In a typical CFO plan, one of the main goals of every company is growth. That means more sales, profits, investments, increased salaries, bonuses, increased market share, reduced average costs, and many other benefits.
But who said that's easy to do? Many businesses fail when stepping on the path of growth. But why does this happen, and how can you successfully grow as a company?
Bal Bhullar, Chief Financial Officer and Board Director of Electra Meccanica Vehicles, helped the company pivot from being a development stage company to a well-capitalized, high-quality automotive OEM. Today, she shares how to transition a company successfully from the developmental stage to the growth stage.
Welcome back to CFO Weekly, where we're talking with financial leaders about how to build efficiency in their teams, create time for strategy, and ultimately, get results. With your host, Megan Weis. Let's jump right in.
Megan Weis: Today, my guest is Bal Bhullar. Bal brings over 25 years of diversified business, financial and risk management experience as an executive and or board director in both public and private companies, which include such industries as technology, manufacturing, automotive, e-commerce, blockchain, resource, marine, energy, transport, and health and wellness.
Among some of the areas of experience, Bal brings expertise in financial and strategic planning, initial public offerings, reverse takeovers, operational and risk management, regulatory compliance reporting, capital funding, investor relations, marketing, business expansion, startup operations, financial modeling, program development, product development, corporate financing and corporate governance/internal controls. Bal is a Chartered Professional Accountant, certified general accountant, and as well holds a CRM designation from Simon Fraser University and a Diploma in Financial Management from British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Bal, thank you so much for joining me today.
Bal Bhullar: Thank you so much, Megan, for inviting me to the podcast.
Megan: Yes. Our discussion today focuses on your career journey, as well as the process of transitioning a company from the developmental stage to the growth stage of its lifecycle. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to speak with you. Let's get started. First, let's talk about you and your career journey and how it is you got to the role you're in today.
Bal: Sure. I currently serve as the Chief Financial Officer and Executive Board Member for ElectraMeccanica, listed on NASDAQ with the ticker symbol SOLO. Over my career of 25 years, I've got diversified business, financial, and risk management experience, either as a executive or as a board member in both public and private companies. Some of these industries that I've been actively involved in are technology, manufacturing, automotive, e-commerce, blockchain, resource, marine, energy, transportation, and then health and wellness.
With my areas of experience, I've got expertise in the financial and strategic planning, IPOs, reverse takeovers, operational and risk management, regulatory compliance reporting, capital fundraising, investor relations, investment banking, lots to do with marketing, business expansion, startup. On and on, we go into the financial modeling, product development, corporate governance, internal controls, ERP, and ESG, to name a few.
With that, I was also in positions where I was the president for the Risk Management Association in BC and have got positions as a CFO for other private companies along with my own current ones, such as being the founder of my own consulting company, BKB Management Limited, as well as my online e-commerce natural supplement business, KISMET Nutrients.
Megan: Wow, that's an amazing career you've had.
Bal: Thank you. Thank you. I do have my designations in both accounting and risk management to validate my expertise.
Megan: Yes, those are always nice but it's really the experience behind that that matters.
Megan: As you look back on your career, are there any turning points or stories that stand out in your mind as being pivotal?
Megan: Absolutely. There's been many stories and turning points during my career but it all starts in the tender years. It started with the support of my parents. They have always emphasized how important it is to have an education, so that I can have the doors opened up to me and the opportunities being provided. A lot of this is more about value system, your ethics, and so forth. They were always saying to believe in myself to really push myself constantly to reaching those goals and creating new goals at an aggressive pace. That's always been my demeanor.
For me, it's been about thinking outside of the box and being able to take the experience and the knowledge that I obtain throughout my different jobs and different experiences. Being able to apply them in current situations, being able to reflect back, it's the experience of these different companies that provided me the toolbox of being able to progress myself in the various executive roles. Also as a board member and providing that aspect of it. In terms of my life journey, I was a single mom, balancing three amazing kids who've got their own careers now and having a great support system around me.
Also being able to mentor them too and letting them know that life is not always a straight road. There's always going to be curves during your journey and overcoming a personal health problems that I had and pushing through the various aspects of my career. I always believe that the strength that you have within and making yourself stronger and moving forward in a positive way, always seeing the light, not the darkness, I think is extremely important. Not only for myself but others who also looked up into that. The way that I look at it your life, whether it's personal or professional, mine always blend together.
It's a journey and not a destination from my perspective. I believe that we all have amazing talent. It's how you apply it and basically create the vision of where you truly want to be at the end of the day.
