When and how did you get started in your finance career, specifically within the tech industry?
I started my career with roles in accounting and finance at two local Fortune 500 companies. During this time, I entered the MBA program at the Carlson School of Management. In addition to focusing on finance, I took quite a few entrepreneurial studies classes. Those classes helped me discover that I’m much more passionate about fast growing, early stage companies, and started looking for finance positions at smaller companies.
My first exposure to the tech sector came in my role right before coming to ClickSWITCH, working with a local hedge fund. Our fund focused on small and mid-sized public companies, with a heavy emphasis on tech. I had multiple meetings every week with tech company executives, and before long I found myself moving my career in that direction.
Why did you decide to join ClickSWITCH in the first place?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the hedge fund, but I missed the day to day successes and challenges you encounter working to grow a business. My goal was to lead the finance function at an early stage, high growth company, and saw that ClickSWITCH was looking for a Controller. After one meeting with Cale Johnston, our CEO, I saw the massive opportunity for this company, and loved the people and the culture. I knew right away that it would be a great fit for me. After about a year, the company had grown to the point where we needed a CFO, and I was promoted into that role.
What is unique about your role with the technology industry, compared to other industries?
Rapid growth is much more common, which makes the job so much more exciting. I started my career in retail, and we would get excited about 4% growth. At ClickSWITCH, we expect a minimum of 100% revenue growth every year, we see new clients sign almost daily, and we are constantly adding new people to the team. Every single one of our employees knows that they have a direct impact on the company’s growth. That makes for a highly motivated team, and an exciting place to work.
What do you find most interesting or challenging about being a modern-day CFO?
My favorite part of the job is the variety of things that I work on, and the interaction with so many departments within the company. We have a fantastic team at ClickSWITCH, with a wide variety of talents. It’s great to see everyone use their unique skillsets to work toward a common goal.
How is success measured in your role as a CFO?
I think the success of a CFO, or any executive, goes hand-in-hand with the success of the company. If the company doesn’t succeed, then the executive team hasn’t succeeded. If we are setting aggressive goals, putting plans in place to achieve them, and creating a culture that employees love to be a part of, then we are probably going to be very successful.
It is also critical for a CFO to have a good relationship with the CEO. Over time, you learn how to communicate everything he thinks is important, without going into an unnecessary level of detail. Some of that just happens over time, and some is due to personalities that work well together, but when the executive team respects each other and works well together, the company has a much better chance of success.
Have you ever made a decision around office space and commercial leasing?
Yes, we started out in temporary office space, then subleased from another company for a year before signing our first lease last year
If so, what did you learn from the process? How did you select an agent/broker?
Our situation was unique, because the office across the street from our sublease had been vacant for quite a while. When we inquired on it, we found out that the layout was exactly what we needed, and it was already furnished. We were able to close pretty quickly, and moved in a month later.
If so, what advice would you have for the founder considering their first office lease?
Don’t commit to more than 3 years. You have no idea what your business needs will be in five to seven years, so don’t make any long term leasing decisions. Landlords won’t have much interest in signing a 3 year lease, but if you don’t ask for funds to do an expensive build out and can move in right away they are a little more flexible.
The second piece of advice is to lease much less space than you think you will need. Your growth plan will rarely work according to plan, and you will probably end up needing half as much space as you thought you would. If things do work out, there’s always more space to lease. On the other hand, if your revenue misses your forecast significantly, you are stuck spending what little cash you have left on office space you don’t need. Those are the types of situations that can kill early stage companies.
What do you enjoy doing with your time outside of the office?
Spend time with family, grill, bike, run, hunt, and go to Gophers football games. I enjoy being outside as much as possible anytime of the year.
What advice would you have for someone in finance who wants to become a CFO?
Find an opportunity that gives you exposure to all aspects of the Finance organization, which is probably easiest at a smaller company, reporting directly to the CFO. Everyone that wants a CFO position has experience in Finance and Accounting, but very few will also have some knowledge of tax, audit, treasury, HR, insurance, debt and equity financing, pricing, and legal document review. You don’t have to be an expert in all of those areas, but any experience you have will end up being very helpful.
How do you effectively manage expectations to help everyone in the company know what their priorities should be?
All of our employees know that our revenue is driven by switching more bank accounts. Every company meeting has an update on switch growth, and company bonuses are based on the number of accounts we switch. Everyone in the company knows the role they play in contributing to switch growth.
Obviously not every situation is black and white as far which priority will ultimately drive more revenue growth, so we make sure to emphasize communication. A key competitive advantage of any small company is the ability to move quickly. Rather set up a meeting a few days out, we just huddle up, get on the same page, and make decisions together. Our clients are constantly complimenting our ability to move fast.
What is one question you want to ask of your tech CFO peers?
Is there anything else you would like to add?
No thank you.