Jervis Williams on a 30-60-90 Plan for New Finance Leaders
In this episode of The Role Forward, Jervis Williams, the CFO of Second Front Systems, discusses his journey through various stints as a startup CFO. Jervis and our host Joe Michalowski walk through a 30-60-90 plan for new finance leaders to thrive in their roles.
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Jervis Williams on a 30-60-90 Plan for New Finance Leaders
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How do you set yourself up for success in the first three months of a new finance leadership role?
This is a question Jervis Williams has had to ask himself on multiple occasions.
In this episode, our host Joe Michalowski speaks with Jervis Williams, the CFO of Second Front Systems. Jervis shares his experiences and lessons learned from his journey as a finance professional, particularly during his first 90 days as Second Front’s new CFO. He highlights the importance of establishing a solid finance team early on and engaging with stakeholders, including the board, to ensure a smooth onboarding process.
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Jervis joins Second Front with over 25 years of finance leadership at public companies and venture-funded start-ups in the technology industry at leading companies such as Hughes Aircraft (F/A-18 Radar Systems Group), Apple, HP, Wind River, VMware and Citrix.
Most recently Jervis served as CFO for Legion Technologies where he led Finance, HR and IT. Prior to Legion, Jervis served as CFO at Metawave where in addition to leading Finance and CFO, he initiated the company’s foray into the defense market with a SBIR award from the Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime program.
Jervis earned his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and his BA from UCLA.
- Bringing a finance professional on board as soon as possible helps keep an eye on spending, ensures accountability for budgets, and sets a tone for financial responsibility across the company. This discipline proves valuable internally and externally, attracting investors and building trust with stakeholders.
- By being open to new opportunities and learning from each experience, Jervis has gained valuable skills and insights that have helped shape his current success. He encourages finance professionals to be adaptable and not to shy away from change, as it can lead to personal and professional development.
- Having access to different perspectives and best practices can help individuals grow in their careers and make informed decisions.
Episode Highlights from Jervis Williams
5:34 — The Finance Professional’s Impact on Company Culture
In this part of the conversation, Jervis discusses how finance professionals can positively influence company culture by maintaining transparency, fostering collaboration, and setting a tone for financial responsibility. By working closely with other departments, finance teams can help build a culture of trust and unity across the organization.
“I think it’s important to have a strong working relationship with the rest of the company and not just be seen as the department that says no. It’s more about collaborating and being a part of the solution.”
14:23 — Learning from Failure and Adapting to Challenges
Jervis shares his insights on learning from failure and embracing challenges in one’s career. He believes that setbacks are opportunities for growth and urges professionals to take these experiences as lessons to become better at what they do.
“I think it’s important to embrace the challenge, to learn from it, to be able to pivot and adjust, and I think that’s where the growth comes from. You don’t grow from just doing things that you know how to do.”
50:00 — The Stigma Against Job Hopping
Jervis and Joe discuss the stigma around job hopping, arguing that being fluid in one’s career can actually accelerate personal and professional growth. Rather than seeing job hopping as a negative, they encourage listeners to view it as a path to learning and development.
“I have accelerated my career by being at three jobs in six years versus one job in six years. And I think that’s a really good way to look at it. Especially if anyone listening to this is thinking about moving on to a new role.”
[00:00:00] Jervis Williams: I look at each job opportunity as a step on my path.
[00:00:05] And so, I have benefited at every step from my previous job, and I wouldn’t say that was the case if I’d been at one job for six years. I think I, I have accelerated my career by being at three jobs in six years versus one job in six years.
[00:00:24] Joe Michalowski: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Roll Forward podcast. My name is Joe Michalowski, and this episode is brought to you by Mosaic, a strategic finance platform that transforms way business gets done. Today, my guest is Jervis Williams, CFO at Second Front Systems. Jervis, thanks so much for joining me today.
[00:01:02] Jervis Williams: Thank you for having me.
[00:01:03] Joe Michalowski: Really, really excited about this one. We’re gonna dive deep into some career-related, uh, topics. But before we get going, do you mind giving everyone the background about who you are and, and how you got to where you are today?
Jervis Williams Introduction
[00:01:14] Jervis Williams: Yes. So, uh, as you mentioned, uh, first of all, Joe, thanks for having me on the show. I’m very, very honored, first of all, and, and very excited to, to be on your show, and hopefully, I can contribute in a meaningful way. And so, uh, yes, my name is Jervis Williams. I am CFO of Second Front, and I’ve been on the job now for 60 days,
[00:01:35] so, we’re right here in the middle of the onboarding process still. And before Second Front, I was CFO at Legion Technologies, a SaaS, enterprise SaaS company and workforce management. And before that, I was at a hardware company, Metawave and CFO there as well. And before my startup CFO days, I’ve spent most of my career in FP&A,
[00:02:01] so at companies early in my career at, uh, Apple, HP and then after that, uh, VMware, Citrix, Wind River. So, I’ve spent most of my time in FP&A, but then I made the leap over to startup CFO a few years ago and then most recently, Second Front and Legion are both SaaS companies, so now I consider myself a SaaS CFO.
[00:02:28] Joe Michalowski: Careful, don’t, uh, don’t, step on the toes of the SaaS CFO, Ben Murray. I don’t know if you know him, but we’re friends.
[00:02:34] Jervis Williams: Oh, of course.
[00:02:34] Joe Michalowski: Just careful, Jervis.
[00:02:36] You don’t wanna get in trouble here.
[00:02:38] Jervis Williams: Exactly.
[00:02:38] Joe Michalowski: I think he’s got that trademarked or something. You gotta watch out.
[00:02:41] Jervis Williams: Right, right, I have to watch that.
