Today, we're talking about scaling startup finance with David Wieseneck, VP Finance at Demostack. David divulges why he avoided ERP as long as he possibly could. Then, we move on to examining his strategy around using tools and add-ons to create an effective finance tech stack. David shares his opinion on tech tools like ApprovalMax, Xero, Bill.com, and more, and what works best for scaling the finance department.
Thank you to our sponsor, ApprovalMax
Blake Oliver: Thank you to our sponsor, ApprovalMax for making this episode possible. ApprovalMax is the number one tool to get bills and expenses approved quickly. It replaces paper and email approvals with automated approval workflows. ApprovalMax integrates with platforms such as QuickBooks Online, Xero, and Oracle NetSuite to unlock powerful efficiencies for approvers and finance teams. Stay tuned to learn more later in the episode about how ApprovalMax can streamline your approval workflow.
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David: And I look at the finance team is not like a support function but revenue enabler. If I can make the development, the engineering team spend less time booking flights or doing their expense reports, that's more time that they can either be working on their actual job or recharging spending time with their family resting so that when they do have their job they have less on their plate. And I think about the sales team and the marketing team and the customer support team the same way. How can Take less off their plate, enable them when they interact with finance so that they can continue doing their job, level up, and spend more time generating revenue for the business. That's how I usually think about things.
Blake: Hey, everybody. Blake Oliver here with another great episode for you. I'm talking today with David Wieseneck. Did I get that right? Did I get it?
David: You got it right, Wieseneck.
Blake: It's been a long time. It's been years since we met in person. And I always wanted to talk to you again because it's so great speaking with somebody is at the forefront of technology in practice. You are using the latest accounting and FinTech at start-ups, rapid-growth start-ups. And so, you're the person to talk to about what's working and what's not, especially as it relates to the future with technology.
David: Thank you. Thank you. No, I appreciate it. I definitely try to use the best technology. I think every salesperson comes to me and is like, "Hey we have the best technology." And I have to I have to really evaluate if that's true or not. But I also listen to you. I listen to your podcasts and your tweets because you're also pretty well up on kind of the latest and greatest. So, I try to keep my head out there and my ears open to what there is and then try to use it in my day-to-day work here now at Demostack, whether to pass to my other companies to make my life more efficient and my team more efficient.
Using Xero instead of an ERP
Blake: So, when we met in person years ago, you were the VP of finance at Letgo, which I think at the time, Letgo had raised something like $100 million, and you were the VP finance there. And you were still on Xero for your accounting system, and you had figured out a way to scale up quite far, and you were very adamant about avoiding ERP as long as possible. And I love this, right, that that we could take off-the-shelf accounting software and use ad-ons to Xero to help it scale to a fast-growth start-up. I mean, can you give us the... How far did you take it, actually? That's my question.
David: Yeah. So, when we met, that was in Hawaii, that was like 2015. And I just started VP of finance at a new start-up called Letgo. And we had raised some money. I think at the time it was about $100 million. And we had I think four subsidiaries. And so, what I did is I made sure that we had a common GL. I looked at QuickBooks. I looked at zero. I was very experienced with NetSuite as well, but I didn't really necessarily have the budget to go out or the time to go out and purchase NetSuite at that time. So, for me, we're an international company. QuickBooks wasn't really built for that. So, I took a serious look at zero. What I did is I made sure we had common GL for each subsidiary and utilized add-on tools like Expensify, like TripActions, like Bill.com, things like this to build a suite for myself, a suite of all these tools that integrated together, make sure the data is flowing for me and my team to be efficient.
Now, at that time, it was really me maybe one other person on the team really small. And then over the next four or five years, we grow. We raised even more money. I think at last count we had raised like $500 million, $600 million. We were 250 people. I think, no sorry, 320 people when we merged with our competitor and doing, I don't know, $25 million, $30 million of revenue a year. And we were doing it on Xero. We added more add-ons to the system, Carta, ApprovalMax and kind of built our suite utilizing a core GL that was easy to use and making sure we have these ad-ons that extended that core GL. And that kept us on that platform for a really long time and helped us extend the runway of kind of that investment we made before we moved on to something like NetSuite, which again requires you to kind of rip out the core GL move over.
But our strategy, we ended up emerging before we can implement the move to NetSuite. Our strategy was that all of these add-ons were going to continue to be put in place as we took out the core GL and replaced it with NetSuite. And the reason we did that is because all of our business users, the approvers, the CEO, the frontline managers, they could care less what core GL we're using. But they did care that their approval system and workflow was the same. The things that they touch were all of the ad-ons. We can continue to use those apps and just replace what the accountants care about, which is the core GL, and nobody would be the wiser. But we would then be able to scale because we now had a more scalable system to take us to the next level, from 300 to 1,000 people because QuickBooks and Xero, kind of you can't stretch it that far, and NetSuite, you can go much further, and you can start thinking about an IPO with that next level of ERP.
