Last Wednesday, Abacus co-founder Omar Qari was invited to speak at a New York NetSuite TechTalk. The half-day event was attended by local heads of finance at high-growth technology companies and covered topics that ranged from expanding globally to metrics that matter to fundraising and exits. We’ve pulled together a recap of the discussions and panels to highlight some of the great insights shared during the event.
Keynote with Deb Farrington, Founder & Partner of StarVest Partners
The event opened with a keynote from Deb Farrington, Founder and Partner at StarVest Partners, whose firm was a key investor in NetSuite. She focused on what investors are looking for, specifically with software-as-a-service companies, shedding a light on metrics, strategy and future growth.
“Hope is not a strategy,” said Farrington, “focus on the customer problems you’re solving and how you’re going to win against your competitors. Then look at the potential threats to your growth and renewals.” Deb went on to say that you should set up quarterly reviews to your strategy to make sure that you’re staying on track. She also noted that to keep growth strong, you should keep your eye on adjacent markets and know where you’re going to go next.
Growing Globally Panel
The first panel addressed global expansion and featured Bruce Cooperman, Founding Partner of Nereus Advisors, Scott Buxton, VP of Finance at DataDog, and Andrew Leigh, VP of Marketing & Alliances at Jitterbit and was moderated by Marc Huffman, President of WW Sales at NetSuite. The general consensus was that it was important to truly understand the risks associated with expansion using the knowledge of lawyers, peers, and partners, and to have clear metrics that will help you determine success.
It can be challenging to determine when it is the right time to expand into other countries, but Bruce Cooperman, Founding Partner of Nereus Advisors shared his advice for identifying that turning point. “There are three triggers that indicate a visible revenue option in global expansion,” says Cooperman. His list of triggers included:
- A prospective customer from a new region reaches out and wants to use your product.
- A sizable current customer asks you to expand.
- You think there is an opportunity and successfully start farming new prospects.
Andrew Leigh, VP of Marketing & Alliances at Jitterbit noted that language was one of their biggest challenges, and that hiring locally and integrating the culture helped them drive success. He also started by looking for countries that were excited to work with US companies so that he could strengthen his process for expansion. Leigh also utilized channel partners in their strategy to better understand the local culture and improve hiring.
DataDog VP of Finance, Scott Buxton, relied on third party advisors when opening their new offices around the globe because they found challenges not only with languages , but also with the different ways of doing business. By using channel partners, they were able to streamline efforts and clearly communicate their business strategy. While at GitHub he also implemented a policy that all employees can travel to headquarters twice a year to work from the office, as well as having an annual all-employee retreat once a year. They feel that this helps build a stronger, cohesive company culture and keeps communications freely flowing.
Metrics that Matter Panel
Moderated by Deep Gujral, CFO of Nomad Financial, the Metrics that Matter panel featured a representative range of company stages and featured panelists Amy Wu, Head of Finance & Operations at NewsCred, Omar Qari, Co-founder & CEO of Abacus, and Chris Hering, Vertical Marketing Lead at NetSuite.
The panel discussed how metrics evolve over stages of company growth. Metrics become more relevant and have a bigger impact the more customers you have. For early companies, Abacus Co-founder & CEO Omar Qari recommends “Hack it for a little bit – you don’t need the Rolls Royce from day one.” Metrics should be something that your company is constantly scaling, it’s best to start with the three most important metrics that help measure success, and then layer on more complexity as your story matures. Focusing on data quality is more important than tracking every detail, so phase in the products you use and set them up properly.
Once you reach the 150 employee mark, then you should start thinking about your data like a company product. Companies like NewsCred have gone as far as moving the day-to-day oversight of the systems and data quality under the product team. Having a single point of oversight helps ensure the integrity of the data and keeps it prioritized in the company.
With the Product team focusing on collecting and managing the data, Amy Wu, Head of Finance & Operations at NewsCred has her team focus on analyzing and telling the story of the data. When expanding her team, Amy noted “I’m looking for for someone with a lot of analytical experience.” She proceeded to outline her team’s responsibility of understanding the drivers for the KPI’s and to tell the story of the data. At NewsCred they are very transparent with employees about the company’s standing, but after joining the team, she quickly realized that they didn’t understand what she was talking about. “You have to really communicate what the metrics mean,” says Amy, “not just what the numbers are.” She now picks one metric per month and really breaks it down so everyone understands why the data is important and how it is informing business decisions.
Fundraising and the Path to Exit Panel
The last panel of the day was Fundraising and the Path to Exit which was moderated by Nic Poulos, Principal at Bowery Capital and included Nick Narodny, Co-Founder of Grovo, Peter Lurie, Co-Founder of Mast Mobile, Anna Malara, CFO of Transactis, and Norm Merritt, Former CEO & President of ShopKeep & iQor.
The topic had a wide range, but panelists focused mostly on the beginning and the end goal. Starting with fundraising, the discussion focused on finding investors. Norm Merritt, Former CEO of ShopKeep, advised companies to not get caught up in brand name investors. “You have to live with that person on your board,” says Norm, “It comes down to trust and relationships.” He noted that there are always setbacks, so it’s important to have someone that believes in you and to consider what type of board dynamics you are creating.
However, Nick Narodny, Co-Founder of Grovo, countered with the merits of having an investor from a big brand. He pointed out that bigger brands were able to make larger investments and had their own draw. “Spend your time finding a phenomenal early lead and use the brand for future funding,” says Nick.
Anna Malara, CFO of Transactis, also noted that you should consider how investors can help you beyond funding. Take into account the networks and expertise that they have access to.
Panelists also touted having a clear picture of what your end goal is from the beginning – whether you want to be acquired or a standalone business. This will give you a clear trajectory, and help you determine future rounds by balancing how much money you raise with meeting expectations. They agreed that hiring an experienced CFO early can help with investing, but also keep an idea of exit in mind.
Closing Keynote by Matt Straz, Founder of Namely
Matt Straz, Founder & CEO of Namely, closed out the event by sharing his advice for growing a company fast. Since its founding in 2012, Namely has grown to over 200 employees. Matt shared his learnings from the process, discussing each stage that he felt was a milestone and turning point for the company.
He broke these buckets into the 1-10, 10-50, 50-150, and 150+ employees and mostly focused on the ways that the culture and policies changed. Going from the “true believers” in the 1-10 stages, he noted that general policies, such as work from home and vacation, started to become important in the 10-50 stage.
After that, during the 50-150 employee stage, Matt noted that this was a big period of change for the company and it created a lot of stress. It saw the rise of managers and the importance of scale and organization. Once Namely hit the 150+ stage, they started to see more formality in their hiring, onboarding and training, as well as the policies that had been developed.
His biggest theme throughout the presentation was the importance of change. That it was critical to embrace how the company was changing and that it was a necessary part of getting to the 150+ employee stage.