[00:02:44] Joe Michalowski: I love it. I think, you know, your, your background is perfect for what we’re gonna talk about today ’cause we’re, we’re gonna talk about sort of the, the life of a new CFO hire.
[00:02:54] And you’ve done it, this is your third time now, the background, I think it’s just perfect for all of this, so we’re gonna dive deep into that. But I wanna just start by, talk about what, what’s exciting about the new role. What led you to Second Front specifically? Obviously, like, you’ve got deep experience in some big names with FP&A, and then even your CFO experiences, you, seems like you could add your pick of wherever you want to go,
[00:03:18] so curious what, uh, what led you to Second Front? What was so exciting?
[00:03:21] Jervis Williams: Yeah, so, you know, I was approached about the opportunity at, at Second Front, and first thing that was very interesting to me that it was a SaaS company, as I said, and that there was meaningful revenue in the first year and, and to me, that’s an indicator that they have product, that we have product market fit,
[00:03:42] so that was very interesting to me. And then, the second interesting aspect was that the company is in defense tech. So, we provide a platform for software companies looking to do business with the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. And so, from a personal standpoint, that’s something that’s very meaningful to me in terms of the safety of our country.
[00:04:08] My first job out of UCLA was at Hughes Aircraft working in the F 18 business office. And so, and for my first job out of undergrad, that was a very impressionable job. I really just liked what I was doing. I liked the concept of where I was working on the F 18 Radar program, and so it was, it was the radar for the F 18 fighter playing, which is the top gun playing if you, if you’ve seen the movie
[00:04:36] and I just, I love all that stuff. In fact, Top Gun too is, like, my favorite movie now.
[00:04:41] Joe Michalowski: It was so good.
[00:04:42] Jervis Williams: Yeah, yeah. Abs, absolutely. So, then once I met the team, I was just sold. And if you kind of go back to that, you know, Top Gun theme, it’s really the, the, the company is mostly military, I would say 90% military, and now they’re bringing in some kind of tech experience.
[00:05:00] I’m here, the CMO came from VMware, we have our, actually our Chief of Staff is from Salesforce, so now we’re starting to kind of blend, uh, tech with military. But the military culture is, is so strong in the sense that there’s this sense of mission that’s just consistent throughout the, the organization.
[00:05:21] It’s like everyone’s on the same page, very selfless, everything’s team-oriented and just great passion for what we do. Then just the camaraderie is, is absolutely amazing. And so, once I met the team and also the team, very deep domain expertise. So, our CTO was CTO of the CIA for years.
[00:05:45] Our CEO was, he was special ops in the Marines, and we have all of these, like, cybersecurity nerds who just know this stuff inside and out. And they worked for, you know, the federal governments of me, how secure, you know, can you get, and so once I saw the domain expertise, the sides of the opportunity,
[00:06:07] the defense tech market is absolutely huge and specifically for software companies looking to do business with the DOD. Right now, it takes just years and lots of dollars to get software stood up to do business with the DOD and with the intelligence community. And with our platform, now software companies can be up and running within months, actually within weeks, within weeks, and at a fraction of the cost.
[00:06:34] And, uh, and we’re almost ending the quarter, and it’s just amazing the, the, the velocity that we have. The, and so once I saw, you know, the velocity, the size of the market opportunity, the, the team, the domain expertise, and the fact that it’s SaaS and the fact that it’s, you know, for the safety of our country, it was just a, a no-brainer.
[00:06:57] Absolutely a no-brainer, Joe.
[00:06:59] Joe Michalowski: Wow. That’s, uh, I mean, talk about a perfect fit. That’s great. Congrats. I’m glad you found something that you know fits, uh, your interest so well and honestly, it just sounds like a, a great opportunity that you had to jump on, to be honest.
[00:07:11] Jervis Williams: Yes. Yes.
[00:07:12] Joe Michalowski: The domain expertise is something that really stood out to me there ’cause that’s how I feel about
[00:07:17] Mosaic, like, I, I’m not a, a finance person, so I hang out on this podcast with people like you and I, I get to learn from all of you. But when I started, like, they want me to make blog posts and, and e-books and, like I, I do the content here, and I’m like, ” How am I supposed to get a CFO to read something and, like, think that I actually know what they’re saying, and I have to lean on all that domain expertise?”
[00:07:38] And so, it’s, it’s a game changer for my role. I’m sure it is for yours as well, it just, to me, it’s, I’m not sure I’ll ever take another job where that doesn’t exist. So, I, I love that story, I think it makes a lot of sense. I wanna spend the time we have talking about, like you said before, your onboarding period.
[00:07:54] And so, what I get asked about for, by a lot of people is, like, uh, career advice for the CFO. And what I would love to turn this into is kind of like a, a discussion of 30, 60, 90 planning for onboarding and if there’s a better framework, like, we can get into that, I, I just, that’s kind of what I want to dig into with you. But where I want to start is just setting the stage of, like, what kind of company Second Front is.
[00:08:21] So, I know you’re coming from Legion, series C Company more mature. You just said you were a series A at Second Front. You’re excited about product market fit. But I’m curious, like, what challenges you expected to face moving from a, a legion to an earlier stage Second Front? What did you think you were gonna run into?
[00:08:38] What did you have to overcome?
Challenges of Being a First Finance Hire
[00:08:39] Jervis Williams: Well, the first challenge is that I’m the first finance hire. And so, you know, you never kind of know what’s under the hood when you walk in. And so, I was prepared for the worst, and fortunately, it’s been much better than expected. We have an awesome team here, before me, the COO was acting as the interim CFO, and she and her team have done just an amazing job.
