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Episode 50: SoundHound | With Nitesh Sharan, CFO

Nitesh Sharan, CFO at SoundHound, is a strategic finance executive with experience fueling growth and profitability in firms across the consumer, technology and industrial sectors. His diverse background working in many different verticals across multiple industries allows Nitesh to be a great fit for the evolving and expanding role of CFO in today’s business world. He also has a passion for development, diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability for his company and team. 

Anchored by a variety of experiences in industries throughout the world, Nitesh’s desire to grow and try new things is an asset to SoundHound; an organization that believes every brand should have a voice and every person should be able to interact naturally with the products around them, by simply talking. 

Nitesh sees the role of a CFO as one that is constantly changing and adapting to a new world of business. He thinks today’s CFO needs to be in tune and involved with many parts of their company. That includes as an advisor to the CEO, encouraging stakeholder success, having a vision for the company’s long term success and near term sustainability, as well as being open to innovation, and helping to set a strong culture within the organization. An important part of supporting that is building a diverse, agile, and innovative team with a range of knowledge and diverse perspectives that have a drive to continually learn and grow. 

In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Nitesh Sharan, CFO at SoundHound, shares why you can’t stay stale and need to continually innovate and update the way your company does business. This ranges in everything from organizational goals and a willingness to utilize new technologies, to being open to who your workforce is, how to encourage their success, and to allow for flexibility in where they accomplish their work. 

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Guest Analysis

Name: Nitesh Sharan

What he does: Nitesh Sharan is CFO at SoundHound, an organization that believes every brand should have a voice and every person should be able to interact naturally with the products around them, by simply talking. Nitesh didn’t take the traditional route to being CFO, starting out with a career in consulting, eventually going back to school for a business degree. He brings diverse experience to SoundHound, working across many different types of industries throughout the world, armed with a desire to grow, try new things, and build a versatile team ready for any challenge. 

Key Quote:  “If you have this attitude of optimism, then you can persevere through a lot. And I think that has benefited me in my career. I love the saying, ‘keep your face always towards the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you. Because, I really believe there’s always going to be challenging times. And if you can sort of try to find that silver lining or at least persevere through,you’ll–if nothing else–learn a ton through the experiences. And then hopefully that in itself is a real reward.”

Where to find Nitesh: LinkedIn

From Nitesh’s Playbook

Growth is king

Priority number one as a CFO is figuring out how you enable and fuel growth. Part of that is being aware of parts of the company that are growing versus those that are already established. You need to be thoughtful on where to place your bets and invest in resources. While it is important to appreciate and value what has made the company successful, you need to be open to how things can work differently to continually grow the company to be prosperous. 

Technology in tandem with your team

Leveraging technology and scaling with the right insights at the right time is key to growth. With that, keep in mind the best intersection between human capabilities and technology. It’s not one or the other; you need great technology and people who can harness that great technology to be able to navigate uncertainty and make decisions in a timely and effective manner.

Don’t shy away from challenges

Have an attitude of running to the fire and running at challenges. Never compromise on integrity and character in yourself or your team. You need to have agility to capitalize on opportunities  when they come, and you need the tenacity to take it to fruition, no matter what the deliverable is. Hunger and humility are key traits for you and your team, having a willingness and ability to expand your function and promote growth and prosperity for the business.

Promote diversity and varying perspectives for your team

Continuously hire with the angle of ‘what is it that serves the greater good of the company?’. Make sure that the talent coming in is fully aligned and in service to what you’re all trying to do together. Be open to having a remote team, that way you are also opening up your hiring pool to any and all talent, no matter where they are. Be open to going deeper with your team, finding out what motivates them and what matters to their career development. By having a more diverse team with different perspectives you as a CFO can lean on their experiences and knowledge. 

Episode Highlights

The CFO’s role is continually expanding

“The expectations and what a CFO can bring to the table also have evolved and can evolve because in a lot of ways it is maybe one of the very few, if not the only one on sort of a C-suite that can agnostically look across all the disciplines and say, ‘okay here’s an accountable way, a measurable way, to look at trade-offs, to navigate a world of uncertainty, and make the right choices that we can try to objectively as objectively as we possibly can make a decision.”