Megan: That's an amazing story. To be a single mother and to have made it this far in a career journey is, I'm sure inspirational to not just single mothers but mothers in general out there who might be struggling to balance it all.
Bal: It was never easy. I think that if you view as things being easy, it's definitely not. I think that it's those challenges and obstacles and overcoming them just makes you just more rounded in that perspective.
Megan: Definitely. Let's talk about your current organization, ElectraMeccanica Vehicles, and what it is that they do and the product that they're bringing to market?
Bal: Absolutely. ElectraMeccanica is a designer and manufacturer of environmentally efficient electric vehicles. Our company's flagship, single-seat SOLO EV is designed to really revolutionize the urban driving experience, which includes commuting, also on the B2B side with the fleet and the deliveries as well as shared mobility applications. One of the things that the SOLO is so unique is that it's literally in between. On one side, you've got the micro-mobility, which is your scooters, and your bicycles, which are limited to range as well as you're exposed to the elements.
There's usually not a lot of technology involved in that. Then the other side of the spectrum, you've got your passenger EV vehicles, where they're great when you've got more than one person that you're taking with you to somewhere. You've got, generally speaking, 76% of the time you're driving by yourself, which means that you've got at least three to four seats that are left empty. You also have a higher cost of ownership with respect to that, as well as you've got to have a dedicated level two or level three charger put into your garage or wherever you park in order to charge the vehicle.
What we've created right in the middle is a niche market. It's the SOLO essentially. What that does is it allows you to do the commute that you need to as a consumer, resolve urban driving experiences, where you're able to do the short errand. You're able to go to and from work. You're able to go to yoga, go to fitness, go for coffee. A lot of the mechanisms that you're looking at from a SOLO perspective, that's the consumer end of it.
The other aspect of it, which is a fairly significant market is the fleet side, the commercial side. A lot of that can be used for, whether you're delivering groceries or food delivery or whether you're doing it for cable companies or security, hotels, there's an immense amount of opportunities that are there or this SOLO being used from a commercial perspective. We actually have made a bunch of announcements with respect to the fleets that are involved with a SOLO being purchased as their organization as well as with some of the municipalities as well. There's a lot of opportunities when it comes to what the SOLO product actually provides a solution for?
Megan: Yes, it's a beautiful product. Are they out on the road, because I haven't seen one, or just available for pre-order at the moment?
Bal: They are. We started deliveries on October 4 of last year. We've been delivered to both consumers and to businesses. We've started in the state of California first. We've got our service and sale distribution center over there in Studio City. We've also got our facility that's under construction right now in Mesa, Arizona. That's really going to be the hub of where we grow out from.
Megan: You've been with that company now since 2018. Is that correct?
Bal: Right. Just about three and a half years, I have been with them.
Megan: What are your proudest achievements since joining?
Bal: You know what? It's been a great journey with ElectraMeccanica. Some of the things that we've really done in a significant way of eliminating our going concern in two years of being listed on NASDAQ, we've implemented SAP as our ERP system, raised over $300 million in financing in two years. We are now in OEM. We officially can say that we are OEM. As I mentioned, we started deliveries of our SOLOs in October of last year.
We broke ground last year in May 2021 for the 235,000 square foot facility, where we're going to have an initial capacity of 20,000 units a year. This is also our second year that we'll be reporting on ESG, which we're quite happy about in terms of our initiatives. Both on the environment sustainability, and then the governance aspect of it.
Megan: Sounds like it's been an exciting ride the last few years.
Bal: Lots more to come.
Megan: Yes, I'm sure. You guys are really just starting the transition from developmental to growth. I'm sure it's only going to get more exciting from here.
Bal: We've got lots more in the offer that we're working on behind the scenes. Obviously, I can't disclose a lot of that right now. We've been executing against the business plan continually moving forward at a pretty rapid pace.
Megan: You previously discussed how you like both the entrepreneurial and financial sides of a business. Talk to me about how you're not a typical CFO?
Bal: Absolutely. I think being both an entrepreneur and having the financial acumen, it provides me a significant amount of depth to look into all sides of the business, both operationally and financially. In my role as CFO, the responsibilities go well outside of just financial and accounting. For example, we've got to be able to look at the strategic aspect, look at what the future and the vision is going to be. Really understanding how that works into both the operational aspect and the financing that's required to meet that entire business plan.