Blake: That's kind of amazing how far you took it to, you said 300 employees or so. And that's an interesting insight. The people using these systems, the non-finance and accounting people, they don't care what is running in the backend. All they want is it to be as easy as possible. And so, by adding these add-ons that you felt would be best for them-
David: Ad-ons, point solutions, best of breed. There's a lot of different terminology, depending on what you're talking about. Yeah. We were able to really go much further because those were specifically built for that end user. Well, NetSuite is really more built for the accountants and not really that end user. Of course, it's doable. But it's also going to cost a lot more money because then you need to buy more NetSuite seats, more user licenses for those specific users, and that comes at a pretty high cost.
Think about the users of the apps, not just the accounting department
Blake: And it comes at the cost of now the system is harder to use for the end-users. I think a lot of times we don't even think about the end-users when we're making these purchasing decisions as finance professionals, but it is really important. It can change your relationship with the company.
David: Totally. For me, as a finance, obviously, I have multiple stakeholders. But one of the key stakeholders for me is my other team members. Of course, I have the CEO and leadership team and the board and investors. But a big part of it is the other team, especially leaders of departments, right. I need their help when building budgets. I need their help when looking for cost savings together. And we're going to have that collaboration. And I need to think of them as my users, like a product person would think about their users for their software.
So, I think about the user experience that they're having with the finance team, and part of that user experience is the tool, the finance tech stack that I build and what parts they interact with. I need to make sure I'm catering to their needs and I'm thinking about them as well because if I don't I lose that trust with them. And I want them to trust me so that they come to me with questions, "Hey, I need help with this negotiation. Hey, I need help with this budget." I never want them to think of the finance team as where requests go to die, that I only say no. Because I want them to come to me. I want to be collaboration. I want it to be collaborative. Part of that is thinking of them as end-users and thinking about their user experience when it comes to the finance tech stack as well.
What David is doing now as VP of finance at Demostack
Blake: Well, I want to come back to the tech stack. We can talk about that probably for hours and hours. But before we nerd out more, let's talk about your current gig. So right now, you are a VP of finance at Demostack. You've been there, looks like seven months or so.
David: Yeah, just about.
Blake: And you raised a bunch of money recently, right?
David: Yeah. So, we raised, we announced this week, a $34 million series bay, lead investors from Tiger, but we all have a participation from our previous investors, Bessemer, [inaudible 00:09:32], Operator Collective, GTMfund. So great bench of investors to go along the journey with us.
Blake: And for you, is it a very similar experience to Letgo, or is this a different type of start-up? Are you using a different playbook?
David: There's a lot of similarities, very similar stage of growth, right? I joined Letgo. We were very small. We grew it to 320. Very similar place here at Demostack. Slightly different. Letgo was a marketplace. We're a B2B SaaS product here at Demostack. And I'm taking my learnings that I had from my time at OLX, my time at Letgo, my time at Ali Pets. What did I learn from implementing? What are the softwares I use that I was successful at? And then applying that to today. Obviously, the decisions I'm going to make were going to be influenced from that and the tech stack decisions I make. But it's been years since I made some of those decisions. So, you have to go out and say, "Okay, who are the new players? What has changed? Who continues to innovate?" And they make really good decisions for the situation you're in because a tech stack needed for a marketplace is going to be different than a tech stack needed for B2B SaaS, slightly different, different things, different what's most important to implement today versus tomorrow, things like that. And the vendors have changed, of course.
What exactly is Demostack?
Blake: So Letgo was a marketplace or is a marketplace where you can buy and sell products. And Demostack. Tell us about Demostack.
David: Yeah. So Demostack, we sell to other B2B SaaS software, especially to the sales teams, but also marketing customer success. And our technology, we can clone your app. So here we're on Zencastr right now. We could basically clone all the UI of the Zencastr, recreate the HTML, the CSS, all of the front-end interaction, including the API calls back and forth and then recreate that on our own servers. So as a sales team, you don't need to ask the sales engineer or developer to spin you up a demo environment for your sales calls. We can basically clone your app and instantaneously create that clone where you can then present that as a demo to one or many of your prospects, and it looks and feels just like your product, it interacts just like your product, and it's a way really for you to scale your sales organization but also marketing customer success enablement. all of these other use cases that we're thinking through right now and our customers are asking for.
