Scaling with Math
Transcripts: Jonathan: Right? What's the typical salespersons, in a new role, odds of success and if that works out that way how much cash are you burning before you start seeing the results of the sales people? Right? Or if none of them work out where does that leave you as a company because these are decisions you might have to think about, you know, 6 months down the line when like "Oh my god, we're running out of money and our sales didn't kick in." Right? So thinking through that decision-making process for launching your products. Do you ... In your forecast are you expected to capitalize your current products? Right. How does that all work together? Are there up sales or is you're a SaaS business, knowing that the best outcome of transaction ... negative turn. Yes, you lose customers, but your current customers grow faster on a revenue basis than the ones you lose. Right. What are all these aspects allow you to make better decisions to run your business? Nick: Yep. Yep. They make complete sense. So, let's dive a little deeper into that. So in terms of every company is different. You know, you work with a lot of different companies that are different sizes. They have different head count. They have different flexibility internally. Externally. When you built out Nomad and where we are now and where we're going, how do we work with different companies. Dive into how we can work with different sized companies. You know, what we do for those different companies across services. How did you think that through when you were building and scaling? And also now, when as we continue to scale. Jonathan: Yeah. So I think there are two things. Right. One is, let's talk about our origin story. You know, what led us down this path. And then the other aspect is how do we actually work with these businesses. Right. As a financial professional, what does it mean every time you get into a new business to work with you? So for us, you know on the Nomad side, right. We start out doing CFO advisory. That was the role ... I was living in and doing that we knew founders needed help on. Right. Most founders or very cognizant of the pain points they're going through. The problem they run into is finding a solution for it, right? And a lot of times you'll turn to your network to find that solution. You'll ask people questions. But if those people don't know the real answer, you can get bad advice. So there are companies that I worked with before where for nine months somebody was telling them to hire a controller, but they didn't need a controller. They're accounting was pretty simple. They need someone to come on, on the FP&A side to help them make decisions on the future business. You would need to someone to do a more accurate job of accounting, which had already occurred. That difference of accounting versus FP&A as people think about the function. Right. So we initially solved the piece for this leadership strategic piece. Going in and being a part of these businesses. Following that we started ... suddenly you're over the CFO of a number of businesses, or our group was. And we were looking at the options of the accounting side and having done this for a number of years. Having worked at IFC. Having access to lots of strong accountants. And even bringing people into an accounting group out of school, or out of other jobs where they had never done it before, you have a pretty good feel for what good and strong accountants look like versus what was available. And you found that there's a huge gap in the market where your large accounting firms or your top firms, didn't want to touch day-to-day accounting. And for number of good reasons. Right. Their focus is on audit work, tax work, advisory where their rates are incredibly high. And they're not staffed or structured to take on this day-to-day piece. So suddenly you're looking around and we're saying, "Okay. What's left?" You have these mom and pop shops, and many of them they don't think about having the structure in place so that they're really insuring quality work, where you have two sets of eyes. Many times they have business models they've never seen before. Right. Very specific. Accounting structures that we see all the time. That folks who've lived in the startup world do see all the time. And we were, you know ... or you saw all these online platforms where if you were a ... they're phenomenal products if you're a very small business whose relatively simple an doesn't have a goal to become a massive, high-growth business. Great. You can go to the bench.co's of the world or the botkeepers, or indinero, where these guys specialize in low cost accounting. They cover you taxes in too. It's on a cash basis. So not on an accrual basis. So for those who don't know the difference, on a cash basis, your books in the month of January, you might have sold anything but maybe you've received $100,000 in cash for things you've sold before. And you didn't have any expenses, you didn't pay any expenses that month. Which would show $100,000 profit for that month. When on a P&L basis. An accrual basis, what was really getting measure was what actually accrued that month and then separately you have that cashflow statement. Your balance sheet. That tracks other elements. So it's a more complicated way to track a business. But it gives you a much more realistic and accurate aspect. And it's more consistent with what investors actually expect. And that's what we do. That's what we do for the companies we work on. So suddenly you're going, "Shit. Pardon my French. But I don't have any options." Right. And I'm not going to