[00:09:03] And actually as part of the Series A raise, the inve, lead investor required kind of a due diligence CPA review type mini audit. So, that was done. They passed the flying colors. There was an accounting firm that’s been in place for a couple of years now. And so, they, we use QuickBooks online.
[00:09:22] We use Carta, Bill.com, Ramp, and so all the infrastructure is there. And so, I was expecting, I didn’t know what to expect coming in. And more importantly, we had cash in the bank because we, we just, we just raised in October of last year, uh, which going back another requirement for coming to any new job, especially in startup, there has to be cash in the bank.
[00:09:44] I, I, I’m not gonna walk into a situation where we need to raise cash to really keep the lights on. And so, it doesn’t need to be a three-year runway, but also can’t be a three, it can’t be a three-month runway either. And so, you know, walked in, expecting really to really kind of figure out,
[00:10:02] it’s kind of how things need to be set up and then, internally, and then how to make that a smooth transition. But fortunately, the team was still in place and so, uh, we’ve been operating, really collaborating more as a partnership, more than a handoff. And so, that, that’s been working really well.
[00:10:19] It’s not like they’ve dropped completely out of finance. And so, even still, we’re still doing a lot of things together as a team and that’s just, that’s just the approach. I mean, even though I may not have, although on Friday I will, up until now, I don’t have a team member, I still have the COO and, who is Chrissy by the way, and our director of operations, uh, Kristi,
[00:10:42] and the, the three of us really act as our finance team. And so, that’s been a, a really good experience. But walking into any, and to me there’s, there’s two types of, well, it’s probably more than two, but there’s at least two types of CFO roles that I see. One is CFO role of an enterprise company.
[00:11:00] You walk in, you have, you know, tons of, of resources and teams and people, and then you have the CFO, the first CFO of a startup. And so, like, day one, you really need to know, like, what is the cash situation? Like, where is the cash? And then, you know, what are the needs in terms of payroll,
[00:11:20] like, what’s the size, what’s my cash flow, my burn rate, my burn rate, and my runway. So, it’s really important to figure those things out from day one. And so, and that’s what I did. And so, uh, interesting enough, I started February 24th and then three weeks later, we were faced with the SVB crisis.
[00:11:40] And so, fortunately, in December of last year before I started, the team moved about 80% of our money into a money market account with Merrill Lynch. And so, coming in that week, we did have payroll coming through SVB, but we, but payroll happened that Thursday and so our only concern was, did actually go out.
[00:12:05] So, we were, like, on the line with just works like all weekend. They couldn’t tell us, and so over that weekend, we had opened up a B&A account that was tied to our Merrill Lynch account, so we definitely had a backup plan, but, uh, that was, you know, unexpected obviously, but, you know, it was, we were in crisis mode and had to talk to a couple board members of the weekend
[00:12:27] and, but fortunately, you know, we, we did have a good backup plan and, and we didn’t have all of our money with SVB, as it turns out, would not have been an issue anyway,by that Sunday, things had had calmed down. But that’s always my main focus coming to any startup CFO position is what’s the cash situation like.
[00:12:46] Nothing else matters before the cash situation. And then I think the next is keeping the lights on. So, bills need to get paid, payroll needs to occur, there are, uh, reporting requirements by, from investors and board members.
[00:13:03] And so, it’s, is, it’s that reporting and just that everyday tactical keeping the lights on. And we walk into the larger enterprise, that’s, you can be strategic, right? You can start thinking about your pie-in-the-sky strategy for the organization and staffing and, and, but in day one, in a startup, it’s cash and keeping the lights on.
[00:13:27] And, and, and that’s where those starts.
[00:13:29] Joe Michalowski: Makes total sense. I love, uh, it sounds so, you know, I had like a follow-up question here where I kind of expected sort of what you, it sounded like you expected, I expected an immediate, like, “Well, there were these four fires to put out and so I had to jump on these things and I had this thing written out where I was like, ‘Well, there’s only so much time in the day.
[00:13:48] How do you prioritize which ones to fix?'” It sounds like you are really lucked out with the team of Kristi and Chrissy, uh, kind of keeping things or a tight ship leading into you getting there, so I guess I don’t really need to go down that path, but I love where you went with, uh, sort of like the day one priority, and I think that’s a good way to lead into the structure
[00:14:10] I want to talk about around like 30, 60, 90 plan. So, I wanna start, you know, with a 30-day plan, it sounds like, you know, cash, runway, burn, make sure you have a good handle on that. I’m curious, like what, like, how long does that take you to get a handle on? Like, is that the entirety of your first month, is figuring that out and setting processes or, like, what does your, what does that 30 days look like and how do you prioritize things?
The First 30 Days as New CFO
[00:14:35] Jervis Williams: Right, right. So, cash and keeping lights on, that’s literally like two days, you know? But by day two, have it all figured out. And also, part of that is getting access to all the systems. So, you know, QBO, Bill.com, Ramp, the bank, you know, so that takes a, you know, again, two or three days to get really settled there.
[00:14:54] And then, after that point, to me, the next most important is just to learn. It’s just really education, learning the, not only the business, the company, the culture, the rhythm of the company, again, this company is very military in terms of style, and so just even understanding some of the language. And so, like, within, yeah, I was getting emails that said FYSA, usually where it says FYI.
[00:15:24] I’m like, “What is FYSA?” I had no idea. So, look, look it up. It was for your situational awareness, right? And, and that is something that is, is very military. And also, they would just say SA meaning situational awareness, and so, like, terms like that. And then “Cadre” it’s another very military term. And so, just, just like learning the culture of, of just how the rhythm work, the processes, the interaction, the, the communication.
