The position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) carries a lot of responsibilities, and even more so in a fast-paced technology company. Startup CFOs are tasked with driving a growing business to success and profit as soon as possible, which is certainly not an easy feat.
Whether you are a budding entrepreneur looking for insights into this career path, or a mid-career professional looking to improve your skills, there is no better way to learn than to consult an experienced specialist. To that end, we’ve got some special tips for you from the current COO of Travelpark and former CFO, Who Slater (LinkedIn).
Huw’s impressive career spanned nearly two decades, including 10 years as a finance officer at BT Group, 3 years as VP of International Finance and Operations, and CFO at Typeform and Travelperk. To find out more about Huw and his top tips for startup CFOs, check out his interview on the Soldo podcast, “The CFO Playbook.”
Huw’s journey to becoming an experienced CFO began in an amazing place: the Department of Physics at the University of Manchester. Based on his lifelong interest in mathematics and science, he graduated in 2003 with his BSc in astrophysics.
So how did he shift his focus from the star to the C-suit? After being confronted with an opportunity by a British telecom employee and having a conversation about rugby, Huw joined the company as a new graduate and began his career in finance. Starting as a financial analyst, he eventually worked his way up to becoming a finance director. Subsequently, he joined Cloud Content Management Company Box as they were expanding pre-IPO internationally. Before becoming CFO and COO of Travelpark, he moved to Barcelona to take on the role of CFO in TypeForm.
Although astrophysics and finance may seem like very different things, Huw has found some interesting parallels between the two. Both require strong analytical skills and the ability to break down complex information into basic concepts. They are both curious and ask the right questions.
In physics, Velocity Measurement of both speed and direction. This also applies to businesses: to get results, leaders are needed Combine speed with focus. Startup CFOs are tasked with maintaining a strong growth trajectory in an organization with many moving parts.
Another concept of physics that is well related to the responsibilities of an executive Entropy: Chaos, uncertainty, or randomness. In business terms, this means managing a lot of the confusion that comes up every day. Explaining to Steve Jobs, Howe said the CFO must “999 Say ‘no’ to good ideas, so they can say ‘yes’ to a great person.”
How TravelPerk overcame the epidemic challenge
The Kovid-19 epidemic was a major challenge for companies in almost every industry, and travel was particularly affected. Fortunately, Travelpark has emerged from the epidemic without a hitch. So how did the leadership team manage this crisis?
Huw reports that the TravelPark team scheduled a board meeting about 10 days after the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown. In that meeting, the leadership had to deal with the uncertain reality of the epidemic at a time when very few people knew what the future would hold. They combine some strategic plans into two different situations in two stages and decide to temporarily reduce marketing and suspend new appointments. As the situation develops they agree to give weekly updates to board members, planning to make more significant cuts within two months if the situation demands it.
A key consideration here was long-term thinking. For example, while layoffs can reduce financial distress in the short term, they can also hurt the long-term health of the company. Instead, the finance team aimed to make strategic cuts in areas that represented high cost savings and low impact. They also made some amazing choices, such as doubling the size of the engineering team as an investment in future business success.
Finally, the COVID-19 epidemic has created a need New kind of business travel. Travel expenses tripled in 2021, and the market is expected to grow further in 2022. As companies have moved to full-time remote or hybrid models, there is now a greater need for internal meetings for offsite, team building activities, and more, as distributed teams come together individually. In this context, TravelPerk’s future looks brighter than ever.
Currently, Travelpark is retaining its core focus and building more partnerships with companies such as Soldo (a cost management platform with prepaid company cards). That way, we can offer customers a 360 business trip, staying true to what we can. Using our SaaS software, finance teams can streamline their business travel programs, gain control over budgets and gain visibility while business travelers maintain their autonomy. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Why startup CFOs need to master clear communication
At TravelPerk, we’re all about connecting and communicating personally. This is why Huu mentioned that it is not surprising Effective communication One of the keys to success as a CFO.
This part is involved Strategic transparency. Transparency is very important in business, and people appreciate it – a paycheck survey shows that 83.3% of employees of very transparent employers were satisfied with their jobs. However, this requirement for transparency does not necessarily apply to every single issue: the survey further shows that employees were concerned about most of the issues that directly affected them.
According to Huw, “extreme transparency” can quickly turn into a series of unwanted confusions. Although teams need to know the basics, overloading them with irrelevant information will waste their time. Effective communication is really about getting the right information, to the right people, at the right time. While this concept is not complicated, it requires commitment and work.
On the other hand, when it comes to goal-setting and goals, it is better to err on the side of “over-communication”. Huw recommends a radically open and honest approach to sharing progress and context. That way, teams can be aligned and understand why goals are set the way they are.
On a personal level, CFOs need to remember that they need to give themselves the space they need to be effective communicators. Howe likes to set aside 45 minutes of “alone time” after coming home to rest and rebuild her energy. However, he also found that being around people can be stressful – during lockdowns, this becomes especially evident.
Setting goals and KPIs in a fast-paced technology startup
While highly ambitious goals are attractive to investors, these goals need to be met Realistic and achievable For the team. The goal is not just to get people to the next goal, but to enable them to work sustainably without burning.
At TravelPerk, the executive team regularly discusses the goals, then transfers them to the extended leadership team for feedback before finalizing. While it is inevitable that goals will sometimes be missed, it is important to keep them in check – sometimes it can be effective to miss a goal 10%, but missing 50% will be very frustrating.
Who believes it The goal must always be fair. For example, he recalls a previous job situation where lower-level employees of the company were given more ambitious goals than their seniors. They will often miss goals, which will make them feel frustrated, while the management team will get a bonus. To avoid such consequences, Huw advocates setting realistic goals across the organization, while remaining transparent with both employees and the board of directors.
To balance achievement with ambition, TravelPerk’s leadership team allocates approximately 10% of the resources for “Munshot Goals” (highly ambitious, innovative goals) and 70% for “growing goals” (core business, routine work).
Becoming a successful CFO in the world of technology
If startup CFOs have one main goal, it’s: Move faster with less resources. Of course, this is a serious challenge. To fulfill their purpose, today’s CFOs often prefer to invest in software solutions like TravelPerk and free up their employees’ time for high-value work.
You are a leader first and CFO second.
COO at Huw Slater, TravelPerk
This means that while CFOs are responsible for accounting functions, financial planning and analysis, metrics and cash flow management, a CFO’s top priority should be communication and high-level business strategy. Successful CFOs should Additional indicators on leadership Focuses on both Team goals and company goals. The finance function should support the overall strategy of the company from the cooperative, not from a conflicting point of view.
The final word of Huw’s advice for finance leaders is:
Run to the flames … Find the hardest problem that exists in the company. Just go and help someone, get it done. That’s how you grow up.
COO at Huw Slater, TravelPerk