rely on somebody I don't trust. So that's when we hired Julia Comado. Congratulations Julia. She just had her first kid. I'm very, very excited for her. Nick: Congrats. Jonathan: So we brought Julia on. I sold her on a vision. So for all founders your early employers are buying vision more than anything else. And she helped us launch the group. And it was amazing. We started doing that. And over time, another pain point that we hit was a number of our tax partners started also kind of outgrowing the kind of clients that we were working with in the early stage. Right. So there were later stage guys that we overlapped with, but I understand if you're a big firm, you don't want to take on accounts where the annual fees that they're paying you. If you're a really big company and sell $5,000, it's just too small for you. Right. Or sell $10,000 really. So suddenly, your clients are going to be the smallest. You know, clients of ours who when they worked with a tax [inaudible 00:05:29] the smallest client in that firm's book. So they're kind of getting ignored or they're getting junior level workers. Or they're just getting rejected all together and we didn't want to send our clients to ... again, mom and pop shops. CPA's whose work we couldn't confirm. So we launched that business group ourselves and now just finished, or about to finish on October 15th, our second full year tax season. And that's kind of the origin story of Nomad. And why we kind of kept going on that path. Working with different companies, you know, I think you hit the nail on the head earlier. You mentioned the fact that you have a lot of unique situation. Right. Every company is different. Right. From how they're structured, the skillset of their founders. All the way through the industry that they're in. And if you're going to work with these different businesses, it's up to you to tailor your approach specifically to their needs. Right. And if you think of a CFO is anything, and you picture a football field. And you picture the teams. You have offense, you have defense, you have the quarterback, you have safeties, linemen. All these different roles. The CFO really isn't the person on the field. Right. The CFO is really the manager on the sideline calling in the plays. They know who's responsible for what. Right. And they might go, "I don't have a wide receiver right now. I'm going to go get one." Right. So that might be, if you're going internationally and you need an international tax expert. It could be that you need to go through an audit. It's required in your documentation with your investors. That they've required as part of the terms of your fundraising. And you've never gone through an audit before. They will know which firms to approach, to get different bids, so you can bring in audit firms. Right. So that's the role that the CFO really should be playing. And if you think about what a coach does, on the sideline they're tailoring their approach to every opponent. Right. So if you're one of these coaches, that approaches every game. You're going to run the same plays, the same system, and not deviate based on the strengths and the weaknesses of your opponent. You're going to lose. And our CFO is the same way. If you don't alter your approach and tailor it specifically to each company, you're going to fail. And I think that's how we really think about high-growth finance. Nick: Yeah. No I love it. I love kind of that [inaudible 00:07:45] football field. So - Jonathan: I couldn't go LaCrosse. Even though Nick, Nick's a LaCrosse guy everybody. Nick: I'm glad you didn't - Jonathan: And by LaCrosse, I mean, he's played at Penn State. I'm going to get this out. Top program of the country. You started as a freshman right? Nick: I did. Jonathan: Yeah. So, of the two of us, I'm clear the far athletic, superior athlete of a - Nick: Unless we get on the basketball court. But to go even further, I mean there's a lot of people when they think of, you know a Nomad, or other things in the ecosystem. We mentioned a few. Sometimes it's like, "Do I outsource at all? I already have a CFO in-house. I don' need you guys." But as an early stage founder approach to this, when do we like to recommend a full-time person, finance professional versus at Nomad where we can take care of everything. But a lot of time we can supplement work. Jonathan: Well, at any stage of building a business, if you look at your finance team. This is not just unique to the finance team. There are certain things that people do on different levels. And you might need someone to come in and pay your bills and do AP and collect your invoices on AOR. You may need them to do some reconciliations, need someone to come in and as your business is changing, know the proper accounting rules around SaaS, revenue recognition based on where you are. Or it could be you need much more strategic help. And the challenge you run into is I think a lot of people hope to find the white whale that could come in and do everything. Right. So sometimes they'll struggle and you might even see this in other parts of the business whether it's marketing, or sales, or even development, and engineering. Where you're trying to hire someone to do everything. And the reality is when you hire someone who is senior, they really don't want to do the little stuff. They might do it for a bit, because they're bought into the vision of the business and where you're going. But they don't want to do it too long. Or you hire someone who's more junior and they're not really capable of the more senior level stuff. And so you're struggling on a lack of knowledge. And so our