[00:15:55] This company is very Slack-oriented, so you really need to keep up on all the Slack channels and you need to be conversing how Slack works, the threads versus direct messages versus, you know, and so, and not so much email, which is interesting. And so, just being up on Slack and making sure simple things like Slack is on my phone, Slack is on my
[00:16:17] laptop, the notifications are on, so when I get a Slack message, my phone beeps. Right? Little things like that are really important ’cause you don’t wanna miss a Slack message where people are expecting, like, instant feedback and instant comments. And so, if you’re used to, you know, checking email once or twice an hour or, or twice a day, you’ll be completely left out,
[00:16:41] MIA and like, who is this guy and, and, and where is he? Right? And so, just really kind of jumping in and fitting in I think is so important. And then just, like, learn, just listening. So, I set one-on-ones with a couple of the board members with all the exec team, and because I am on the exec team, each new hire gets to meet each exec.
[00:17:06] So, I, I already had meetings on my calendar for new hires, so I spent a lot of my first few weeks just really learning the company, learning the people, the names, the rhythm of the business, and just the whole, you know, defense sector is very unique in dealing with the federal government,
[00:17:25] so I did a lot of just research around some of the terms, the organizations, the DOD as just education and, and, again, fortunately, I was in a good place because the systems were going pretty smoothly, so I could spend time just really learning and listening before I gave a lot of my, my input. But in that, in that list of things, really what was really important was the board members.
[00:17:56] And so, there are two board members, two lead, uh, co-lead investors in series A and just really getting their perspective on expectations, on their thesis, like, why did they invest in Second Front because that helps me just visualize, you know, where the company should be headed based on the, on the original thesis
[00:18:18] ’cause there are so many different ways we can take this business. It’s good to stay focused on, on what the investors invested in and because it is such a huge opportunity, it can be wide as well. And so, just getting the board’s perspective, of course, I have one-on-ones with, with my CEO, who happens to be local.
[00:18:39] So, something else we haven’t talked about is that Second Front is totally virtual. Have never had an office and so employees are all over the country. And, but it just so happens the CEO is local. I’m, I’m here in Menlo Park, California. The CEO lives about 10 minutes away from me. Our CMO, who came out of VMware,
[00:19:00] he lives down in San Jose and then our chief of strategy lives one city up. That’s just a coincidence. Now, but, but now we have critical mass and so within that month, we’ve all gotten together at least once or twice in person and not necessarily with an agenda, but just so we could, like, be there in person and, and things just come up.
[00:19:23] And so, that’s been really helpful to get to learn and, and know and be acquainted with the business, it’s just by listening, taking down lots of notes and being very intentional about asking questions, about meeting everyone I can think of, about sitting in on meetings that may not even be pertinent to me.
[00:19:43] I mean, I’ll, I’ll sit in on a pipeline review, I’ll sit on, you know, a technical review just so I, I can learn. It is really about going to the, the grad school of defense tech.
[00:19:55] Joe Michalowski: Yeah. I love that. I think, well, a follow-up I had is, uh, you mentioned that, obviously, this is a pretty unique industry. I don’t know if that translates to, like, a unique business structure in terms of SaaS. Like, what is, do you, do you have a sales department? I heard you mention a CMO. Like, who, who are the department heads that you’re working with?
[00:20:14] I heard a lot, like, the board member thing is really cool. I’ve never heard anyone talk about making a point of that. Obviously, getting to meet the, the executive suite in person, amazing, what’s, like, that next level? Who are you meeting with on the department side?
[00:20:27] Jervis Williams: Yeah. So, in terms of, uh, Second Front, we are a pure SaaS company. That’s the beauty of it. So, we have a CMO, CRO, we have a CTO, we have a, a, uh, chief data scientist and the COO, that makes up the executive suite. And so, all our sales, our subscription, in fact, most of our business is 90% commercial, 10% government.
[00:20:50] And so, we tell, we sell to SaaS companies. We are actually a platform. It’s really a past company. We provide a platform as a service to SaaS companies, so we have all the typical metrics in terms of ARR and committed ARR and ACV and, and CAC and LTV and, and my favorite metric is the burn metric.
[00:21:15] How much are we burning in cash to achieve incremental ARR? And so, from that perspective, we are pure sales company, well, again, which is why it’s such a good fit for me in my career, is because I get to take what I’ve learned really at Legion in terms of being a SaaS CFO and, and applying those metrics, that mindset,
[00:21:37] to, to Second Front. And walking in, those metrics don’t exist currently. And so, that’s one thing I’m still working on is and I just can’t wait for Mosaic to go live. Oh, by the way, yes, I did bring Mosaic into, into, uh, Second Front and, within my first month and so I was very happy to do that and had my first onboarding meeting a couple days ago.
[00:22:01] Joe Michalowski: Nice. Much appreciated. Love it.
[00:22:02] Jervis Williams: Yes, yes. And so, and just kind of building, so now I’m working on building those metrics so that it becomes part of the fabric of the company from, of how we think, how we measure, how we impact the business going forward. And so, like, even right now, like I’m going through every contract, trying to figure out what our true ARR is, because at the end of the day, the CFO is the one who is the official scorekeeper
[00:22:30] of ARR, of CARR. And my new head of finance who starts on Friday, he also is very detail-oriented, specializes in 606 revenue and so, like, we are a pure SaaS shop. And that’s why a Mosaic is, is gonna be just very instrumental in dashboarding and reporting and really driving the business.
[00:22:55] And, and one thing I really like about SaaS, I was just thinking about this today, is that, what I really like about Sass is that it’s this recurring model of, it’s really formulaic, right? Because, you know, every year you are getting in revenue, so you can measure things like churn and net retention and it’s like, to me it’s like, kind of like, like, it’s easier to measure ’cause it has a heartbeat.