Blake: That's brilliant. Because I've been a product marketer in two B2B SaaS companies now. And one of my biggest frustrations was trying to get a clean demo environment to use in my webinars and to use in my videos. Because we often start out as we're sharing one demo company file and then people start doing stuff to it. And suddenly, the data doesn't make any sense anymore. It's just a mess, right? People have been playing in that sandbox, and now, there's toys all over the place.
David: We hear that a lot, especially from sales teams where you have a sales at 1:00 PM, then you have another sales calls at 2:00 PM, and you have to quickly go back and delete everything you just did and get back to that starting point. Or the data is just out of date. The last time you updated that demo data was 2019. So, all the dates are now out of date, right. What if we could keep that fresh for you, make sure your starting point is always the same place, as in personalize it for each prospect they're going to get a call on, bring in the pictures of their CEO and CFO, bring in the names of prospects that are important to them because it's this industry versus that industry and then do that at scale and instantly without you having to ask a sales engineer to spend three hours getting ready for that demo call. That's just not a good use of your time or their time. So yeah, I would love to have [inaudible 00:13:27] give me a call or a Flowcast give me a call. I am sure we can solve some of those problems for them pretty quickly.
Blake: Yeah. I think Flowcast could really use you guys, for sure.
What's it like being a head of finance at a start-up?
Blake: So, what's it like being a head of finance at a start-up? You've been doing it for a while now. Because sometimes what we picture at a start-up it's just everybody running all over the place, so many things happening, right. It's fast-paced environment is the job description cliche. Is it like that for you?
David: It's definitely like that. For me, what I love about the finance role is I need to know every part of the business and what's going on. That's what financials will tell you. What's going on in the business? But that's backward-looking. The real important thing is the VP of finance is also looking forward, and how do we forecast? And so, I need to what everybody's doing in the company and how they all interact. And so that for me is really fascinating because I get to learn the entire business. I'm not siloed into just one little place.
And then I'm here to help. I'm here to help every department purchase the software they need. I'm here to help think about pros and cons, risks and opportunities, about decisions that we want to make on the product side, on the engineering side, on the people side, on the customer success side, and help them understand how it's going to impact the business and how it's going to impact the business positively and get a return on that investment down the line. So that's high level what I do. But then my job interacts with so many different things. Of course, budgeting and forecasting and finance, accounting, treasury, cash management, expenses, payroll, legal, right. I do a bunch of HR stuff just because I have to.
Blake: Do you have an HR person in the company?
David: We do. We have a small core HR team. We're looking to continue to expand that to be able to do more. We're scaling. We're growing. We're hiring a lot. And so, we just need more than the people function to help us continue to scale. We need more in every function. So, if you're listening to this and you want to join a high-growth start-up doing really cool stuff in the B2B SaaS area, please ping me. We'll throw my email address somewhere in here for you. Hit me up.
Blake: And you'll get to use the best tech in the business, right? Because-
Demostack is looking to hire, work is remote, in person, travel, etc
David: Yeah. I'm actually in the process of searching for a financial controller. And I posted on LinkedIn. And my quick pitch was like, we use the best technology, finance technology, and we'll continue to do that. Our books are clean, which is a huge plus for anybody looking [crosstalk 00:16:03]-
Blake: Which is normally... When a client tells you that, it's a lie always.
David: I am not lying.
Blake: When Davis tells you-
David: Our books are clean. You can trust me on this one. But no, it's true. You're looking for a financial controller. And everybody's like, "Oh, we have so much to clean up." And I'm like, "I don't want to join a clean-up job. No, I want to start building. I want to build for the next stage." So, I'm promising that to anybody joining, everything clean. We can start building.
Blake: Sign me up.
David: B2B SaaS, which is exciting. And we were in Israel, the US, Serbia. So pretty cool place to be-
David: ... and a good pitch
Blake: I believe that you are in your home office there. Do you work remotely? Is Demostack a remote company? Do you travel? You said that you work with all these different people in the company. Is it all on Zoom? How do you do it?
David: Yeah. It's all of the above. So, at Letgo, my entire career, I've been remote and working with people internationally. At Letgo, our biggest office is in Barcelona, and our go-to-market was here in the US. So, I'm really used to Working from afar, different time zones. So here at Demostack, our entire US team is remote, but we have a few kind of like a little bit of a grouping and people in Austin, some in San Francisco, a few people here in New York, a few people in Denver. So, we may want to get some hubs as we grow and the pandemic kind of dies down. And then in Israel, we have an awesome office. I was just there last week. We have about 50 people in a really cool office in Tel Aviv, great view.
