Our recent webinar aimed to tackle this question, recruiting a panel of experts for their advice on building the ultimate tech stack as a CFO. We welcomed Catherine Birkett, Chief Financial Officer at GoCardless, Sabrina Castiglione, Chief Operating Officer at Pento and Paddy O’Neill, UKI Country Manager at Spendesk to the virtual stage to find out more.
We kicked off by asking how responsibility for the tech stack should be distributed throughout an organisation. Sabrina explained that three core areas typically influence decision-making. “There’s the end-user who has a problem they are trying to solve. There is often, but not always, a financial element. And increasingly, there’s a security component.”
Paddy expanded on this with insights into the Spendesk sales process. “We’re now seeing an average of four to five decision-makers involved in the acquisition process, compared to two or three pre-COVID. However, not all decision-makers are created equally – ultimate purchasing responsibility usually sits somewhere in the CFO’s office.”
As startups try to minimise waste and eliminate unnecessary spending, our experts have seen a greater focus on adoption by seeking end-user feedback and approval.
“That doesn’t mean the end-users have a deciding vote” Paddy argued, “but they do have more veto power. They’re not the ones to bring solutions into the business but, if they don’t like the solution, the business will go back to market.”
The conversation then shifted to the way tech acquisition has changed in a post-pandemic, pre-recession landscape. The panellists flagged a few trends: less individual decision-making, more cross-functionality and increased internationalism.
“At GoCardless, we’re taking decision-making power away from individuals and moving it to the executive department level,” explained Catherine. “But we’re also trying to get people to think about cross-functional processes. Letting acquisition be a free-for-all causes problems further down the line – not just from a cost perspective, but also in terms of ensuring compatibility between processes.”
“Currently, the internationalisation of the workforce and dealing with new jurisdictions is a key issue,” added Sabrina. “That brings in interesting angles for decision-makers. For instance, an equity tool was once the exclusive domain of the finance team, and now legal are also involved. A lot of functions are coming under pressure to adapt to internationalisation.”
As startups tighten their belts, they’re becoming more scrupulous about investing in new technology. As to whether this is the right approach, Catherine argued there are some problems software can’t solve – she’s yet to come across an adequate planning tool, for instance. Otherwise, it’s about looking to the future.
“Technology must ensure your business can scale and that you don’t end up in a position where you just have to throw people at a problem.”
Sabrina added that it’s crucial to determine when automation makes sense. “It’s only worth automating something that is a repeatable process and it stays the same for a reasonable amount of time. If you know a process is going to change, you have to be ruthless and ask whether the tool is for your own short-term comfort and whether it actually delivers the best outcome.”
Catherine’s difficulties finding a planning tool highlighted Sabrina’s point. “Something like planning has a lot of inputs and many of those inputs will be tied to the business model,” Sabrina said.
“How do you automate them when you’re not yet sure what your business model is? If you don’t understand the drivers behind a process, then automation probably isn’t right.”
Spotting the software that’s right for you
Later on, we asked our experts how they reached a final decision when investing in new software, particularly in a space crowded with competitors. Catherine picked out cost, value and compatibility as the three key factors.
“It depends a lot on the size of the business and the tool, but you have to look at the costs, especially implementation, maintenance and future licensing costs. Then you have to be really clear on what the benefits are and outline your expectations for it. Finally, don’t underestimate integrations with other parts of the business. A tool may be great for finance, but cause pain in other departments.”
Paddy focused on finding the right solution for where you are in the startup journey. “Most tools are designed for specific stages of growth. If your tech stack isn’t going to get you to where you want to be in three years' time, you need to go back to the drawing board. You don’t want to be focusing on tech issues as you’re scaling to the next stage.”
Our guests rounded out the webinar by looking to the future, with Paddy sharing how Spendesk is preparing for the coming months. “We’re investing in helping our employees work with prospective clients to uncover the real value of our product for them. We want to ensure we’re close enough to our customer base that we understand what they’re going through and what we can do to help with that.”
Sabrina warned against a panicked and hasty response to the financial storm clouds gathering on the horizon. “It’s very easy to just knee-jerk and go straight to studying the money and outgoings. You have to remember that time is a cost, too. Tie everything back to the value of a tool and understand that the value is not always directly financial.”
Catherine wrapped up the webinar by suggesting that uncertainty in the economy won’t affect everyone in the same way. “Recessions don’t always mean your product will perform badly. A lot of it comes down to your product. Is it essential or discretionary? When it comes to making tech stack decisions, cut where there’s little consequence and consider each tool on its own merits. There’s no one answer for everyone.”
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