From Tech CFO to SaaS Founder with Rose Punkunus of Sudozi
“During the seed round, it's a lot about the story you tell, and your market conditions. How is our software going to fit into the trends that are happening outside? It’s about telling your founder's story, what you believe in.”
After working as the Head of Global Pricing at ride-hailing company Uber, where she managed weekly budgets approaching millions of dollars, Rose Punkunus worked as CFO for several tech startups. There, she encountered the same issue many times: although she and her teams needed technology to accelerate their work, the only tools available were costly, enterprise offers. So, she decided to take a leap and create her own: Sudozi.
In this episode of the CFO Yeah! podcast, we discussed her experiences moving from large companies and finance-specific positions to founding her own business from scratch. She shares her insights on securing seed funding, working towards growth, and how CFOs can communicate more effectively to their teams.
Rose’s journey from analytics to pricing at Uber
I've always been a very quantitative person, and wound up majoring in economics. Early in my career, I was focused on quantitative fields like analytics and data science. And about a decade ago, I stumbled into finance at Uber.
There, I was brought into run pricing. Uber was just transitioning from black car to UberX, and the pricing role was really central. It required me to work with all the general managers around the world, as they launched UberX in their markets. Some markets were just launching Uber black cars, too. So there were a variety of business models we were working with.
I found myself in this position in finance, where I was influencing all of the main levers of the business and really started to love finance. Not only the finance part, but also the accounting.
As Uber grew, my career also grew and I wound up running big chunks of the finance department, overseeing a large P&L - particularly in the US and Canada region, but also influencing global P&Ls.
The stress of making big decisions
Signing off on promotions which account for millions was definitely nerve wrecking. But at the same time, we weren’t the only ones doing it! If you add up all our competitors, in all the different parts of the world, like Europe, China, Brazil, and India, there was a lot of money being spent and we wanted to stay competitive. So, it was necessary for us to do so.
When you’re making decisions on that volume of spend every week, there's no way you can go into all the details. You need to find the right balance between being aware of what's going on in the main strategies, and letting people who are the experts in those markets really execute.
But of course, there needed to be some communication with the finance team about what was happening with that money, and why that strategy was taking place. Ultimately, we did automate more of that.
More broadly, I believe you can generalize that to other parts of the company, too. From vendor decisions to headcount decisions, and being able to systematically track and understand if those investments you're making are getting the outcomes that you want at the company.
A tool to help startups accelerate their workflow
In 2017, I felt like I wanted to be part of something small again. So I joined Funbox, a B2B technology company using data science and AI to automate lending decisions particularly for SMBs. In that company, I took on a VP Finance role, overseeing traditional finance functions from accounting through FP&A. In 2020, I moved to Austin and took the CFO role at ScaleFactor. Unfortunately, Covid hit soon after that, and I took some time off to decide what I wanted to do.
During that time, I kept on reflecting back to some of the challenges I had as a CFO of these growth stage tech startups, where I knew that there was an opportunity for tech technology to accelerate my workflow and to help me and my team get more done. But at the same time, the tools were not readily available. There were enterprise solutions that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, paired with consulting fees.
So, I decided to found Sudozi, which is a real-time finance tool for hyper-growth companies to help automate the workflow around getting data together, whether it's the approval workflow or real time insights helping you with the data layer.
It helps finance teams spend more time partnering with the businesses and helping each department think about what are the best decisions to help grow the company.
Seed funding versus later stages
We’ve just raised nearly four and a half million dollars in a seed round, and that process was definitely interesting. It was very different from later stage rounds which I’m used to.
Typically, in later rounds, you have much more data. The company has at least a few years of record in terms of growth marketing dollars, spending efficiency, etc. And the fundraising is really about how that next batch of money can be used efficiently to energize the company.
During the seed round, it's a lot about the story you tell, and your market conditions. “How is our software going to fit into the trends that are happening outside?” It’s about telling your founder's story, what you believe in. And of course, having some metrics and projections, but not nearly as intensely as it was or as it is for later stage fundraisers.
Why CFOs and CEOs should communicate more
CFOs (and CEOs as well) all have that ability to overanalyze. And think the danger of having data is that you may extrapolate certain circumstances to situations that may not be relevant.
But another risk is about not communicating what the data says. CFOs and CEOs can have a big influence on their company if they communicate more about the insights they have. Sharing that out with the broader organization is essential!
It’s hard for most employees to get information about markets and not know how that relates to their company. That’s where the role of the CFO can be to put things into perspective for the rest of the team, explaining how trends impact stock options and hiring.
Of course, sometimes you can't share all the details because there's still discussions ongoing. But to the extent possible, sharing that with the team, and also reiterating the main mission and who your customers are and who you're serving is beneficial.
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