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The Role Forward

Brian Weisberg on a Collaborative Budgeting Process

In this episode of The Role Forward, Brian Weisberg, Head of Finance and Business Operations at Tidelift, discusses the importance if mindful sales planning, the role of technology in the FP&A space, and why every company should perceive a finance leader as a team captain.

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The Role Forward
Brian Weisberg on a Collaborative Budgeting Process
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Episode Summary

When someone even mentions the budgeting season, most business owners and their team members — especially the finance department — start feeling anxious. But it should not be like that, says our guest, Brian Weisberg, the Head of Finance and Business Operations at Tidelift.

The key to any fruitful budgeting process is a well-thought-out financial model. Therefore, each company needs a finance expert — someone ready to go beyond their role to get to know the business and its parts and “knit the whole thing together.”

In this episode of The Role Forward, Brian and our host Joe Garafalo discuss the importance of mindful sales planning, the role of technology in the FP&A space, and why every company should perceive a finance expert as a team captain.

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Featured Guest

Brian Weisberg

Head of Finance and Business Operations, Tidelift

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Brian Weisberg is an experienced finance leader who enjoys working in startup cultures. Before joining Tidelift, he help VP of Finance roles at companies like Code Climate and Anchore.

Key Themes from the Episode
  • Revenue and sales are the starting points and the foundation for any budgeting process.
  • CEOs shouldn't have to be deep in the budgeting process if they hire the right finance leader.
  • Effective budgeting processes require flexible tech solutions to stay agile and collaborative.

Episode Highlights from Brian Weisberg

2:35 — The Traditional Budgeting Process Is Broken

”It’s painful. I think everybody can agree that when someone says ‘budget season’, you immediately get goosebumps; your palms start to sweat. You get anxious, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

When I first got into the whole startup thing, I came into it from public accounting and investment banking and not knowing what I was doing. I dove in like everybody else and started building spreadsheet templates and shipped all of the functional leads in a file and said, ‘Hey, give me your budget requests.’

And then I cranked it away in the spreadsheet and built another model, and it was terrible. You’d get the wrong versions, or people were like, ‘I don’t know how to fill this thing out.’ And you’d get these long emails or you’d get a different file that someone just created on their own. And you have to cobble this information together; it’s broken.”

11:30 — The Largest Driver of Cash Consumption at an Average SaaS Business Is Staffing

”So, if we’ve got the revenue figured out and we’ve got our three legs of the stool, [you need to] make sure you have enough sales bodies to close those ops, and they’re going to need to hire those salespeople before they’re closing.

So the next conversation I would have is talking with your sales team around where your sales leader is and making sure you’re in alignment around targets and hiring to support the ARR goal.

[…] It depends on your sales model. You probably need one BDR or SDR, whatever acronym you want to use. So understanding whether it’s your sales leader or your BDR manager, but understanding the needs of that relationship. […] And then once you close the deal, what does implementation look like?

And so, this is where you shift from the sales leader to the CS, (unless this rolls up to sales depending on your organization). What does implementation and onboarding look like for your product or business?

[…] The hope is that the product will eventually build the features to make the onboarding easier and get your gross margins out of the negative and into the positive. So then the product conversation, but then, when you start talking with the product [team], what is the relationship between product managers, designers, and software engineers because someone has to build the product.”

19:00 — A Finance Person Is Like the Captain of A Sports Team

”Say you’re on a soccer team. The captain is responsible for making sure everybody is on the same page, driving the conversations, and understanding what’s going on.

And that’s where the narrative, the executive summary, and the pros are super helpful because not everybody thinks of things like spreadsheets. If you put a spreadsheet in front of the VP of Sales, they’re going to be, ‘What the heck is this? I’ve got my CRM, and I know what people do.’

Have that conversation around trying to get those earned secrets out of your leaders, [so that] they truly know what’s going on in each of their functions.

Your job as a finance [leader] is to knit the whole thing together, have the conversation, relay the message back and forth, and sum it all up. And then, the budget is just an output of what’s going on in the business.”

Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Anybody with a computer can build a spreadsheet like. It’s not rocket science, it’s P’s times Q’s. But what’s actually valuable about the budget process, or the conversations with product, and with engineering, and with sales, and CS and recruiting, and GN a like those conversations and being a cross-functional captain, so to speak. Like your job, as a finance person, as maybe more of like a captain on like a sports team.

Brian Weisberg Introduction

Hello and welcome to another episode of The Role Forward podcast. I’m Joe Garafalo, and this episode is brought to you by Mosaic, a strategic finance platform that transforms the way business gets done. Today, our guest is Brian Weisberg, Head of Finance and Business Operations at Tidelift. Brian, thanks for joining me today.

[00:01:03] Brian Weisberg: Thanks, Joe. Appreciate it. It’s always good chatting.

[00:01:06] Joe Garafalo: Same here. Before we get going, can you give everyone a little bit of background on yourself and your role at Tidelift? 

[00:01:11] Brian Weisberg: Sure. Absolutely. So, I’ve spent the past dozen or so years running finance for fast growing startups. Most of that experience has been in the enterprise B2B SaaS space with the companies focused on kind of the DevOps or DevSecOps space. So, working with a lot of engineering teams, trying to make that process better at Tidelift.

[00:01:32] So, I’m responsible for finance business operations by title, but basically anything other than writing code, selling, shipping product, that all falls on me. HR expenses, benefits, budgeting, forecasting, cash management, accounting, all that stuff is under my purview. I love it. I love this stage kind of the, the early, “The Messy Middle” to, to quote Scott Belsky, is a lot of fun.

[00:01:57] Joe Garafalo: Cool. Well, excited to hear about your experience handling all of that messy middle, and that’s our topic for today. To set up our conversation, about a month ago, we did a webinar together and the topic was all about building a collaborative finance function. And given that it’s planning season, one of the things that really stuck with me during our conversation was, was your approach to budgeting. And given all your experience,

The Pain of Budgeting Season

[00:02:20] I think audience is going to love to hear about some of the good and the bad of your approach. So, to kick us off first and foremost, why do you think the budgeting process has been so painful for everyone involved historically?

[00:02:32] Why has it been so painful? It’s painful. I mean, I think everybody can agree that when someone says budget season, you immediately get goosebumps. You start to kind of your hands, your palms start to sweat, you get anxious. 

[00:02:44] Joe Garafalo: It’s almost like a four-letter word. 

[00:02:46] Brian Weisberg: Yeah, that’s totally it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I mean, I, I, when I first got into the whole startup thing, I came into it from public accounting and investment banking, and not really knowing what I was doing. Dove in like everybody else and started building spreadsheet templates, and shipped all of the functional leads, a file and said, “Hey, give me your budget requests.”

[00:03:05] And got to just crank it away in the spreadsheet and building another model. And it was terrible, like, it was awful. You’d get the wrong versions or people were like, “I don’t know how to fill this thing out.” And you get these long emails, you’d get a different file that someone just created on their own,

[00:03:20] and you have to like cobble this information together. And it was just, it’s just totally broken. And over the years I’ve gotten a little bit better with it. In Tidelift I started something completely different. And some of that I can’t take full credit for it, the organization as a whole, so we’re a fully distributed company and a lot of our communication happens either in Slack or Google Docs. Kind of Slack for more short, asynchronous, quick responses to things,

[00:03:46] and then Google Docs for longer form communications. We write lots of memos and I mean even with our board, we don’t use board decks, send them a memo, like a four or five page memo talking about what’s going on with the business since the last board meeting. So when I joined Tidelift, I had this, I got kind of inundated in this prose form of communicating, like long form, maybe inspired by AWS, even though none of us have worked there. But just kind of this communication using documents in long form instead of decks and live calls, ’cause we’re fully distributed.

[00:04:17] With that inspiration at Tidelift I started this new process where I still have my spreadsheet where I build out the model with the hiring plan and the sales forecast, but then when it comes to working with the team, I abstract the key information and I send them a half page or a page summary of kind of what are the big drivers, what are the big rocks, so to speak.

[00:04:40] I don’t know if you’ve heard the ‘rocks’ metaphor, but if you’ve got like a… to go down this rabbit hole for a second, hear me out. A fishbowl, and then you’ve got rocks, boulders, and sand, and you need to get all of that into the fishbowl, how do you get it in? You got to start with the big rocks first, put those in the bowl and then the medium size, and then the fine grain sand.

