The Stories Behind 17 Startup Exits with Notion's Myoung Kang
“Finance - contrary to what some people may think - is collaborative. You do need help from others. And so if you're not kind and respectful to others, they're not going to help you out.”
What do you learn from 17 startup exits, and dozens of successful fundraising rounds? As consultant CFO to companies like Notion, Spatial, Songkick, Pulse, MyFitnessPal, and plenty more, Myoung Kang has developed her own winning strategy for startup finance.
In this episode of CFO Yeah!, we talked with Myoung about:
Her routines to get finance up and running quickly and effectively
How she spots companies she’d love to work with
The best ways to work closer with other teams and make their lives easier
Her history of exiting fast-growing companies
The full interview is available in podcast form at the top of this page. Here are a few of the highlights, in Myoung’s own words.
Why working with four companies can be better than one
When I started my business - about 15 years ago - I had three kids who were younger and I wanted to be home for all their games and everything. I needed flexibility. And when you're a consultant, you're treated very differently. You leave when you leave, and things like that.
As it turns out, I've really enjoyed the mix of clients, and I've also enjoyed how I learn different things from each client. And it's like having a diversified stock portfolio. I'm not investing in one company at a time - I'm investing in multiple companies.
So just like you wouldn't put all your money in one company, I don't like to put all my time in one company. And also, getting a variety of stock options is optimal, truthfully.
Identifying the right companies to work with
I tend to only work with tech companies. I like working with companies that have innovative ideas, and I enjoy working with teams that have the energy to want to build something new and solve a problem differently.
In some ways, they're similar because they're all creative people who work fast and are trying to address problems. In other ways, they are different. Notion is a productivity tool. It's almost like a website that you can use to showcase yourself or your company.
And that's a very different tool than Spatial, which is Zoom for the HoloLens. But what I like about both of those companies is that during COVID, they were very relevant. Because people needed to work remotely.
Preset is creating data lakes and data visualization. Everyone’s collecting a lot of data right now. And Max, our CEO, has come up with a way to make it visual so that you can make decisions with that data.
When you interview at a company, it's like dating - everybody puts their best face forward. So I always look at the product and if possible, I try the product. I have to believe that the product has hopes for commercialization.
And I talk to the founder and you try to assess, do they have good work ethics? Are they moral? Will they make the right decisions? Because I think culture comes from top down.
One of the things that I admired about Notion was Ivan and Simon and Akshay are incredibly driven and focused people and that reflects throughout the company. I think that is a group of people that is just very focused on making the product. So it's almost contagious.
The first financial steps in any new business
When I first joined Notion over two years ago, they were less than 10 people. And their finance... it was okay. But I looked at them and said, "you do realize there should have been revenue recognition."
A lot of times when I come in, I have to clean things up. And I also hire people to help me. I also take care of a lot of the people operations, benefits and insurance. And sometimes legal too, because they don't have a full-time lawyer.
Because I've been doing this enough, I know how to read the documents. And I also know how to organize it too and when to ask for things. I make sure that we're GAAP compliant, and then I make sure that we're compliant with taxes.
Next I come up with a set of reports. I even have a standard set of reports for investors or the board meetings that I give every quarter. And then I have a budgeting spreadsheet that I can do easily.
So I guess there are three main things: finance, a little bit of people ops and some legal. And I also know when to ask questions, and when to get certain legal counsel involved, because I think that the firm you choose is really important too.
Having a team you can trust
It's relatively similar each time. I like to see it myself and I'm like, "okay, where's the balance sheet?" And then I need to be able to see all the supporting documentation. And if it's not there, then I know what's wrong.
And then I have an accountant who's worked with me since 1999 throughout various start-ups. I bring her in and say “hey Annie, let’s clean this up." She does a marvelous job and I know that she'll do it in detail. Because she's been on my team so long, I know we've passed audits and we've been acquired successfully by other companies.
I also have an insurance agent that I worked with for a long time. There was a problem recently and she took care of it within a couple days without my involvement. The employee just had to escalate to me. I went and talked to them and they figured it out.
I really appreciate our legal teams too. Sometimes our attorneys will send me emails at 1:30AM, and I’ll see them when I wake up in the morning. I know they worked hard to get everything done.
Making the finance function work well for others
We try to implement processes to make things easier for the employees. I had the VP of marketing saying, "okay, Myoung, we're going to hire a bunch of people to do this marketing campaign. How can we make this fast and easy for both of us and still be compliant?” Because she's very respectful of my adherence to compliance, which obviously I love.
So the best thing is for finance to make compliant processes that are easy for people. The other way I like to add value is to pull up reports for people. "Do you realize this costs this much? And this is how much they're spending." Right. And I'm like, "Is there a way that we can organize our spend a little bit better, or optimize it?"
Or “do you mind if I just try to go and negotiate a contract instead of having all these different licenses? If we roll it into one we can get a heavier discount." So that's another way that finance can be a partner to other departments is to help with negotiations and making processes that are compliant, but easy.
More from CFO Yeah!
Subscribe to the podcast on Apple, Spotify, or our RSS feed. Other episodes from our podcast series with finance leaders:
Why Zapier Doesn’t Believe in Fundraising, with CFO Jenny Bloom
How Strivr Puts Real People First in Virtual Reality, with VP Finance Mike Libby
Inside Fiit, the #1 Fitness App with Finance Director, Kerry McClelland