Daniëlle Keeven, VP of Finance at Paddle — The Most Interesting Conversation on SaaS Tax Compliance
Daniëlle Keeven, the VP of finance at Paddle, discusses the importance of tax compliance and subscription legislation for tech companies, how to perform audits effectively, and why collaboration between departments is vital.
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Daniëlle Keeven, VP of Finance at Paddle — The Most Interesting Conversation on SaaS Tax Compliance
Tax compliance is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s often underappreciated and overlooked — until it’s down to the wire for SaaS companies who have received warnings about being audited.
Tax compliance needs to be more top of mind for SaaS leaders who want to truly embrace strategic, sustainable growth and expansion.
In this episode of The Role Forward podcast, our host Joe Michalowski welcomes Daniëlle Keeven, the VP of finance at Paddle. They chat about the importance of tax compliance and subscription legislation for tech companies, how to perform audits effectively, and why collaboration between departments is vital.
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- The best audit your company can perform is on itself. If you want to keep yourself accountable and make sure you stay compliant, you need to perform self-audits more often. Stress-testing processes to ensure sustainable growth and compliance across various standards, especially in early growth stages, will give you fascinating insights.
- The earlier you focus on compliance, the better. Making sure your company is compliant is a massive task — especially if you have years of historical records to work through. So the earlier you do it, the better.
- Collaboration between departments is vital. The finance department has been traditionally tossed in the back when, in reality, it should be in focus. If you want your company to do better, you need to ensure collaboration between departments.
Episode Highlights from Daniëlle Keeven
03:33 — Tax Compliance and Subscription Legislation Are Essential
“I think it’s one of those things that does require expert skill, so it’s not one of those things that you can wing it. You can probably wing it out the gate, but not for very long if you’re very successful. And so it’s better to get your infrastructure in fast and early so that it can grow and scale with you as a company, and you don’t have to go to jail along the way.”
05:30 — Product-Market Fit Needs to Be Accurate Before You Expand
“I think the first thing to look at when you’re going to expand to a country is if your product actually fits the market before you go in because it might be a requirement for you to register your company locally as an entity and when you do that, it opens up a whole box of fun stuff.”
09:02 — Payment Legislation Is Often Overlooked
“I think payment legislation is often overlooked and that can really impact your business if you’re particularly big in a specific market, and they decide to change anything around that — that might disrupt your subscription payments from coming in, effective immediately. So I think that’s another thing that is often overlooked in the expansion and growth of the company.”
29:05 — Build with Flexibility Today and Keep the End In Mind
“We need to create flexibility because you don’t know what the government’s going to do next, so you kind of run through all the scenarios. So you build today with the end in mind for whatever request comes, and even so, they’ll manage to surprise you. That’s just the nature of the game. I think the best you can do, as a good business leader, is to think about, ‘Hey, today I’m selling this one thing. What are the possible other things that I might go into that I have zero interest in doing?’ But if you start thinking about making your product agnostic enough, you could be scaling some of these sales and taxes that you’re dealing with.”
Table of Contents
[00:00:00] Daniëlle Keeven: When looking for finance tooling, I always recommend to get like a customer reference, so I, like, the sales tool, will always promise you everything and everything’s perfect.
[00:00:09] But I find, like getting, like, to talk to a customer, or like to talk to a peer in industries, and getting the word-of-mouth recommendations are so much more valuable. So, that would definitely be one of my top recommendations.
[00:00:44] Joe Michalowski: Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Role Forward podcast. My name is Joe Michalowski, and this episode is brought to you by Mosaic, a strategic finance platform that transforms the way business gets done. And today, our guest is Daniëlle Keeven. She’s the VP of Finance at Paddle of payments, tax, and subscription solution for SaaS companies.
[00:00:58] Daniëlle, thank you so much for joining me today.
[00:01:00] Daniëlle Keeven: Thank you so much for having me, Joe, very excited to be here.
[00:01:03] Joe Michalowski: Cool. Very excited to have you, we chatted for a little bit. I think the energy is gonna be high on this one, super excited. So, before we get going, do you mind just giving the quick, like two-minute background on who you are, what your career is looked like, and kind of what you’re doing at, at Paddle now?
Daniëlle Keeven Introduction
[00:01:17] Daniëlle Keeven: Yes. I think we, we talked a little bit just before hopping on here. I’m Dutch-ish, I always say ’cause I was born there, raised in Aruba, studied in the US, and going back to the island, I really stepped into the hospitality space. But they would always give me the weird properties that were in trouble, audit cleanups, or like people had walked out and things were chaotic.
[00:01:36] And so, I learned to follow the money, which has proven to be quite helpful in the tech space. So, when I switched over to tech space, everybody’s like, “Oh, you’re so good at this.” I was like, “No, I just follow the money.” And so, that’s a little bit on my background on how I switched to tech and just really help build, help companies build out the backbone of operations,
[00:01:54] to be able to capture the revenue and how it works and actually get, make money off of their product. And I was at Booking.com for four years, switching over to MessageBird for almost about two years. And then, Paddle came into the picture, and the energy of the company, the leadership through the process has, was just so contagious that I actually wasn’t interested to move, but it just, like, sold me on who they are as a company and their culture.
[00:02:19] So, just totally loved it and fell in love with the company, and that’s how I landed here.
[00:02:24] Joe Michalowski: Amazing. You know, we mentioned this before, the, the background is so cool, you’ve, you’ve been, you know, around so many places, just the travel, moving around. I think the story’s really cool, follow the money is a nice tagline for this episode in general ’cause we’re really gonna focus on a lot of like the mission-critical work that it goes very underappreciated.
