Being the first finance hire at a hyper-growth fintech was always going to be a challenge. But when Lena Loiberg joined Melio, she also had to deal with Covid and no less than four funding rounds. Here’s what she learnt along the way.
During Lena Loiberg’s tenure as VP of Finance at Melio, the company’s B2B payments platform has increased its monthly processing volumes by 5,000%. Simultaneously, she has spearheaded four separate funding rounds totaling $480M and culminating in a $4B valuation.
Fundraising became almost as standard as preparing quarterly reports:
‘The first time [fundraising] was scary and it was like, wow, how do you even approach it? But since then…We have our procedures, and everything is already in place. There is nothing that is a surprise…We were born prepared, this is how I feel right now. And it’s a great position to be.”
If that doesn’t sound challenging enough, this all took place during the Covid-19 pandemic, which began shortly after Lena joined the company. Needless to say, she’s learned a lot over the past 18 months.
Recently, we interviewed Lena on The CFO Playbook podcast, where she shared the lessons she’s learnt from scaling at unparalleled speed.
If the last 18 months have taught Lena anything, it’s that you never know what the future holds.
You have to be willing and able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. All her ideas and goals for the business were put on hold when Covid hit.
Circumstances change, and holding rigidly to your preconceived ideas doesn’t serve you or the business. Now, Lena’s advice for finance executives going in to a start-up company is to remain flexible and patient:
‘My biggest advice is to be patient. And to understand the position of the company you started at. Because if I was focused on my initial plan when I started at Melio, I would have been frustrated all day long…[But] you need to understand that life is flexible and that companies are not in the situation you wish them to be. Things take time. Processes take time. Education takes time.’
Automate the menial tasks and use technology to integrate different tools so that information is at your fingertips in real time. This allows you to free up bandwidth to think strategically about the business and put your efforts towards initiatives that help the company grow.
According to Lena:
‘Automation is the key for efficiency and for having more time to deal with strategy and the real interesting analytics of the business; for going deep and having time to do bigger things.’
And yes, investing in these processes takes time and sometimes a herculean effort, but the long-term payoff is worth the short-term pain.
Of course finance teams are forecasting and modeling before every decision they make.
But at the end of the day, these are estimations that often rely on data from the past to help predict the future. When something like Covid happens, the future no longer behaves like the past did. Money in the bank becomes the most important data point, Lena says:
‘You go and you talk to your leaders, you talk to the department VPs, you try to go into their heads, how they’re planning for the year. And you try to take several approaches. Both bottom up and top down to understand “where are we aiming”? But reality is much stronger than any numbers. You hope to get better and better at forecasting. But there is one source of truth, which is money in the bank.’
Beyond that, you also need to be paying attention to the market and the trends that will affect your industry and your product so you can adjust your forecasting accordingly.
At Melio, finance truly has a seat at the table. It permeates every aspect of the business and every department. Lena and her team get to be involved in product discussions and other parts of the company where finance does not typically have a voice. Lena says she fell in love with the culture at Melio right from the beginning:
‘When I started at Melio, my mind was blown away. Every hallway talk I heard, I wanted to just jump in and listen, because everything is finance. It’s finance all over the place. And even the developers, they’re talking about some kind of feature that’s finance. Everybody’s talking finance. It was so interesting for me.’
If you love finance, Lena says it’s a great feeling to work at a place where every part of the company revolves around finance.
Lena joined Melio with grand plans and thoughtful ideas for how to help grow the business. Then, everything she thought she was getting into went out the window when Covid hit. But with the right mindset, she was able to help the team come together to face the challenge. Melio went on to experience unprecedented growth over the next 18 months.
Each time a new challenge came her way, she was able to meet it head on. There are many lessons to take from Lena’s experiences as a finance leader, but there is no doubt that the flexibility and resilience she’s shown are qualities that we all can learn from.
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