How Can CFOs Face Challenges at High-Growth Companies

October 5, 2022 Lydia Adams

CFOs checking charts about their high-growth companies

For many CFOs, leading the financial aspects of high-growth businesses is definitely challenging. That's a job for top CFOs with years of experience. Luckily, we invited that kind of expert and business leader.

Jim Morgan, Chief Financial Officer at CallRail, is a financial executive with experience in financial planning and analysis, M&A, SaaS and software business models, fundraising, board and investor relations, and human resources/capital management.

He spent most of his career working with companies in the growth phase and trying to reach scale. Today, Jim talks about how CFOs can manage challenges at high-growth companies and the role of data analytics in helping the organization grow faster and more efficiently.

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Welcome back to CFO Weekly, where we're talking with financial leaders about how to build the 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 Jim Morgan, chief financial officer for CallRail. As chief financial officer, Jim leads CallRail's accounting, talent, customer experience, IT, and business operations teams. Prior to CallRail, Jim held CFO positions at Stratix, Cardlytics, Liaison Technologies, and nuBridges and led these companies through rapid growth and organizational change. Jim began his career at the Walt Disney Company and was an associate at the Goldman Sachs before catching the bug for high-growth technology companies. Jim holds a BS in Industrial Engineering from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA Anderson. He currently lives in Alpharetta with his wife and his two sons. Outside of work, Jim enjoys hiking, sports, and spending time outdoors with his family.

Hello, Jim, and thank you for joining me on today's episode.

Jim Morgan: Hi, Megan. It's great to join you and thanks for having me.

Megan: Yes. Today we're going to be discussing your story and learning from your experiences working with high-growth companies. You've done and seen a lot so I'm looking forward to this discussion.

Jim: Likewise. I look forward to sharing a little bit more and talking about CallRail.

Megan: Yes, let's first start with you. If you could just walk us through your journey and how it is that you got to where you are today.

Jim: Sure. I've been in around the technology software managed service space for the last 20 years, but I have to say, I actually started with some larger companies before moving into the technology space where most of my career has been working with companies in growth phase and trying to reach scale. A lot of these companies are typically either venture capital-backed or private equity-backed and are looking to accelerate growth, but actually started my career at the Walt Disney Company as a financial analyst and learned my skills there covering a broad array of businesses and had some great resources to tap into.

Then most folks in my profession decided to take a couple of years and get an MBA and did that. It was the natural next step for an analyst three years into their career. Then I did something a little different, really, kind of not corporate planning, financial planning realm but I took a job working on Wall Street in sales and trading job. I spent about a year selling corporate bonds to large institutional shareholders and mutual funds and pension funds. I enjoyed my job. I was having a great time but a person I went to business school called me in March of 2000, and said, "Hey, we're doing some really interesting things at this startup, why don't you come check it out."

Then as most job opportunities turnout, I ended up jumping ship and leaving a really good Wall Street job to go to an early-stage company at the time, which was called CMI Marketing. I went through some turbulent times, for those folks who remember 2000, in the spring of 2000 with sort of a market meltdown and the technology and internet stocks. I really learned a ton that first job and really became hooked on these early-stage technology growth companies, so much change, so much potential, and new ideas, and new products that were coming to market. From there, really kind of caught the bug and stayed with the early-stage companies.

I was doing that in New York City. Personally, when we moved back, I'm from the south, I'm from Atlanta, so I moved back to Atlanta and worked with a series of early-stage companies. nuBridges, that was in the B2B information exchange space, and that was purchased by a company called Liaison Technologies and worked for that company for a couple of years. Then I went to a company here in Atlanta called Cardlytics during its pre-IPO stages. I had a great run there. Before coming to CallRail, I was with a company called Stratix, which is in the mobile device management space.

Here at CallRail, I've been here about three years and we're growing and this company has a similar theme. Again, either private equity-backed or venture-backed and all trying to bring a new product to market, find a new market, introduce something new and grow, and ultimately, have some event for shareholders. That's a quick encapsulation of my last few years and career.

