Last week, early-stage VC fund Bowery Capital hosted its annual private Finance & Ops Summit. This invite-only event brings together over 100 executives from market-leading startups for a day of in-depth, dialog. It’s an intimate, press-restricted environment where top SaaS CFOs swap insights, share learnings and discuss the financial and operational implications of managing high-growth software businesses. Attendees are transparent – not guarded because of investor or competitive concerns.

This year’s attendees included leaders from companies like DocuSign, Shopify, Sprinklr, Digital Ocean, Stack Overflow, and Yext. The summit did not disappoint.

As I furiously scribbled notes, I couldn’t help but think: our customers could massively benefit from this insight. These battle tested leaders are building value-added finance functions in dynamic environments. They understand the growing role of SaaS in high-growth environments. But must stay fiscally prudent and manage the balancing act of cost savings and spending to unleash growth.

Below are some of my favorite takeaways from this year’s event. I trust the collective experience and feedback of these leaders will encourage you as you lead critical finance and operations initiatives.

From the panel session titled, Automating Finance to Produce a Predictable Forecast.

Finance leaders from Olo, Vestwell, Stack Overflow, DashBid, and Intacct discussing how to automate finance to produce a predictable forecast.

One of the most important takeaways from this panel was the recurring idea of having a data-driven approach to financial management, including budgeting and forecasting. One panelist summed up the idea by saying -

Have numbers everybody can manage themselves against and then share these numbers with the team.

The reality that few companies have clear, defined and single-source-of-truth data-sets was glaringly apparent. And bad data begets bad forecasting. Participants agreed that when finance lacks substantive data, accountability to budgeting and forecast reliability lacks. As well, there was general agreement that ‘finance is the last function that gets built’. Teams must leverage technology to build capacity and capabilities above and beyond the existing bodies on the team. There is a certain “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” expectation of top finance teams. Finance roles will rarely become a hiring priority – they are still seen through the cost-center lens by many. But by leveraging the right SaaS tools they can still deliver transformative value and guide business discipline, even if their members are few.

Peter Benevides, Olo’s SVP of Finance remarked that he had just “four people on [his] team.” He managed to keep headcount low by leveraging technology. Jerry Raphael, VP of Finance at Stack Overflow offered this: “Finance is just not good at leveraging tools, we’re too thrifty”.

He closed out with a simple, but profound idea that Finance teams need to get on board with: “Good technology is useful.

One of the ideas we talk often about here at Cleanshelf, is how finance has moved from a simple support and primarily administrative back-office function to one of value creation and innovation.

This idea was explored in a panel titled, “How CFOs are Becoming Business Model Architects”.

Panelists, including Barry Chubrik, CFO at White Ops, Pinkie Gunderia, VP of Finance at CB Insights and Dave Wynne, VP of Finance & Strategy at Boxed all weighed in with compelling insight.

One leader suggested that his 2019 priorities included:

  • Scaling himself
  • Making himself replaceable
  • Making himself more strategic

Another answered in a similar vein, sharing these priorities:

  • Focusing on cash generation and preservation
  • Becoming more strategic
  • Deciding where to allocate capital investment most efficiently

Think about these priorities: each one centers on the idea of getting more out of oneself and the tools at that leader’s disposal. In demand are new ways to make hours, time and effort go further. This is the hallmark of a “Business Model Architect”, a leader that changes the course of business through their insight, experience and useful application of people and resources in their organizations.

The implications are important for startups and corporates everywhere –

Do your teams have the insight and tools they need to drive cost-savings, assign priority to competing projects and guide employees on the collaborative SaaS they need to succeed?

If not, maybe it’s time to give Cleanshelf a try.

Our platform gives unparalleled visibility, monitoring and management of SaaS licensing across your organization. We puts business and IT leaders squarely in the driver seat – equipped with data, information and productivity metrics to transform how companies buy, manage and deploy software. Yes, SaaS technology has introduced unprecedented scale potential inside companies. But only when companies are using the right tools, in the right ways, at the right price. Is SaaS helping you grow, or simply inviting more cost, security and productivity issues? Give us a call to discuss.

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