“Let Them Say No" with Habiteo CFO Elodie Hadjidakis
“The two most important things are to make sure you can create good reports for shareholders, and then to create processes that help you win time for the CFO and the team.”
The CFO Connect community is full of leaders from companies bringing a fresh approach to traditional industries. And real estate is a perfect example.
Home sales as we know them have been happening for centuries. But today, smart technological wrinkles make the process faster and friendlier for all parties.
In this episode of CFO Yeah!, we spoke to Elodie Hadjidakis, CFO at Habiteo. As she explained, they’ve created digital mapping that lets buyers tour properties from their computers. And especially with in-person meetings still a touchy subject, this is hugely valuable.
In this AMA, CFO Connect members had the chance to ask Elodie anything they liked. So to find out what was discussed, you’ll just have to keep listening.
Listen to the full AMA on Apple, Spotify, or RSS. And you can even watch the video below. Here are some of the highlights.
The Habiteo business model
Habiteo is one of those companies bringing modern solutions to a centuries-old industry. To an outsider, real estate may seem just the same as it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s - perhaps even decades before that.
But Habiteo provides new and interesting technology to make property transactions easier.
“In simple words, we create marketing tools for future buyers that let them project themselves living or working somewhere, through 3D. We’ve industrialized this 3D production, which then helps sellers and renters reduce their own production costs.
“Habiteo’s business model is quite weird, actually. It’s somewhere between SaaS and an industrial model, which is really fascinating for a CFO. Compare that with 360Learning, which is a pure SaaS business and quite simple for finance. But when you add that production point of view, it becomes much more interesting.”
We talk about fundraising a lot here at CFO Connect. And while some CFOs claim they live for it, Elodie’s not convinced.
“I don’t like it, and every CFO who says otherwise in my position is a liar, I think. I’m kidding, but only a little. I’ve done four raises as CFO, and I’ve lost count of the number of due diligence exercises I’ve done.
“Fundraising is always a stressful time, and on its own that’s fine. But it’s really hard to lead the other projects - your actual job - at the same time. Fundraising is often viewed as a side project, but the ratio of time spent vs term sheets received is very low.
“But it’s also a must for a startup CFO to experience these events. And this works in two ways. You have some CFOs who join at the second meeting - you do the due diligence and explain the financials. It’s still a huge part of the process.
“But then you also have some CFOs who are part of the first meeting, helping with the pitch. This is maybe more demanding, but it’s also the fun part of fundraising. You present the company side-by-side with your CEO and give the financial side of the story. It’s really interesting to build that story together.”
Building a new finance team
Structuring your finance team is always an interesting proposition for CFOs. Who to hire, and in what order, is often murky.
“At 360Learning, we really built the finance team from nothing. And the first hire was actually an office manager. She worked on many subjects - a bit of accounting, a bit of office management. And that really let me apply my consulting background and do a bit of an audit of what was needed.
“We worked really closely together, and I would see which topics needed more attention. So at first that was mostly processes, and particularly human resources processes. Then the second step was accounting.
“So the recruitment at 360Learning was first an office manager - who later became human resources - then finance, and then accounting. Why? Because I was doing all the finance and I needed to be able to take a step back sometimes. Accounting was external at the time, so eventually we brought it internal.
“But all of this depends on how the company is structured from the beginning. But I think the two most important things are to make sure you can create good reports for shareholders, and then to create processes that help you win time for the CFO and the team. “
Bringing accounting in-house
Whether to outsource or bring accounting in-house is always a hot topic. Obviously this depends on your own company’s needs and maturity, but Elodie offers a few principles to work from.
“It’s not the first thing to prioritize, because you have so many other things to think about early on. In my view, it’s critical to be able to report first - the external point of view is really important. You need to be able to take a step back and understand your figures.
“But you may need to internalize when you realize you don’t have the data you need soon enough. If the data provided by your external accountants just isn’t enough, that’s a clear sign. But it’s really a secondary step for me.
“You can’t run a company without good figures and data. But I would prioritize other people over yourself. See what you can give to other people to start working on now, because the accounting part you can take on your own shoulders. You can handle that when you have more time.
“But the data and analytics will always be important.”
A typical day as CFO
Is there such a thing as the “standard day for a CFO?” According to Elodie, there isn’t.
“No one day is ever the same, and it all really depends on the maturity level of the company and your team. At 360Learning when I began, it was all about putting recurring processes in place. As the team grows, it becomes more about validation, and then dealing with the exceptional.
“The only things I do on a very regular basis are the board meetings, company all hands, KPI meetings, and leadership meetings. Those are very regular. But the rest of the day is about managing the team - not on a step-by-step basis but more giving them good duties and helping them in their roles.
“And we’re always trying to find new ways to manage and improve finance in the company. That, and we want to support other teams, to make sure the whole business operates well. You want a full vision of the company, and to respond and challenge strategic decisions.
“Once you’ve reached that point, you’re really the right hand of the CEO.”
“Let them say ‘no’”
We ask every CFO Yeah! guest for the best advice they’ve ever received. And Elodie’s answer is one of the best yet.
“In my family we have a motto: ‘let them say ‘no.’ It’s applicable in practically any situation.
“For example at 360Learning, they were looking for more than five years’ experience, but I only had three at the time. But I applied anyway - I let them say ‘no.’ (They didn’t.)
“As a CFO, I have to ask for help from banks, or from the government administration. You just have to try, and if they say ‘no’ it’s ok - at least we tried.”