Megan: Yes. Sounds like an amazing career. As you look back on it, and maybe you've touched on this a bit with your move from Wall Street to a startup, but are there turning points in your career when you look back?

Jim: Yes, that was definitely one making the big move from a big company to a smaller company startup. When I made that jump, I certainly wasn't head of finance at the time in my career but just given market conditions and the company adapting and frankly downsizing, I found myself running in the head of the finance department, which was a small group, and my mentality pretty quickly changed from, "Hey, I'm in the finance group and it's all about just doing forecasting and budgeting and planning."

Now, as the head of finance, it's very different responsibilities and view of the business. I really didn't think about that coming into that role and got thrown into that, frankly. It was such a great experience. It was eye-opening for me in terms of the potential for a head of finance or a CFO, the position, the influence that could have on the organization. Really, you need to know all aspects of the business because, ultimately, everything has some sort of impact on the P&L and so knowing what the company is doing from a sales and marketing perspective, or product development, or customer service, are all really part of the CFOs job. I found I really enjoyed that so that naturally led me to stay with smaller companies.

Then I would say one other, I was with a company called nuBridges, we actually combined with a company here in Atlanta called Liaison and so going through an M&A transaction was certainly another defining moment in my career. A lot of times from the finance, it's easy to model these things out from what are the numbers look like and how can the two companies come together. What I found living through that I was with the company before, and then I was fortunate to be able to be CFO, the combined company is really all the people management and change management is so critical to making M&A work.

I would say a lot of that is just hard to experience until you actually go through it, or hard to understand, but that was certainly a great career move for me and a great learning experience for me.

Megan: When taking on a new role, particularly that of a CFO, what's your advice for hitting the ground running? How do you immerse yourself in the business?

Jim: Yes, you really do want to learn the business and so my advice would be to take the time to really understand how the business works, certainly, how the business makes money, what about the products and services, why the customers buy the product or services, what they like about it, what they don't like about it, spend a lot of time internally on how actually things get done. A lot of these companies I've been with are on the smaller scales so I call it 50 to 500 people and it's just a way of how things are done, or who can get things done that you really just have to spend time in the business to learn and understand, and really best do that through just conversations and meet and greets and just, again, the understanding the business.

I think that's really critical before coming in with a playbook of these are the things that I want to do. Every company of this size is just so different that needs its own tweaking if you will, or own approach to some things that you may have in mind that you want to do, or the investors may have in mind that they want to do, but it's all about how you get that done in the most effective way. It's been time on just getting to know the business, getting to know the people in the business.

Megan: Yes, that's great advice. Let's talk about your current organization CallRail. What it is that they do?

Jim: Yes, it's a great story. We were founded in 2011 by a Georgia Tech grad who actually then was a small business owner, who set out to solve the problem of making call tracking more accessible to businesses who needed to know what was driving their phone leads. These were small companies that he was working with, and they didn't have the big budgets to go out and buy these larger solutions.

With another Georgia Tech grad, they formed CallRails and we've been around a little bit over 10 years and we've had a great run in bringing a very easy-to-use, easy-to-buy product for small businesses that today businesses really of all sizes turn more leads into better customers through what we call today our lead intelligence platform.

That started with call tracking software and now has expanded to include enhancements such as form tracking, conversation intelligence, and now more recently, a business communication hub or tool for these businesses. Today, the company serves over 200,000 businesses. I'd say from that metric, it's been pretty successful. It's just a great company, super culture, so I'm super excited to be here and part of our continued success.

Megan: Yes. It sounds like a valuable product and 200,000 companies. Wow. Who is your ideal client? Is there one?

Jim: Yes. I think it's that small and medium-sized business who relies on phone calls to drive leads to their business. Typically, from an industry perspective, that's home services, or automotive, or local health care, or real estate agent's investors, again, folks who rely a lot on their lead sources from phone calls. Traditionally, a lot of times, they didn't know what was making their phone ring. If you searched for somebody online, found a phone number, and called, they really didn't know the advertising that drove that customer, that lead to call them.