And so, I was there for two weeks working with people, making that human connection. We had a board meeting live in person. We had a party at the office to celebrate our new fundraising and our new brand, and it was great to make that human connection and a bunch of us from the US side went over there because it was our first opportunity to actually go to Israel because they were locked down for a little bit. And then in the US, we get together on a quarterly basis. So back in February, we got together in Colorado at a ski resort. We did a whole week of just meeting and being together and team building. And we want to continue doing that every quarter to build that human connection. Because yeah, we're working from home. I'm working from my home office.
Blake: And is that the whole US company, or is that your team that does that?
David: That's the whole US company. Yeah.
What is David's ideal technology stack?
Blake: Well, let's go back to the technology stack for a bit, because There's probably some listeners who heard the story about Xero scaling it up like that with add-ons. So, I'd love to get your ideal technology stack, and it laid it out for us on Xero. And I imagine that we could probably do this on QuickBooks too, right, because a lot of the apps will work with both.
David: Yeah. I'm going to say core GL. But it could be Xero. It could be QuickBooks. It could even be NetSuite if you want to make that investment early. But yeah, Xero, QuickBooks, a lot of the ad-ons are very similar. So, for me, I look at tools like Ramp or Brex for corporate cards, especially P cards, purchase cards, purchase software here, software there, put it on the card, need a card to make $100, $1,000 purchase, light procurement. I usually look at those tools. Of course, you can look at air base as well or team pay is another really good option. But Ramp and Brex have been making amazing strides, really investing their speed of execution and speed of innovation is extremely high.
Blake: And those are solutions where you can provision a credit card for everyone in the company that they can spend on, and you can control that spend with really fine-grain controls.
David: Exactly. So, you get that control, but you're really enabling your entire team to make smart purchasing decisions without bogging them down with needing to fill out a PO for every little or always asking me for $100 purchase. No, I want to enable the team to be smart while still being in a control framework and also having that data flow right back to my GL in real-time. That's really important to me as opposed to spending, the end of the month going through Amex or a cap one PDF and trying to figure out who spent this and why is it this amount?
Blake: What is it for?
David: And where's the receipt? Right? You can do so much more now with Ramp and Brex and Teampay, all of these different tools. So, you pick the one that works for you.
How would you use ApprovalMax?
Blake: Now, what about purchase orders. You still got to have those. You said you're using ApprovalMax, or you did?
David: Yeah. I'm not using ApprovalMax now because we're on QuickBooks, and their functionality really works best with Xero at the moment. Although, they do work with QuickBooks as well [crosstalk 00:20:50]. Yeah.
Blake: They've added that recently. Yeah.
David: ApprovalMax is great for POs, also bill approvals. So, you get the bill, and you get the invoice in. You want to route it for approval to the right manager. ApprovalMax is a really good solution for that.
Blake: Awesome. And so that is... Do users go in and create the POs themselves in ApprovalMax and then route them? What do you have to do?
David: Correct. So, users go in, and they create a PO. They have an approval matrix. So, you decide, if it's this type of purchase, route it to this person for approval, if it's over this amount, route it to this person to approval. You can set up your approval matrix with tons and tons of different if-then statements based on all of the data you're collecting and really set it up for your business. And so, once it gets approved, that purchase request becomes a PO. You send that PO off to the vendor, and now they have that PO number which they can put onto the invoice. So, when you get that invoice two or three months later, you can do that two-way or three-way match right in ApprovalMax and know that your purchase was pre-approved with that PO.
Blake: So, we got POs. We got expense reports, or not expense reports, corporate credit cards. Expense reports would be-
David: Yeah. If expense reports are important to you, Expensify for me is still number one great solution. They really figured out expense reports, made it super easy for the end-users. If expense reports, if you're only doing one or two a month because everybody's using Ramp cards or Brex cards or travel cards, then Ramp and Brex have a very light expense report functionality. And you might want to just say, "Okay, that's enough for me. I don't need another system for Expensify." But if you're doing a bunch of expense reports, then Expensify is a no-brainer. It's just really good, and they figured everything out. And of course, it integrates with your QuickBooks, with your Xero, with your NetSuite. Whatever your ERP is, they have connection for you.
Blake: So, then we've got AP. What do you use for that?
David: So Bill.com is tried and true, but I feel like their pace of innovation has really slowed down, and their user experience is really lacking. So, I've been looking at other tools. Routable is a really fantastic alternative. Ramp has a V1 of bill pay. Brex has a V1 of bill pay. Airbase has bill pay. And of course, in the mid-market, if you have a NetSuite, you want to look at Tipalti, minerals tray, kind of the next step above bill.com. But for me Routable is a great middle-ground between really good functionality, and it looks like it can scale as I grow into NetSuite.
