CJ Gustafson started as an M&A Advisory Associate at a Big Four firm digging into the finances of big tech or healthcare firms for large buyouts. This was followed by a switch to a large private equity firm where he “learned financial modeling to marry what I learned in consulting.”
However, his stellar FP&A SaaS career (“moving from the funder to the funded”) began as he moved to a $500m-VC backed backup and data management platform. He set up the company’s first FP&A function. Though he would soon become a leader in FP&A SaaS, he first had to ask what the function involved.“ I was like, “What’s FP&A? What do I do here?” However, he soon understood the power of the role: “It puts you in a great position to get into that room. You’re the one with the keys to the operating plan. You have the analysis as to how things are trending.”
In a follow-up role at another rocket ship startup, CJ joined as Director of financial planning and analysis, and later Director of Investor Relations where he oversaw a rise in headcount from 150 people to almost 1,500 people and a valuation of $8.5 billion. His FP&A team was forced to constantly evolve as the company needed to forecast its needs with growth. The SaaS FP&A achievements included working closely with their recruiting team hitting ambitious targets for hires without breaking the operating plan; enhancing board reporting as they learnt over time what investors found most helpful; and adding more and more reporting as new leaders climbed to the top of the organization (sales, marketing, product).
Overall, CJ built FP&A teams of up to six people. His strategy? “ I first started by hiring financial athletes – people who could just dig in and do multiple things. Then I expanded the team to include people with specific skill sets – like systems or revenue. The biggest challenge is always to make decisions with 80% of the data you wish you had. We need to put a stake in the reforecast at some point, even if we would have liked a few more days to run more analyses. The other challenge is that you’re constantly changing tires on the car while it’s in motion. There are no pit stops in the hyper growth SaaS world. So if you need to, say, move from google sheets to an FP&A tool like Datarails, or move from QuickBooks to NetSuite on the accounting side, you have to do it while in motion, and not sacrifice any accuracy.”
He has now realized a long term goal of becoming CFO, starting in September 2022 as CFO at PartsTech, a tech ordering platform stopping the hassle of professionals buying auto parts.
In this episode of FP&A Today CJ talks to Paul Barnhurst about his journey from private equity to SaaS mastery, and ultimately his CFO role. In this essential episode for anyone interested in SaaS for FP&A he discusses:
His motivation for creating the fast-growing finance newsletter Mostly Metrics, an irreverent and analytical spin on metrics CJ has battled with behind the scenes, which has crossed more than 10k subscribers (and growing!)
The best way FP&A can create impact for M&A activity
3 absolutely essential SaaS FP&A metrics based on his experience at rocket ships
The one thing he is most scared of in his new CFO role
The painful FP&A mistake that CJ made that changed his entire approach to financial presentation forever
The differences between his roles in FP&A and investor relations
His strategy for moving from FP&A to CFO
His boxing career
His most inspiring advice for anyone in FP&A
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