Our software allows them to connect those dots between their marketing dollars and what's actually driving their leads and to optimize that marketing so that they can market more efficiently across all their customers and all their leads.

Megan: What are your proudest achievements since joining the company a few years ago?

Jim: I've been fortunate we've grown tremendously. We have a little bit more than doubled our revenue in the last three years. You can imagine all the challenges and opportunities that come from that. I think we've also doubled our employee size. Thinking about everything that it's taken to do that from a revenue employee perspective, I would say building out the teams is probably one of the areas I'm most proud of, and certainly, had some folks who were in place, but augmented that with some new hires and functions that we've brought into the organization, setting up processes and infrastructure, always a challenge at a growing company and finding the right balance between putting a process or procedure in place and yet allowing the company to remain flexible.

Then finally, I would say I'd like to think that I've contributed to our overall strategy and growth plans. I think the role of CFO is to stay in tune with the market and competitors. Hopefully, I bring that perspective and approach to our strategic conversations in terms of what are we going to bring to the market? What's going to be valuable? What else do our customers want from the financial perspective? Certainly, I'm not exposed to the product and the competition as some folks in our organization, but I think I have a different view. I think, looking back, that's probably those are the three things I'm most proud of over the last few years.

Megan: We'll come back to the talent topic in just a minute, but given that CallRail is turning data into insights for their clients, how do you use that same approach within your own department?

Jim: I'm really fortunate here at CallRail that we are such a data-driven organization. I have to give credit to the founders early on, just a little before I started, just realizing the value of the data to inform health of the business, one, which is baseline but also just informs the future strategy and day-to-day decision makings of the business. Pretty early, and I would say pretty heavily, when the company is relatively small, 100-150 people, in the technology and tools to allow us to really understand what's going on in our business in terms of customer use of the product, overall metrics, and reporting, and just really making that accessible, not just to the finance team or accounting team, or really even the executive or senior management, but really throughout the organization.

I would really say we've democratized data as a term we've used across the company and allowing people to have insights into the business and ask new questions and come up with new thoughts on how we can perform better or new markets or new services we should provide to our customers.

Megan: You mentioned tools and technologies. What are the tools and technologies you're using to make your life easier? What are your favorites?

Jim: Yes, I know this is purely data and it's one of the areas that I think early on, we made a decision we were using several BI reporting tools. Just from a day-to-day perspective, just to be specific, we're in Looker shop. I could say I'm constantly in Looker, certainly, reviewing dashboards and reports, but even sometimes being hands-on and creating my own and trying to save my team a little bit of work and the folks I work with in just kind of a self-served model of finding information.

That's the customer-facing or our internal customer-facing tool, but all the infrastructure to get information from system to system, I think that's been probably one of the best investments the company has made to set up a good data infrastructure, a good data warehouse, our futures around a data lake, and then constantly thinking about how do we bring additional systems and information into that structure and system to provide even more information.

I know it's a little bit technical, but it's probably one of the things that I love is that I spend really all my time thinking about what questions can we ask in looking at that information and how are we going to use this data versus- early in my career, a lot of companies, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get data and half your time is just, "Okay, if we pull this report and do this and combine it together, I think we'll have something interesting to look at." That really, obviously, takes away from the insights into the data and what does it mean and how can we help the rest of the organization use that information to do their jobs better or to help us grow faster or be more efficient, all those things.

Megan: Dashboarding tools are pretty amazing these days. It's true that a picture's worth a thousand words.

Jim: It really has become, won't quite say the Excel for the finance world, but certainly having information and dashboards and reports and not necessarily power users, but being well versed in those tools, I think is really an important part of finance's job today.

Megan: Getting back to you, I think you got your Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Engineering. Is that right?

Jim: That's right. I did.

Megan: That's interesting. How has that background influenced your journey in the financial field?