[00:04:59] If you start with the sand, you’ll never get everything in. And so getting those big rocks, those are kind of the meaty conversations that start the whole budget process off. And talking with my team, sales, CS, product, engineering, HR, like what are the different functions and what are their needs. And abstracting the key information out of the model and what are the things that I really, what are the questions that I really want answered.

[00:05:24] And then my job is to get those put back into the spreadsheet, the P’s and the Q’s and the cash planning and the metrics and all that fun stuff. Don’t bother that team with those things, because not everybody thinks about spreadsheets, and you’re going to get information in all different ways. What really matters is like from a hiring standpoint, like the largest driver of cost of a fast growing business is staffing.

[00:05:47] So, what are some overall revenue expectations getting in line with sales on that pipeline deals, sizes, land and expands, and then using that to drive the rest of the conversation around? People needs to support the sales machine and it becomes this iterative process, but I’ll pause there because I’ve been going on and on for a while.

[00:06:08] Joe Garafalo: No. I mean, I love the rocks and the sand analogy. It makes a ton of sense and resonates pretty deeply with me. Everything you’re explaining sounds sounds like a, a bottoms-up approach after you’ve kind of landed on your, your revenue targets. It seems like revenue and sales is where you would start the whole budget process.

[00:06:26] Is that fair to assume? 

[00:06:28] Brian Weisberg: I mean, that’s the, that’s the money machine. It’s you need cash. And it all starts with cash in a revenue expectations.

Breaking Down a Modern Budgeting Process

[00:06:35] Joe Garafalo: For sure. And when you think about like the budgeting and the planning process, it’s a pretty daunting task, right? It’s like, “Man, I have to plan for the next 12 months for every single dollar that’s coming in and out of the business.” So, for a lot of finance folks, it’s like, how do you break that down and where do you start?

[00:06:52] So, starting with sales seems, seems like a really good place. After sales what are some of the more important or largest drivers of, of the model and how do you break that down?

[00:07:03] Brian Weisberg: After sales or or even just breaking down sales?

[00:07:07] Joe Garafalo: Let’s break down sales first. 

[00:07:08] Brian Weisberg: Okay. So when I think about sales planning, I think of a stool. So typical stool has three legs and each of those legs represents a different way you can forecast sales. There’s tops down, where a million dollars and we want to get to a hundred million dollars by year seven.

[00:07:28] How do you get there? You don’t get there overnight. It’s not 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 and a hundred, there’s a path. And yeah, I mean, there’s some messiness in the path. Like it may grow faster, may grow slower, but generally speaking, trying to get from like a million to 3 to 5 to 10 to 20 to 50 to 75 to a 100.

[00:07:53] I just made that up off the cuff. Like whatever it is, there’s a general path to get there. There’s your tops down that likeNot going to say triple, triple, double, double, double, ’cause that never happens. That’s a myth. It’s like the Rule of 40. That’s also a myth.

[00:08:10] Don’t get me started on that. We can, we can have a separate conversation around metrics and what’s the true metric versus what people talk about. So there’s your tops down view, then there’s bottoms up, which a lot of us, finance people can do pretty easily in a spreadsheet, where you have either website sessions and then converting to leads, or just starting with leads, and then qualified leads, and then opportunities,

[00:08:34] and then deals. And then if you’re like a B2B or be that enterprise SaaS motion, like a lot of my experience has been, a big driver is the land and expand. So what is your land and expand kind of strategy, 50 to 200 K to a million dollars in ARR or whatever that is. So there’s your kind of bottoms up view, so to speak, which any of us can build in a spreadsheet, we’ve probably done a million of those.

[00:08:57] And then in the middle, the third leg to the stool, is kind of what’s in the pipeline. Talking to your sales leader and your sales team, not just the leader, but kind of understanding what’s going on in the team level and how our pipelines shaping out. How many deals, how long does it take on average for rep to ramp?

