How does the size of a company change the Business Operation (“bizops”) role? Josh Schenker, VP of Finance and Strategy at Clean.io gives us insight into this question in our most recent interview. Here are the highlights:
Could you tell me what Clean.io does?
So it doesn’t have to be only in advertising.
Our second product is around disabused e-commerce merchants and discount codes. A lot of the folks who are injecting discount codes. The person goes to a merchant and they are at the checkout and you have these providers show pop up pummeling in different discount codes. This creates a situation where you have a customer who is ready to pay him a hundred bucks and they’re giving them a 50% off discount that they should not have had. It’s not malware but it is malicious behavior from the merchant’s perspective.
We look broadly at digital engagement security. It is different from malware because it is more akin to digital security. We are making environments for merchants more secure from a digital engagement perspective, then we will continue adding more products.
You raised a round in March 2020. Everything was in free fall. It was the worst time to raise. Was there a market?
The CEO and I sort of tag-team it. We had a meeting set to go in New York a whole week long. It was meeting after meeting. Then on April 1st when everything was coming down the pike, everything was done by Zoom meetings.
Fortunately, we closed a deal at the beginning of August. So we are well-capitalized for the next year.
Can you tell me what Business Operations is?
I would say that it is different in different organizations. So, I’ve been in massive companies and I’m now at a startup.
So, when I think about it in a really big company. It’s that connection between the product, tech team, and finance. It fits in between there and also strategy. It sits in between and asks what are the analytics, financial information, data pieces that tell a story or that inform how the business should operate. It provides whether the insight is for the finance team, product, and tech team. Providing insight to the leadership in terms of what is going on, what are the issues, and providing a data illustration of what is going on in a given time.
Business operations when you get to a startup is that plus finance, accounting tax, and all the other pieces get locked into it. Because chances are, there’s probably one person who is taking on that piece. That is financial planning, and analysis in terms of a long-term strategy of where we want to invest and how we want to focus into the future.
Even for a big company, the business operations person is also probably informing those long-term plans and strategy as well but at a small company that’s a bigger piece of the puzzle.
Do you have any advice for people looking to get into biz ops? What kind of skills or experience would they need?
Spreadsheets are big. As much as there’s software to help make things easier to analyze I still find that, maybe this is just me, at the beginning you want to be digging into the spreadsheets and really getting your hands on the data and manipulating it. Really understanding where the numbers come from.
Being able to manipulate a spreadsheet, being able to query data whether they be in Tableau, QuickBooks, Stripe, or wherever it’s coming from is important.
Especially at a small company because chances are the numbers are not in a clean format. Probably 90% of the project will be getting the data in the right place and the right format to be able to provide either the analytics, information, or the analysis that you are looking to do. The remaining 10% is being able to step back and say, “Interesting, I see a trend here” or “we’re spending too much on this thing.” or “You know we are investing in this…” among others.
Courses like basic finance and accounting are, I think, important. Other additions like strategy class and frameworks are good. Those are helpful but it is not beyond all.
But I think it’s good to have some sort of foundation. The strategic frameworks will help in thinking through different problems.
Does your BizOps team have a mandate? And when BizOps is absolutely performing at its best, what does it do for the company?
A mandate, it’s an interesting question. In the early stage, it’s a team of one. We’re just trying to focus on the product. Product sales and marketing company-wide.
Finance or business operations is that administrative piece that really keeps the lights on. Such as making sure that the people are getting paid, that we’re getting the money in the door, that taxes are filed, and that we are sticking to the budget.
So much tactical but as we grow eventually I’m going to lift myself out of the day-to-day. Right now, 90% of my time is day to day and 10% is more strategic.
In the long term, hopefully, it shifts to 90% strategic leadership and investor relations. Hopefully, I’ll have an accounting manager and a finance analyst. Someone who can take over some of the administrative pieces as the company grows. They will allow me to focus my time on places that I’m going to have the most value rather than moving around line items in QuickBooks.
We don’t have a mandate yet but we have goals in terms of what we want to hit from a financial perspective, in terms of how we want to support different teams, internally and externally.
It can get everyone focused on the right goals, OKR, and things like that.
When it is operating at a very high level, it’s outlining the strategy and getting everyone focused on marketing, this is what you need to make sure that you’re hitting so that we are getting the right customers. It’s cost-effective.
We make sure that all the goals that were established were hit.
What are the most important KPI’s or dashboards in your company?