Jim: It's interesting. Just a little background, most high school seniors you don't really know what you want to do, but I thought I wanted to do some sort of engineering. Crazy enough I thought I wanted to do Aeronautical or Mechanical or something. I really didn't know much about Industrial Engineering. I went off to school and learned, "Hey, there's this actual other engineering that's a little more business-focused and thinks about process, continuous improvements, and performance measurement." In fact, today I believe a lot of programs call industrial engineering, engineering management. That was a really good baseline for me to go into business. I certainly didn't know exactly what I was going to do.

I think just the engineering degree, in general, teaches you some critical thinking skills and ability to think through problems and get to the root cause and question and think about how you attest to a position or hypothesis. That's certainly what I do and a lot of folks in my position in small companies do every single day. Oddly enough, I think it's been a nice compliment to the business track.

Megan: Yes. I can definitely see how that would be a valuable asset. Let's get back to talent for a minute. You mentioned that CallRail has doubled in size since you started just a few years ago, and just given the scarcity of talent right now, how are you guys managing to do that? How do you attract talent?

Jim: It's probably one of the biggest challenges, probably not surprising for a lot of companies and certainly for small companies and small companies who are competing in the technology space against some of the larger, better brands. I think even more challenging today in a remote world where it's harder to have face-to-face meetings and have a personal connection, but I think that's what we're leaning into here at CallRail, is why are we different from other companies?

We really stress our culture and our value statements. I think like a lot of companies over the last two years it's not just about the 9:00 to 5:00. It's about the whole experience, whether that's work-life balance, certainly career development and how we're preparing you for life throughout CallRail, or how we're helping folks prepare skills as they go beyond through CallRail experience. It's challenging. I think we've had to be creative in terms of personal relationships and trying to communicate how your culture is different or why it's great, but a lot of that comes down to just making connections.

We certainly have a pretty robust interview process and we think that's a positive from our experience, in terms of introducing candidates and letting them, we can talk about the culture, but letting them experience that by talking to a lot of different people in the company across different departments. That's probably one thing in terms of attracting new employees to the company and filling open roles.

With existing employees, it's really doubling down on those same things, making sure that we really understand what employees want to do at work, what their career aspirations are, what projects do they like.

What do they ultimately want to do in three or five years, which is a trite question but when you actually ask somebody, you learn a lot and it really helps you think about as you work with them day to day and in quarter to quarter, how can I get them involved in projects and help them build skills to actually go be able to do something they want to do three or five years from now. It's been a really big focus for us and our internal employee development programs to double down on that in the last really six months.

Megan: That's very interesting. I know most people, they love working remotely, they love the autonomy that comes with that, but I think most of us still want to feel connected. It's interesting that you said that.

Jim: I think like most folks, trying to find the right balance. Personally, I wasn't a big fan of working remotely before the pandemic. I have changed and certainly appreciate the advantages that that brings, but also realize that a lot of things that companies our size really happen through conversations that weren't the original intent of the first interaction or may have been outside the Zoom call. We're trying to find the right balance of that and make that work for everybody while at the same time realizing the benefit that remote work now has.

Megan: Other than talent, what are some of the greatest challenges that CFOs face at high-growth companies?

Jim: I think we are, besides talent, for us Just thinking about all the different priorities that we have going on, which are the ones that are going to have the highest impact and actually move the business forward, is probably one of the biggest challenges that I think for companies our size as I tell these- use the example. I think everyone in every department across our company has 10, 15, 20 priorities or new initiatives that they want to work on or could be working on but realistically can probably work on three to five at any given time. How do we sort through those best priorities and get the entire organization aligned around those? That's a pretty big task in terms of having the most impact and the most impact on meeting our revenue goals and what we want to do.