[00:09:15] What does ramp mean, like what are your targets? Do you have like a 5x ARR delivery to OTE target? How long does it take to get there? How many deals on average can a rep close at what kind of size? And using a lot of what’s that data in the pipeline, in your CRM, your Salesforce, your HubSpot, Pipedrive, whatever you’re using as your CRM and using that as kind of like the third leg to the stool.

[00:09:39] Brian Weisberg: So, you’ve got three different ways in which you can model revenue and making sure all three of those are in relative alignment. And that’s kind of where I start the budget processes. Making sure those are in alignment, getting a decent revenue number from a number of different ways, because what that can also do is give you the key information that your constituents are going to care about when you’re starting to have the conversation around CS planning, product planning, engineering planning.

[00:10:05] Joe Garafalo: I love that. If you’re able to triangulate with that stool approach, what the revenue numbers going to be, and you’ve adapted from all angles, it makes broader budgeting conversations with other department leaders aligned around the goals for the business. So, in my eyes, if you’ve nailed sales and your tops down, your middle, and your bottoms up approach, you can then go to the other drivers of the business.

[00:10:30] And when I think about the other drivers of the business, it’s, “Okay, great. We have this revenue plan. What is going to be our way to acquire customers?” Which is probably your conversation with the marketing folks. Next step would probably be around, “If we’re acquiring all these new customers, who are we going to need to staff to make these customers successful?”

[00:10:49] And then, potentially, you know, “What other staffing considerations do we need to support the product goals, that new customer acquisition and our acquisition strategy?” So, maybe talk about how you break those down after the tops down approach to sales.

[00:11:04] Brian Weisberg: Yeah, kind of thinking about the hiring plans for each of those are the needs. Let’s put a pin in acquisition costs for now. Because there’s both discretionary acquisition costs, like your marketing costs, Google ads, conference sponsorships, whatever it takes to fuel the sales machine with leads and ops.

[00:11:22] And then there’s like the non-discretionary, the headcount planning. Let’s, let’s focus on that ’cause like the, the largest driver of cash consumption at an average SaaS business is staffing. And so if we’ve got the revenue figured out and we’ve got our three legs to the stool, making sure you have enough sales bodies to actually close those ops

[00:11:42] and they’re going to need to hire those salespeople before you act, before they’re actually closing, ’cause thinking about ramp times. So, like that’s the next conversation I would have, is talking with your sales team around or your sales leader around kind of making sure you’re in alignment around targets and hiring to support the ARR goal.

[00:12:00] And then… Am I going down the right path or did you want to steer this in…? 

[00:12:04] Joe Garafalo: Yeah. absolutely. So, let’s keep talking on the hiring front. So, in a world where you understand how many AEs you’re going to need, you understand that you need to hire them before you actually need them. Where does the headcount conversation go after that? 

[00:12:17] Still stays in sales for a little bit. Well, it depends on your sales model. Like with my experience, a lot of it’s kind of a, with the enterprise SaaS space, in addition to an AE, there’s usually a sales rep or sales development rep, or a business development rep pairing to kind of help qualify those.

[00:12:33] Brian Weisberg: So, understanding the ratio for every AE, you probably need one BDR or SDR, whatever acronym you want to use, or a two to one, depending on kind of the high touch, like how much work, so, understanding whether it’s your sales leader or your BDR manager, but understanding kind of the needs there in that re relationship.

[00:12:52] And what is that ratio? A lot of this can be done with ratio heuristics as a starting conversation. So, understanding that relationship between AEs and BDRs and then solutions architects, do you need pre or post sales or both? Tidelift we have both pre-sales and post-sales solutions architects.

[00:13:10] Brian Weisberg: So, there’s like maybe a ratio there you need to tease out. Is it two to one on the pre-sales side or three to one? Like how much, how technical can your sales team get? How technical do they need to get, and can they drive it or do they need to bring in an essay? And then once you close the deal, what does implementation look like?

[00:13:27] And so this is where you kind of shift from the sales leader to the CS, unless this rolls up to sales depends on your org. But then what does implementation and onboarding look like for your product or your business? And that can very quickly, like the next natural conversation from there is to go and talk with product, because most businesses,

[00:13:45] it’s going to require a higher touch in the early days. The product is kind of like 80% built. And when I say 80, I really mean 50%. Let’s be honest. We love to sell the vision, but it takes time to get there. And there’s a lot of Mechanical Turk going on in the backend, where you’ve got a lot of hand-holding white glove, because those early customers are really almost like R&D or product research to help inform the product so that in two or three years, it can be more automated, more streamlined.

