeah, we’re basically at the moment, we’re able to settle grounds with Amazon, it was like a ballistic missile. Yeah, I’m sure that if you look at Amazon stock, you know, Wall Street, you’ll see almost the same pattern, you know, it’s the stock that went right out from the moment it connected with Melanie and have asked when right off, which is great. Now look, I see some I see a very interesting thing that happened here, I think you’re experienced shifting your fundamentals from South Africa to the United Kingdom, probably helped you along the way to shift, you know, your business into the Amazon and the e-commerce realm and world. Because as you were mentioning, it seems like you know, Amazon’s response was rigorous. You’re saying we need to, you know, show us you have the fundamentals prove to show us Oh, and in this process, I guess you’re more than ready and established. Because you’re able to do before you know what your past experience, I see a very interesting pattern. So it’s probably a kind of bonus for you to recognize the fact that you know, that life’s shales sometimes prepare you for something that will be even greater than you think we will open up a great opportunity to fly like, you know, even though there’s a lot of material when it’s flying up, because you guys are definitely dominating the landscape and the industry. And, you know, let’s, let’s dive into 2013. And tell us your experience, you know, from there, from that all the way to today, what was it like? I mean, what were the ups and downs? What were the changes that you noticed, to your show?
Melanie Shabangu 19:24
So, one thing that I would say is that if you bet in terms of like what we’ve done on how we have achieved that, I think and you mix that with how entrepreneurship into entrepreneurs should behave. It’s about being flexible, it’s about pivoting. If there is anything good that you can learn from another company, or take it. I would say for me, I’m like a sponge in my brain. I just absorb information. One thing that I learned from Amazon that I knew that methods from a business point of view, and I will say one of the main things that we wanted to define and make a vast difference is when I went to a client site one time to go into audit, and I discovered that that client had they had their properties in New York, whereby his son lived in one of the properties, and you go in for business to audit a business. And then he discovered that the director, or will they see Oh, owns property overseas, and we as a company, we have, we had never noted that on our files. So which means number one, the problem there is because most of the companies, most of our say, our industry, especially accounting and audit, we don’t there isn’t that proactiveness as accountants We are, we are you can call a fifth, we are not out there, we believe that treasure just gives us information. And we take that information, we process it, we go to their site, we do the audit, we do the files in order, the reports are looking pretty. Maybe we do some small tech strategies to reduce the attacks legally. And that’s it, right? If the client is lacking, we’re going to do the tech strategies. So when Avast started, which was one of the most important things as well, was the fact that we wanted to be different in a highly saturated market, how are we going to be making ourselves saturated? Right? If he decides also, I don’t want to travel or do this and all that. But if you get down to the real business, what is it? How are you going to define a business? What is it that’s gonna make it different, how you’re going to get your first time 10 clients, how you’re going to get your first 100, your first 200, the first 500, what we did, we, we preach the word for access, I wanted us to be proactive as a company. By that it means that I will we will not have that mistake that I’d come across. When I was doing an audit before in forensics, whereby you don’t know much about a client. We don’t have that personal connection or conversation where I will get to know more about you. So I wanted that to change I wanted, I wanted to be close to my clients, I wanted to know more about my trend so that I could better serve them. And I think that it did touch a bit of a chord with most entrepreneurs, especially your 40s. One because they want somebody who’s going to be communicating with them, you’re always going to be making sure that they are not just providing the books at the end of the financial year, but it keeps me updated. What’s going on my management accounts, where are they? If I’m going to be doing your bookkeeping, how much text can I pay? What text strategies can you implement and execute for me? And that’s the direction that we took as a company of being proactive. But also, I copied a lot of what Amazon is about their customer-centric, they have grown over the years. Why? Because the customer is important. And I thought that is very good because that’s what we need to be about. And it’s not about us saying that, oh, we want to be proactive and all that interested. Oh, now we’ve got to do exactly as we say, if we’re talking about proactive it means Mr. client, I want you to be in contact with me on a monthly basis. So that I can give you your set of management accounts. I can interpret it to you. And I will tell you what is its what car can you buy? And what’s up what house can you buy? Where can you invest? I mean, some of my client’s uni it is so bad. They call me a control freak I am because I need to know what car they’re driving for tax purposes here in the UK. Because if the car is good, lower emissions are better for text. And again, what is it? What is what does your wife do? You know, anybody else who thinks oh man wants to know a lot? Yes. I want to know, what is your wife do? If it means that your wife could help you with administration, let’s put her on the payroll and make sure that you limit the amount of text that you’ve got to pay. But that’s the basis that Avast was created and being proactive and being customer-centric. So from 2013 to 2014. We started in Atlanta, we’ve moved offices
Yoni Mazor 24:53
Melanie Shabangu 24:55
We’ve moved offices four times in eight years.
Yoni Mazor 25:01
And it’s probably always for a good reason because you’re growing.
Melanie Shabangu 25:05
Yes, well, so for me, I am so careful about money. I, I am a risk-taker. But I’m a very, very, I calculate as to if things do not work on Plan A, I need to have Plan C, plan D, Plan F and have a hold of it for those that this doesn’t work I’m going to execute. So I’ve always been really, really careful. So we moved in, we were like you’re not in the office, we managed to do an acquisition of that building. So acquired the whole building. And within six months, we had to move your growth because we had overgrown that building, it was to two floors. We couldn’t be here. So we moved to another one. Which is everything. 17 square meters? square meters or square feet?
Yoni Mazor 26:05
I don’t know. 17 as small as 17,000 18,000.
Melanie Shabangu 26:09
Yes, yeah. 17,000. That’s big. Yeah. So that’s, that’s where we are now. But, you know, if we just maybe take a step back to 2014 we opened our first office overseas, that is in, in France. No, no, it was first la It was first la office. That was 2015 la, but 14 we had France already and Germany. And then 16 we had China as well. Now, I would say one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever heard is not just incorporating a company and have a company in a foreign country. I don’t care about Germany and France because my husband speaks all the languages. He speaks about five languages. So he can sort that out. He can speak French.
Yoni Mazor 27:09
Sounds like you put your husband on the payroll.
Melanie Shabangu 27:12
First so what we’ve done in 2013 towards the end, I told my husband that he needs to quit his job and join.
Yoni Mazor 27:27
Melanie Shabangu 27:30
So he quit his job lucrative job at the European Union where he was in policy and he joined us at Vasque.
Yoni Mazor 27:43
It’s pretty cool it’s not only that the whole thing shifted around they started because you know you wanted I guess to accommodate his professional career and it seems like your professional career is being swallowed in a positive way. Everything around but you guys are growing and succeeding. That’s pretty amazing. I’m really really impressed.
Melanie Shabangu 28:07
Yeah, but he saw the passion that was there was going to be big all of a sudden a vascular was no longer what I call my baby. Avast is a company I don’t see myself as Avast my company because Avast feeds more than 500 homes, globally, families, staff that works for the company, some of them indirectly. So because that Avast is not mine today, I look at as a company that is servicing other people, it’s giving other people opportunities. It’s so he saw that dream, that’s the passion that I had for the company. And that’s why it was easy for him to make that decision to come over and join a Vasque And I will say it’s been one of the best experiences for me and, and an o