I think that's probably the biggest challenge, prioritization. I think next is, for us, just think about the admin groups and my groups in finance and accounting and BI or talent and support, is how do we support these initiatives from across the company and help all these departments deliver on these pretty ambitious growth plans? It's a little bit different from just doing your job well each day, but how do we make other folks jobs in the company easier, whether it's introducing a new process or removing some obstacles, or through reporting that makes some of the insights into the business easier for them to be able to make better decisions? That's another area that we're really focused on.

Megan: You've worked for quite a few startups. What is it about working with entrepreneurs that you like?

Jim: I love working with entrepreneurs, probably just because they're so different than my personality as a finance person, which I think is just a natural offset. First of all, I think entrepreneurs, I really admire their ability to see a market opportunity, to see something that others have not seen before, and to realize that there's actually a potential to build a business around that, which I think is clearly a very, very unique skill to have. Then goes along with that is in then the sort of the to be brave enough to actually, a lot of times, leave great stable jobs to go start these companies up.

The risk-taking perspective that they have to go, actually, capitalize on this idea or on this market need that they see, I think is really exciting. It's not just my natural personality. I see that and like, "That's really interesting." Then I just like partnering with them in terms of bringing a different perspective to that and helping them realize those goals in terms of actually building a company. It's one thing to have a great product idea or to say, "Hey, look, I think if we did this, we could serve a great need in the market and have a bunch of customers."

It's another thing to actually build a company and have process and think about how the company scales and recruits and builds teams and organizes. I like to think that I can bring some of those skills that, frankly, they probably shouldn't be thinking about and should be thinking about the growth initiatives and the new ideas in the market. I've been fortunate I've been able to work with several founders, founding teams over my career. All of them are unique and interesting in their own way. I've learned a ton and admired them all. I had a great experience with them.

Megan: Sounds like a great partnership. Like you, I admire entrepreneurs so much. It's so foreign to me that they're able to do what they do.

Jim: I think you do, you really have to have a mindset that just see something that folks don't see. I should also mention there's this positivity and things are always possible, which for folks in the finance world, isn't a general mindset for a lot of folks who are maybe more skeptical and more questioning, which is the nature of our role, certainly, in a lot of functions within finance. I think that's a great trade for entrepreneurs. I think the majority of the time it is extremely beneficial. I think there is an opportunity to balance that out. In the best situations that I've worked in with entrepreneurs, there's been a mutual respect for that and understanding. Certainly, that's the case here at Colorado with the founders and then more recently with our new CEO.

Megan: I think most of us have heard the term CF-No. How do you balance the risk-taking with controls that are necessary?

Jim: I think there's two things. I think, first, youu always need to explain the why of a new process or new control. No one likes rules just to have rules exist and just have to follow them but I think most people can appreciate the whys of a new process or control. Certainly, in today's world, where data is so important and for what we're so protective of our customer information and making sure we protect that, when you put in that context, I think people appreciate that. Then you actually support what you're doing and will become advocates. That's the place you want to be. I think that's first.

I think second, it goes hands in hands. You have to know the right time to introduce procedures. Sometimes a stage in the company, it would be great if we could do it this way. It's not a risk area for us today. I know we'll need to do it in two or three years so I'm going to start laying the groundwork for that, but I'm not yet going to implement that policy or processor, or maybe even say no to something. Eventually, we may need to say no too.

I think that's really the art of the job. As you said, not being the constant person who says no, but who says, "What are you really trying to do? Let's think about ways we can get you there." Let me talk about where I see us going in three years and then know that there's a path of how we're going to get there. That may require a new process or us changing the way we're doing things today.

Megan: At CallRail, you lead accounting, you lead talent, customer experience, IT, and business operations. How is it that you're able to wear so many hats?

Jim: I certainly have a great team. I've been fortunate in being able to recruit and attract and retain some good folks. We certainly had a lot of good folks when I came in. That really gives me ability to really try to know a lot about the business at pretty thin level and just understand what's going on and have a opinion or have some influence on a lot of different areas of the business. I think you just have to realize with these different groups, most of the time, almost all the time, I'm really working with the leaders of those functions to help them, advise them, see how I can remove roadblocks for them or support them.