Blake: And payroll, who's your pick?
David: Justworks. Yes. I don't want to run my own payroll. I want a PEO to take that risk off my hand. So, I always look at Justworks PO. It's fantastic tool, and I haven't found anything... I've taken a look at Gusto and Rippling. They both seem great, but I'd rather that be a HR decision, not a finance decision moving over to those.
Blake: We have employees also in multiple states. It is nice to have the PEO because they handle everything for you. You don't have to worry about being out of compliance with something, where if you're running the payroll, they can't help you with the HR.
David: Yeah. We went to Justworks, and we can hire in all 50 states immediately. And I think that's a huge win.
Blake: A huge advantage for those kinds of platforms, even though they tend to... I mean, maybe it's gotten better, but I've never had a better experience with a PEO in terms of tech than a modern payroll company. But I guess it's worth... In that case, it's worth putting up with a little bit slower tech for the reduction in risk and just the work you have to do from an HR standpoint.
David: Exactly, especially on the lower end. When you get to 100 employees, 150, definitely 200 employees, then you can start thinking about, okay, more scalable than Justworks a PEO because then the cost-benefit starts to flip on its head.
Blake: Anything else? Did I miss anything major?
David: Cap table management. Carta is a no-brainer. I've been on Carta now for like seven years, and I don't I don't know how I could do cap table management without it. Their education series which is really good as well for educating my team. Ironclad for contract repository and contract workflows. It's a fantastic tool. And as in finance contracts are really important, so I look to Ironclad to solve that for me. I'm trying to think what else. And then TripActions for travel. It's a no-brainer. There's a few other tools out there like TravelPerk that are really good and approachable, but nobody likes to use Concur anymore. So TripActions or TravelPerk usually get my vote.
Blake: Makes sense. Yeah. So that's when your team needs to book travel instead of having them go book their own travel and then submit for reimbursement, you can do it through TripActions.
David: TripActions or TravelPerk. You can put controls and your policy and the system, and it's really easy to use. It feels like you would book travel on your own, what you would use for personal travel. It looks and feels just like that. So, we get 100% adoption because nobody's... Everybody knows how to use it because it's just like booking travel at home, but it's all being paid centrally by the company, and it's within our controls. You can fly premium economy if it's over this many hours. You can fly business if you're sea level. Those types of controls, you can put into place and enforce. And that's really helpful.
Blake: Dave, I'm not going to be able to slip through my business upgrade anymore because it violates policy.
David: Yeah. At least somebody flagged. I might let it go for you.
Blake: Oh well, thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it.
Thank you to our sponsor, ApprovalMax
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What did you learn from Letgo that you've brought to Demostack?
Blake: So, what's different about what you're doing now at Demostack? What have you learned from doing this at Letgo?
David: So, I think one of the biggest learnings is to not bite off more than you can chew. We all come into a situation, and there's either a lack of finance tech stack, or it's outdated, or there's a ton of clean-up to do. And the first urge is to like do everything at once and fix everything. You only have so much time in your day. You only have so much capital, political capital, organizational capital that you have. So, you kind of have to pick you choose your battles and know that you're going to solve some issues today, and you're going to work towards that kind of future ideal state. And what do I mean by like political capital? I need everybody in the organization to trust me in the decisions that we make when it comes to tools and tech stack.
And if I put in a process or a policy or a tool and it falls flat on its head, I lose that trust. I lose that capital within the organization. If I'm successful, I now have more capital that I can use on the next implementation, the next tool. I don't like using a carrot or a stick when I do things. I like people to gravitate to what I'm doing, and the only way to do that is to be a true leader, to build that political capital, and to build that trust. And so, for me, it's making sure I pick and choose my battles, I'm smart about how we implement, I don't bite off too much that we can't chew, and I choose vendors and technology that's going to make my life easier and their life easier, and that's what I've learned.
How do you evaluate software vendors?
Blake: So, you were spending political capital on picking technology and putting it in place. It's not just the cost of the software. It's also the time and energy of you and your team and the whole company.
David: Oh, yeah.
Blake: So how do you decide? How do you evaluate software vendors given all that? How do you know-
David: Yeah. Even if a software vendor is only $5,000 a year, it's like, "Okay, but I have to spend my political capital. I have to take the time and effort to implement." That's cost. That's an investment that we're doing here. And so, when I look at tools, of course, I'm going to look at cost and capabilities and features and what integrations they have. I want to make sure it's a good fit. But I also want to look at the pace of innovation because when you buy software as a service, you usually buy in 12 or 24 months of a product. So, I want to make sure that yes, it has what I need today. But even more importantly, will it have what I need and more 11 months from now when my contract's coming up for renewal. I'm purchasing 12 months worth of the software. So, I need to make sure that every single month, every single quarter they're adding new features, features, and tool and making my life easier.