[00:14:13] And so that’s where, like I would typically go from the CS conversation to the product conversation, and kind of talk through sales plans, hiring plans, deals, customers, but then also talking through onboarding and implementation. So, like the CS needs, because the hope is that eventually product will build the features to make the onboarding easier and get your gross margins out of the negative and actually get them positive, and then eventually to the promise land at 80 plus percent gross margins. So, then the product conversation, but then when you start talking with product, what is the relationship between product managers and designers to software engineers?

[00:14:47] ‘Cause someone has to actually build the product. That gets to one of my favorite metrics that we can talk about another time is R&D efficiency. Everybody likes to talk about sales efficiency, but are you getting a positive payback on what the development team, the product managers, and then engineers are building

[00:15:03] and what is that relationship? That’s one of my favorite ways to kind of dig in behind the scenes of like what’s actually going on in the business. 

[00:15:10] Joe Garafalo: I love that. 

[00:15:10] Brian Weisberg: Are you generating a positive return on those expensive software engineers?

[00:15:15] Joe Garafalo: So important, so important. What I really like about what you’re describing is, when people think finance they think scorekeepers, but you, you seem to have a really intimate knowledge of how the business actually works and operates. And I think when we’re approaching the planning process, historically it’s been driven by executive leadership, mainly CEO. But if you have somebody that has this fundamental understanding of how the business is actually working

[00:15:40] in unison, how all the functions support one another, it seems like you can actually take the CEO out of like that, you know, parental mom or dad role and kind of make them a contributor. So, maybe talk about how your approach to budgeting has, has changed that, that role of the CEO in the process. 

[00:15:58] Brian Weisberg: Absolutely, happy to… Yeah. I’ve, I’ve worked at organizations where the CEO is very involved and sitting right by side, the spreadsheet, and we’re working on it together. And I feel like we’re just like trying to run in quicksand. Like, it’s terrible use of the CEO’s time. Let’s let’s just start there.

[00:16:15] Like the CEO has so many things. They need to be on the front lines, they’re external facing. There there’s so many things need to be worried about. If they hire a high capacity, forward-thinking finance leader, they can make that shift from like a driver of the budget process to a contributor and kind of think of your RACI

[00:16:33] and they’re stepping out of that responsible role. So, if you have that, if you can find someone that’s a finance person, like myself, who’s comfortable kind of traversing the organization and really trying to understand what’s going on with what drives the business. Like that is tremendously more valuable. Then your, your model is not just a spreadsheet that you cranked out in the corner, but it’s an actual reflection of what’s unique about your business.

[00:16:59] And that’s where I think, that’s what I think separates an average finance leader to someone that is more than just a VP of finance or CFO. I don’t know what the title is for that, but for me, that’s the only way to go. That a model is only any good, if it actually reflects how the business operates, how it scales, what does it actually take to grow the organization,

[00:17:20] and how does it interact. Because there’s so many heuristics out there, but you need to figure out what’s right for your organization and then your model becomes something that’s really just not a scorekeeper, but it’s a way of kind of keeping everybody on the same page. And it’s a living breathing thing, because the one constant at any startup is change.

[00:17:40] What happens today is going to change in six months, it’s going to change in 12 and it’s going to change in 24.

[00:17:46] Joe Garafalo: So true. And it sounds like through your, your memo style approach, where you’re articulating what’s driving the business and collecting that feedback through repeat interactions with your different stakeholders, you’re able to make sense and, and turn, you know, the data from just bits into actual narrative.

[00:18:06] You have a great quote from our last webinar. It was, “Data is great, but it’s better to go a step further and abstract that data from bits into like insightful decision-making ability.” Can you talk a little bit more about what you’ve done there? 

