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Leadership, Saas, and Enabling People to Grow with Joaquim De Sa Alves of Contentsquare

Luc Hancock
Luc Hancock CFO Connect

“Leadership is a key component of well-functioning finance teams. Even if this word can be very strong, leadership is all about taking care of people, making them grow.”

With over 30 years of finance experience, Joaquim De Sa Alves has seen it all. He bore witness to the birth and fast evolution of the software industry, and he’s evolved with this industry throughout his career.

He’s now VP Finance Global Strategic Projects at Contentsquare, the global leader in digital experience intelligence and analytics.

Joaquim joined us for an exclusive CFO Connect AMA for our Slack members. He shared his perspective on the SaaS industry, explained what makes a great finance leader, and answered lots of questions. 

In particular, he offered useful insights into CFO career path and the best approach to support growth in a fast-scaling organization.

Witnessing 30 years of evolution in the software industry

I’ve always worked in the software industry, where I was a witness to fast change and the emergence of SaaS. I held several financial positions within startups and mid-cap companies, mainly as CFO.

Six years ago, I joined Contentsquare. We were 65 employees at that time, and we’re now 1300. I managed to build a finance team (including a legal scope), growing from two people to now a finance operations team of 22 team members, and an FP&A team of 22 also. Initially, FP&A was in my scope, but it turned out to be better for the organization for me to be focused on the finance operations, and the FP&A went to a new leader.

Throughout my time at Contentsquare, I’ve had a strong impact on building a monthly management report, including P&L balance sheet, cashflow, KPIs for a monthly board. I built all that from scratch, and I also was the guy that defines the KPIs and delivers them.

In the company’s early days, what was really important for me was to prepare for scale, which included finding the right tools.We implemented NetSuite for all our entities, to avoid being too dependent on Excel. We also developed a BI team, because now, we’ve a lot of data. And the finance team should be able to interpret the data in an efficient way.

Now, I’m focused on M&A and putting in place key strategic financial tools. 

On leadership & enabling people to grow

Leadership is a key component of well-functioning finance teams. Even if this word can be very strong, leadership is all about taking care of people, making them grow. 

I'm very proud to have discovered some incredible talents. Whether these people started from nothing, or had a very specific profile, I learned to put them in different positions that they'd never undertaken before and they were successful.

It’s important to help young people gain knowledge over time, not only by doing ‘just a job’. I want them to learn by themselves. When I look at my career, I realize I had a boss who gave me the opportunity to be a CFO, because he shared his knowledge. 

I want to be that same boss, sharing his knowledge, because you never know the path that your team members will take in the future. So it's really what’s important for me: it's always about people.A great team makes all the difference.

The key strategic hires to look for first

When you’re wondering which profiles you should prioritize in terms of hiring, you need to identify what’s the priority and what your key operation processes are.

At Contentsquare, I had two. The first was revenue recognition and billing. As a SaaS company, those are key.  So I started by hiring someone to manage revenue recognition, and a Billing Manager to make sure that the revenue recognition was appropriate, that we didn’t miss any revenue in the accounts and to ensure that our customer received the expected invoices, on time, according to our billing schedule.

The second was bookkeeping. When you start to work on a budget, a business plan, producing KPIs, analysis, budget, actual against budget... It can become quite overwhelming! The board and the management committee are not interested in how much invoice you sent. They're interested in your remaining available cash and your KPIs. Doing everything by myself, I was struggling with time. I realized that hiring for an FP&A position was key. 

I was also dealing with all things legal, but despite my knowledge about these things, I wasn’t an expert in contracts. So at one point, I decided we needed to hire a legal counsel.

These positions will vary from one company to the other, but it's really important that you identify in which functions you struggle, and what is key that contributes to the information that you provide to the board, to the executive committee. You should make hiring decisions based on these elements.

Disclosure management in a scale-up

In the end, everything’s related to a combination of the cost and priorities. So, if you ask me, I’ll say you should do disclosure as soon as possible, at least when you deal with consolidated accounts. 

Since we’re a scale-up, we move very fast. My management is always asking me for something. So, I prefer to always anticipate, so that everything that I do now, I know that I can benefit from it in the future.

It's always better to do it sooner than just two or three months before the priority, because then you’ll work in a hurry. But you need a PMO (Project Management Office) for any project. You also need a consolidation expert, in-house or not. So it's not only your tools, it's also the organization itself which you must keep in mind!

The right tools to scale

You should not wait to reach a high-growth phase to implement a tool, because then it’ll be too late! If you wait too much, you run the risk of struggling with the flow of the day-to-day and the precipitancy of the project. I strongly recommend implementing an ERP as soon as possible, not for domestic usage, but for group usage, meaning international.

Back in 2017, I analyzed the different tools in place. Eventually, we selected NetSuite, because it was a 100% SaaS tool, and we got the confidence that it could be used in any subsidiary of the group in the world. Last summer, we acquired Hotjar. We want to have one single finance tool within the group with the same accounts, cash segments, expense types, processes…

I believe you cannot be scalable without the right team and the right tools. And if you don't have the right tools, then you’ll just have 50 people struggling with data and manual-based work. It doesn't make sense! 

The importance of mastering data and business intelligence

As a tech-focused company, we’re constantly flooded with an enormous amount of data. And our platform and our products, despite producing a lot of data about our customers, don't have internal BI features. 

All the actions of the customers who interact with our website are saved, so we do have billions of data. We decided to setup a BI which uploads all this data, and creates financial insights. 

These insights are quite diverse and can be about: 

  • How the customers use our platform

  • The average duration of a contract

  • The average time session

  • How much a page view costs on average

  • Our margins

These BIs not only receive the data from our platform, but receive the data from all the tools that we use (from Customer Success, or from Salesforce).

So, we’ve a big BI team at Contentsquare that manages all of that. Because in the end, as I mentioned, our world is a world of data. If you don't have the right tools and the right team in place, you cannot do anything with this data. 

The key to leverage data is your ecosystem of tools, and how well you’re using them!

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