Psychological safety in finance with Paddle VP Daniëlle Keeven
Daniëlle Keeven has more than 15 years’ experience as a finance and operations executive, most notably at Booking.com, Marriott Hotels, and the wider hospitality industry.
She made the switch to SaaS and joined Paddle in 2021 as VP of Finance, leading the company through its exponential revenue growth and multiple rounds of funding. The latest round of fundraising in 2022 launched the scaleup into unicorn territory.
Paddle is a solution for SaaS companies to offload burdensome operational tasks like payments, tax, and subscriptions. The company now has customers in 245 countries and territories.
What made you want to become a finance leader?
Early on, I recognised the need for good, psychologically safe, and engaging work environments. Work forms a big part of our day-to-day life, and while I cannot change a person’s whole life, I am committed to creating a good work environment to support and empower people to be their best at work - and hopefully impact their life beyond work - in a positive manner. I’d say that is my core drive to want to be a leader.
I love to build; I love to take on challenges that are bigger than myself or have proven impossible to solve. In tech, the finance function is often an afterthought, chaotic, and not developed. Being in this role enables me to straddle the entire finance scope and build each finance discipline out into a well-oiled machine, and have fun doing it.
What are your top priorities for this year?
In the tech industry, speed is of the utmost importance. With this in mind, when the finance function is not mature, there is a high level of trust, and expedited (uncontrolled) spending to enable the business to grow and move fast in response to opportunities and market changes.
As we have seen the change in valuations, having a mature finance function that responsibly partners with the business to control spending, while enabling the same speed of business execution, is key. Having the necessary controls to ensure the business keeps investing in the right opportunities while managing and eliminating unnecessary spending will remain critical and a focus throughout the year.
We see the CFO increasingly becoming the decision maker. As these decisions are not managed with finance, the focus is to reduce the number of suppliers in an effort to consolidate spend and better pricing.
More mature margins
Historically key metrics were only revenue growth and customers. While these are still important, businesses are taking a more healthy, well-rounded, and mature approach to balance this with other margins such as CAC, COGS, and EBITDA.
Customer value proposition
In 2023, customers will be monitoring performance, value add, impact, and outcome closer than before. It is key to invest in your customer relationships. From the first point of contact to any troubleshooting.
It will become increasingly critical for businesses to ensure their customer service operations are in order. This can range from onboarding to resolving a billing issue or requesting a refund – and the most critical of all, great CS Agents.
When it comes to re-forecasting, what scenarios are you planning for in the coming year?
We have adjusted our forecasts to current market conditions. In terms of scenarios, I think it’s important to focus and manage what is within your control (your margins and your spending), and try to influence and impact the external factors that are beyond your control.
While global growth is projected down for 2023, and moving slightly back up in 2024, this is also a forecast and can change. While we did forecast using all the known economic considerations and scenarios, we have an optimistic outlook on what we see happening in the market.
What has been your biggest challenge as a VP thus far in your career?
Ensuring the right questions are asked, whether it is by me, or my team. The more I grow in my role, and in life, I realize it is not what you do (or not) know, it is what, when, and how you ask the right questions. Be it to assess an opportunity, a risk, a project deliverable timeline, assess an external partnership.
The right questions can open the doors of untapped opportunity, as well as avoid undesirable and unforeseen consequences ahead. Ensuring the right questions are asked remains challenging, and sometimes can only be identified in hindsight as a learning opportunity when something doesn’t go as planned.
What advice would you give to anyone working in a senior finance role?
Surround yourself with the right team. As a leader, know your strengths, know (and own) your weaknesses, and hire a team that complements you and the organisation, with experts in the fields you’re not expert in. Having the right team around you makes all the difference for the organisation.
As a leader, foster a psychologically safe environment to enable team members to complement your weaknesses - to stop you, push you, correct you, and help you (as you also help them) sharpen talent, tools, and business impact.
What big lessons are you taking away from the past few years?
I’ve been in finance for about 15 years. Having come from a corporate environment prior to moving into the world of finance in the tech space, I was surprised at how relaxed spending was managed. This would especially be the case if the business was profitable and had high cash inflow.
What I think the last few years have taught us, is these finance controls are critical to success and will help any business weather the storm.
Historically I have seen the finance function shelved, ignored, and underrepresented in the tech space. I think after the past few years it has become evident how critical a highly functioning finance team is and how much value this can add to the business.
Get more CFO insights
Daniëlle joins four other finance executives in this new guide. See what the top CFOs are focused on this year, what motivates them, and how they lead their teams: