March 17, 2021

Pivot Bio's Jonathan Fu on… Scaling Finance through Automation

The Finance Director of the California-based agri-tech company shares how they are scaling their growth through by automating across finance tools and processes.

jonathan flu pivot bio

In the premiere edition of the AHA! Finance interview series, we speak with Jonathan Fu, Director of Finance at Pivot Bio, about scaling finance with software and automation.

Jonathan started his career at BPM (Burr Pilger Mayer) auditing public and private companies in industries ranging from manufacturing to consumer products. In the last five years, he shifted to strategic finance roles at scale-ups like Zymergen and Good Eggs, where he was the Strategic Finance Director and Controller.

As a tactical leader, Jonathan has been pivotal in scaling finance, from it’ strategic function inside the company, and has had significant experience implementing new software solutions, including CRMs (Salesforce), ERPs (Netsuite), and financial planning tools.

We asked him about his key learnings and how he has managed change in these fast growing companies.

Let’s talk about the basics. How do you choose a software amongst all the noise?

As important as your long wish list of software features is, the impact to the people using it is what matters. In the end, the true value or ROI comes from people using the new software.

So really, I ask myself, how easy will it be to convince people to use it? How much value will they personally derive from using it (not just their bosses or their company)? How steep is the learning curve?

Another thing to keep in mind is a balance between your needs today and those of tomorrow – how will you change in 2-3 years time and how will the tool change in 2-3 years time? The former is maybe easier to figure out based on your knowledge of your business and its ambitions. The latter is tougher and there are two tips I have to tease it out:

1. What is happening at the software company level? Are they investing in adjacent capabilities that would make their current relevance even more interesting? Do their parent companies or subsidiaries have products you like that could ultimately make their way to your product in some shape or form?

2. What is happening at the community level? Does the company have a forum for tracking customer questions or feature requests and do they actually respond to them?

Long story short, there is no perfect answer here. Your needs will all depend on the maturity, priorities and resources of your organization.

pivot bio

You mentioned that people are key. This sounds like change management to me.

I can’t emphasize this enough: implementation is less than half the battle – you have to drive adoption and compliance! 

Here are some initiatives I have implemented that have worked well:

1. Gamify and incentivize adoption as a team.

In the first week of go-live, you might ask everyone to complete a task. If everyone completes it, they get lunch, for example. Every week or two, up the ante in terms of operational relevance. For me, this has worked especially well because laggards feel pressure from peers and can get help from early adopters. If you choose to do something like this, the completion metric should be visible to everyone involved so teammates can follow up with one another.

2. Get power users by volunteer or by “volun-tell.”

Identifying power users transfers ownership and responsibilities of the software from someone of authority to an end-user. Again, this embeds adoption within the team that is actually using the tool.

3. Have recurring “office hours” for a few months to answer questions.

For example, 60 minutes per week for two months. It will not take up as much of your time as you might think because the reality is that not a lot of people show up. But it is a clear signal that the organization is dedicating resources and people should feel comfortable asking questions.

4. Have an FAQ that’s easy to find.

The rationale for this one is pretty clear. If one person has a question, it’s highly likely someone else has it as well.

How involved is management in these implementations?

I could talk hours about change management, tone at the top, etc. Without a doubt, leadership buy-in is key for any organization, and in some cases, management should be leading and communicating changes. They should not encourage old behaviors. For example, if the CFO is still asking for the budget file in Excel versus looking in the planning tool, or if the Head of Sales is still emailing people about opportunities & not checking the CRM, they are not signalling that the new tool is something that is at top of mind. Which ultimately hinders the process of scaling finance and the growth of the company.

pivot bio service

What is your advice for people implementing finance software for the first time?

My advice is to not be afraid – Just do it!

For example, at one company I worked at, before we had a CRM, we had our customer pipeline in PPT. This PPT would be sent around every Friday and we would receive everyone’s input over the weekend to discuss on Monday. We implemented a CRM in order to get live and accurate information, but even after the implementation, we still downloaded all the data and maintained the PPT. Why? Because it was super scary to look at live information in the CRM before the sales managers could review the info. We adapted to the discomfort and accepted that there could be things that were surprises or unvetted, but overall there was more time back to everyone’s day.

If you’re in the process of scaling and experiencing the same issues Jonathan did, adopting the right sofware for your needs is key.

With Abacum, we empower finance teams of high-growth tech companies to become true strategic partners in the organization by driving time-to-insight with powerful automation and seamless collaboration. Request a demo now to see the product live and start your own transformational journey.

AHA! Finance is Abacum’s interview series where we speak to finance thought leaders on all topics finance. Want to be interviewed or have an interesting topic in mind? Send us a suggestion at [email protected].

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