[00:02:42] It’s not like the sexy topic, it’s not, it’s just that, we’re talking about billings and tax compliance, which on the surface is like, you know, who wants to focus on this thing, but I know it’s very important to you, I know it’s very important to the work Paddle does, and without it, SaaS companies crumble.
[00:02:56] So, before we get into things like best practices, tech solutions, and, and kind of how you approach these things, do you mind just, uh, talking a little bit about why tax compliance and subscription legislation should be more top of mind for SaaS leaders than maybe it is as like the unsexy finance topic.
Why Tax Compliance and Subscription Legislations Should Be Top of Mind for SaaS Leaders
[00:03:14] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah, I think the short sentence or the short answer to that is because game over, you know, it’s, it’s the one showstopper, I mean, next to your servers going down, or your product, you know, not, you know, software not running. I think the other only external threat that is massive is if you’re not compliant, and you’re building out your software, you’re super excited about it.
[00:03:33] You have a great product, you put it out there, and then all of a sudden you get, you know, the IRS, or whoever knocking down your door, and it’s just like, “Wait a minute!” Like, this is not what, you know, this is not supposed to happen. So, I, I, I think it’s one of those things that does require an expert skill, so it’s not one of those things that you can wing it.
[00:03:50] You can wing it probably out the gate, but not for very long if you’re very successful. And so, it’s better to get your infrastructure in fast and early, so that it can grow and scale with you as a company. And you don’t have to go to jail along the way. So, that’s probably the short version of why it’s incredibly important.
[00:04:09] Joe Michalowski: That’s a fantastic motivation for any finance leader, don’t land in jail because of your tech job. I love it. I think that’s great. I want to talk about, I think when we were emailing about kind of potential topics for this, the message I got was that this is especially important when you’re expanding internationally.
[00:04:25] And so, I wanna dig more into that because I guess, like, from my perspective, I, I don’t work in finance, I, I’m in marketing and so, you know, the benefit of running a SaaS company is that you can sell to anyone, like that’s, that’s the whole thing. You don’t need a team to go to another country to implement some tool, but then you have something like this topic that’s like, “Okay, like this isn’t as easy as just like, oh, we signed this company overseas and now we’re good to go.”
[00:04:50] So, can you talk about some of the key compliance concerns, specifically about international SAS sales, but even, like, even homegrown as well? Like, what, what should people be thinking about as they, they put this at the top of the list?
Key Compliance Concerns for International and Homegrown SaaS Sales
[00:05:03] Daniëlle Keeven: I think it’s super interesting, ’cause if you talk about the SaaS, the SaaS industry, it’s so in the early stages for governments, and taxes, and legislation, and as a result, I think it’s one of the more interesting waters to navigate, but also one of the more tricky ’cause often even governments want to do something with it, but they’re not quite sure what, or then how, and I think that really does present unwanted barriers and hurdles to go international.
[00:05:30] So, I think the first thing to look at as well, when you’re going to expand to a country is whatever country you do expand, um, unless that customer is really large, I would actually look if your product actually fits the market before you go in because it might actually be a requirement for you to register your company locally as an entity.
[00:05:48] And when you do that, it opens up a whole box of fun stuff. So, you need to set up your bank accounts, you need to make sure you file your corporate taxes, you need to make sure you’re compliant with your VT and any other taxes on your software, or SaaS, anything that’s related to that. In addition to that, also you need to hire your local accounting office or legal branches that need to advise you on what to do or what not to do.
[00:06:11] So, I think it becomes very sexy when you’re selling into another country, it becomes very tedious when you hit these roadblocks. And so, I think there are obviously solutions out there that can mitigate some of these headaches, but that is something that you definitely should be thinking about.
[00:06:26] And I think something that is often overlooked, that is actually more of a people HR hiring issue, in a sense of if you’re actually gonna hire someone on the ground, what does that mean for your company? And your liability in that country because if that person is going to execute on your business contracts, or make any decisions that the country can trace, then you’re also liable to pay a certain amount of tax over the revenue that this person is bringing in or assume to be responsible for your company.
[00:06:53] So, there are quite a couple of hooks and needles to keep in mind.
[00:06:57] Joe Michalowski: It’s a lot, I mean, honestly, I, it’s, it’s like where to begin as far as follow-up questions. And so, I, we’re gonna get into, like a pretty tactical example later. I know you’ve gone through GB, GDPR compliance, so we, we’ll get into that in a little bit, but judging by, like how much work you just kind of listed off, companies that we work with at Mosaic and, you know, maybe Paddle’s like,
[00:07:18] grown outta this a little bit, but like a series, A startup series, B startup, you have like, one finance person. So, who is, who is doing all of this work? Like, what is the time commitment? And yeah, like what, how do you get this done if there’s so much to do, and you’re just selling to like a handful of customers?
[00:07:33] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah, I think you, you really nailed it, basically. I think a lot of new SaaS companies usually have one person, and especially in tech companies, if they can keep the one person like hidden somewhere, like, “See, no evil here, no evil, like, just make it run,” kind of thing. And I think it’s interesting that you also mentioned it’s,
[00:07:50] it’s, it’s an unappreciated job. But it’s a massive responsibility to keep the wheels turning, and I think it’s often underestimated. And I think there are solutions out there for sure that can help, just like you can have, like, payments tax, you have billings tax, you have like tax pack, you know, that you can purchase, or an end-to-end platform that can solve some of these friction points for you.
[00:08:09] But indeed, I think as a scaling company in the SaaS industry, it is very challenging, and it does require that one person to be very good at what they do. And also, will probably require that person to collaborate with local authorities and local advisors to be able to cover some of these, these items that you need to make sure that they are in check as you grow.
