Driving innovation & digitalization, with Jeannette Waldschläger of Vehiculum
After nearly 10 years of working in the public sector, Jeannette Waldschläger decided to quit the Job Center in Germany to prove herself in the startup world. At Vehiculum, an online comparison platform for leased vehicles, she found an innovative company and a dynamic & motivated team, where she now leads finance.
We chat with Jeannette about the benefits of flat hierarchies, the challenges for the auto industry during the pandemic – and the skills she learned in the public sector that have actually helped her lead finance at a startup.
You had quite a radical change in your career in 2019, joining Vehiculum after having worked many years for the Job Center in Germany. Why did you want to leave the public sector and join a startup?
Yes, that's right. All of my colleagues asked me if I had really thought about it.
I'd worked in controlling and finance in almost every institution at the Employment Agency (except the head office in Nürnberg). However, the flexibility to suggest change is very limited, as it takes a lot of signatures and approvals to improve something or adjust processes.
So, as a controller/finance person, it was always the same processes and metrics in each institution (job center, employment agency, internal service, regional directorate). It was only the budget to be responsible for that got bigger. There wasn't much innovation for change.
This annoyed me a lot, so I decided that I wanted to prove myself in a complete contrast program to the public service.
I found a great new employer in Vehiculum, an online comparison platform for leased vehicles, which welcomed me with open arms and showed me how to drive a company forward with a highly motivated team. Everyone is open-minded, open to criticism and insanely flexible. Processes are constantly being rethought and optimized. The hierarchies are flat. That impressed me very much.
What were the main challenges in your new role at Vehiculum and how did you overcome them?
In a fast-growing startup, the focus is on operations. It is necessary to constantly rescale in order to be able to meet the requirements of the stakeholders.
The first step was to work through legal and tax issues and establish processes. Interface topics had to be recorded, worked through in workshops with the teams, and mapped for controlling.
Reports were automated and transparency created over all payment movements in the company by means of liquidity overviews and forecasts.
Subsequently, accounting processes had to be simplified and automated.
Speaking of automation, what tools do you use & would recommend to other finance leaders?
A huge help in dealing with the credit card chaos was Spendesk. We now have a clear overview of all trips, purchases and subscriptions and always have the receipts for each payment-relevant transaction.
We also use GetMyInvoice to keep track of our invoices from the customer portals and save a lot of time. Above all, it is a huge relief that GetMyInvoice also procures invoices, e.g. for purchases at Amazon.
We have introduced the SepaApp to be able to convert Excel files into Sepa files.
We use Agicap for liquidity planning, to be able to display the bank movements (bank/ Spendesk/ Paypal/ Open items) on a daily basis and to build scenarios for the company development.
We use clickup to structure team tasks and have secured our invoice release workflow with it.
What are the biggest learnings from your time at the Job Center and how could you apply them to working in a startup? Are there any similarities between the two worlds?
What sometimes annoyed me a little in the public sector was that everything was recorded in detail, there were process descriptions for everything and clear structures that had to be adhered to. You were taught to map your work as clearly and transparently as possible and to keep track of it.
In a startup, I noticed how helpful it is to organize and structure everything. To always clarify processes in detail and keep track of process development.
In a startup, I noticed how helpful it is to have exactly these skills. To be able to organize and structure everything. To always clarify processes in detail and keep track of process development.
There are hardly any comparable components between the startup world and the world in the public sector though.
What is specific about the finance role in your industry?
In our field, it is a challenge that there are many parties that we need to collaborate and coordinate with.
There are always new projects and collaborations with different startups, banks, and big campaigns. Most of them are not very digital, so we need to adapt our modern processes to their very old ones for the cooperations and partnerships to work.
Generally speaking, we have to react quickly and meet the technical but also financial requirements. To automate outbound invoicing as much as possible and to be able to work quickly with the various accounting systems of the partners.
How did the pandemic affect business at Vehiculum? Is the behavior of consumers changing when it comes to buying or leasing cars?
Like many other companies, we were hit by a brief period of uncertainty in March 2020 as to how the market would react to the current challenges. The fact that car dealerships had to close has suddenly clarified the importance of online sales and thereby prompted many dealers to digitize more quickly than they probably planned.
We reacted quickly and rebuilt our platform to support dealers not only in the distribution of new cars in the pandemic, but also to bring stock lease cars to customers.
There was a drop in demand in the first lockdown, but we quickly recovered and were back on our previous year’s level by July.
To cope with the unpredictable economic challenges in the current period, we made our liquidity and cash planning much more detailed so that we can keep an eye on every movement and manage it quickly if necessary.
The difficulty was the provision of the leased vehicles ordered or the long delivery times due to the closure of the car plants and the restrictions on supplier operations, as well as the registration of the vehicles due to the closure of the registration offices. This was obviously nothing we had an influence on, but we needed to communicate a lot with our customers to explain the situation.
To cope with the unpredictable economic challenges in the current period, we made our liquidity and cash planning in Finance much more detailed so that we can keep an eye on every movement and manage it quickly if necessary. In this case, I learned how helpful it is to understand official structures and legal texts to be able to react quickly.
The car industry in Germany is not necessarily known for their innovative spirit. What are the main challenges for a company trying to digitize this space?
We are working with companies who seem to never have even heard the word “digitization”.
Many partners and other companies have old systems that we must work with. The definition of digitization and the need for it have not yet arrived at most of our partners.
When you’re reliant on German authorities who do not provide a whole lot of digital infrastructure, you have to go an extra mile to achieve something that wouldn’t be necessary if they were up to date with their technology.
How do you see the future of the industry, taking into account bigger challenges like climate change?
The industry is in the middle of its biggest change since its inception. Mobility is a key topic of the decade, if not the century. The need for innovation has eventually arrived in the industry, and most players are finally stepping up their game to stay relevant in the upcoming years. Those who adapt to changing circumstances will prevail.
Any resources you'd recommend for finance leaders — books, podcasts?
I really enjoy listening to the CFO Talks | Idea Sharing for CFOs podcast.
If you weren’t in finance, what would you be doing?
If I weren't in finance, I would have loved to be a Doctor of Surgery.
Do you have a secret talent not many know about?
I am very talented in climbing high trees to get my children down from there.