We use a lot of Tableau dashboards. It’s going to be Revenue, EBITDA (Earnings Before Taxes), Depreciation and Amortization, our cashflow on the financial side, CAC Customer Acquisition Cost over LTV from a marketing perspective. Basic funnel metrics when we’re thinking of the sales pipeline, how big the pipeline is, what is our weighted pipe, who, and what is the age of the funnel.
Those are the big pieces and then there is some more qualitative KPI’s but more OKRs are around building a great team and making sure all those pieces are working. Such as are we recruiting the right people, are we getting the right people onboarded in the most efficient manner? Are we supporting them? As they grow, develop, and moving them into the right positions as they grow.
How did you get into BizOps?
I majored in Finance and minored in Statistics. I did a masters in Finance but decided that I wanted the strategy route. So, I went to a consulting firm. I did M&A. Mergers and acquisitions consulting for a couple of years and decided that I want to be on the actual M&A side.
So I joined AOL in their corporate development group and worked there for three years. I worked on a whole host of M&A deals, divestitures, strategic partnerships, some strategy work which then led to the Yahoo! Deal.
So we did the Yahoo! Acquisition and we started to bring them in. The General Manager of Yahoo! Sports was looking for a BizOps person, a person to be his right-hand man in terms of all things strategy-related.
And I had been looking to move on from just the pure transaction M&A into more operations and getting my teeth into an understanding of business, driving strategy, and driving the operational pieces of it.
So I worked with him for two and a half years. Almost three years before deciding to leave because of an entrepreneurial itch. Although there are a lot of good things going at Verizon and it is a massive company, comfortable and great, I wanted more experience, skill-building, and scratch that entrepreneurial itch.
That’s where I got connected with some old colleagues at Clean.io. One of the founders was looking to move into an advisory role. One of the things that he was doing was finance, strategy, administration, accounting, HR, and legal. I basically took over those so that he could move more into an advisory role.
How many people were at the company when you started? I am curious to know how they knew when to hire a BizOps person.
The CEO relied on this founder to manage the administrative part which I sort of capture as the finance and administrative functions. So, I think as this founder was trying to take a step back he was looking for someone to step in and be able to function there.
I know that a lot of CEOs, at least in the early days, play dual roles. But the CEO recognized that he needed someone who could sort those pieces because he does not want to focus his time on that.
When I started, there were probably 15 employees and another 15 to 20 contractors. We have a lot of contractors internationally on the development side.
What are your favorite SaaS tools and why?
Right now, I’ve kept it relatively simple on my end. QuickBooks obviously for finance stuff but I know that as we grow we’ll probably need to layer top. Something like NetSuite or SaaS optics. Some broader finance and accounting tools. DocuSign is surprisingly important. Salesforce to a certain extent.
I know that the product team, product account management, and tech team use JIRA and Atlassian for confluence.
Slack is huge. Gmail G Suite for documents.
Can you tell me a story about the time that BizOps has created a ton of value at one of the companies you’ve worked at?
There’s a guy who worked for me back when I was leading BizOps at Yahoo! Sports. He just had a mastery around data. The data systems at Verizon were basically huge clunky things that were impossible. Basically, he got the different information but he had come from a finance background.
He just had access to all these different systems and understanding how all these things mapped together. He was able to break it down. Certain things that no one else was really able to give us the answers for. He was just able to create the picture and create this story around the data and help us analyze and understand where the money was going and how it was flowing in. Some of the metrics that we only understood at the top level.
Why was he able to do that? What was it that was special about him? Was it skill or a temperament?
I think it was his experience coming from a willingness to dig in his understanding of some of the internal databases that were not easy to manipulate. I think those were the two things. There was a lot of patience in working through it, talking to the internal development teams, sitting through, and making sure that he understood the number so that he could do the analysis from start to finish.
Having the patience to understand the tool that you are using is sometimes the best way to do it.
Where do you think BizOps is heading in the next five years?
It’s always been around. At least in the environment that I’ve been in and it’s gaining more importance. Five years on out there’s going to be more tools to make it easier for you, Hopefully, it’s less about crunching data and getting data into a place that you can manipulate it but more into manipulating the data to get insights into what actually helps the business. That would be what will help and enhance for the future.
If you want to know how to connect, query, and model all of your data to support your bizops role without SQL or engineers, check out the data collaboration platform Sourcetable.
Thank you, Josh, for your time and valuable insight. If you want to connect with Josh, you can find him on Linkedin.
If you want to check out vacancies at Clean.io, head over to the Careers section of their website.