I think that's really critical. I wouldn't be able to do that if obviously, I was trying to go deep in it in all those different categories. It's also something I personally enjoy. Those groups are very, very different. Some days I maybe even working with our head of talent, or recruiting, or employee item and then, obviously, very different from something on the data security or business side. I like being able to jump in different areas of the business. I think the key to that, just knowing at what level and when it's appropriate to really get into details and when it makes sense to understand high level and direction and get updates.

Megan: Lastly, as the CFO, what's keeping you up at night these days? What are the biggest challenges that you and your team are facing?

Jim: I think we talked about one. In this environment recruiting and attracting and retaining employees is probably the number one thing that keeps me up at night because it's such a big part of our growth strategy as we think about our big growth plans and having people to support that. Certainly, I don't think that's a unique challenge for companies our size. It really impacts all aspects of the business. If we're not able to attract the folks we want, it just delays growth plans. I spend a lot of time thinking about that process and certainly have a great recruiting team in terms of attracting candidates, but also on the other side that I mentioned in terms of how we are making this the best employee experience possible.

A lot of times that's just little things and making sure, again, we have relationships with employees and are doing the small things. The other ones, I would say, really besides- one is just thinking about our data and our customer's data, which I mentioned. In today's world, I don't think you can rest around data security and compliance. Certainly, in the information that we have our customers, how they're using our platform, is very important to us. I think you've always got to be thinking one step ahead.

Again, fortunately, I think we've got a great leader in that side of our business, but her and I do spend a lot of time thinking about what's the roadmap look like? What are the risk areas of the business? How do we make sure that we are trusting our data, CallRail's data, and then, certainly, data for our customers. Those are the things that I spend a lot of time thinking about, high level, and then kind of back to the, what are the things that are most important as [unintelligible 00:28:50].

There's so many things going on and there's so many priorities and so many opportunities, which is great about these companies, how do I make sure, how do our leaders, folks on my team, make sure they're working on those areas, projects, priorities that are going to have the biggest impact? How do we align those across the organization and constantly sort of adjust those priorities, communicate where we are, where things are going well or not well, and then just continue to move the business forward. That's probably every night that I think about is how do we move the business? How do we continuously improve the things we're doing today?

Megan: Jim, thank you so much for being my guest today.

Jim: Megan, thanks so much. I really enjoyed talking with you.

Megan: I really enjoyed speaking with you, too, and hearing about your experiences and all the resulting insights. I wish you and CallRail all the best. Sounds like you're both doing some amazing things. To all of our listeners, please tune in next week, and until then take care.

[music]

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In this episode, we discuss how CFOs can leverage data analytics, attracting and retaining talent, some challenges CFOs face at high-growth companies, among many other interesting topics.

Understanding the Business

Quote CFOs understanding the business

Taking on a new CFO role starts with learning how the business works, understanding the products, services, and customers, and getting to know the people around.

“You need to know all aspects of the business because, ultimately, everything impacts the P&L”.

How Can CFOs Leverage Data Analytics?

Quote Jim Morgan CallRail CFO

Businesses need to focus on setting up good data infrastructure and constantly think about how to bring additional techs and tools to provide more information. In the process, CFOs need to learn and apply BI reporting and dashboard tools to get valuable insights from data and help the organization grow faster or be more efficient.

“Having information, dashboards, and reports and being well-versed in those tools is an important part of the job of finance today”.

CFOs Attracting and Retaining Talent in High-Growth Companies

Quote cfos attracting talent in high-growth companies

You can never go wrong in investing in your company's values, culture, and mission statement. Creating a positive work-life balance experience for employees and focusing on developing valuable skills for their careers can certainly create a huge impact in the companies growth in the long run. Ultimately, let them experience the culture by introducing and connecting with other people in the company. And with existing employees, it is vital that you understand the employees' motivations and career aspirations and invest in their interests.

“We really stress our culture and our value statements”.

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