Turning Data into Actionable Insights

[00:18:20] Brian Weisberg: Sure. For me the most valuable thing, the most valuable output from a well-run budget process are the conversations. Anybody can build a spreadsheet. Anybody with two hands and a keyboard, and you don’t even need two hands, anybody with a computer can build a spreadsheet. Like it’s not rocket science, it’s P’s times Q’s like… but what separates, what what’s actually valuable about the budget process or the conversations with product, and with engineering, and with sales, and CS, and recruiting, and GN a like those conversations and being a cross-functional

[00:18:57] captain, so to speak. Like, your job as a finance person, as maybe more of like a captain on like a sports team, like say you’re on a soccer team. The captain is responsible for making sure everybody is on the same page and driving the conversations, understanding what’s really going on. And that’s where the narrative, the executive summary, the pros is super helpful because not everybody thinks of things as a spreadsheet.

[00:19:21] Brian Weisberg: Like, the, if you put a spreadsheet in front of VP of sales, they’re going to be, “What the heck is this?” Like, “I’ve got my CRM and I know what people do.” Like have that conversation around trying to get that 

[00:19:31] earned secrets. That’s the promising.

[00:19:34] And it’s getting those earned secrets out of your leaders and having the conversation around them, like, like they truly know what’s going on in each of their functions, and your job as finance is to knit the whole thing together and to have the conversation and relay the message back and forth and sum it all up.

[00:19:50] And then the budget is really just an output of what’s actually going on in the business. And then you actually understand what knobs or what levers you can turn. Otherwise you might as well just hire another banker to build your financial model for you, and it really has no relevance to what’s actually going on in the business.

[00:20:06] Joe Garafalo: That’s so important is like if you can capture those earned secrets from your department leaders, understand where the pain is, and understand that the budget is the tool to eliminate that pain and help the company grow, you figured it out. With that said, how does technology help or hinder the process?

[00:20:27] I know we’ve talked about all the drawbacks of spreadsheets, but at a certain point the rubber has to meet the road and those conversations need to boil down into a plan that lives and breathes somewhere. Any good pieces of technology out there that have helped? 

[00:20:40] Brian Weisberg: Sure. There is over the past couple of years, there has definitely been no shortage of new entrants into kind of the FPA space. What used to just be spreadsheets and cobbling them together, and sending them around and trying to kind of copy and paste and link them all together, that was terrible.

[00:20:56] Oh my gosh, I might as well set pen and paper and everybody. Over time it’s, it’s been really fun actually as a finance leader, see new entrants kind of joined the space to build tools, to make forecasting more of a collaborative exercise. Started off with like Adaptive and Anaplan, and even before that there was Business Objects, which was, that was a game changer.

[00:21:17] So, you’ve got Adaptive and Anaplan, which those are great, but they’re also very complicated in… Yes, I mean, any of us on this podcast or listening to this podcast has either worked with them or could figure it out, but eventually you have to hire like an admin to manage this setup. And it, all of a sudden becomes like a Salesforce where you want technology to get out of the way and really enable the conversations and be flexible and fluid.

[00:21:43] And so over the past maybe 12 to 24 months, there have been a number of companies that kind of jumped into the space like Causal and Layer and OnPlan, or even like a Mosaic, which one of the things with that I really like what really kind of stood out to me at Mosaic was how it could get out of the way. It could, you could have the conversations, model in it,

[00:22:07] you could bring in multiple data points, but it can also get out of the way and help focus on the conversations where it was easy to, it seemed like it was really easy to set up and model different scenarios and pulling all this information together. Like coming back to my stool analogy, being able to aggregate information from different data sources, from HR, from like your HRIS or your CRM or your billing system, or your GL.

[00:22:31] Oh, gosh, don’t get me started on a rolling forward a model, either forecast to actuals and pav analysis, that we could do a separate session on that. But anyhow, tools that can help you get all of these things done easily and get out of the way so you can focus your energy as a finance leader on the conversations and be a tool around which point everybody can iterate and talk about and collaborate on, because eventually you do have to put bits into a spreadsheet,

[00:22:59] or bits into a tool. And I’ll agree on kind of what the P’s and the Q’s are. I don’t know if I answered your question, but I’ve talked around it a lot.