[00:08:29] Joe Michalowski: Man, it’s crazy. Like I, like I said, like we talked about already, underappreciated, uh, as somebody, again, not in the finance job day in, day out, you take it for granted that you can just, you know, expand that target market and you go and do an investor meeting, or something, is total addressable market, like the whole world is our oyster and it’s like, well, uh, a little bit of a hurdle to get into that market.
[00:08:48] So, you know, I mentioned GDPR, and we’re gonna talk about that in a little bit. Are there other, like, major pieces of legislation that people should, should keep in mind? I know you said we’re in the early days, so maybe there aren’t that many, but I’m curious if there are any others that come to mind?
[00:09:02] Daniëlle Keeven: Well, I think one of the other pieces that, that we as a company really keep an eye on, as well as payment legislation changes, so there’s like the tax, there’s a, just a compliance that you have to do locally as well, but I think payment legislation is often overlooked, and that, this is also can really impact your business if you’re particularly big in a specific market and they decide to change anything around that that might continue, that might, like, disrupt your subscription payments from coming in, as effective immediately.
[00:09:29] So, I think that, that, that’s another thing that is often overlooked into the expansion and growth of the company.
[00:09:36] Joe Michalowski: Gotcha, cool. So, let, let’s keep rolling. I know, you know, I have some, some media topics, you mentioned a couple things about the tech stack, we’re gonna get to that too, but I know I’d love to know like, kind of what, I don’t know if it’s a framework or like a, an approach, like if you’re sitting down, you’re like, I need to bring tax compliance to this company.
[00:09:54] I’m a new finance hire, like where do you start? Like, what are, what is the process of actually putting that in place for the companies that we’re talking about? The SaaS companies that are trying to scale and put this in place.
How to Implement Tax Compliance in Your SaaS Company
[00:10:05] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah. I think, especially in SaaS companies, by the time that a company realizes they need someone to do tax compliance, it’s often almost too late. So, you’re gonna get in at a nick of time, right? It’s not like somebody who proactively thought, “Hey, we should probably do something with our taxes.” It’s like, “Oh, we probably got an assessment,
[00:10:20] or we got like warning that we’re gonna get audited, or something.” And then that’s when, when Saas companies typically go out and find, you know, a tax person. So, I think as a tax person, which I am not, by the way, but I do oversee some of these, these, these functions. Um, when you, when, when a tax person steps into a tech company, the first thing to do is assess where we are as a company.
[00:10:40] Like, are there any warnings? Are there any subpoenas, are there any audits, just going through, like, literally almost the shoebox of paperwork that you’ll find usually electronically and figuring out what the landscape looks like to kind of like, pull and tear and see where we’re at, and then prioritize what is the first burning building.
[00:10:59] So, I think usually a tax person, by the time they walk into any SaaS software company for the first three to six months, is doing nothing but putting out fires, and actually keeping people outta jail. So, but that’s basically where your starting point is. And I think as a tax person, then to also look forward to what the department should be like, what, what, how should we strategize?
[00:11:20] Where should we roll out entities or roll back entities? Because sometimes, um, scaleups and startups are super excited, and they, they open up entities all over the world. Um, and then, this tax person has to go, like, figure out where do we need to file, how we file, how we, and so some of these entities you might actually not be using the contract for local business.
[00:11:39] So, they actually serve no purpose, like it might sound, sound cool to be like, “Hey, we have an office, you know, an entity in China, in India, and.” But it also means like you’re expanding the need for your compliance and what you need to do in order to stay in business, and you’re also expanding your risk.
[00:11:54] So, it may not make sense to have entities all over the world, and a really strong tax person can really give that advice to say, “Well, we should probably close this entity and open another one in that country, or we can triangle with some of the businesses, or, you know, and contract advice on how to best navigate those waters.”
[00:12:11] So, first three to six months, heads down in the weeds, figuring out where the company is at and what has or hasn’t been done.
[00:12:18] Joe Michalowski: Man, it seems like that’s, that’s like the MO for a lot more than just six months for early-stage finance leaders, but, you know, hear you for sure. I think, I mean, you mentioned that you, you are not the tax person, but I mean, you’re clearly, you know this whole process. So, I’m curious, like, I don’t know if you went through this a Paddle if you’ve gone through it in past companies, but have you been the sole, like, finance person who then had to bring on that tax person?
[00:12:40] Like, have you been in a position to decide what is that kind of like tipping point where we need to bring someone on, and maybe like, what were the pain points that was like, “Okay, like, we’re about at the precipice of being in trouble here, like we need to bring someone in.”
[00:12:54] Daniëlle Keeven: So, I’ve not done a startup yet, so I have done mostly scaleups, and scaleups are like right in the middle where they’re realizing, “Hey, we’ve, this one person can’t hold it all together.” However, next to that, in hospitality industry, I have been the person they bring in to fix all of it, kind of thing, you know?
[00:13:11] And so, yeah, I think in that point, typically, it is mostly a big warning from a government that is issued, and formalized, typically through a lawyer, that the companies go like, “Oh, we probably need to get somebody.” But typically, most companies do solicit external help, so they’ll have local support of the tax advisors, but at some point, they realize, “Well, we probably need to put, bring that together and have somebody manage that relationship as well.”
[00:13:38] ‘Cause a good tax person will make sure that you’re compliant, however, they will also make sure that we have a local representative to represent your tax interests, to make sure that nothing is overlooked. So, it’s kind of a collaboration office.
[00:13:50] Joe Michalowski: Love it. I, I have this set of questions here that I, that I want to get into about GDPR compliance. But I think, like, as the most basic version of the question is that, uh, I know GDPR to be, uh, at least like the way, kind of like mainstream news is, pitches, like, it’s like a data privacy law. Does this have implications for, for tax, for billing, for things like this, is this part of the process that we’re talking about where we’re like expanding sales, and we’re, it, I guess, does it fit into this conversation?
GDPR Compliance in the SaaS Industry
[00:14:15] Daniëlle Keeven: GDPR is something that we all, in the software space, I think, in the SaaS industry, have to comply with, like, even if you’re not Europe-based if you have European customers, which if you’re a global company, or expanding your markets, you’re likely to have or get later down the, the line. So, I do think it has a piece to do with compliance.
[00:14:34] Um, and so, depending on how you store your customer information, it does become relevant to the compliance conversation. Um, so I do think this is a big piece as well that can be challenging for the SaaS industry ’cause I think the first thing you’ll do when you realize, “Oh, I’m in the European market, I have European customers,
[00:14:51] I need to be GDPR compliant,” is you’re likely to see if somebody else somewhere can start hitting delete buttons when they need to, when somebody’s asked to be forgotten. And so, the processes right out the gate tend to be manual, which are super prone to human error. So, you know, GDPR has meant a lot of fun for a lot of companies when it rolled out, and, uh, definitely a scare for a lot of industries, given the big fines that are implied if you’re not compliant.
[00:15:16] So, yeah, no, definitely.
[00:15:18] Joe Michalowski: It’s been what, like seven years, I feel like I, I used to.
[00:15:23] Daniëlle Keeven: Has it been that long?
[00:15:25] Joe Michalowski: I thought it was, I can’t remember what year it was, but it was like 20, 2015, 2016, maybe, I can’t, I can’t remember exactly, but I, I remember I worked at agencies for a long time and it, I, there was this groundswell of need, everybody needed to write blog posts about GDPR compliance.
[00:15:40] And I feel like that was the timeframe, but regardless, it wasn’t, like, reason. So, we’re, we’re in, it’s been some years since this was around, are you finding that it’s still, like a major pain point, you said like processes are still very manual. Like, are people still trying to navigate how to actually make GDPR compliance?
[00:15:58] Daniëlle Keeven: I, I, yeah, I, I think it’s interesting ’cause I think initially when the blog post came out, everybody would like start to read five minutes into it, and it’d just be like, “Ah, it’s information overload,” like, and, and, and I think since then there’s a better understanding and less panic, also because I do think some of the execution around this we were all terrified, and then found out that, “Yeah,
[00:16:19] okay, we can do this, we got this.” So, I think in general, the businesses have become more relaxed or more confident, I would say, in their ability to comply, right, so I think, I think the main thing is to try to kind of challenge yourself, to test yourself. I always, like, say like, especially when you’re in a startup or a scaleup, growing into those two phases, that stress testing your processes is, is super interesting to see.
[00:16:42] Well, if I 10x, if I a 100x, am I able to sustain the GDPR compliance, or any compliance for the matter, or even my, you know, your software, your hardware, can I sustain the growth? And I think that’s something that you can also do for your GDPR processes to make sure that you’re compliant. The best audit you can perform is auditing yourself.
[00:16:59] Joe Michalowski: Yeah, yeah, a lot better to do it yourself than to wait until somebody’s coming in scrutinizing every little piece of your, your tech stack and your processes and your, your paper trail, so I hear that completely. Can we, uh, I don’t wanna put you on the spot too much, but can we walk through like a, like tactically, like what, like how people should approach GDPR compliance?
[00:17:18] Like I know this is just one of many compliance conversations we could have, we could probably spend many hours on here trying to teach people how to comply with every little payment legislation and billing sort of process, but I think this is a big enough one where it’ll have far enough reaching sort of implications.
[00:17:34] So, you know, first off, like, did you do this for Paddle, or had Paddle already been GDPR compliant?
[00:17:40] Daniëlle Keeven: Paddle is already GDPR compliant. They’ve been along around before I joined, so no, these are, these are the fundamentals that were correctly and are correctly in place here at Paddle. Um, also being a FinTech, in a FinTech space, um, you wanna make sure you’re compliant. I think that that’s the big requirement to operate in a space.
[00:17:58] Joe Michalowski: Any, uh, any Paddle customers out here listening? It’s like they better be compliance, like hopes.
[00:18:03] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah, no, no. The, the GDPR has been around for, for longer than I have at Paddle, so it’s definitely in, woven into the foundations of the company. And I, and I think honestly, the earlier as a company that you be, you focus on compliance, the easiest. Like, I recall, like at, like at Booking, by the time this came out, they were like in their 20th year, more or less.
[00:18:25] And then having to look at your entire stack for over decades to ensure compliance. Those are massive tasks, and, and, and, you know, Booking did make sure that they became compliant. But I think now that companies already know that this exists, you can start to kind of build the process with Ian in mind, knowing, like, “Hey, I’m building this really cool, you know, company, but I know these are some of the legislations in, in the space that I’m playing with.”
[00:18:47] So, I do think implementing GDPR has become a little easier because we understand what it is, and we understand what is required. I think it’ll be interesting to see as companies, um, as, as the world is actually changing because even legislation on subscription management is changing, like in Germany, that’s one country you can expect Europe to follow, and all of a sudden you need to adjust your entire tech stack to, like, be able to do that one thing.
[00:19:09] So, I, I think the new legislation that is changing in industry is more of a stretch today than GDPR compliance is. If, if, if that makes sense.
[00:19:18] Joe Michalowski: It does, it absolutely does. I want to, uh, you touched on something, it’s, it’s essentially, like, getting into what the process is to, to go back. Like, if, if you’re Booking, it’s 20 years of, of records to go back and make sure they’re compliant, can you just enlighten me on, on what that process looks like, like, like regardless of what the legislation is, like, we need to go back, and we need to essentially audit ourselves and we need to figure out whether or not we are compliant and what we need to do to fix it.
