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How financial data makes your company smarter, with Permutive's Mark Yates
CFO Yeah! Podcast

How financial data makes your company smarter, with Permutive's Mark Yates

Patrick Whatman, Spendesk
Patrick Whatman Spendesk

“Finance has to be the brains of the organization, giving information to the other teams. We make the company better by digging into the problems that other teams have and helping them solve them.”

“Big data” has moved from a catchphrase to a cliché. You hear the expression constantly, and half the people using it have no clear idea what it means.

But Permutive does. This innovative company is finding new ways to process data remotely, and creating better advertising and content tailoring as a result. It’s a whole new approach to data processing, and one that will become more important as the scale of data on devices keeps growing.

We spoke to Finance Director Mark Yates about this fascinating new technology, as well as his role in the business. We touched on:

  • Why cloud computing has its limits

  • COVID’s impact on advertising

  • His love/hate relationship with financing

  • How he helps other business units understand and act upon information

Here are a few highlights. Listen to the full podcast above, and subscribe via your favorite platform for more great finance leaders.

Edge computing vs. the cloud

We’re an “edge-based”data management platform. We work with large publishers who have a lot of visitors and traffic on their sites. And we allow those companies to understand the audience, put them into segments, and then use those segments for targeting - whether that’s targeted advertising or targeted content.

Edge-based technology is processing at the location where the data is generated. In most cases, that’s someone’s phone, laptop, or the browser itself. And that’s different from cloud-based processing, where you collect the information on a device, you send it to the cloud, you process it there, and then you gather intelligence.

So we can gather intelligence right there on the device.

This has a few advantages. First, there’s the privacy for the end user. You’re not leaking information into central servers housing large quantities of data. You’re storing it only on their device.

As we see a large increase in the number of devices being created today, and as we get further into the “internet of things” - all of which generates data - the cloud is not going to be able to process all of that data.

We’ve lived in the world of big data for a few years now. And we’re going to be moving into the world of even bigger data. No matter how many data servers are built, there just won’t be enough power in the world to handle it all.

So being able to distribute the processing onto the devices themselves means that we can have more data and decision-making more easily.

The importance of financial transparency

The founders have instilled a very open and transparent view of the business, ever since inception. Whether you’re on the leadership team or you started last week, you have the information to see what is important to the business - including financials.

For a lot of people, finance won’t have been important to them previously. All of a sudden, it’s turned on its head. Everyone needs to make financial decisions for the business because industries have stopped dead.

Making sure that finance is visible when talking to the whole company is more important now than ever before.

The tricky fundraising process

I think if any finance or legal person says that they “enjoy” a transaction - whether it’s an acquisition, a sale, or a fundraise - then they have a unique mindset. It’s tough work - really challenging.

But of course I enjoy the outcome. Being able to say that this is something I’ve done is fantastic. I’ve never been in a situation where everything has simply gone swimmingly. There are always problems throughout each process.

This one (Permutive’s Series B in 2020) was on the easier side because all the investment came from current investors. We’ve got a couple of really interested backers who are pushing us to bigger and better things. They knew the business and had questions they wanted to ask, but we weren’t starting from scratch. It was building on the relationship we already had.

Resilience if obviously one of the keys. It's very rare to start a process, set a timeline, and you close five months later as you’d planned. In the real world, it never works like that. Even if things go really well, there are always delays, problems, and questions that come up.

So being able to react to situations and not take everything as the end of the world. Tackling problems one at a time, and moving on to the next one that comes along.

The finance function as a business partner

As we’re expanding our team - as we’re “growing up” as a business - there are different units that require more input. Whether that’s information from accounting around the customers being invoiced, or more on the financial planning and analysis side, they’re wanting information from the data they create in their various teams.

This is perhaps where it’s easier working in a small, fast-growing company. When I first started working with the other leaders here, we were a team of 20. I was speaking to almost everyone in the company on a daily basis.

We’re now a team of 85-90, and it becomes harder to have the time to talk to all those leaders. Being able to carve out time to speak to other teams is really important. And that would be very difficult if you were just dropped into a larger company.

I’ve been lucky to build these relationships organically over time.

Finance has to be the brains of the organization, giving information to the other teams. There’s the compliance piece - our bread and butter, of course. But we make the company better by digging into the problems that other teams have and helping them solve them.

That could be giving better insights to the sales teams, helping the engineering team with costs. It’s really trying to create information from the data that’s already there, to help them understand what will have the greatest impact on their work.

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