recommendation is always find a way to get the staff you need and then fill it in as time demands. Right. So as a role ... so if you're a really busy, manual entry business that has lots of invoices going out and a lot of heavy work there and lot of hours, it may make sense that you hire someone full-time to do that. And maybe they spend the bulk of their time doing that and they can put in some other time in other areas of the business. You don' want them getting bored. That's also a risk. Right. Because if you force feed people into roles, and they're bored, they're going to leave and you run into this issue of constant turn on your finance team. Right. And loss of knowledge every time. So you're really like, who can we hire to supplement that piece as we need it. And as each part of the stack grows in need and demand, then you fill that. And a lot of times CFO early on, they're not just in charge of finance, you give them real estate, you're giving them HR, there's a lot of other roles that can sometimes land there. Sometimes they'll land on the COO. Right. A lot of founders that are being in that COO role. And early operation. So those pieces can fit there. So again, you're tailoring a solution to a business and as a founder, you're tailoring your solution to your needs. Right. But there's no one way to do this. And the key is to figure out what is the most cost effective way to do it. To do it right. Right. And that's the piece that people will get hit on later. Right. Where if you've ignore this and you do it wrong. Or if you hire the wrong people and they're not doing a good job. Whether it's full-time or part-time. That something that you're going to raise around capitol. It's your most cash drop time of your businesses life. And the numbers are wrong. And you don't want to go to these new investors and suddenly after you've raced around, you go, "Hey guess what? I know you now and we're just building trust, but our numbers changed pretty dramatically." So you've got to solve it beforehand. And suddenly you're cleaning up a year, or two years worth of data. It's really expensive. It's always harder to redo and fix it and make adjustments than to do it right the first time. And you're doing it at the worst time period from a cash position for your business. So you get stuck in these hard places. And these are the steps that people when they start looking ahead an moving forward, you don't want to be penny-wise and account-foolish. You know you could easily go out there and find someone on uproar or another platform. A really cheap bookkeeper who lives on the other side of the world. But I'll ask you this question, if you're doing that. Do you have the capability of vetting them as resource to know what they're doing? Do you know questions to ask them? Do you have skills they need? Do you know how to check their work to make sure they're doing it right? Because if not, it's going to be much, much more expensive later on. Nick: Yep. Yep. And you already kind of took care of the question around mistakes. So I think it covered a lot of it. And it kind of ties into the next one of just understanding your business. Especially around the metrics. Talk about how, from your perspective as a founder, how important you think that is for founders to know, why that is, especially as they're making decisions about their business and kind of pulling different levers. Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, when you go back to decision making, as a founder. As an executive. In leveraging your financial, operational model to do that, right. Because I think that's the core piece. And sometimes you one-off analysis. You might do pricing studies and AB tests to understand if we increase price, what's our conversion. How do these things play against each other? What's the most part do you have in this operating model. And in it you're going to have only so many key levers for business. Right. And knowing those key levers and how they're performing, will really dictate how you're going to do as a business. The scale at which you're growing. How investors view your business? Do they believe in you? Right. So things investors are going to look at if you're growing: is it organic? Or is it bought? What's the math on that? Which, if you know you're a business that requires both, you can compare the LTV to the lifetime value of the client versus the cost of acquisition. You can compare those things. These are things people look at. But it's also the core levers. For some businesses, those levers could be the number of users that come to the site and offer that as some sort of conversion to people who pay. If it's a free meal model. Or even it's e-commerce, you'd be looking at your average, the average dollar spent. Right. Per purchase. In a cart. Your average cart size people are completing. So you have all of these elements that matter and it really depends on each business. But as a founder you really got to know those levers. Right. And it shouldn't be a list of 15 of things you can't remember. It's really not that big. But it should be a list that you can definitely own. You can memorize. You don't want to walk into a meeting with people and not know those things. And then on top of knowing your key financial position. How much cash is in the bank. Your monthly burn. Core revenue. Those things on a financial basis also matter, but it's really what are these drivers and where's your business going. And if you're missing your targets and you spend against those targets, that means you didn't pull back spend. If you're growing fast in those targets, you might go, "Okay, great. What can we do to go faster?" Maybe this is an appropriate time to think about spending more or not. Maybe your burn is still at the rate that you want to be at as you prove out a model. A lot of companies look like hockey sticks. And they raise a series A and they look like hockey sticks. And they raise a series B and suddenly they don't look like a hockey stick. Right. And every dollar matters. So it's really ... people think about doing business as doing this. But in reality you grow and you hit a bump and you flatten out sometimes, and you have to grow and hit a bump. Sometimes for companies, it's a really big growth before you hit those bumps. But they're real. Right. And most businesses go through them. And there's a number, even in New York, a number of classic start ups that are consumer face where people felt those changes that the businesses had to go through. Right. You have a company like ClassPass that changed their business model while they have hundreds of thousands of users. Well tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands. And a lot of those people going from a pricing change where it was unlimited to a fixed number. Right. A lot of people got upset. And they actually did a phenomenal job of managing that process. But it was a big step that they had to go through, to break through their next level of growth. Nick: Yeah. That's a great example. You know it's a hard question, because you know as we said before, every one is different in term of company. But walk the audience through a typical Nomad engagement. You know, across services. I'm making it hard for you. Jonathan: You are making it hard. Nick: As things go and people are like, "Okay. Who is Nomad? You have all these different services. How does it all fit? You have this full stack, can you kind of plug and play?" You know, walk through a company that has been with us maybe from the CEO all the way up to a series B. How do we evolve as companies go? Jonathan: Yeah. You know again, I think it comes out of how to use the business. Right. Early on, when you're working with businesses. And I'll talk more not even as a financial professional. Right. Having done this with a number of businesses. Early on, the team is small and light and nimble. Right. So even I was a solo consultant. At Vimeo. We had a really small team. Right. At one point, at Vimeo you can picture how we still had tens of millions of users, and our accounting team was one part-time accountant, myself in a full-time role. And eventually I added another resource to support the finance team. And then another resource to run our FP&A. As we both new, we slowly built the team as the company needs. And as my time disappeared. And so I think it's that same process as a business where we kind of come in and bring in part-time resources. Early on. And we may be their entire finance function. And over time, it gets added to and you're supplementing around it. And maybe they hired a full-time finance head. Maybe a VP of finance. Maybe a director of finance. But that person might not have ever gone through these audits before. And they can leverage one of our CFO's to stay with them every year when they go through these audits. And then double check the close. If they've raised debt financing and they have part of their convenience is that monthly reporting. Those are things you cannot get wrong. Right. Because if you screw up your data, you miss convenance, they can take your business. Right. There's a certain amount of risk already built into that business so providing help on that is a pretty big deal. And then even if you think about tax. Tax is really just pure compliance. It might just be great. You're in one state and you have your annual filing there. And you have your federal filing. And then suddenly based on your business model, maybe you have to worry about sales and use tax. You have to do Nexus Study in these states. You're looking to grow internationally. And so what are the step you're going to take to mitigate tax liabilities as a business and make your own decisions? Or you're getting bigger and you're moving towards an exit. And one of the worst things someone could do is to start thinking about, especially as a founder, the personal tax liabilities and the business tax liabilities, when you're months out from the exit. When some of these things, especially on the personal side, you should be preparing for much earlier. Right. Where is your stock being held? There's plenty of financial planners that we know, that we work with who specialize in working with individuals who know there's going to be some exit and maybe it's after series A. Maybe it's after series B. Think about a trust. Right. Think about what you're going to do personally. But if you wait until right before, it's usually too late. And as a business, while there are times where you can make certain decisions and Stephen who is our managing director of tax, there are plenty of stories where you dig and you do a lot of research and you find ways to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liabilities. That doesn't always happen so late. When you can start early and make sure the structure picking is correct, and the process you're going forward whether it's an asset sale or full stock sale, what they will look like. Nick: Yeah. I know we're running short on time so I wanted to dive into some of my last few questions. You know - Jonathan: I might consider answering them. I can pass right? Do I have the right to pass on these? Nick: In terms of being a founder yourself, you wear multiple hats, especially at the start