[00:19:43] Like, what are you looking for when you do that backtracking, and what are some of the common areas that you would need to, to fix? Whether the example is GDPR or some sort of subscription legislation that is more applicable, I guess, to an example.
How to Bring Historical Records to Compliance
[00:19:56] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah, I, I think one of the things, and maybe it is because I’m in finance, that I find that a lot of startups gallops, forget at the beginning, is to think indeed, like, follow the money. What is my process gonna look like? And not capturing this correctly with data makes the implementation of legislation this much challenging, way more challenging.
[00:20:16] And I think so, getting those foundations in place is critical, however, Joe, I think you asked a question as well. What is the tipping point, like, when are you gonna do these things? So, I think that’s the question that we always have to answer it. ‘Cause like, even as a finance leader, there are things that I want in a specific way, and I want it to be neat, but this is like, this is how you’re out the gate.
[00:20:35] This is as good as it’s gonna get, you know, and don’t let perfect VD enemy of getting things done,
[00:20:42] Daniëlle Keeven: but how to make sure that you’re still compliant. So, I think those two things are, have to be in balance and to make sure that you are hitting the compliance checks and just, like, not lowering the quality on compliance, but still being able to go back and fix indeed, like, where you’re saying that needs to be fixed.
[00:20:57] Often, how this has been approached or how I’ve done this in the past and currently as well, is that I’ll work very closely with a product and engineering team, like, I know what needs to get done, I don’t know how to technically do stuff, and they do, and so, then we kind of have that conversation and, and I think one of the more fun conversation is always when I talk to my engineering team and we talk about taxes, I’m like, you need to remember,
[00:21:20] ’cause an engineer is very logical, I’m like, “You need to remember tax is not logical,” like there’s no amount of logic that you can apply that will be correct. It’s like, you need to follow the unlogical path that the government wants to apply this in. And so, that’s like it, you know, it kind of breaks the tension of like, you know, arguing how it should be done ’cause it doesn’t make sense where we start out the gate saying it’s not gonna make sense.
[00:21:42] We just gotta make it work the way the government wants to work. And I think same thing in, when you wanna implement some legislation or corrections in your stack, we’ll partner with the engineering team or in the product team, and be like, “Hey, this is what needs to get done, as a finance leader this needs to be the end result.
[00:21:58] I’m not exactly sure how to get there. What are our options?” And then, you know, they’ll, they’ll start their scrum session. They’ll start discussing and what’s the best approach, they’ll come up with some designs, in some can, like, the GDPR, you can actually run scripts, like, to make sure that you’re not fishing your entire database, to make sure Joe has been removed out of everything,
[00:22:16] even if it’s 20,000 years old, like these are kind of searches that you can kind of set up from the engineering side. And I think that’s why it’s so powerful to team up with your engineering team, or even as a finance professional, like, you know, make those connections because you can do so much more together than you can do if you’re working individually in your corners.
[00:22:34] And I think that collaboration is one of the most advantageous for any industry, like don’t check your finance folks in the back of the company, like put ’em together with your engineering guys, like it’s a lot safer that way.
[00:22:46] Joe Michalowski: Oh, my God. I, it’s so funny ’cause I, I know, I, I don’t know if you listened to a backlog of episodes, but like that, that was the impetus for this entire show, it’s, it’s what we believe as a company at Mosaic, it’s that finance has traditionally been tossed in the back, they are the back-office function,
[00:23:03] nobody thinks about them, and that is not great. You are better when finance is that strategic partner, they are in front, they are collaborating with every piece of the business. I love that anytime, I, honestly, I think every episode we’ve done, somebody has brought that up, unprompted, it’s always like, you know, there’s a question I’ll ask at the end I ask everybody about, like, something you wish you knew.
[00:23:23] And it’s never about, like, “I wish I knew this Excel function to be a better modeler when I was, like, in my early career,” it’s always like, “How do I build better processes around collaborating with my team.” So, I, I really love the engineering example, it’s not a common one. I hear a lot about collaborating with sales, collaborating with CS, and collaborating with product and engineering comes up, but it’s less, there, there are fewer, like, real-world examples, so I really love, um, they jumped into that.
[00:23:53] Daniëlle Keeven: Well, to be fair, Paddle is, like, end-to-end platform or compliance and taxes. So, they kind of, you know, the collaboration tends to be a little bit more organic there as well.
[00:24:03] Joe Michalowski: Yeah, exactly. Well, so, I wanna, I want to get into to tech stack, and obviously, this fits right into Paddle’s alleys, so we, we can talk about Paddle for sure. But I wanna talk about the broader tech stack as well because you’re, you’re not just doing compliance, like that’s, that’s what Paddle does, but you need to build the entire finance tech stack.
[00:24:21] So, you know, we’ve talked about kind of being that one man show or one-woman show and trying to build all this out. You need tech to support the processes that you’re doing. So, can you talk a little bit about what a company should look for in a solution to help them with all of the pain points that you’ve discussed so far, and we’ll just, we’ll focus on the subscription legislation and kind of billing processes for now?
[00:24:43] And we’ll get into the broader tech stack in, in a minute.
[00:24:45] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah, I think something that’s super interesting ’cause, obviously, um, all SaaS companies, including our, us, including Paddle, we do have salespeople. When looking for finance tooling, I always recommend to get, like a customer reference. So, I, like, the sales tool will always promise you everything and everything’s perfect.