So, they might not have everything I need today. But will they be working towards what I need 12 months from now? So, I'm looking at pace of innovation. I read release notes. I really read their support articles. I want to know, what did they release last month or last quarter, and is it getting better over time? That's hugely important to me when picking software, not just the price, not just like a checklist of features? But are they going to solve my problem over time and continue to solve the problems that I'm going to have? As we scale, I want them to scale and be solving for those two?
What is the hardest part of your job?
Blake: Well, speaking of problems while scaling, what is the biggest challenge that you face? Or it could be a specific challenge or just in general. What's the hardest part about your job?
David: The hardest part about my job is probably hiring. I'm a very tech solutions I get, implementations I get, finance accounting I get. And hiring is tough. I think I'm a good manager. I've gotten a lot of good feedback from people that have worked for me, my team members. But it's hard to find someone that... It's hard to find people that believe in the vision that you're building for the organization and want to get on board with building for us and for the organization and being kind of tech-forward and solution-oriented when it comes to the finance team. So, I want to look for people that believe in that same vision, think about finance team in the same way and then-
Blake: Yeah. Serving the organization, right?
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Blake: Yeah. Not just doing a job.
David: And I look at the finance team is not like a support function but revenue enabler. If I can make the development, the engineering team spend less time booking flights or doing their expense reports, that's more time that they can either be working on their actual job or recharging, spending time with their family resting so that when they do have their job, they have less on their plate. And I think about the sales team and the marketing team and the customer support team the same way. How can take less off their plate, enable them when they interact with finance so that they can continue doing their job, level up, and spend more time generating revenue for the business? That's how I usually think about things.
Blake: I love that because it's so different than how we traditionally think of accounting and finance, the idea of a cost centre. I mean, accounting is the cost centre. That's what everyone thinks of. But you're actually saying that "No, finance can generate revenue by saving time of the productive people in the business." And that time is incredibly valuable. You think about what we pay software engineers these days. They're probably the most expensive employees on the planet, right?
David: Yeah. That's exactly how I think. If I can help the sales team get a in-order form out and get it through legal approval, because we've smartly thought about the tools we use, and we smartly thought about who needs to approve at what time and what the process is and then automate as much as possible. They can do more deals per month. They can react to the prospect faster. They can decrease the cycle time for a contract or a sales cycle. If we can do that, then that leads to more revenue and less cost. And that's all I want to do and finance, more revenue, less costs, happier investors, more growth for the company.
Any tips for hiring?
Blake: Hiring's a challenge. You mentioned that. The biggest challenge actually. Do you have anything that's worked well for you? Any tips?
David: Always be recruiting. Everybody's job is sales, right. Every job you do is sales. You could be an engineer. You're selling, right. Every job is sales. And recruiting is definitely sales, right. So, for me, it's always be selling myself, my organization, my way of thinking so that people gravitate towards that. And so, when I do reach out and say, "Hey, I have an opportunity you want to join." Got to find the right moment, of course, because not everybody's ready with their current job, right. But then, hey, yeah, I actually do want to join. I followed you before. And so that sales process is a little bit easier when I come and approach from a recruiting perspective. So that’s always recruiting, always thinking about that. It's tough though. It's definitely tough.
Blake: Well, you do have an advantage because you are offering remote work, right? That's one thing that our profession still struggles with. Although, I'm optimistic, given we're seeing Wall Street banks now embrace remote work. I mean, if they are going to embrace remote work, you'll think maybe accounting firms can do it. And speaking of accounting firms, you got your start at PwC in assurance. Is that right?
David: Yeah. Represent PwC New York, 300 Madison. Super grateful I did it. But man, I was not cut out to be an auditor and glad I got that experience and then found what I'm really good at, which is building an organization, helping an organization scale.
How can accountants become finance leaders?
Blake: Yeah. So, you had to learn finance, having studied accounting. I'm curious to get your take on how accountants can become finance leaders.
David: Yeah. First of all, you have to want that. Not every accountant wants to be on the finance side. The grass may look greener, but it's different. It's different type of work. It's hard as well. I definitely started out my career as more of like controller, more accounting focus, and I dabbled in the FP&A and finance side just because it was needed at my start-up. And over time, I've found more of a balanced approach, right, because now I'm overseeing both accounting and finance. And I really enjoy building forecasts and budgets and working with different department heads to think about the future and thinking about risks and opportunities and ROI about the strategic decisions we're making and then how that impacts the financials and then how that impacts our future prospects as a company.
