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Scott McFarlane
Jason Bramwell_Scott McFarlane of Avalara

Avalara CEO Talks About the ‘Power of Orange’

May 11th 2016
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While attending a conference 12 years ago, the folks at Avalara decided to wear orange. The thought was to stand out and be different from the crowd.

“Orange is a pretty popular color now, but back then, it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, it was kind of strange,” Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane said during the company’s inaugural Avalara CRUSH conference in New Orleans on May 11. “We would be on the sidewalk in orange, and the people walking toward us would cross the street. I think people thought it was a jailbreak.”

But what wearing orange did was it bonded the company and its employees together, he added.

“The power of orange is really something special for us,” McFarlane said. “We’re proud to wear that color. We’re proud to be part of Avalara. We’re proud to be doing what we’re doing. Orange is our flag. It’s our uniform. It’s who we are.”

That strategy is working, as Avalara, which provides cloud-based sales tax and compliance solutions, now has 15 offices worldwide and serves approximately 20,000 customers. It also employs nearly 1,100 “Avalarians.”

“We live a dual life – being a software company and being experts in this field,” McFarlane said. “We’re one of the fastest-growing software companies out there. And we’re pretty damn good at doing sales tax and transactional tax. Day in and day out, we’re doing things that other people might call mundane.”

When the company started in 2004, Avalara knew that the concept of manual sales tax and manual processes around compliance in a digital world “was absurd,” McFarlane said.

“People were not going to do something this statutory in a manual way. It just wasn’t going to happen,” he continued. “Our country was founded on a sales tax/excise dispute, right? People have been trying to solve this problem forever. We only exist because of partners creating invoices. Or you’re doing exemption certificates. Or you’re doing all the different excise taxes. We exist in that world and in that moment when an invoice is created. And that has to happen in real time, real fast, 24/7. We knew we could put that together and build a SaaS cloud platform for compliance. That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to help customers and our partners solve their problems.”

Last year, Avalara “did about 5 billion transactions, and we have 505 pre-built partner connections around the world,” McFarlane said. The company “filed over a million returns, doing lots and lots of exemption certificates, as well,” he added. Avalara also made five acquisitions last year.

“We want to take the best businesses and put them together, and bring that content and those services to you all,” McFarlane told the audience. “We’re going to do that around the globe. We’ll do it in Brazil, we’ll do it in India, we’ll do it in China. We will continue to grow our business – both domestically and internationally.”

When he’s asked why Avalara exists, McFarlane said he believes the company is changing the way people do business.

“We’re helping businesses do what they do so they can grow. They don’t have to worry about the back-of-the-house things,” he said. “The way I talk to everyone in the company is that we exist because we create value for our customers. We create value for our employees. We create value for our partners. And we create value for our investors.”


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