I also believe that whether you're a C-suite or a board member, in my opinion, it's really important to provide perspective in the strategic and leadership discussions that really lead to more fruitful decision-making and pathways for solution and action plans. Being highly motivated and driven along with setting goals, really sets the tone for creating that roadmap of how you're going to achieve them, What success means to you, and obviously, believing in yourself. Some of the things that I think are really important as a leader in one of the roles that you're in is, foster a creative environment. Exude competence, compassion for others in different teams.
Then most importantly, respect and accept behavior all around you. The acceptable behavior.
Megan: Yes, that's true. Being an entrepreneur and having financial acumen are not two things that are always found together. That's got to be a pretty strong combination.
Bal: It's important as you see the company grow and other companies that one may be involved in. Those things become hand in hand. You've alluded to this before in terms of the role of CFO. Role of the CFO has changed significantly over the years. You're the right-hand person. You're the person that if the CEO isn't there at the time, you've got to know what the CEO's vision is.
You got to know where you're going to be able to cover for that individual if they're a way or they need someone to basically handle another aspect that they would normally be handling but they just can't right now because of certain circumstances. It's got to be interchangeable. That's the way that I look at it in terms of adding that value to the company.
Megan: Yes. I know from what I've read, a lot of CFOs these days are acting as both CFO and COO, but also a lot of them are stepping into the role of CEO eventually.
Bal: There's a lot in that respect for sure.
Megan: I don't think that was necessarily the case 20 or 30 years ago [crosstalk] It is. It's not every CFO that can make the transition from the bad developmental stage to a more mature stage of a business. I'm sure that had its own challenges. We'll get into a couple of those later in our conversation. You mentioned and we touched on this a bit. ElectraMeccanica had definitely a transformational year in 2021, having pivoted from being a development stage company to a well-capitalized, high-quality automotive OEM. What went into making this happen?
Bal: A lot of long hours and dedication of our employees. It's been phenomenal in terms of what we've been able to achieve in such a short timeframe. Being able to become an OEM, first needed that capital to support that vision. Then there was an extensive amount of engineering and safety factors that went into our SOLO before we were ready to deliver to our retail customers, as well as the business fleets for taking delivery of the SOLO. Once you start delivering to the customers and the businesses, there also needs to be an infrastructure on how the service needs work, how the delivery system is, how the support system is for the customers.
Which all needed to be mapped out before we started the deliveries last year to our customers and businesses.
Megan: I'm sure just the process of transitioning, even just finance and accounting, has to be overwhelming. To put processes into place, to make sure there's structure, to avoid some of the risks that a more entrepreneurial company might be able to take. I'm sure you put in a lot of hours in the last couple of years.
Bal: It's been great. Yes, a lot of long hours. It really goes down to organization as well as the infrastructure that you need. Also on a technology front as well.
Megan: What do you think CFOs need to know to successfully grow past the developmental stage as a company? It's not every CFO that can make the leap from a startup to a growth stage company?
Bal: Absolutely. Some of the things that come to my mind in terms of growing past the development stage company is, you really need a defined business plan of five years. It's always going to be evolving and providing that pathway to how to execute on the plan. Now, there needs to be that path to be able to finance the business objectives, which means strong investment banking relationships. The operational plan would need to have the execution plan to move past that development stage as well.
Then having finance, accounting, operational software that enables the technology to grow with the growth of the company such as an appropriate ERP system. You got to look at what the human capital growth is going to be, which fits the plan. Also looking at both the organic and non-organic growth of the company from a financial and an operational perspective, and truly at the end of the day, it's really understanding that path to profitability and how those positive contributions are going to be reached.
Megan: Just curious, how many years has ElectraMeccanica have been around?
Bal: It was incorporated in 2015. It got listed on NASDAQ on August of 2018.
Megan: As you look ahead, what are some of the biggest challenges that you and your team are facing at the moment? I know it's a tumultuous world we're living, so I'm just curious to know what challenges are you seeing.
Bal: Not enough hours in a day. It truly is, we've got many great things that are going on behind the scenes, and as you can appreciate, it just seems like we're always racing against time. The other aspect is that the current political and economic climate, the capital markets are reacting, which looks towards a more volatile situation all around. It's like a rollercoaster ride in the markets right now.
Megan: Yes. 2022 is definitely shaping up to be what's going to be an interesting year.
Megan: A few months ago Electro mechanic assigned a strategic agreement with Bosch to launch the initial service network for the SOLO EV, which, as you've mentioned, is your three-wheel single C electric vehicle. What went into making this deal happen?