And then of course, analysing when we get the financials from the accounting side, analysing how we did against that. So, you have to definitely want to do that type of work. And as accountants, I think there's two things that I've done that are super important. One is extremely fast close. I'm talking about close the books on day two, report your financials on day three. You have the rest of the month to do better job of automating and then also analysing and helping the business make decisions. If you spend the first 20 days of the business month closing the books, you really any time to analyse. So, close the books quickly, find ways to close the books, business day two, do a lot of pre-close work. Accruals. What can you close before the end of the month? And then really spend that first and second day doing those final closed processes, consolidating, building the financials, handing that off to FP&A, and then get your hands-
Blake: That's such a-
David: You go ahead.
Blake: No, I was going to say that's such a great tip, doing the accruals. If you know the bill is coming, just do the accrual if it's the same expense every month. And that's not something that my accounting professors taught me. I feel like it's one of those things-
Blake: ... that you learn in practice to speed things up. I don't know. It's-
David: No. We did an analysis every single month, which was... and we got like 98% accuracy. That's pretty good. That's good enough for the financials, right. We would basically take a look at all of the accruals that we did, and then we match it up with the invoices that came from the vendors the next month. And the difference was like 2% on average. And I was like, "That's great. That's good enough." And then whenever we found a vendor that was slightly off, we said, "Okay. Well, let's look at or how we're accruing. Are we doing it based on the last three months? Are we using real data? Where are we getting the data for the accrual?" And sometimes we had to change that method. But once we did, then the next month we got much closer to the actual amount.
Blake: But I think the key there is that you say good enough because what are these being used for, right? The financials that you produce on day two are way more valuable when they come out on day two versus day 20. Day 20, they're useless, right? It's way too much time has passed. Everyone's done with that month.
David: Yeah. If you can have the financials on day three, you can then make really good decisions. You have enough time to impact this month that you're in-
Blake: The current month.
David: ... with decisions and tweaking and moving. So, I like to close the books fast then make decisions. Sometimes you have to do maybe a top-line flash while you're closing the box, and then you get maybe it's best to say three or four, we actually get the books closed. But you can do a lot with that. And then the second thing is automation. Oh, and so in order to do that, you need to automate. You need to do pre-accounting work. You need to make sure the data is flowing really well and maybe pushing some of that.
Blake: Real-time, like you said.
David: Yeah. Pre-accounting work down to the people that are touching it. If you have to spend the end of the month asking everybody, "Hey, where's the receipt? What's this for?" It's going to take you longer. If you can get that receipt at the moment of the transaction early in the month, well then that's floated, and all you have to do is press close, and you're done. So that-
Blake: So, you did the pre-accounting, and you did the automation so that now you had the time as a controller to do all this other stuff to add value.
How did you learn to do the FPNA?
Blake: So how did you learn how to do the FP&A? So, you go back to school Did you take classes? Did you just figure it out on the job? Did somebody teach you?
David: No. That's the thing. That's the second part. I talked with my CFO. I talked with other experts that have done this, and I learned to build forecasts and budgets with the data that I now have. And I learned to work with department heads to say, "Hey, what's important to you? What helps you make good decisions?" And they would tell me like, "This is what I need to make a good decision." I said, "Okay, great. I can produce a report with that. Let's analyse it together." And now I'm learning from them what's important to them, how they think about making future decisions. So now when I go to build a forecast and a whole company forecast, I can say, "Okay, the marketing team looks at data like this. They're looking at CPC, CPMs, and they're looking at this is how they invest, these vendors. This is how their formulas work."
And now I have data that can feed into the sales team, and the sales team looks at data like this. And so now I'm starting to build my model the way that the business actually works and how each individual department head looks at the business. So now, my business model, my financial model, my forecast accurately reflects the business. So, as we build the forecast two, three, five years out, it's grounded in real data, both what we have from the accounting side, then the data of how the company looks at it. We have a real-life now financial model. And so that's how I kind of build and how I learned because I'm not an expert model builder. I didn't go to a investment bank or work in a big FP&A shop. But that's how I learned to build financial models based in reality.
Blake: What you did there that's smart is you asked people what they wanted to see. So, you're going to produce a model that gives them numbers that are useful, the different department heads, right, the stakeholders. And then you're also probably not making it very complicated. And I feel like that's another problem. As people make these models especially if they come from a finance investment background, they're just insanely complicated, and nobody can understand how they work or update them.
David: Yes. You have to keep it as simple as possible so that you can understand what's going on. But you also have to make it so that someone can open it up and understand what's going on there, because you're not going to be at the company forever, and your predecessor needs to kind of understand what you were doing, what you were thinking, and you do that within your model and how you build it.
Do you use any tools to help you forecast?
Blake: So, one of the hot areas of accounting finance software right now is a forecasting FP&A software for smaller companies. We've had this for a long time in the enterprise space, and now there's all these options out there. Are you a spreadsheet guy, Google Sheets, Excel forecaster, or are you using any tools to help you do this?
David: Yeah. I love what all of the new vendors are doing. There's a lot of new vendors including [inaudible 00:45:16] being one of them, taking the idea of let's say, what used to be Hyperion, Oracle Hyperion, then you have like Host Analytics, Adaptive Planning, and then what's called the Adaptive Insights, and I think this is called Planful now, right, that kind of next generation. Then you have this new generation of all these more approachable tools. They're all fantastic. I have not used any of them at my company, mostly because I'm very comfortable in Excel. And also, our business model is changing.
Every single month, I'm building more into it. We're pivoting slightly. We're doing this. And so, I find it really difficult, and I'm going to get a lot of emails from friends in the industry I know that are going to say like, "But that's what we sell." I understand that. But for me, our business is moving really fast. And it's really hard for me to justify the investment into building out my model in these tools knowing that it's going to change every single month. So, it's just easier for me because I know Excel, to build it all out in Excel. But I understand it's not as scalable that way. It's not as automated that way. But that's what works for me and my team.
Blake: Well, I agree with you that there's a lot still to do in the FP&A software world to make it more agile. And so, any product people listening right now, take David's words of advice and figure out how to make FP&A as agile as Excel. If you can do that, I bet you'll own the market.
David: Yeah. I think a lot of vendors are trying to do that.
Blake: They're trying. Right. And it's interesting to see how... It's like five, 10 years behind what has happened in accounting software, in the cloud accounting, where we've got a pretty mature market now for automated accounting solutions at different stages of a company, different sizes, different needs. But the FP&A is still developing. It's very new. I mean, that's what attracted me into it personally. Well, David this has been a really great conversation. Is there anything you'd like to add? I guess one of the questions I have to take us out is, where do you see our profession going? what is the future of accounting and finance?
David: Ooh, wow. That's a deep question.
Blake: Are we going to be around? Are we going to get automated? Are we?
David: Oh, no. Definitely, no, no. I would love to see a robot do this. I think we will definitely use automation to our advantage. We will definitely find ways to take some of the boring stuff. And the things that can be automated, it happens every single month. It happens every single day. You're seeing that now. There's so much that I can do, a really small core team to provide so much value to my organization with the tools and the automation that we do. So, I'm using that. I'm using the robots. But there's no robots that's going to replace a David. I'm still going to need to be there to analyse, think through the business model, provide that guidance to the organization, help make those ROI decisions, help understand the risks and opportunities from a financial perspective. That's always going to be. need to be there. So, I love accountants. I love finance professionals. We're definitely going to be here for a long time, for sure. We're just going to make our lives easier.
Blake: And that's the dream right, is get that close done so we have the rest of the month to do fun analytical stuff.
David: Or spend the rest of that month to build more automations or implement a new tool.
Blake: Build relationships.
David: Build relationships. Exactly.
Final thoughts and takeaways
Blake: I love what you said. If there's a takeaway I have from this conversation for people, it's like, get out of just doing your job and talk to the people who are using your outputs. Treat them like customers, really. And same thing in public accounting, where I think we have been so stuck in busy season, especially the last few years with all that's been going on. There's not been time to make improvements. So, we got to figure out, how do we smooth out that busy period, which in corporate is your close, the time it takes to close the books every month, and then in public, it's the three months where we don't accomplish anything or six months sometimes, right. Well, I've been speaking with David Wieseneck. He is the VP of finance at Demostack. David, where do you like to connect with people online if our listeners want to find out what you're up to and I think also find out about jobs on your team?
David: Definitely. So hit me up on LinkedIn, David Wieseneck on LinkedIn or on Twitter @DaveWeez, D-A-V-E W-E-E-Z. Hit me up on either one. I will respond to you immediately, for sure.
Blake: Thanks again for your time and have a great rest of your week.
David: Thanks. Have a great rest of the weekend too. It's the weekend. Yeah. For sure.
Blake: The weekend. It's Friday. We're going to go enjoy our time off, right?
David: Enjoy. Have a great day.
Blake: Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you learned something new. And if you did, wouldn't it be nice to get some CPE credit for it? Well, I've got great news. My new app, Earmark CPE offers free NASPA-approved CPE credits for listening to podcasts, including this one. Visit earmarkcpe.com to download the app, take a short quiz, and get your CPE certificate. That's earmarkcpe.com.