[00:25:03] But I find, like, getting, like to talk to a customer, or like to talk to a peer in industries, and getting the word-of-mouth recommendations, are so much more valuable, so that would definitely be one of my top recommendations. Like, I found, like, I remember we were implementing like an AP invoice scanning automation tool at, at this one company I was working at, and a salesperson’s like, “Oh, I can automate a hundred percent,
[00:25:23] and it has like machine learning in the background.” And, and I’m like, and I’m looking at the pricing, and I know what machine learning, I’m just like, something doesn’t add up. So, I spoke to customers of theirs, and he is just like, “Oh, you’ll be lucky if you had 80%, and that’s on a good day.” And he is just like machine learning,
[00:25:38] there is no machine learning, you are the machine learning, you have to key in what it needs to learn, you know? And so, I, I think talking to a good customer gives you like a realistic impression of what you’re actually trying to buy into, which is so critical. A salesperson will always say yes to everything, but a customer will tell you what the reality is.
[00:25:55] It’s like, and so, I often take the ground in the middle and be like, “All right, that, that’s what I’ll base my decision on whether I acquire a tool or not.” And I think for us, I think we’re, we’re often looking in the tax space because we, we are tax experts in our fields, and I, and I think I’m super thankful and impressed, and, and, and amazed at like how we, we, we do it here,
[00:26:14] and our team is just amazing, and how we’re set up in, in the space. But tax is continually changing, and I think one of the things that we are also looking at because tax is our business, how do we scale tax? Instead of just like, ’cause a lot of countries are still manual submissions, right, some of them, literally, you have to like still fill in manually before.
[00:26:32] So, you know, like how do we scale this? And so, I think that’s been interesting to really look at our, our taxes, like where do we actually need that human element? And where can we like automate some of these processes? So, but again, I think as it’s quite early, and I think everybody, all of us are trying to like, see, like how can we insulate this risk and make sure that we’re compliant everywhere.
[00:26:51] And there’s still a lot of tools, but also a lot of people that need to revise and review what’s happening. So, I think that’s been an interesting space to kind of invest in as well and grow.
[00:27:01] Joe Michalowski: How does, uh, how does Paddle think about, like the idea of flexibility? So, like, you’re talking about how things change so often, like, we’re trying to scale, but it’s really easy to scale something when it’s the same, like, we had a, an episode once it was about basically like automating the month end close and like different accounting function.
[00:27:18] It’s like the rule of automation was, it’s something that is repetitive, and it’s like the same day in, day out. And like, that’s, that’s the hallmark of automating anything. And so, a tax, like, to your point, you can’t do that. So, how do you, as a software company, like, like Paddle that, that handles this, how do you think about being flexible enough in the product,
[00:27:39] so you can handle these like changes as they come up, like, how does that work for you in the finance?
[00:27:43] Daniëlle Keeven: Um, I, I kind of mentioned it already. It’s kind of like starting with the end in mind. Um, I think having been in larger tech companies and seeing their growth pains. So, I think a lot of companies start out like, “Oh, we’ll build an in-house invoicing tooling.” And then to your point, like, it’s very usually very simple ’cause most companies that do this, this is one product, one tax line item, one market.
[00:28:06] And then, you know, as you continue to grow like you’re saying, the complexities to have your own billing tool in-house, and sustain these tax changes, is virtually impossible. Like, I’ve literally seen entire building teams hired for like one country because of the tax complexities around it. And so, you know, and then if it’s so deeply embedded in your stack, it becomes very difficult to keep it flexible.
[00:28:29] So, now as well, and I think this comes back to having engineering and finance work closely together. Whenever Paddle even conceive of starting to like build a specific invoicing around anything we start with, what does it need to be able to do in the end? And the biggest ask is then the flexibility of the tax fields.
[00:28:48] Like, we should be able to have, and it sounds really extreme, but we should be able to have at least five flexible and tax items, and these five items should be able to interact with different line items, if needed. And then, how do they interact with each other? So, some of them are aggregated, some of them are independent.
[00:29:05] So, so, we need to create the flexibility because you don’t know what the government’s gonna do next. And so, you know, you kind of run through all the scenarios. So, you kind of build today with the end in mind of like, whatever request comes, and even so, they’ll manage to surprise you. Um, I mean, that’s just the nature of the game, right?
[00:29:22] Um, but, but I think that’s the best you can do as, as a good business leader to think about, “Hey, today I’m selling, you know, this one thing. What are the possible other things that I might go into that I have zero interest to do?” But if you start thinking about making your product agnostic enough, you could be scaling some of these sales, and, and, and taxes, and things that you’re dealing with.
[00:29:46] Joe Michalowski: I love that idea of just, it’s just so, it’s applicable to everything outside of, you know, this compliance legislation kind of idea we’re talking about. So, you know, as, as a finance leader, like, it’s great to get your insight from the Paddle side about how you, you all handle this, but I’m curious like what your broader thoughts are on the finance tech stack.
[00:30:04] Like, when you pick this idea up, and you say like, we have to start with the end in mind, we have to build our tech stack for, you know, some months, years down the road. I don’t know, what are some recent, like, investments you’ve made in Paddle’s finance tech stack that, that have kind of fallen into the same idea of maintaining flexibility, thinking of the future, the end in mind?
[00:30:25] Daniëlle Keeven: So, like that we’ve built in-house, or that we’ve?
[00:30:28] Joe Michalowski: Anything, it could be a new, I don’t know, point solution that you put in place to, to automate a task that you know is gonna help you guys scale even further, or honestly, anything, just curious about what you’re,
[00:30:39] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah.
[00:30:40] Joe Michalowski: how you think about your own finance tech stack?
[00:30:41] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah, I’ll, I’ll share a little bit about our invoicing because I think one of our products, and directors also, Lucas, has had a few conversation on these things, and it’s been super great to partner with them, and just thinking like when we started this process, I think both of us kind of walked in with something already kind of brewing,
[00:31:00] and then we started connecting on things, and, you know, his question as well was like, “Well, what do you need from a finance side?” I was like, “Well, from a finance side, I need to know it doesn’t exist.” And, and what I mean with that is it just needs to be able to run, and what is the end cycle of an invoice, is actual payments, right?