[00:23:21] Like, this Fitbit watch that gives me my heart rate and my heart rate’s usually somewhere around 48, 49. They say that’s really, it could be bad, or it can be good. It could be good if it means you’re in shape, or it could be bad, meaning that something wrong with your heart.
[00:23:38] So, but luckily, I’ve gotten, had it checked out and I have a marathon-type heart.
[00:23:44] Joe Michalowski: Nice. Good for you. I wish I did, man.
[00:23:46] Jervis Williams: And so, but what I like about SaaS business, it has a heartbeat, right? And so, Mosaic allows us to really measure that heartbeat and then if it’s going too slow, we can do things to speed it up or if it’s going too fast, we can slow it down. And so, that’s what I like about the SaaS just in general. It’s measurable and you can take the metrics and the results to really impact business.
[00:24:14] Okay. Our churn is too high. Well, why is that? Well, let’s go back and figure out why customers are leaving. Oh, our software is buggy. Oh, we’re not measuring certain things. Let’s now measure tho, those, let’s not only measure, but have people be accountable for certain results, right? But that can start with the metrics that come as a result of the heartbeat of the SaaS business.
[00:24:40] And, and that’s still different than other businesses where it’s, if it’s not repeatable, it’s kind of tough to diagnose, like, why something isn’t quite working correctly. But, you know, and there’s so much, so many benchmarks out there now and successful sales companies and I’m a big believer in, in the Bessemer SaaS metrics, and so I really take those benchmarks and, and we’ll dashboard those in Mosaic and it’s a very, like, straightforward story to tell, you know, to the board, to the exec team.
[00:25:12] It’s like, “We need to be here, you know, our magic number is not magic.” And, or the, it could be the other case where a magic number, we are actually, we fit product market fit, and we’re not spending fast enough, right? Because I’m, and because we’re actually higher than one, as opposed to below one in terms, terms of the magic number.
[00:25:32] So there, there are metrics out there that you can really use to drive the business. And another reason why I really like SaaS business versus other, you know, kind of tougher-to-measure businesses.
[00:25:45] Joe Michalowski: No, this is all great. I love the heartbeat metaphor. I know there are gonna be some people inside Mosaic that are gonna be pretty excited about that, so I’ll probably clip that, send that to people, they’ll be pretty pumped. But, uh, I heard in there that you, so, you know, you called, uh, your first 30 days, kind of like the Grad School of Defense Tech and, like, that, that’s great.
[00:26:06] And you said you’re still working on this metric side, so, like, if we’re transitioning to, like, the 60-day side of the 30, 60, 90 sort of framework, like, it sounds, like, great, I, I’ve got a feel for the business, and now that I have that feel, I can start putting my metrics together. And, you know, you mentioned a lot about what that looks like,
[00:26:26] what I wanna follow up on is something that we hear a lot, and I know you were at our customer summit and in San Francisco, and I heard that there was a surprisingly heated debate about ARR versus CARR and how to define those things and so as part of this, like, 60-day sort of framework, I would love to hear how you’re going about defining those things for Second Front because it sounds like
[00:26:54] finance leaders have a tough time figuring out what it should be. I think they would appreciate hearing, like, the thought process behind defining them for you.
First 60 Days as New CFO
[00:27:02] Jervis Williams: Yes. Yes, A great question, Joe. At first, just to be clear, when it comes to these, these SaaS metrics, these are non-gap metrics, right? And so, it’s really an agreement between the company, the board, and the investors. And so, just going back to Legion, like, the series C raise was led by an investor who was totally focused on committed ARR. So, that was the North Star, and so that is the North Star at Legion. And Legion’s
[00:27:37] a little different from Second Front. At Legion, we had almost all multi-year deals, but the first year and the deals were based on number of locations or number of users. And so, and the way customers implement the software, they were implemented one store or one retail operation at a time.
[00:27:59] So, year one may only be, you know, half of year two and year three. And so, in that case, let’s say, let’s say year one revenue ARR is a 100K, year two is 200K, and year three is 300K. In that case, CARR is, that third year we’re completely committed of, of 300K, right? And in year one, ARR was 100K.
[00:28:28] In year two, ARR 200K, in year three ARR match CARR of 300 K. So, and that was an, an agreement that was understood by the investors, by the board and by the ex, the exec team. And so, here at Second Front is similar, where they measured committed ARR before I arrived, however, most of the deals are annual.
[00:28:54] I mean, not annual, they are not multi-year deals. And so, you don’t have that same dynamic of ARR being different from CARR because in this case they’re both the same. But as we go out and communicate with investors and with potential investors, we will always talk committed ARR and because in the future we could have multi-year deals.
[00:29:18] In the first year, most of our, our customers are startups, and they have one-year awards from the government so they can commit to a five-year deal because they get awarded one year at a time, but the great news is that it’s the federal government. So, every year the budget’s gonna be there.
[00:29:36] Joe Michalowski: They’re not ripping that system out anytime soon. Once you started, you’re gonna keep going.
[00:29:40] Jervis Williams: Exactly. Like, we are literally the plumbing of these software companies, and everything else gets cut before the plumbing. Like, you, you just don’t turn your lights off. Can you imagine Joe’s like, “Oh, I need to cut down expenses at home. I’m gonna shut my water and my lights off for a while.”
[00:29:55] No, that’s not even an option, right? You may cut out a vacation, you know, or you may not buy that Porsche that you were thinking about or, but, but you’re not gonna cut your lights off. So, sit, so same for our software companies, right? We are the platform that runs their software. And so, you know, very, very high
[00:30:14] transferring costs, and it is, it is just a really good place to be in. But, so again, most of our deals are one-year deals, and so we don’t have the same dynamic of CARR versus ARR, but I think I gave you a good example going back, going back to Legion.
