At a glance
My role: forecasting and financial metrics
When I arrived at DesignCrowd in 2017, it still had the characteristics of a start‑up, even though the business had been around for almost 10 years. I was the only person in the “finance department”, doing everything from accounts payable to board meetings and presenting to potential investors. I was totally on my own!
Since then, we have created a new DIY design platform, BrandCrowd, which has seen enormous growth. DesignCrowd was marketed for small businesses, while BrandCrowd targets micro businesses, such as sole traders who need help to create logos and introduce their brands.
The creation of BrandCrowd and its development into a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription offering was the second phase of growth for the business. Now, we are in the third phase, scaling up on the back of the success of BrandCrowd.
At first, my job required me to focus on operational and compliance activity, but it has evolved. Now, my areas of key focus are around forecasting and decision support activity at all levels – particularly when we are engaged in capital raising processes.
While CEO Alec Lynch runs point with potential investors, I am very much supporting that process. I am there to provide forecasts and to dive into the financial metrics investors want to see and understand.
Much of my role is about preparation. For instance, when we are planning for capital raising, we are figuring out how much we need to bring into the business, how much we want to spend and what returns we expect to get. That is critical – and it is time-consuming.
Game changers: the impact of mentorship
I did my bachelor of commerce at Sydney University and was never exactly sure what area of finance or accounting I wanted to enter. I was hired by payments company Cuscal, and my first role was in management accounting.
From there, I developed a taste for financial planning and analysis. It was about building connections with people across the business, then using Excel spreadsheets to build complex financial models. That was a pathway to understanding the revenue side of business. Working with the management team and others was a formative period for me.
I had two mentors – both CFOs at Cuscal – where I worked for 12 years. The first was Ian Keddie. He taught me to think of analytics not just in textbook terms, but to customise it to the business you are managing.
The second was Sean O’Donoghue, who taught me the importance of focusing on your finance technology stack to enable better access to your data. He gave me the fire to ensure the finance systems I am working with are always improving and, ideally, ahead of where they need to be.
My challenges: finding the balance
I went from a team of 25 under me at Cuscal, to being the only member of the finance team at DesignCrowd. It is easy to bury myself in detail all day, but then I have to suddenly switch my brain to think strategically and look at the big picture. Sometimes that means taking a walk around the block or maybe just making a cup of coffee to create some mental space.
Balance is another challenge, such as knowing when to protect the balance sheet and when to spend to accelerate growth. This is a line we all have to walk. Do we hire and pursue an aggressive growth strategy, or do we keep a protective eye on the cash balance? What can we afford to do, what risks can we take? It is all about identifying the right path as early as possible.
In early 2020 with the pandemic, there was a lot of fear that revenue would drop off acutely, and we were planning for worst-case scenarios. Then came an unexpected explosion in volume, which fuelled growth in our top line, and we reached profitability for the first time.
After the initial tailwinds, things eased off. We had to then pivot from pure growth to a more conservative approach, to keep growing the business but do it sustainably. We managed to do that while also enduring the short-term pain of transitioning from a mostly transactional business to a subscription business.
Now we are seeing strong growth again despite difficult economic conditions, which is a testament to our investments in product and transition to SaaS.
Lessons learned and best advice
- Always allow some focus on systems and processes. Try to be ahead of where you think you need to be. This will help you leverage data and maximise efficiency across your finance functions.
- Plan, plan, plan. Plan your day, plan your year, plan your project roadmap, plan your team growth. If you do not plan, it is more difficult to explain why what you are working on is the right thing to be doing – but make sure you plan with contingency, nothing ever actually goes to plan!
- Understand the business and its product. Having a good understanding of the business you are working in will help you add value and truly partner with the business. It also helps you prioritise, manage relationships with stakeholders and generally operate at a high level.
- Be honest about your weaknesses. To really grow in your profession, you need to focus on your weaknesses, and that starts with acknowledging what they are – even if it is a little uncomfortable.