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Built to Scale: How René Lacerte Grew Bill.com Into a $10B Company

By Alissa Rogers, Copywriter, YML

René Lacerte is the CEO and Founder of Bill.com, a fintech platform that helps businesses pay and get paid faster by bringing the back office to their back pocket. Valued at $10B, Bill.com’s secret to success isn’t that they got lucky with the right product at the right time — the startup was intentionally built to scale in every way, from their product and development to their culture, core values and even leadership. René spoke with Ashish Toshniwal, CEO and co-founder of YML, on the most recent episode of Y in the Valley and together they dispel the myth of overnight success, unearth the secrets of building rich company culture, and discuss how to build a company at speed and scale.

Making a Product Scalable From the Start

Since the beginning, René had a vision of how robust the Bill.com platform could one day be. Because of this, the early days of product development focused on building a foundation and database design that had the capacity for everything they eventually wanted to build. Albeit not always easy for the customer experience to see more features than needed, this method has allowed them to grow and experiment faster today.

Instead of attempting everything at once, the priority became to build a platform that could do one or two things well, with the potential to scale. Fast forward to today, with the infrastructure now in place, they can rapidly experiment and launch new products faster. Case in point, they recently released two new revenue-driving products that went from board slides to built in less than 12 months.

With rapid experimentation and product development under their belts, René needed to make sure Bill.com never lost sight of the underlying factor to the company’s success.

“When I think about long-term strategy It’s not just product strategy, it’s not just marketing distribution or a strategy, it’s the people strategy… how do you get to be a company of 1,000 employees and have a stronger culture than you did when you were 2 employees? That’s the goal.”

Investing in the Strategy of People

There is a delicate balance between running a business for aggressive growth and burning employees out. René encourages every member of his team to understand and prioritize what matters most in their lives, then give whatever is left to their work. With that mindset, he finds employees still have plenty left to give to the business — and they are happier to do it.

Listen to René Lacerte on Y in the Valley.

Creating Meaningful Core Values

In the early 2000s, René saw very few companies embracing the idea of core values. Until he landed at Intuit. Inspired by Intuit’s values for living and giving back to the world, he sought to infuse the same type of shared values in his own company one day.

While the idealistic core values sounded nice, he realized that many of them didn’t actually help run a company. There was no arguing that guiding principles such as “have integrity” should be embodied by every employee, but they never resonated with the way he needed to lead and build a business.

This thinking is how he came to settle on Bill.com’s set of five core values:

We’re humble.

We’re authentic.

We’re passionate.

We’re dedicated to each other and our customers.

We like to have fun together.

Instead of prescribing how employees should act, Bill.com focuses on hiring people who embody all five of their values to build a great company. As he puts it, “too many companies try to tell employees what to paint instead of just giving them the colors to paint with.”

Shifting from Founder and CEO to CEO First

In taking the company through each phase from idea to IPO, René’s own role as founder and CEO changed in phases, too.

First, it was all about the vision and getting the foundation right. After that, he realized his responsibility was to make the hard decisions needed to survive (including having to lose 40% of the company). Once the company finally saw growth and hit the one-thousandth customer, the priority became all about building, selling and thinking about what comes next.

Once Bill.com achieved the last stage of going public, it required yet another change in focus to long-term strategy. That’s when René updated his title from ‘founder and CEO’ to ‘CEO and founder’ — a subtle, yet meaningful change to represent the shift in his ideology and priorities as a leader.

“I still carry that vision [as a founder], but it can’t be the only thing I carry.”

Throughout his career, he learned hard lessons about what it meant to be a CEO: making decisions and owning every one of them, good and bad. His commitment to being direct, honest and transparent about his decisions has ultimately led him to Bill.com’s $10B success and continued ability to scale.

How did he learn these lessons, exactly? Listen to the Y in the Valley episode featuring René to find out.

Y in the Valley is a podcast featuring Silicon Valley’s leading founders and thinkers, shining a light on how they build companies, products and culture in a wave of accelerated change — hosted by Ashish Toshniwal, CEO and cofounder of YML.



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