Startup Finance & Green Strategy for CFOs with Nick Rose of Enable
Our Series B round was much bigger - four times the size of our Series A! It wasn’t four times the effort though. Once you've been through one round, you understand the legal and the due diligence processes and things can go much faster.”
Would you leave a comfortable position and cross the Atlantic to join a young, ambitious startup? Nick Rose did. After 16 years exploring diverse finance roles at Travis Perkins, the UK's largest distributor of building materials, he decided to take a leap of faith. Nick joined Enable, a fast-growing collaboration platform helping companies of all sizes improve financial transparency and operational efficiency.
In less than 2 years, he’s led the company through two successful fundraising rounds, helped reshape its finance function, and forged a commitment to reaching carbon neutrality.
In this episode of the CFO Yeah! podcast, we discussed the challenges that arise in the finance department once a company has gone public. He also shared the changes he’s witnessed in the finance industry, led by the growing impact of data and digital transformation.
Nick’s finance journey: from a giant corporation to an agile startup
I have an accounting background - I worked at EY for a few years, and later joined a builder's merchant construction materials distributor in the UK, called Travis Perkins. It's the biggest distributor of its type in the UK. I moved around the company quite a lot - did central finance roles, as well as business development out in the field.
At some point, I had a role that included handling the rebate income from suppliers. And we encountered several problems with accounting. So, I went out to find a better solution. I didn't want to build something in-house to handle this problem - that’s how I found Enable. We made a deal to develop a solution for Travis Perkins, to help handle its supplier rebates.
Over the course of two years developing and implementing this solution, I got to know the company well, to understand its vision. Eventually, I ended up joining as CFO, just before we did our Series A, which was two and a half years ago. I had been at Travis Perkins for 16 years, so it was quite a big decision!
I went from 24,000 colleagues to an organization of about 70. The business was much smaller, not very well funded. But the company had great plans, great products, a really inspiring product, and an inspiring team. When they offered me the position, I thought this would be a great opportunity. It was time for me to do something different.
My family thought I was crazy, but two years later, it's really worked out! We've been through two funding rounds. We're growing fast, we've got an amazing team, and I'm not looking back at all.
Enable’s product is solving a problem that so many businesses have. A lot of our customers are trying to handle huge rafts of data and complexity through either spreadsheets or ERP systems, which simply aren't designed to cope with the specific issues they encounter.
So, we really fill a product gap, because when you look at the market and our competitive landscape, there are very few people doing what we do. We've got kind of a plain, white space open in front of us. And we can really make a difference, and help massive numbers of businesses deal with their trading agreements, and add to their bottom lines.
Green initiatives: committing to carbon neutrality
Enable has an environment policy and plans to be carbon neutral. This project was my baby - I believed we could make a leading statement.
As a company, we don't really generate a drastic amount of emissions. We don't drive trucks, we don't build things. Our main source of emissions are our office spaces, our data storage systems and business travel. Compared to big companies, we’re a drop in the ocean!
However, we still wanted to do something and take action. So, we came up with this idea of planting trees. Even further, we wanted to make it real for our customers, to help them feel they were getting an environmental benefit through partnering with us. Which is why we fund the planting of 250 trees for every new customer. We also fund tree planting for every flight we take for business purposes. Our view is that if we keep doing this, within a couple of years, we will be carbon neutral or even be carbon negative!
Scaling the finance function at Enable
When I first arrived at Enable, there were three people there - and there was a lot to do! The systems and processes that were in place were really great for a small company which was growing fairly slowly, although nicely profitably. However, it wasn’t adapted to our scaling efforts. So, we had to implement changes as we grew.
Historically, our growth rate was around 5% to 10% a year. But in the last 12 months, we've grown by two and a half times, in terms of turnover. So, obviously we've expanded the finance team. One of the first things I had to do was to change our ERP system. We’ve just implemented NetSuite, and it took four and a half months to get it in. There was a lot of head scratching, design work and data reconciliations. But it most definitely streamlined our processes.
This ERP made us more efficient, highlighted access to data and insights that we didn't have before. It’s going to help us accelerate further in the next two, three years, as we head towards our goal which is hyper growth and ultimately an IPO.
How Enable achieved a Series A and a Series B in less than 2 years
In November 2019, we traveled to the US to raise funds. And this experience was a little like a speed dating session. We kept meeting people and saying: “Here's our company, here's our story. Here's our vision. Here's where we're at now. This is what we want to do with the funds that we're asking you to potentially invest in us.” We must have met a few dozen VCs in the space of a week.
To raise funds, you have to kiss a lot of frogs, and lots of people turn you down. Fortunately, our CEO had spent a lot of effort building a network there, before we went. We did a lot of research prior to traveling to the US, and we were lucky enough to get three or four offers around Christmas time 2019. Eventually, we accepted one, which was a combined offer from two great VCs. The first one was called Menlo Ventures, and the other one Sierra Ventures.
We closed that funding around February 2020, and we suddenly had all these partners on our board. They helped us strategize, think through the COVID challenges which arose. The benefit for us timing-wise was obviously that we weren't worried about cash during COVID.
In 2021, we accelerated and started to invest heavily in sales and product functionalities. This allowed us to close our Series B in two stages, one in June and one in August. This round was much bigger - four times the size of our Series A. It wasn’t four times the effort though. Once you've been through one round, you understand the legal and the due diligence processes and things can go much faster.
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