[00:23:06] Joe Garafalo: No, absolutely. I think you did answer it. And I think one of the biggest outcomes of a budget is like bringing visibility to, “Hey, here’s what we said we were going to do on January 1st or on the start of the quarter.” And then continuing to be able to monitor and give transparency to different leaders to see, you know, “Are we ahead or are we behind on the plan?

[00:23:28] Is, you know, tripod or stool approach to sales actually working? Are we living, breathing and executing on that, that plan that we worked so hard to create?” And a lot

[00:23:38] of times it’s, it’s difficult to bring visibility and transparency into how you’re actually performing in close to real time. I think traditionally in finance it’s, it’s been really easy to, to wait 45 days after the month ends

[00:23:53] to send out, you know, the, the newspaper from, from last month. But in, in today’s day and age, I think there’s a chance to bring visibility and closer to real time, and allow people to pull those levers or push harder or push slower if things aren’t actually happening as we forecasted. 

[00:24:11] Brian Weisberg: Totally. I mean that what you said triggers so many thoughts in my head. Like the idea of kind of being able to go back and forth between forward looking and backward looking in almost real time. A strong finance leader needs to be someone that can both look back and look forward to simultaneously.

[00:24:26] And so if your tools can help you do that and make it easier, so you don’t have to wait 45 days and effectively fly blind with your business, then you can more quickly pivot the business and have that meaningful conversation. When we built the original plan, we thought that we would need a, I don’t know, a two to one ratio between AEs and pre-sales engineers, but actually we have a super technical product here.

[00:24:50] The sales team is really struggling to get deals done. If we increase that relationship, yeah, that’s going to hurt our sales efficiency and drive down and increase our cash needs for the business, but that might actually increase deal velocity and help us get more ARR faster, and maybe we can make up for lost time.

[00:25:08] And that’s the conversation that’s important to have. And if you have the tools that help you adjust in real time to have that conversation and then look at the results, then you can get back to running and operating the business. Because again, it’s about the conversations and being an alignment on the underlying assumptions.

[00:25:26] If you built your model in Excel and you had to adjust this, yeah, you could probably do it if you built it out right, but think about it. One constant SaaS and startup is change. And if you’re constantly having to refactor your model, you’re spending way too much time writing IF functions, and ratios, and recalculating, and building, and inserting new drivers, and refactoring your model and not running the business.

[00:25:53] All you are at the end of the day is you quickly become an Excel Jockey, which that doesn’t help inform anything other than build another spreadsheet.

[00:26:00] Joe Garafalo: Exactly. And I think a lot of department leaders are, are going to be really excited to have those conversations for the first couple of times, but every time you have those interactions, you need to bring some value to the table. And the value comes from being able to look forward and look backwards and help those, those people who can actually turn those levers and knobs, make the right decisions.

[00:26:22] So, Brian, really enjoyed everything you’ve taught us about your approach to budgeting so far. Couple of quick questions to wrap us up. Maybe sum up the benefits, maybe the top three or four from your approach, just for our listeners. 

[00:26:36] Brian Weisberg: Yeah. If I had to sum up kind of like a TLDR of like the top three points, first breathe. Like it will be okay. You will make it through your next budget in one piece. There is a tomorrow, you’ll be fine. Because it’s so easy to get clenched and like stress out. But I guess top three points, one start with revenue.

[00:26:54] I personally really liked the stool model. Like your revenue forecast is only any good, if you can triangulate your revenue expectations through multiple ways. So like, they’re never gonna match. Like those three methods that I talked about doing tops down, kind of, “Where should we be going? Like for a 5 million in ARR,

[00:27:12] and we’re going to go out for another round of funding. We probably need to show growth from 5 to 15, or I guess these days maybe you could show seven and be okay.” But eventually I’ll catch up… Anyway, like what do you need to get to generally speaking at a high level? Do you have, are you closing enough deals in the pipe?

[00:27:32] And then can you do a detailed P times Q buildup from leads ops deals that gets you there, and are those more or less in line? So one is the revenue stool, two is to take that data and have the strategic conversations with your leaders. Don’t send them a spreadsheet with your ARR numbers. Schedule a call, write up a summary in a Google Doc or an email using pros.

