How Strivr Puts Real People First in Virtual Reality, with VP Finance Mike Libby
"To me, a CFO isn't a necessarily a finance function. You're a business leader."
Strivr is an “immersive learning company.” Which is another way of saying that it provides training programs via virtual reality. And the possibilities are fascinating.
Imagine a flight simulator for training pilots. Only, instead of a million dollar machine, you have a simple headset. And instead of pilots, you can train supermarket staff, factory workers, and even interviewers. Everything from process-oriented tasks to soft skills, in a completely safe and repeatable environment.
That’s what Strivr offers. The company started with sports, but has since launched partnerships with Walmart, BMW, and Stanford Children’s Hospital.
We spoke with VP Finance Mike Libby about the finance function’s role in innovation, his priorities as the head of that function, and how he came to the role with no formal financial training.
We’ve pulled a few highlights below, including:
The company’s direction during Covid-19
Why he loves the fundraising process
How valuable good financial data is
The CFO (or VP Finance) as a company steward
How they built an award-winning workplace
The full interview is available as a podcast using the links at the top of this page.
New focal points for 2020 (during Covid-19)
We had an influx of capital at a very good time. (Strivr closed its series B in February 2020.) And we had a plan to utilize that capital. But we tore the plan up and actually went to - and are still on - a month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter plan.
I've had a lot of discussions with other CFOs and finance leaders. Most people are going through the same thing. You can do a one-year plan, you can do a six-month plan, but the reality is, that's not really going to do a lot for you. You're going to have to re-evaluate fairly consistently.
So we reforecast the business on a monthly basis at this point.
But what you're actually dealing with now is the people element of your business. People are your most valuable asset. 90% of our expenses are on taking care of our employees through benefits and other programs. So we really had to make sure that our employees were taken care of; that they felt safe. They had what they needed to do their jobs at home.
So there's been a lot of time spent for me and for the rest of our leadership team on how to respond and make sure that our employees are in a good enough spot, so we can continue to move the needle on a product.
The fascinating fundraising process
Fundraising is such an educational experience to go through. What do some of the smartest people in the world think about? What do they ask you? You'll go into meetings excited and think you know everything about your business, and you'll come out with your head down saying, ‘oh my gosh, what did I just go through?’
I just felt like I got talked in circles. But it allows you to understand your business better. It allows you to think more critically about things that investors really care about.
So it's exhausting because you're taking meeting after meeting and talking about the same things over and over again. But looking back on it, it makes you understand your business at such a deep level that it makes you better in the long run.
For us, I wouldn't say it was an extended thing. We knew when we wanted to raise money, we knew how much money we wanted to raise, and we knew what we wanted to do with that money. And we look for partners or investors who are really going to add value to our company.
The group we ended up finding was a really good fit for us because they’re very focused on data. We have the deepest collection and database of immersive performance data that's out there, given how many headsets are out there for us. And what we can do with that data in terms of allowing people to better train and perform better is really where the future value is for us.
They were a great partner, because they have a rich data background and a data team that can help us reach some of those goals.
The importance of good financial data
The reality for me is, finance isn't valuable unless you have good data. And by good data, I mean, a really good accounting function. Given the various elements of our business - we have a hardware element, we have a services element, and we have the software element. That creates lots more complexities with the accounting function in terms of booking inventory and all the fixed assets.
There's so many moving pieces, that having a good accounting function really allows the finance group to slice and dice the numbers and create the insights that the business is looking for. And understanding all the nuances of the revenue recognition, or ASC 606, is really important these days with the revenue recognition rules that are being adopted.
And again, you can't do a lot of the slicing and dicing without a good accounting function. Once our accounting team does all the slicing and dicing, our finance team is responsible for re-forecasting the business and providing the insights, the business intelligence that allows all the other organizations to most effectively run their business.
The CFO as a guide for their team
Most of my time is spent on alignment with the rest of the executive team. We're really only as good as we manage our people. And so if I'm rowing the boat in one direction, and our sales leader is rowing the boat in another direction, we're not going to get very far.
Our executive team spends a good amount of time together setting priorities and making sure that we're aligned. So then each leader can go off and communicate that to their individual teams, so that our teams are then rowing the boat in the same direction.
So I think that’s the most important thing that I do and that our leaders do, is make sure that we're aligned and then being a good manager to our employees.
I look at myself as a roadblock remover. So if there's ever any roadblocks for my team, I want to remove roadblocks. And then a path creator. Maybe there's no roadblocks, but there's maybe no path. So let's create a path and make sure that we are heading in the same direction.
You're only as good as the people that are really doing the work on the ground floor. And my job and the rest of our executive team's job is to make sure that we're setting our employees up for success.
Building an award-winning workplace
We focus a lot on our workforce and getting feedback from people. I think what makes us a great workforce is trust and transparency. We trust our employees. We go through pretty rigorous screening to hire people. And once we hire people, we want them to take ownership and take pride in what it is that they're doing. And we trust our people to go do a good job. We don't have a ton of policies - we don't need to tell people exactly how to do their job.
We want people to do the job to their best ability and have some freedom and flexibility to do what they want to do. Because those things ultimately lead people to stay at companies, and they can lead to some really good product development.
And we're also super transparent. We hold company-wide town halls every Friday, and people can ask any question they want. So you’ve got to treat people like adults; you’ve got to treat people with respect and trust.
Having some of that flexibility within the workforce is something I really enjoy, and I know that my team really enjoys it.