Good CFOs know that numbers are just a fraction of their job. An important and under-appreciated element is managing people.
In some ways, Jenny feels that the team spirit has grown stronger while they’ve been working apart. Part of it is seeing people in their homes on Zoom calls, and another is “The trust piece: allowing people to go off and do their work and just make sure things get done,” she says.
A year into the shake-up of the pandemic, Jenny talks about how Zapier is supporting its employees and how the company bounced back after an early dip.
Introducing Jenny Bloom, CFO at Zapier
💵 What she does: Chief Financial Officer at Zapier, a web app management software company.
💡 Key quote: “I tell my people all the time when they come to me with questions, ‘What’s the right thing to do? How would you want to be treated?’ It’s doing the right thing.”
👋 Where to find her: LinkedIn
Listen to the episode here
In this episode of Spend Culture Stories, Jenny talks about planning for uncertain times, her favorite fintech and remote work apps, and how COVID-19 brought her team closer together.
Managing people is a bigger aspect of the job that Jenny anticipated when she got into accounting. “We try to make people-first policies. We do regular surveys to see what people think of our policies, and some of it leads to change,” she says.
This extends to the company’s finances. For example, employees used to file expenses by emailing their receipts. Then the company switched to a SaaS tool and now employees have their own credit cards.
It was feedback from her team that made Jenny realize it was time to start scaling the expensing process. “When your accountants start complaining that filing expenses is all they’re doing — when they’re very frustrated and it’s taking a lot of time — that’s when you go, ‘OK, this is broken,’” she says.
A year into the shake-up of the pandemic, Jenny talks about Zapier’s support to their teams and how the company is performing after an early dip back when the pandemic began.
Top takeaways from this week’s conversation
Plan for uncertainty (as much as you can) and embrace flexibility 📋
If COVID-19 taught the world anything (besides always having a spare supply of toilet paper), it’s that you can’t predict the next big world-changing event. But you can plan for future uncertainty.
Jenny says that Zapier has put together a risk mitigation team to handle future crises: “Both figuring out what to do and also communicating to all the employees.” It’s also become clear that the companies that handled the pandemic best were those that adapted fast. “You have to be flexible and able to change direction quickly if needed,” Jenny says.
Get your finance tech stack right and make cash management easier for everyone 💻
Since Zapier is a software company, it’s perhaps not surprising that they make the most of finance apps. For example, Jenny is a fan of expense management software “Because it gives the employees the flexibility to buy stuff on their own terms, but we have control over their budgets and spend.”
For certain expenses, employees can go through Slack. “Slack is basically our office,” Jenny says. “We have integrations with Slack that help us with other things we work on.” And the accounting team uses project management tool Asana to keep track of what everyone’s working on.
A CFO’s role is to ensure your team is happy (and that you have the right people) 🙂
Although Jenny became an accountant because she was good with numbers, she soon realized that managing people is as big a part of a CFO’s job. Zapier has made an effort to promote a positive culture and keep its employees engaged in this new world of remote work.
“We give them [team members] an office set up budget over three years. It includes a computer, and then it’s up to them what to spend it on, whether they want a chair or desk or to pay for a co-working space – whatever fits within their needs,” Jenny says.
Top highlights from the podcast
A brain for business (and animals)
[2:18] “I’m a big animal lover so I actually wanted to be a vet, but I didn’t do well in school. But I was good with numbers, and my dad was an entrepreneur so I liked the entrepreneurial side. I went to business school, and the only people getting jobs at the time were accounting majors. I said, ‘I’m good at numbers, why not get an accounting degree?’ That’s where it all started.”
Finance triaging for COVID
[4:58] “When COVID-19 hit, it was really difficult not knowing what to do or what was in front of us. We initially had a significant drop in revenue so we paused hiring, we stopped all raises and promotions. We also started doing daily forecasting of revenue and we canceled a lot of the services we weren’t using. A lot of things were done right away to try to stop the bleeding, since we didn’t know how long it was going to last. Even though we got back to normal revenue within a few weeks, we were trying to be really conservative since we still didn’t know what was ahead.”
Put your money where your diversity goals are
[6:59] “One of our big initiatives is around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. We’re putting together a 10-year plan and we’ve hired a Director of Diversity. On the finance side, one thing we’re going to start doing is looking at Black-owned banks where we can start putting some of our investments, instead of in some of the bigger banks.”
Hire the right person, not the first person
[14:54] “I take a lot more time hiring now. At Mailchimp, the first few hires were very difficult because we were a startup and nobody knew of us. I didn’t spend as much time looking for people as I should have, and I learned that. Now I really take the time to make sure we have the right people in the right seats.”
Remote management: further away but closer than ever
[15:58] “One thing that’s really fascinated me about remote work is that I’m closer to my team now than I was in person. I have one-on-ones with all my directs and you talk about personal stuff, you see what’s going on. My dog threw up behind me during a meeting — real life is going on! People are more intimate and more sharing. It’s not like walking down the executive hallway to my office: it’s people pinging me on Slack like, ‘Hey, can you jump on a Zoom?’ You’re much more approachable and everyone’s more authentic.”
No investors means more room to play
[21:49] “When you don’t have investors, you’re allowed to do much more and you’re allowed to experiment, and that’s where you really have the ability to grow. At Mailchimp, we had the ability to lower prices if we wanted to or give out $1 million’s worth of t-shirts, and that kind of stuff really built the company. But if you’re owned by a VC or have big investors, they’re not going to allow you to do stuff like that. You have the ability to experiment and do things the way you want when you’re basically self-funded.”
Our favorite quotes
[3:03] “Numbers are one piece but so much of being a CFO is about finding and hiring the right people and making them perform the best they can.”
[6:39] “Remote work is really big right now, and it looks like a lot of people are not going to go back once COVID’s over with. We have a huge opportunity with our products, so we’re trying to get them in the hands of as many people as possible and grow our business.”
[11:10] “When we started doing weekly calls with all the employees, showing them exactly where we were at as far as revenue and expenses and cash. We showed them our plan. There was never anything they could assume or the chance that they would not know what was going on.”
[12:32] “Every interaction has either a positive or negative effect on the company culture, so you need to have a good interaction with your employees.”
This interview is taken from an episode of the Spend Culture Stories podcast.
That’s not all, folks
If you’re interested in hearing more stories from other forward-thinking executives, you may enjoy these Spend Culture episodes:
- Ryan Lazanis of Future Firm: Forward-thinking accountants in the new normal
- Suzanne Shiflet from Gym Launch: Running a remote finance team
- Nilly Essaides from The Hackett Group: Measuring the impact of finance digital transformation
For more tips on remote work practices for accounting teams and finance leaders, check out:
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