when you're smaller and you're getting going. How do you manage your time, make sure you balance things the right way, personally? Jonathan: Yeah. That's a great question. One thing that comes to mind is that you have to sometimes say no. Right. Early on when you're building a company, you kind of say yes to everything. My friend Dara, she's wrote an article about this. She got rejected by Brene Brown and for this project she's been running, where her goal is to amplify the effect of everybody kind of spreading kindness through acts for others. It really doesn't take ... it's exponential growth if you do for 30 people and they do for 30 people, it really grows fast. And I think Brene Brown's team sent a very amazing "No." Rejection letter. It really was. It was a rejection without rejecting. It was saying pretty much, "I have other commitments that I can't step away from. Family. Right. The business itself. Certain, maybe growth and sales expectations to hit. And I have to hit these. I have to do these first and foremost." I would have loved to. I would have loved to support that person. Sometimes you just get emails where people are just asking to pick your brain. And it's hard to make time. So I think being willing to and knowing how to say no, is a really important first step. I'm very big into productivity hacks. I think it's something that at Nomad, we take a lot of pride in. Mark has been big on ... he's been putting videos out on his blog. Everywhere from Gmail shortcuts to setting up your email so that as you go through emails you archive them and just it doesn't go back to the inbox really. It's just going email to email. You know, these are all aspects of productivity hacks. I even know that when I get to a certain point in the day, I want my emails on fast on my mobile phone, so I'll just go sit down and swipe through and archive really quickly. So I'm literally trying to manage my day as much as possible. And the other thing is as a founder, and this was really, really hard for me. And I'm sure you can even attest to this is an area of growth for me. Not just delegating decision making in other people and as you grow your team. But emotionally stepping away from the decision to let people succeed or fail on their own. And helping them like, "Okay. We failed there. Let's try again." Right. And as long as you're not failing the same way over and over again, that's how you can support your team. But really emotionally removing yourself away from that decision making. And only when it's really important. And only when they want to come to you and say, "Hey I need to pick your brain on this." Right. And being able to let those things go. And differ to other people. Of course early on, you've got to provide guide rails for people. So help them build those rails, so then you can kind of step away right? You wouldn't teach a kid to ride a bike, not that all of your employees, and I don't know if you guys can hear. It sounds like a fire alarm over-speaker that's been going on all day because apparently they always need to confirm in our building whether the fire alarms work. But going back to the analogy, it's not like you would teach a kid to ride a bike by throwing him on the bike and letting go and let him hit the corner. You're going to go run up next time and maybe even put training wheels on at first and they get used to it, and you pull them off. I think that with management, you're trying to do the same thing. And it depends also on somebody's expertise, how long they've been doing it, their experiences, and where they're coming from. Because it may be that they're very experienced, but where they're coming from they do things differently. And they need to learn your culture and your company's way of doing things. So I think that as a founder, being able to successfully delegate and then emotionally step away from decision making is really challenging, but really important. Nick: Yeah. Yeah. It's kind of finding that happy medium in both. So, you know, another question as a founder, [crosstalk 00:22:36] What things keep you up at night? Jonathan: The analogy I love to talk about is, this is one from Mark, which is when you think about when you start a business, you're like a building and you're up a floor. And then you're doing construction on it and you have a safety net on the second floor. And if you fall, you don't fall very far. Right. When you start a business, your payroll is $5,000 a month. You can throw that on a credit card. Right. It's not that hard to get that kind of financing. You go to a friend and go get $5,000. But now suddenly you're up ten stories and your payroll is $200,000. There's very few easy quick fixes for the $200,000 payroll. Right. And so if you think about if from a business perspective, every time you grow, you're assured of more success. That's not true. Right. The stakes are bigger. And they say that being a founder you have to find the ability to balance this kind of duality of opportunity and the stress of the position. And anything you do, duality is a pretty constant thing. For everybody that likes you, somebody hates you. And if more people like you, then the people that hate you, hate you so much more than people like you. It's this balance in the universe. And so as a founder, you're constantly trying to find that balance. So that's one things. And in our business we deal with human capital all of the time. And human capital is really complex. And the easiest way to explain it is when I was looking to start Nomad, I went to a bunch of trusted friends. I asked them, "Hey. What do you think about this idea?" And