[00:30:30] Joe Michalowski: No, that’s perfect. And as somebody who just spent three days fixing an entire sink, uh, I appreciate the reference to not getting rid of my plumbing ’cause I wanted to get rid of my plumbing.
[00:30:42] My plumbing for a few days, and you still can’t. So, yeah, totally understand that. All right, so I appreciate you indulging, uh, my question about that ’cause we’ve been having debates internally
[00:30:52] and so the example you gave is great. What else would you mention about your 60 days? You mentioned you’re just coming up at the end of the 60 days, so this is kind of the last, you know, concrete experience that we could talk about. When we get in 90, we’re looking ahead. So, what else did you work on in this second month, other than, you know, defining some of these metrics that we’ve talked about?
[00:31:12] Jervis Williams: So, like, these, probably the second most important thing after cash and keeping the lights on is the team and my team. And so, so building out my organizational structure and what I need to be to be successful, which I actually made sure that was the case before I even took the job. I need for there to be a commitment that the finance team needs to have a strong accounting foundation and a strong FP&A foundation.
[00:31:43] And so, that was part of, you know, really my strategy was to bring on just a team of three. The three of us may be a fourth person to do some accounting, but, you know, that those four, in my opinion, could take us to easily north of 50 million. And especially because we do, uh, six-figure deals here
[00:32:05] and so we don’t have, like, tons of invoices, you know? We’re not looking at MRR and, and a lot of just, you know, just cycles. But it’s, it’s big deals, they come in very predictable and so, but just having that strong team in place. And so, you know, I came in saying, “This is what sides of team that I need.”
[00:32:26] And so, you know, the first month really kind of built out the, the job description along with our, our talent manager and we put it out to, uh, LinkedIn, to Indeed and lo and behold, we, we hire an awesome head of finance and accounting, and Jimmy Sungs starts on Friday and we’re so excited.
[00:32:50] But coming in is interesting though, is my plan was to bring in a controller, to really make sure we had, you know, strong processes and systems are all in line. And also, there’s a requirement in the investor rights agreement that our financials be audited. And so, that’s another priority, is, so I’ve also engaged a couple of audit firms to get proposals and also an advisory firm to help prepare our financial statements,
[00:33:27] our 606, stock-based compensation, disclosures. And so, my plan was to hire a controller and then two months after that, bring on an FP&A person to start working on the next year’s plan, our actual financial plan. And, and we’re on a, our year-end is January 31st, so we are at the end of Q1 FY24.
[00:33:56] And so, the next plan needs to be FY25 needs to be done by, by January of next year. So, I feel, you know, if get somebody, you know, in the summer that’d give them plenty of time to, um, start working on the plan, in Mosaic, have it up in and in time for the board to approve. However, as I, you know, started talking to candidates, my, Jimmy’s son came, and he has great experience in both accounting and finance and he’s done quite a few budgets
[00:34:31] and it’s a CPA’s gone through several audits, and so now my perspective has changed and I was able to get finance and accounting in one failed swoop. And so, that was just really just, just, it was unexpected, but I’m very, very, you know, excited by that. And now, and his philosophy is that, so we’ll hire a probably senior accountant or maybe an accounting manager, but it will be a hybrid,
[00:34:59] it will be someone who can do accounting and FP&A, right? And so, it won’t be what I envisioned was finance on one side, accounting another side, but now it’s gonna be kind of hybrid all the way down the organization.
[00:35:13] So, team was really important. So, and, and so, and that is, like, and my philosophy is, like, yo, find someone who’s smarter than I am, especially on the accounting side. I’m, I’m an MBA, Stanford MBA, and so yeah, I, I wanted a strong CPA and, and this is exactly, exactly what I found.
[00:35:33] Joe Michalowski: That’s, uh, listen, Jarvis, the, the whole time you’ve been talking, it sounds like you’ve hit like really unicorn situation. It seems like all these, like, things just keep falling into place for you. I’m sure there are many challenges, you’ll face many challenges moving forward, but, you know, you started off, you were like, “Well, I thought there would be fire, some fires to put out
[00:35:49] and instead they did an amazing job.” And now it’s like, “Well, I thought I’d need a controller, I found someone who can do both.” That’s amazing. I love the adaptability of like, you know, obviously, you had a vision for how this team was gonna look and cool to hear you talk about how you kind of adjusted that philosophy and how you’re gonna move it going forward,
[00:36:08] so really love that. Wanna keep us moving ’cause I know, uh, I could probably talk to you for a really, really long time and I can’t do that cause you’re a CFO and you don’t have that much time. So, talked about.
[00:36:18] Jervis Williams: Joe, I have till about seven o’clock, that’s when the Warriors and the, and the, uh, Sacramento Kings tip-off, so, uh, so I, I’m, I’m fine for the next three and a half hours.
[00:36:30] Joe Michalowski: I, uh, I want you to be mentally prepared for that game. I hope, uh, I hope it goes well. That’s been an amazing series, by the way.
[00:36:37] Uh, so that I remember, actually, this is a, a complete tangent, but the last time you and I chatted was for a webinar or maybe it was the time before that, but it was during the NBA finals last year and it was my hometown Boston Celtics versus your Warriors.
[00:36:54] And I was, I was needling you a little bit about that, and I was very wrong, so I was a little disappointed, but I am crossing my fingers for a rematch, which is looking like a challenging road, but I would love it. It’d be great.
[00:37:05] Jervis Williams: I would too. I would too. That’d be great.
