Four years ago, I was working as an independent virtual assistant with multiple clients all over the country. I was extremely fortunate to have a blossoming career for myself. As a military spouse, I was constantly moving from city to city, often with a few months’ notice. And I wasn’t alone. Everywhere I went, I met other military spouses—highly educated and ready to work—trying to overcome the same challenge; most unsuccessfully. In the US alone, there are 300,000 unemployed military spouses, with the highest unemployment of any group in the US, > ~25%.
Then I started chatting with my co-founder , and personal assistants could be the future of company perks. What if we gave people an assistant to help with business and personal tasks instead of free lunch that only works in an office? We turned the momentum of this bold idea into a business called with a mission of helping all military spouses find meaningful work. We pair remote-based personal assistants with busy professionals. And since we’re all based remotely, we can offer a broad range of skillsets, geographies, and price. We like to call ourselves Chief Executive Assistants.
Squared Away helps military spouses find work as remote-based personal assistants.
We’ve never paid for any marketing—everything has happened word of mouth. Here we are three years later, and it’s really starting to work. But we’re also just getting started. Take a look at our actual numbers:
Everything is up and to the right, including expenses!
That’s when the other shoe dropped. It was December 2019, and we lost money as a company for the first time. Although we were seeing 2x revenue growth, our manual processes and fixed costs grew by almost the same amount. Something needed to change, fast.
This is the story of how we built the entire backend of our business without code, on Coda—saving almost $99,000 and over a 1000 hours of work per year.
Problem #1: Net income was in the red
By the time we found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic, we had already made the hard decision to cut bonuses across the board and stop internal programs for writing blog posts and referrals. We lost more customers in one month than we did in three years. And on top of that, we decided against taking the PPP loan from the government; we knew other businesses needed it more than us.
At the time, we had 100 people at Squared Away. Each of those team members had their own tool preferences, most priced per-seat. While the cost-per-tool seemed manageable individually, trying to scale and find uniformity within teams proved to be expensive.
Squared Away Profit & Loss, as of Nov 2020
Pre-pandemic, we were ready to spend $10,000 a month on custom software to streamline our workflows. But discovering Coda resulted in something better and more flexible than anything we could have ever imagined.
Formulas are the new code
From matchmaking clients to building the client database to tracking temporary fill-in coverage, it didn’t take us long to realize we could run our entire company in Coda. We hired —a premier-tailored software agency powering this movement—and dove head-first into building a scalable, easy-to-use home for every facet of Squared Away. Goodbye Salesforce, hello Coda.
We knew we were truly on to something when we simplified our entire payroll with a doc. As a process with endless complexities, we had been dealing with:
Handling maternity periods Paying team leads as part of one payroll Client plan changes mid-pay period Every client has a different plan And so many more one-offs
Before Coda, payroll was a manually-calculated Google Sheets disaster with probably 30 errors.
Coda formulas are the new code. And buttons can replace an entire software platform. To be honest, I didn’t believe it until I saw it.
A single button click runs our entire payroll—eliminating dozens of hours of labor spread across multiple tools, removing countless potential moments for error, and enabling a more precise calculation methodology resulting in better margins.
Go ahead—push the magic button to see it in action.👇
Just like that, with the click of a button, payroll is calculatedーa process that previously cost us 40 hours per month (and a ton of errors). Those rows get added to , which we then send through to our assistants’ bank accounts.
The best part is that running payroll is as simple as using a doc.
While one button takes care of our team, another takes care of our clients. We have a section of the doc to upgrade, downgrade, cancel, and track coverage.
For example, when an assistant is sick or on parental leave, we use a button to quickly log a replacement (we call that “coverage”). By adding coverage, the payroll is automatically adjusted to prevent double counting.
Want to give it a go?
Imagine ‘s assistant will be leaving for maternity leave. Push the button, fill out the details, and it’s automatically saved for the next payroll.
Pretty simple, right? Of course, we’ve streamlined this doc a bit and removed some of the edge cases unique to Squared Away. Our actual buttons and formulas are a bit more complex, but they’re still magical.
Take a peek at the formula behind one of our actual buttons
Saving time, money, and consolidating all the tools.
The more success we had with Coda, the more we looked for other software subscriptions to eliminate. We were ready to move away from SaaS and on to CaaS: Coda as a Service. And our savings were substantial across both services and labor. Check out the following table we built to track all of our possible savings by replacing each tool and the manual labor involved:
Yearly savings by switching to Coda:
In August 2020 we realized we had eliminated over $98,000 of annual software costs and associated labor by building in Coda, and Squared Away quickly began setting profitability records in the months that followed.
By October 2020, Coda was fully launched and integrated across Squared Away. That same month, we calculated 40% month-over-month growth, with zero fixed costs increase.
All in, Squared Away grew revenue 327% and profit 510% during 2020. And expenses grew only 140%, including almost no expense growth during the last half of the year—after implementing Coda.
After Squared Away integrated Coda, expenses remained relatively constant while revenue increased.
Run your entire business with just a doc.
We plan to replace more tools in 2021. We believe we can build the perfect tool using Coda for almost every department in our company, tailored and built exactly how our team needs it.
The future of business isn’t about one-off pieces of software charging by each user. From my experience, the future looks a lot better as a doc that’s more flexible than any other piece of software. And with Coda, it’s not about paying to add more people to each doc—it’s about each doc adding more value to the company and all of our people.
Ready to dive in?
Head to and watch my co-founder Shane explain how we use this doc.