Bal: In terms of the service network, that was one of the things where I was talking about before you can be ready to deliver to customers. You really have to have that service infrastructure in place. Having bosses or a partner for the initial service network, which worked very closely with our operations department, and then further negotiations were made with the executive team. This is a relationship that we've been working on for some time, and we were happy when it all finally came to fruition.
Megan: For all of the CFOs out there who are looking to drive strategic value to grow revenue within their own organizations, what advice can you offer?
Bal: A lot of it is very similar to what I was talking about in terms of taking a development stage company into a revenue and growth company. Some of the aspects are having a robust five-year financial model, really understanding what your business plan is, and understanding how to meet those objectives through the financing needs and through the operational aspects as well. Really, it's understanding that true path to profitability and how you're going to get those positive contribution margins.
What do you need to do organically and non-organically? What are the business opportunities and the strategic partnerships that you can bring into the organization that will create that revenue growth and margin? You look at M&A situations as well. There's a significant, and that's what I mean when I'm talking about non-organic, I'm about the M&A aspect of it, and also the strategic partnerships that could come into play that could contribute to your profit margin.
Megan: Lastly, as a CFO, what's keeping you up at night at the moment, other than not enough hours to sleep in a day?
Bal: You know what? I truly believe that ElectraMeccanica is going to have another exciting and pivotal year. For me, it truly is having more time on my side because we are moving really fast. It's an exciting time just to see our business strategies really being executed. It truly boils down to know, how are you going to allocate your time and making sure that if you've got the time to also map out what that strategic aspect is going to be, you look at your first two to three years, that those plans are pretty much they're evolving, but you've got certain factors that you can put into it.
It's your years four and five that are going to be more in terms of, okay, if you jump through this and what are you going to do in years four and five, and really creating that larger scope of an organization.
Megan: I'm sure these days, it can't be easy to plan out a few months, let alone years.
Bal: You know what? There's a lot, that's constantly moving. We don't know what's happening in the economic environment or the political environment, or even what's going on with our COVID situations around the world. At the end of the day, you know what those risks are, and as long as you can mitigate against those risks and really plan what's your plan A, what's your plan B, what's your plan C, you just don't have all your eggs under one basket.
That's the biggest thing is having multiple plans. If one doesn't work out, how do you jump into the next one? A lot of the aspects that you see now is, in order to have the company succeed, you got to have the money in the company, the capital. Understanding the different capital needs to allow the operational aspect of the company to move forward, I think that's really, really important.
Megan: Yes. I agree. That's great advice. Bal, thank you so much for being my guest today.
Bal: Well, thank you, Megan, so much. It's been a pleasure.
Megan: I really enjoyed speaking with you and hearing about your experiences and all of the resulting insights and I wish you and ElectraMeccanica all the best. You guys both sound like you're doing amazing things. I'm looking forward to seeing more SOLOs in the coming years. Thank you.
Bal: Thank you very much. Look forward to talking to you.
Megan: All right. To all of our listeners, please tune in next week, and until then, take care.
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In this episode, we discuss what does it mean to be a CFO today?, transitioning a company from the developmental stage to the growth stage, what CFOs need to know to grow a company successfully, amongst other interesting topics.
Not Your Typical CFO Plan
Being an entrepreneur and having the financial acumen provides Bal a significant amount of depth to look into all sides of the business, both operationally and financially. She oversees things like strategy and the future and vision of the company. CFOs must understand how those work with both the operational and financial aspects of a company, as that’s required to meet the entire business plan.
“The role of the CFO has changed significantly over the years. You're the person that if the CEO isn't there at the time, you've got to know what the CEO's vision is.”
Transitioning From Development Towards Growth
Electra Meccanica is a Canadian designer and manufacturer of electric vehicles. In 2021, the company pivoted from being a development stage company to a well-capitalized high-quality automotive OEM. Becoming an OEM required capital to support that vision. An extensive amount of engineering and safety factors went into their Solo product before they were ready to deliver to retail customers.
“In two years of being listed on NASDAQ, we've implemented SAP as our ERP system, raised over $300 million in financing in two years, and we officially can say that we are an OEM”
What Do CFOs Need to Know to Grow a Company Successfully?
Set up a defined business plan of five years. Evaluate how to adapt and execute that plan and what resources you need to achieve it. Get the finance for your business objectives and the accounting, operations, and software that enables the technology to grow. Also, consider human capital growth.
“In order to have the company succeed, you have to have the money in the company and understand the different capital needs to allow the operational aspect of the company to move forward”
Aid your finance department with a customized solution that will let you focus on what's really important.