Why are Business Operations (“BizOps”) people so popular in today’s market? What can they do for a company? How can someone get into BizOps, and what skills might they need? These are just some of the questions that Olivia Man, Chief of Financial Operations (CFO) at Loan Snap, answered in our latest interview.
Here are the key highlights:
About Olivia Man
Olivia Man is currently the CFO of Loan Snap, a mortgage technology company that uses AI to analyze a person's finances so they can benefit from a loan.
She is the former Head Of Finance & Business Operations at Apto Payments, a platform that issues prepaid, debit and credit cards to consumers and businesses, and has also worked as Director of Capital Markets and Senior Director of Corporate Finance and Operations Strategy at Social Finance Inc., better known as SoFi, a financial services platform whose products include loan refinancing, mortgages, personal loans, credit cards, insurance, investing and deposit accounts.
How do you define BizOps?
BizOps is a catch-all term and it can mean different things for different companies.
I would say that it fits in the intersection of operations, finance and strategy, so your BizOps team is basically your SWAT team. They are really smart and knowledgeable about the company and can fill the gap in functions that you might not have fully built out yet.
The other thing that I've seen BizOps do is be the right arm of the CEO. These are the individuals who go and partner with the different business units to make sure that things are being executed in accordance with the vision. They track the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and are able to get into a situation very quickly, figure out the key drivers of success and help execute towards that goal.
Where does BizOps fit inside an organization?
Where BizOps sits in an organization really depends on how the management team is set up.
Sometimes a company has a more strategic CFO and BizOps may report to him, or it might have a really strategic COO, and they might report to the COO. In times where there is a really hands-on CEO who wants to make sure that his or her vision is being carried out, they might report directly up to him or her.
When BizOps is performing at its best, what can it do for a company?
BizOps is the Swiss army knife of a company. It can mean the difference between a successful scaling and a non successful scaling.
It usually excels at coordinating communication and really making sure that every team in the company is headed in the same direction at the same pace. BizOps sets, measures, and tracks the KPIs; translates business impact into data, consolidates it, and analyzes it.
In a hyper-growth environment, that function is critical. If there's one team that you can replicate to create a company, it's basically your BizOps team.
Can you provide an example where the BizOps team has created great value for a business?
Some of the fondest memories from my career are the opportunities I had with SoFi. My experience was really in institutional fundraising and capital markets before I joined the capital markets team there. It was my first tech company, and I just felt really passionate about wanting to understand how to scale it.
I crossed over from capital markets to corporate finance, moved to Salt Lake City from the Bay area to help build out their new operations center, and became the de facto CFO for the head of operations out there.
BizOps can take many different forms. My title was Operations Strategy and Finance, but I basically kept all the numbers, the KPI dashboards, and helped our head of operations build out a call center, a loan review, and unit a mortgage business.
Because of the visibility that I had into the financial numbers, I was able to be a better contributor to the operations team. I would say, okay, all of these ideas make sense, let's figure out how to prioritize them by assessing the impact, and this is how they translate into the numbers.
Over time, I went from just doing KPIs, dashboards and budget reporting to actually negotiating contracts and suggesting ideas for automation and streamlining processes, and became a true business partner to the team. It's amazing to see how people's actions and decisions actually impact financial results and to have a hand in that. That's the magical aspect of being a BizOps professional.
When is the right time for a start-up to hire a BizOps team?
The right time to bring in a BizOps team is when you need help coordinating everything in a company. It is an accelerant that can make your business go fast and work well together, no matter if you're at an early stage or a later stage, so it really depends on how well it is running and what your needs are.
Unless you're a really big company, you must be in a position to scale quickly as opposed to still sorting out the fundamentals, because a BizOps team can help you refine and build on things that you already have. If you're not currently anticipating growth, it might not be the best time.
What skills and experience do BizOps need?
BizOps is an interesting function because it requires a variety of skill sets.
Somebody with a finance background is well situated to be a BizOps professional. You have a roadmap and a plan that you articulate in numbers. BizOps understands them, figures out how to get from point A to point B and translates the success of that move back into numbers.
I've also seen really successful BizOps people come from product backgrounds and marketing backgrounds. The thing that I think is common across all of these cases is that you must have the ability to see things at a 3,000 foot view, and also be able to roll up your sleeves and get into the details, which is something quite rare to find.
Why has the term BizOps become so popular lately?
In his book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein says that generalists can be the propellers of success, as opposed to a previous era where specialization was the sign of accomplishment. In today’s market, the availability of information and the changes in how people work together and communicate are all factors in why BizOps is taking off.
Expertise and mastery of specific skills are good, but unless you're able to bring all of your experiences together and condense them into action, it's hard to operate, especially in BizOps, because in order to get a 3000 foot view, you must understand a lot of different things around the company.
What role does data play in BizOps?
One of the strategic aspects of the job is corralling the data: finding what is and what isn’t being tracked, if it’s accurate, and how you put all of it together to help drive decisions.
A really great leader can have a feel for the general direction of the business and where it needs to go, and his decisions may or may not align with those directions. Having the data is crucial because a gut feeling is always substantiated when you have the numbers and evidence to back it up.
How do BizOps handle the corralling of data?
You can sit down with the data team and go through every single table, but that sounds very tedious.
Understanding data, just like everything else in the startup life, is about prioritization. What are your really important KPIs and what are the true drivers of your business? Where are the drivers that have the biggest impact? That's what you start with.
What are the five most important dashboards that run your company?
It depends on what your company does and what your role is.
For me, as a CFO, your financial statements are critical: your balance sheet, what is the state of your cash flow, what's your liquidity, your utilization percentages, your Profit & Loss (P&L), your volume, and your growth in partnerships and customers. I think those are the key metrics if you're in a lending business, like I am.
Your business can also be significantly impacted by market factors. Sometimes startup life gets so crazy that people tend to focus on only the things that are within their control, but they forget about all of the big things beyond their control that can have really significant impacts on the business. It's really important to keep abreast of those indicators and figure out if there's anything that you can do to protect yourself.
What advice would you provide for someone thinking about getting into BizOps as a career?
The first thing you want to do is figure out if BizOps is for you. Are you intellectually curious? Are you one of those people who will not stop until they find the answer?
If you have that drive to want to understand the world around you, you can learn the rest of it. Nothing's that hard.
The most successful trait that I've seen in rockstar BizOps professionals is curiosity. As a BizOps person, you don't know everything that you need, either about the industry or how the team functions.
I would say be intellectually curious and try to understand all that you come in contact with, whether it's numbers or decision-making processes, because until you truly become an expert in the thing that you're working on, it's hard to be a partner to that business.
If you want to know how to connect, query and model all of your data to support your BizOps team, without SQL or engineers, check out the data collaboration platform Sourcetable.
Thank you, Olivia, for your time and valuable insight. If you want to connect with Olivia, you can find her on Linkedin.
If you want to check out vacancies at Loan Snap, head over to the Careers section of their website.