[00:37:07] Joe Michalowski: Oh man. Love it. So, we talked about defining metrics. We talked about building out the team in those 60 days.
[00:37:12] You’re coming up on the end of those 60 days. Let’s look into moving forward in the framework of what we’re talking about. We’re talking about 30, 60, 90, but might as well just talk about, like, what’s next, since you’re coming up on that end of two months.
First 90 Days as New CFO
[00:37:24] Jervis Williams: Yeah, so, so now, yeah, I’ve spent 60 days kind of assessing the, the organization, building the team, you know, keeping the lights on. Now, 60 to 90 days between, and now it’s like it’s time for, here’s my state of the union, right? Here’s what I’ve seen, here’s where we are and here is where we need to go from a strategy standpoint.
[00:37:47] And it just so happens that our board meeting is coming up in a couple weeks, actually, middle of May, May 15th and, and by the way, today is April 26th, so it’s, it’s about three, three weeks from now. And so, that’s where I will get my platform to at least talk about, talk about the company and our finance strategy.
[00:38:10] I’ve had similar discussions, and so at first, I need to socialize, I stayed the union with the exec team and so, you know, just last night I saw our chief revenue officer who’s in town for RSA, so we got to spend time, you know, just one-on-one in person. And I kind of talked about, “Here’s what I’ve seen, here’s what I envisioned for sales and marketing,” and so now I’m starting to socialize, you know, my thoughts about the business, about what we should focus on with the exec team and then you get agreement and buy-in, so by the time the board meeting comes around in about three weeks, we’re all on the same page. And, and we have a really good roadmap or playbook in terms of our finance strategy.
[00:38:59] Joe Michalowski: Love that. I think, uh, where I want to dig into, uh, and I, I don’t need the, the whole overview of like, you know, what that finance strategy looks like, but we’ve talked sort of like, people processes, and you’ve mentioned Mosaic, which you know, thank you, love that, that we get to be part of this journey with you.
[00:39:16] I want to ask, like, are there any other tech investments that you’re looking at making moving forward? So, you know, you’ve talked about a lot of, you know, setting up the foundation and it just feels like one thing that we haven’t touched on yet. I’d love to know if you’re, you’re looking at certain systems or implementations that you need to work on before we, uh, keep going.
[00:39:35] Jervis Williams: Uh, from a system standpoint, not really, again, we have QuickBooks online and between QuickBooks and Mosaic, that really covers my, you know, business intelligence data. You know, I know there are other systems out there, like, NetSuite, Intacct that could be used for things, but, you know, we’re just, we’re just too small.
[00:40:00] Cash is so important. I’d rather put that a hundred K into an engineer than I would into a system for a company our size. And so, really, once Mosaic is in place, I have no plans for any more systems for a while. On the HR side, we’re implementing Lattice for performance reviews, for, for surveys, for one-on-ones, for things like that.
[00:40:23] But on the finance side, once I have Mosaic in place, that’s it from a system standpoint.
[00:40:28] Joe Michalowski: Love it. Plus, one, the Lattice, we use it as well. But yeah, I mean that, that’s great to hear. I think that’s, uh, it’s what a lot of finance people would like to hear. It’s what, uh, our talking point is a little bit around NetSuite. It’s like, hey, you gotta prolong that migration as, as long as you can because early on, way too expensive.
[00:40:46] And I’ve heard a lot of nightmare stories about trying to move over and, you know, once you do every, everything is good. I, I talked to Ed Wean at, at Ramp and her journey there, but the, the journey is tough, so don’t blame you at all for keeping it simple and glad we can help you do that.
[00:41:03] Love the framework we’ve had. The, the next set of questions I had, we, we’ve already covered, so I, I wanted to talk about the hire ’cause I saw when you were on LinkedIn looking for the controller and I was like, “Oh hey, like, Jervis is, like, onboarding period is looking to hire,” so I love that we covered that.
[00:41:17] What I’d love to get into is sort of a last few questions. One is just like, you know, you’re not at the end of 90 days, but you’re at the end of your 60 days. Is there anything you would’ve changed over these first 60 days? You’ve learned, you know, you’ve been through two months now as a new CFO again, anything you’d do differently if you had to start over?
[00:41:36] Sounded pretty solid to make.
[00:41:38] Jervis Williams: Yeah, no, I’ve had a really good 60 days and, and I would say some of that I’ve learned from my previous roles at Legion and Metawave. Like if, if you were to ask me the same question, when I started Legion, I would’ve said, I would’ve started working on my hire from day one. So, that’s what I’ve done, or at least not day one, but at least in the first 30 days,
[00:42:00] so I’ve improved there at a Second Front. And so, you know, the great part about, and this being my third, you know, startup CFO is I’ve learned from the first two. And so, and that, that’s helped me just be more intentional about the first 16 days. Also, what I did in between, uh, the two, I actually went out on the web and found some, there’s this,
[00:42:25] there’s this, uh, framework called, by Michael Watkins, called “The First 90 Days,” and I literally had pulled that up. Our, I had some time in between the two jobs and I, I pulled that up. And then there’s another one from, uh, the Jackson Hole Group, and it’s very similar, and it’s called something to do with the, uh, the first 90 days.
[00:42:48] And so, and so that’s helped me be, be very in intentional about having a plan. Here it is, the Jackson Hole Group, Jackson Hole Group is called “The First Hundred Days, Achieving Immediate Results.” And, um, so I’ve been using this, and that’s where I, I really got the idea of meeting with my stakeholders, including the board
[00:43:11] and having them, you buy in early, early on. Because, and really the CFO, I report to the CFO, but I also report to the board directly as well. And so, that, that’s something that I, it didn’t necessarily do in my first two jobs, but, but here I was very intentional about it.