[00:27:57] Don’t send them a table. Use prose and kind of articulate what are the goals for the next 12 or 24 months and have that conversation on the hiring needs. And then three is to think through kind of like how you’re going to roll this forward once the year starts. We didn’t really talk about that much, but the plan is basically just a forecast at a point in time.

[00:28:18] At this point in time you thought you were going to do X next year, then the year starts and change happens. So, being thoughtful around how you’re going to collaborate and make changes and track this with your team, and put together a mechanism whereby you can have the conversation. And you can keep up with it and kind of collaborate whether it’s a Google Sheet, or a tool like Mosaic, or something where you can all log in and look at it together and think through how you’re going to adjust this and actually run the business with this

[00:28:47] and that budget becomes a forecast.

Finance Career Advice from Brian Weisberg

[00:28:50] Joe Garafalo: Love it. Really great insights there. I second, everything that you said. Last question for you before I let you get back to, to planting season is we ask this to every guest that’s been on our podcast. For anyone who’s aspiring to be a VP or CFO, what’s one piece of career guidance or feedback that you wish you knew when you started?

[00:29:09] One thing I wish I knew…

[00:29:12] Brian Weisberg: is the value of taking the time to understand the business. It took me a while to figure that out. I came to the VP of finance chapter of my career as a, I call it recovering banker and public accountant. This is like, I started my career in public accounting and then did some time at an investment bank and then came into kind of the startup world.

[00:29:36] And coming from that world, I wasn’t used to working with the other functions. I just thought finance sat in a box, built spreadsheets, tracked the score. But over, throughout my struggles, kind of getting familiar with it and working in startups, I quickly realized the value from being able to, or taking the time to

[00:29:57] get to know the rest of the business, that those conversations, those coffee talks, those walk and chats with your different functional leads, and really getting to know them and their reports and the managers and inundating yourself with in the business, makes your model and your forecast tremendously more valuable and really more realistic. And it becomes something that everybody believes in. And so that transition of getting out of your hole, taking the time to understand the business. I mean, I go one step further and I actually like being able to use the products, which has been a challenge working at like a Tidelift or an Ansible, where it’s a very technical product. But I’ve scheduled time at all those companies to

[00:30:40] be able to use the product. And it’s less about me being able to use it and more about the conversations and the relationships it builds at the organization. Because then you’re not just the finance person keeping score, you’re someone that actually cares about that person, or that team, or the product, or the market.

[00:30:57] And so that, that would be my advice for anyone listening is to put the model on hold, and lean into getting to know the rest of your team, and inundating yourself with the business.

[00:31:09] Joe Garafalo: So true. I couldn’t agree more. It’s it’s those interactions that build trust and ways that finance can add value to the business and be a support function versus kind of being the back office gatekeepers, or scorekeepers, or the red tape. But really like shifting us to enablers, enablers of growth, enablers of the

[00:31:27] business to actually succeed and meet their marks.

[00:31:30] So, again, Brian, thanks so much for being a guest on the podcast. Really great conversation, I enjoyed it a lot. Before I let you go, where, where can folks go to learn more about you or Tidelift? 

[00:31:40] Brian Weisberg: Sure. So, Tidelift has a solution to help development teams manage the open source components they’re using. You can kind of think of it as almost like a Netflix or a Spotify, where instead of needing to go and sign contracts with each piece of software that each component that you’re using to build your application, you can come to Tidelift and get a bundled solution

[00:32:00] that provides security information, licensing and maintenance assurances for the components that you’re using in production. So, you can go to tidelift.com to learn more about Tidelift. And then for me, the easiest way to find me is either is probably on Twitter. My Twitter handle isbmweis. So B as in Brian, M as in Matthew, W E I S, like my last name, bmweis. Come hit me up on Twitter.

[00:32:23] I love to riff on finance, and metrics and budgeting. Yeah.

[00:32:28] Joe Garafalo: Cool. Well, Brian, thanks again for being here. Really appreciate you spending time with us and excited for our next conversation. 

[00:32:34] Brian Weisberg: Thanks, Joe. Thanks for having me. This was fun.

[00:32:36] Always. Anytime you want to be a guest, you’re more than welcome. 

[00:32:39] Brian Weisberg: Sweet. Let’s do it again.

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