The Bond Between Finance & Analytics with Miro’s Misha Advena
“Partnership is the number one goal for the finance team. Budgets are important, and so is visibility over spending. But finding opportunities to grow faster is even more important - particularly given the magnitude of the potential impact.”
We’ve all read the stories of companies that grew faster during Covid-19. Simply by offering the products people and businesses needed during this tricky year, they saw accelerated growth.
Miro is one of those companies.
It was already growing quickly - a clear success story. But the COVID crisis and global shift towards remote work pushed it into hyperdrive. In January 2020, Miro had 250 employees. By the end of the year, that number was 500! And the service now has more than 10 million users worldwide.
As Misha explains, this was partly good fortune and “right place, right time.” But the team also made strategic choices during 2020, focused on the products that really mattered, and provided supreme value to the users that needed it.
In this podcast, we explore Misha’s journey to Miro, his role as Head of Strategic Finance & Analytics, and the incredible impact of the last year on the whole company.
Subscribe and download to hear the story in full. Here are just a few highlights.
His dual role: finance and analytics
When I started, it was a different world. I was in more traditional finance - accounting, strategy and planning. But today we have more and more data, and more tools to use this data in meaningful ways. In recent years especially for SaaS companies - the whole idea of what finance does and what the “key value adds” are is shifting. I think the mix and coordination between analytics and finance became much closer.
Now we see more collaboration between the two. They’re not quite merging, but finance people are using more data and analytics.
I manage two teams. One is Strategic Finance, which is very close to FP&A. It’s part of the financial organization - alongside reporting and accounting. The goals for strategic finance is to try to think about what lies in the future. What is our operational model, and how should we set targets for the next year?
And then there’s Analytics. At Miro, we have a centrally embedded analytics model - all analysts belong to one analytics team. And then these analysts support specific parts of the organization.
So it’s my responsibility to manage both of these teams.
Miro’s massive growth during COVID
I think it’s a classic case of product-market fit. A lot of things that we’d already built just happened to be useful for people working from home.
When COVID happened and multiple countries implemented lockdown, top-of-funnel interest skyrocketed. I’ve never seen anything like that.
And there were some cases where they wanted even more. Facilitation of workshops and online meetings grew enormously, and so we invested even more heavily in these areas, even if we had some tools already.
We had to work hard to satisfy that new demand. The business is growing, and at the same time we have to make sure we’re delivering amazing services and promises to meet demand. And without breaking our systems.
Of course, we also want to grow and innovate, and bring new features to market. Every team in our organization wants to do new things, but we have to work to satisfy this huge spike in demand. So 2020 was a crazy year, and I think it will be crazy for the foreseeable future.
The tricky balance around forecasting
This year has been very non-satisfying for forecasting. It’s super difficult to forecast when things are changing so fast and so significantly. At a certain point of time we realized that, no matter how hard we try to build 12-month projections, they’ll never be very precise.
So instead of trying to do that, we chose to iterate faster. Instead of 12-month plans, we focus on the next three months. But we also look at the numbers on a weekly basis, rather than monthly.
Things are changing very fast, and the speed of our reactions and adjustments ends up being more important than overinvesting in long-term plans.
It’s both a lack of information and also the magnitude of impact that the changes can have. This year, everything was very volatile. We all hope that vaccines will soon let us back into offices, and that will clearly have an impact on our business. But when it will happen and how big it will be is so hard to say.
And then, this trend of working from home has obviously accelerated massively. Miro will be useful for teams even if only one person is remote. So we still expect interest to continue and even increase, independent of the COVID situation.
We’re curious to see how the whole situation plays out. And our models and assumptions don’t worry too much about it, because we just can’t really be sure.
2020’s Series B round
Strategic Finance is always part of the fundraising process. Investors want to know what happened in the past, but they’re even more curious about how the company projects itself. So it was a very close partnership.
The role of the Strategic Finance team was to make sure that we had all the numbers and data to tell a clear story about our past and the path going forward.
I love fundraising. There’s some magic - some energy - in using a bunch of numbers to convince other people that this thing can be a really big company some day. And then hearing questions, and learning how investors think about what makes a business successful and sustainable - I think that’s an amazing way to learn.
Of course the whole due diligence and marketing process is pretty stressful. It’s a tough few weeks or months. But this round was one of the highlights of my career from the past few years.
In my experience, if there’s a way to know in advance that fundraising is on the horizon, that’s going to be super helpful. Particularly for fast-growing companies, we always have more things to do than can possibly be done. Everybody would prepare better for fundraising if they had the time.
So I would always suggest that finance leaders talk to the executive team and make sure they know when fundraising is on the horizon.
Partnering with other teams
Partnership is the number one goal for the finance team. Especially for such fast-growing companies. Budgets are important, and so is visibility over spending. But finding opportunities to grow faster is even more important - particularly given the magnitude of potential.
So our goal will be on partnering with other stakeholders, and finding ways to help them make better decisions. To help them understand what is going well or not, and spotting areas that require a little bit more attention.
They will always know more about their area of responsibility. Sales will always know more what’s happening with customers; marketing will know how to attract interest in your product. But finance has the whole picture. And that provides a unique opportunity to step back and ask fundamental questions.
On an intellectual level, I just love this challenge. It’s always interesting to work on these issues. And then there’s the potential impact. Once you understand for yourself what’s going on with the business, then you have the opportunity to spread this knowledge and help other business owners.
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