[00:43:30] Joe Michalowski: I love that. I will absolutely link to those two, uh, papers, books, in the show notes. Uh, that’s awesome and fits in line exactly what we’re talking about, so I love that you did that. Sounds like the adjustments you’ve made heading into Second Front have really worked out for you. There’s something you mentioned, and it leads to a question that I wanted to ask next.
[00:43:48] We hear, we at Mosaic talk a lot about like, the value of investing early in finance, not just in a system like Mosaic ’cause obviously we want people to buy Mosaic, but also just, like, hiring someone in finance as early as possible. Like, if you’ve, if you think it’s, you’ve gone too far, like, you probably have.
[00:44:07] So, I’m curious, like, you’re in pretty early, what do you think some of the benefits are of bringing someone like yourself in or, even like a, maybe like a more junior, like a head of finance or something as early as possible in the road for a startup? What does that do for the company when someone like you is there?
[00:44:24] Jervis Williams: Yeah, I think there’s a couple benefits. One’s internal and one’s external. But internally, yeah, it’s really finance, the role, it sets the tone from a financial standpoint for the company in terms of are we disciplined, somebody watching how we spend money, does someone care? You know, as an employee, how am I, am I submiting expense reports? You know, as, as a budget manager, am I accountable for how we spend money?
[00:44:53] And so, it just brings that discipline and that good hygiene to the organization. And you don’t want the organization to be, you know, 150 people who, who don’t really have their discipline and their money’s just going out the door, it’s unchecked. And so, bringing that in as early as possible is really important.
[00:45:15] And then externally, just in terms of, you know, most startups, all startups in fundraising mode, right? And so, you know, having that person who’s a solely accountable, is important to, to investors, to the board, to potential investors, also to someone who can, you know, sit next to the CEO and confirm, yes, you know, these numbers are accurate.
[00:45:40] Yes, we have the processes and procedures in place to make sure we’re hitting our targets to have that predictability and just having that just repeatability of the business really comes through that structure that, that finance brings more than anything else. So, it, it’s important internally, externally, and, you know, I think getting that person on board as soon as possible is, is, is really important for, for any startup.
Finance Career Advice from Jervis Williams
[00:46:09] Joe Michalowski: Love that. I think, I mean, I think we’re seeing it too. Like, I, I know, I started here writing for Mosaic in late 2020, and that was something that, that we harped on a lot was like, “Hey, like, you need to get your finance person in the door sooner.” And I think we’ve seen that happening. Like, when we talked to Series A
[00:46:27] companies now, it’s not always like the CEO or, like, the founder talking to us. That’s often a finance person like yourself who is looking to buy a system like Mosaic. So, great progress for the industry, I think. People seeing the value of the role that you guys do ’cause it is important, especially for a company that is spending money like startups do.
[00:46:47] So, I love all that. Jervis, we’re coming up on time. I’ve, I have one last question for you. And it, you know, for once, uh, usually, like, it doesn’t really fall in line with the topic, but today it does because we’re talking about careers. It’s something I ask everyone that comes on. So, I want to know what is one thing you know now that you wish knew way back when you started your career?
[00:47:07] Jervis Williams: I would say that one thing I know now is that it’s okay to be fluid in your career and to, like, I’ve had three CFO jobs in six years. Right? And don’t have to worry about the career risk of, “Oh, you know, Jervis is moving jobs,” because, in reality, I’m learning so much at every stop that I look at each job opportunity as a step on my path.
[00:47:41] And so, I have benefited at every step from my previous job. And I wouldn’t say that was the case if I’d been at one job for six years. I think I, I have accelerated my career by being at three jobs in six years versus one job in six years.
[00:48:00] Joe Michalowski: I love that. There’s like a stigma against, uh, job hopping is, like, a really negative term that I, I don’t love, but that’s what it’s perceived as and I think that’s a really good way to look at it, especially, you know, if anyone listening to this is, you know, thinking about moving on to a new role, it’s probably a good way to position yourself as you’re interviewing in that role if
[00:48:18] they ask a question about, you know, kind of being fluid as you said. So, it’s a really good frame of mind for that. It makes a lot of sense to me. Love that.
[00:48:27] All right.
[00:48:27] All right, Jervis, that was our last question. I know running a little long here, so I apologize, but always love talking to you. I wanna turn the floor over to you.
[00:48:36] Just say thank you for, for being on and where can people go to connect with you, to learn more about the work you’re doing at Second Front? Anything you wanna plug or propose? It’s, floor is yours, sir.
[00:48:48] Jervis Williams: Oh, sure. Thank you. So, I’m easy to find. I’m at LinkedIn, Jervis Williams, CFO of Second Front, and I just want to encourage all the finance professionals out there to, you know, really reach out and build your network. And so, feel free to add me, and am always available to chat. I have my own kind of personal set of advisors that I would just call occasionally, and I’m willing and open to
[00:49:15] being, you know, one of your advisors if, if, if you still choose, and so I just think networking and just finding out best practices and just getting that second and third opinion is always very helpful. So, I’m available to all and, and, uh, feel free to connect anytime.
[00:49:32] Joe Michalowski: Love that. It’s very kind of you as somebody who has gotten to talk to you a few times to get your insight into finance things. I highly recommend, actually, taking Jervis up on this offer. So, I hope you don’t get too many messages because you’ll be a busy man. Jervis, thank you so much for being here.
[00:49:47] Really appreciate it. I think this is a great episode. A lot of great things that you, uh, can teach everyone. And yeah, just wanna say thanks for being on The Roll Forward, and hope to it again sometime.
[00:49:56] Jervis Williams: All right. Sounds good. Thanks, Joe, for having me.
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