[00:31:18] And so, we were just like, I, him and I were connecting. He’s like, well, this is the, the MVP, this is the minimal viable product. What does it need to be able to do? I was like, “It needs to be able to automate any form of bank payments that come in, or, you know paying providers that come in. And so, the way we were working about this is, it’s like, alright, so then it actually should be able to, like, change bank accounts on the invoices.
[00:31:39] So, it should be able to have a virtual bank account that we could like uniquely identify to each payment, or customer, so that there doesn’t have to be like 20,000 accountants assigning cash, like there’s more meaningful things to do with your life, you know, like how, what does that reconciliation to payment look like?
[00:31:53] And so, we’ve like, really worked together to say, “Well today it does this, these are the basic requirements it needs to be able to tie to the payment.” So, be it bank, be it a check, we are joking about cash, we don’t take cash, or like, be it through a payment provider that it needs to be, automatically be able to close the invoice and flow.
[00:32:10] And so, I think those are some good examples to begin with the end in mind, to say, “Well, you know, you could just build a document that sits on your stack deck, and you send it out there to space and accounting can go figure out, you know, whoever paid that invoice.” And it’s especially great if you have subscriptions that are the same amount
[00:32:25] in the whole world, that person’s gonna be looking for days, and so like just having those unique identifiers, it will really help your accounting team skill, and actually be able to use their brain and intelligence to do more productive things. So, I think that’s a good collaboration that you’ll have between, like, products, being willing also to say like, “Hey, what do you guys need?”
[00:32:43] Or, “How should this work?” So, I think that those are good examples of scaling together.
[00:32:48] Joe Michalowski: That’s awesome. It must be so cool to work, uh, at a company that sells some kind of finance tool as a finance person ’cause I’m guessing like in, you know, when you were in hospitality, like you don’t get to really impact the, the end product as like a finance person, or someone like cleaning up the books.
[00:33:04] So, no, no, it just sounds really great that you’re able to collaborate with all these people and bring kind of your insight, and help Paddle’s end customers, as well because, like, they’re dealing with the same problems you are. And so, um, yeah, just seems really cool.
[00:33:16] Daniëlle Keeven: Paddle is pretty cool, honestly, as a, like, they didn’t pay me to say this, but they really are.
[00:33:21] Joe Michalowski: I mean, I believe it, I, uh, I, well actually that, that leads me to another question, it’s more broadly about kind of where finance tech may be trending, I checked out the website because we were gonna be chatting, and I was like, “Oh, it was a really cool website,” and then I stumbled across the news that y’all acquire profit well, and profit,
[00:33:40] well, at least, at least from my business, they’re really good at content, and I do content, and so, I know all about profit. Well, so, to me, and correct me if I’m wrong because I don’t have the full context, uh, it seems like acquiring a company, like, profit well expands, like, Paddle’s product footprint, like immensely, like you just, instead of covering just like the billing piece, you cover kind of end-to-end, just like subscription analytics, management, things like that.
[00:34:07] And so, we did an article one time. I think it was with, uh, it was with Ron Gill, who was the former CFO of NetSuite. And he was like, talking about these waves that he’s seen of finance tech, like bundling, and like unbundling, and like at a time where, like, everything was supposed to be like, in an ERP.
[00:34:22] And then, everyone was like, “Well, that’s not working. We’ll break it apart.” And then I was like, “Oh,” like, now we have all these SaaS tools, and they’re just all over the place. And so, bringing together like Paddle and profit well, it, it feels like it’s more like this trend that we should be bringing things more together than we should be like doing point solutions for everything.
[00:34:40] I’m curious how you think about finance tech? Like, is it something that should be like an all-in-one kind of thing, or are you good with point solutions? I’m curious, like, what the philosophy is there from a, a finance tech perspective?
[00:34:53] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah. So, um, obviously, Paddle is an end-to-end, solve-all kind of, and that was also the aspiration we’re with we started, and that’s also what I love about Paddle ’cause it’s a mission that I can really connect with. You know, like, so many software designers, like you said, excited to go out into the world and everybody’s like, you know, legislation crafting your style ’cause you can’t do anything.
[00:35:12] And I, that’s what I love about our C, CEO’s, like, vision, mentioned saying like, “Oh, no, we wanna enable them to go out there and do business, and we’ll take all the responsibility, and all the heavy lifting.” So, that really connects with me ’cause it feels like I’m contributing to, like, bringing good software, even though I can’t build software to save my life.
[00:35:27] So, yeah, so, I, I, I think Paddle has done like a really great job as a company to say, “We’ll do your invoicing, we’ll do your payments, we’ll do your compliance, we’ll do your taxes, we’ll even manage your chargebacks.” Like, they’ll take the whole burden off of the company to be able to do that, and I think to your point of saying like, “Hey, now we have profit.”
[00:35:43] Well, so, it’s like Paddle on steroids now, it’s like, we’re not only gonna do it for you, but we’re gonna provide all these insights and analytics, and like, be able to help you manage your turn and so on. And so, we already have some of the testing products to like, to some of our, our customers to be like, “Hey, go play with this and see what you think.”
[00:35:58] And then, based enough feedback make it better. In terms of a finance professional, I agree to, yes, there are trends, there’s like bundling, unbundling, bundling, unbundling, and I think it’s some instances as a business, I do think there’s room for both.
[00:36:14] Joe Michalowski: Sure.
[00:36:14] Daniëlle Keeven: And why am I saying that is because it does depend on where you’re at as a company and where you wanna get to,
[00:36:20] and in some instances you may just need a payment provider. In my humble opinion, if you’re gonna go out and get an invoicing company, just drop your search and like then start bundling because it, you can get Paddle for way more cost-effective to do everything for you versus going out and getting a billing engine.
[00:36:35] So, I, I think it depends on what your business is looking for, and also, like you’re saying, at what point do you go out and get tax advisor? So, if you’re gonna have to get an invoicing company, a payment provider, a tax advisor, someone to do your chargeback, someone to monitor your fraud, um, then it makes sense to go with, like, Paddle, who will do all of it
[00:36:53] for you. They’ll assume all of the risk, but if you’re a company, you’re kind of chugging along, and you have to, like, your ERP, as you’re saying, you can put in some easy add-ons, and you can chug further, but it depends where you’re going, what your intention is with market you’re going into, that I do think, as a business, there’s room for both, and you just have to look at what is a better match for you, but if you’re gonna indeed start taking billing separate, payment separate, tax separate, your fraud analyst separate, and stop.
[00:37:19] Just go to Paddle.
[00:37:21] Joe Michalowski: Uh, moral of the story, just go to Paddle for all of your, all of your
[00:37:24] Daniëlle Keeven: For everything.
[00:37:25] Joe Michalowski: needs. We feel it very much the same way we, we talk about kind of, like, in just, in general with the tech stack, it’s like, being really intentional about the, the data architecture that you’re creating, and like the tech stack that you’re building, so that you’re not just looking at it,
[00:37:38] I don’t know, eight months later, and you look back, and you’re like, “I just put all these tools in, none of them talk to each other, none of them work together, all we have, I don’t know, we need the engineering team to come in and manage all, like, the data analysis for it because, like, the finance team doesn’t have that expertise.”
[00:37:53] So, um, yeah, I think completely on brand with what, you know, we believe with what every other guest has said as well is just the more intentional you can be about matching these things to what your company does, and what your company needs, like the, the better off you’re gonna be, whether that’s Paddle, whether that’s starting elsewhere, and, you know, building up to Paddle, like whatever it has to be.
[00:38:13] So, love that. I know, uh, I think as being this told we were gonna go for like 30, 35 minutes and I’m way over that, so I, I will roll into the last question that I have, which I ask everybody. And it’s, it’s really broad, so I appreciate everybody bearing with me when I ask it. But curious, what is, uh, one thing you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
[00:38:34] I usually say finance career, but you were in hospitality. You’ve been, you’ve moved around. So, curious what, uh, what you wish you knew at that time.
[00:38:41] Daniëlle Keeven: I think I started, I went to college, I don’t know if this is gonna make me sound really, really old. But I went to college where this whole big boom just started happening, and I think looking back on myself, being in finance today, I wish I had spent more time learning more about tech and codes,
[00:38:58] before continuing into finance. So, I think the two of them go really well together. Um, and now I have a 15-year-old, and that’s exactly my advice to him. So, he is like, doing algebra and all these science things, and I’m like, but take the coding class too, you know, like it doesn’t mean, you know, you’re going to tech space, but I think it’s so fundamental and critical right now to make sure that you know,
[00:39:19] or at least understand the logic and how it works. So, I’ve been fortunate enough that, again, product and engineering, everywhere I’ve worked, from like, Booking to MessageBird to Paddle. They have been extremely patient to teach me, so like, I’ll ask the questions, and they’re like, how do you not notice?
[00:39:34] I was like nonengineering, I don’t understand. And so, like, you know, so they’ve taught me enough that I, you know, we’re able to sit and we understand each other, but there’s still some points, like, when we talk about, like, ROI, or like, why are we doing this? That there’s a li, bit of a language barrier, but again, I think the product and engineering teams are fantastic.
[00:39:52] The culture there is great, and it is about teaching and sharing. So, that’s helped me scale my own knowledge, uh, to be able to function in that space a little bit as well, as a finance professional.
[00:40:01] Joe Michalowski: I feel exactly the same way. I, I also have no bad, I was like an English major, I read, I read books and I write like, I, I don’t know code, and I wish, not that I want to go be an engineer, but there are even, like, certain pieces of software, like even like WordPress, it’s like, I want to change some font in, like, the CMS,
[00:40:17] and it’s like, if I knew HTML, or like some kind of code, like I could probably do it really quickly. And instead, I’m like, what does, I don’t know, the editor allow me to do, and so I’m totally on board with the idea of just like, at least understanding the language, being able to poke around and kind of be curious about that.
[00:40:31] I love it. I think it’s, it’s a good point.
[00:40:33] Daniëlle Keeven: Yeah.
[00:40:33] Joe Michalowski: But yeah, so, I mean, like, I, I just wanted to say thanks so much for, for joining. This has been a really great conversation. I’ve, I’ve learned a lot. I think you’ve managed to make billing and tax compliance an interesting 40-minute conversation, which is amazing, so, impressive for you.
[00:40:48] But as we, as we roll to the end, I just wanna say thank you and give you a, a chance to plug Paddle, where can people find out more about what you all do? Where can people connect with you and get to know you a little bit more?
[00:40:59] Daniëlle Keeven: Oh, thank you, Joe. Paddle is a paddle.com, so that’s an easy find, and myself, I’m on LinkedIn, as well, and I do really enjoy helping and advising, and anywhere I can, um, ’cause I think, especially in the beginning earlier your career, you had to figure out everything yourself out, and then figure out how things run.
[00:41:17] And I think the culture across all businesses are a lot more open, so definitely, if I can be of help or service, happy to do so.
[00:41:25] Joe Michalowski: Amazing. Well, thank you so much. Appreciate you spending time with us. Hope maybe we can do it again sometime, but it was great to have you on The Role Forward today.
[00:41:32] Daniëlle Keeven: Sure. It was great meeting you, Joe. Take care. Bye.
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