normally when I go to people with ideas, you have people who are like, "That's a cool idea." People probably more so, "That's a stupid idea,", or "How you going to make money doing that?", or "Why would you want to do that?", or even care much about that space, or it's just a cool idea. With Nomad I got a lot more of like, "That's a great idea." That was my red flag. Where are all of the naysayers? But when you realize is that it's really hard to build service businesses because you're dealing with just human capital. There's no product. There's a bug in a product, then let's go fix it. It's like we have a process, and we need people to buy into this as a team and really understand why and what we're trying to do over time. And sometimes you can go process and help mechanize parts of it, but in the end, it's a people business. And these are people with hopes and dreams. These are people who want to build families. These are people who, crappy things are going to happen in life outside of the office and they have to walk through the door and you want to tell them, "Listen. We're not this weird archaic place where we expect people's personal lives not to blend with their work lives. If you had a fight with your significant other before you walked out the door it's real. And that's okay. We can talk about it." Because I know I am. I was here when I broke up with my girlfriend, and I got a gian group hug because I told everyone, "Guys, I'm really upset. Don't worry it's not the business. It's me and my life. And my life just kind of fell apart. And like give me a few days and I'll be back to normal." And having that support system based on real relationships, authenticity matter. And it's a really powerful thing to go through. Nick: Yep. And lastly, to wrap it up for the founders out there. What are the last few pieces of advice you have? Any stage? Anything you kind of look back on that you're like, "I wish someone would have told me that." Things like that. Jonathan: So one, no matter who you use, internal, external, you can't just rely just on the person to do their job. You have to have at least a peripheral understanding of their job, and why they're doing it, and how to hold them accountable. Right. That's finance, marketing, sales, development right. You're not just handing them off because that's where failure comes in. And you're holding them to agreements. If you're ... if somebody internal, what are the goals you are setting? If it's external what are the goals you are setting? And are they hitting them or not? And I've definitely made that mistake and I know lot of founders who've made that mistake. When you don't do that, you elongate failure. Right. And the worst thing you can do for anybody is put them into a position to not succeed and then stretch that out. Right. Like pull the rip cord when you can and when it makes sense and I think that's definitely something people take for granted. If people come to us as friends and don't want ... we don't really let them step away. Right. We send them into Mom. Hey. Here are the things we need answers from you on. Now here's a draft version of financials and let us know if it's accurate. Right. And let's have discussions around these things. But you definitely just can't hand it off and walk away. Or have that expectation that you can because you're going to be thoroughly disappointed. That's not what running a business is. Right There's a lot more required. So I think always going through that process and having that expectation is one. A lot of times early on as a founder, we're probably tight on time so I'm going to wrap this up with this last point. A lot of times you get desperate to higher. And then you make a mistake on hiring, and then you also have onboarding. Right. Never hire anyone out of desperation. I know there's a story from Tony - [crosstalk 00:27:01] this is like wrap up. So guys. The alarm works here. This is like the eighth time this work that they've confirmed it works. So Tony Hsieh. Zappos. They would hire people into the customer service roles. And you'd have tens of thousands of people to apply. A lot of people wanted these jobs. And one of the things they would do is after you'd finish their weeks of training is that they'd offer you thousands of dollars to walk away. And they knew that if you took the money you were in it for the wrong reasons. They wanted people in it for the right reasons to work in this culture. To be this amazing customer service representative. And that was the sign. Never hire people out of desperation. You're going to build a bad culture. They're not going to work out and those failures. Here's the thing. From a math basis, it's much cheaper to pay somebody $3,000 to walk away, than the minimum, I tell you this is a real number for any business. The minimum $25,000 you're going to spend for a wrong hire. And the math comes out to a lot of things. And if it's a really wrong hire, especially considering opportunity cost, it costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollars. Think about that. So you can't hire people out of desperation. There's no growth worth that. And the other thing, once you are bringing people on, you've got to invest time in onboarding. You've got to put metrics in front of people, expectations, and goals and get them comfortable. But if you don't get you recruiting right and your onboarding right, you're really, really going to struggle. Nick: Yeah. Thanks for all of this. It's been really helpful. Jonathan: Yeah. So we've clearly got this place super hot. On fire. Nick: Yeah. Yep. Until next time. Thanks for joining guys.