Be open to adaptation and change

“When you’re a mature company, you actually have to incubate those hypergrowth elements, because the future is constantly evolving, right? You can’t stay stale. We see too many companies who try to hang on the innovator’s dilemma, try to hang on to their old profit pools for too long, and ultimately the world works against them…So you’re always kind of trying to channel the growth, but within an infrastructure where you have to manage the cash flow pools of the past.”

People and technology need to work in tandem

“I always look at it as what’s the best intersection between human capability and technology. And how do you intersect those so you can scale most meaningfully in the most efficient matter and most diligent matter. But it’s not one or the other, you really need great technology, and then you need people who can harness that great technology to find the coveted insights. And not necessarily people who have to tick and tie every number before we can make decisions. We all have to be able to navigate uncertainty and make decisions in a timely and effective manner.”

Encourage teams that are humble and hungry

“When I look for teammates to add in, I want them to be hungry and want to grow in their careers, want to expand the function, want to expand the business, but have all the humility in the world to understand there’s a lot of challenges on the way. You can’t do it yourself. You need to ask the questions. We need to have a safe environment where we can grow and prosper together. So those tenants are really important.”

Top quotes:

“I think the two tenants of financial management that have probably always been true are we need to be stewards of capital allocation and risk management. And I think that’s probably been true for a long time in terms of what’s important to the CFO function or the finance function at large. And I think that continues to be really important.”

“I understand shareholder value and know that growth is imperative. And so anything I can do from the capital allocation risk management standpoint that helps shepherd that growth journey or catalyze it is priority number one. And, I think that’s just one of many examples of how you could envision more and more of this function expanding to its mandate.”

“You have to be very thoughtful about where to place your bets and where to invest your resources. But then again, there’s a lot of clarity because the value is going to create from growth. And, so whatever we need to do to fuel growth is the imperative that matters most.”

“I think what we’re living through just even socially, culturally, whether it’s a great resignation or whatnot, people living through the pandemic and just sort of identifying what matters most to them. There’s a lot of change going on. And I think we’re just in the very early days of realizing what structurally that’ll be for the long term. And I also think in traditional environments, they’re generally is a slow reaction to that, a slow reaction to understanding what that means. And I think there’s a great opportunity at SoundHound as we’re building not just the finance function, we’re more broadly of being very people-centric and saying, what really is it that our employees value and how do we build a structure  that supports and helps people thrive in their careers and personal lives. And so I think we’re taking a very diligent way of understanding that.”

“I think it starts with saying what matters to people, what matters to their lives, this intersection it’s blurrier than ever between work life and home life. And how do we make sure we set up the right boundaries and still deliver what’s needed. But I do think it starts with what matters to people.”

“I see a lot of companies who are just punting decisions every three months, like, okay, here’s what’s going on with virus. And I think it’s important to keep agility there that the answers we’re not going to know for sure. So just as long as we can stay flexible and keep listening and communicating with each other. I think that’s really important.”

“Because we’re able to operate effectively in a virtual world as it opens the aperture of the number of candidates out there now. I have really no idea where you are. I don’t know if you have any idea where I am. It doesn’t really matter, we’re having a great conversation. And so, I think in terms of the pool of candidates that we can look at and identify and consider, I think that has just opened up much more widely. And frankly, now that I think more people than ever are opening their minds to different opportunities that also I think increases the pool. Now to close and get people or to maintain people, it really I think is important to try to go a little deeper on what inspires people, what motivates them, what matters. And, I also think then from how we think about organizational development, career management, talent management, all needs to intersect and evolve with this.”

“I think absolutely being in a diverse cities alone, not talking about gender or race, I think gives diversity, which is another dimension. In fact, in my humble opinion, we talk very superficially around diversity. Now I believe we’re at a stage where we do need to increase the measures. We need more females in Silicon valley leadership roles. We need more underrepresented groups in all positions at all leadership levels. But, we also need diversity of experiences, diversity of personalities, diversity of perspectives. All those things are so powerful.”

“The other thing I’ve come to appreciate, and what makes great companies is you need the agility to capitalize on opportunities when they come and you need the tenacity to take it to its complete thought or its fruition of whatever that deliverable is. And I think similarly underneath that you need talent that can do that. And at a smaller company, you need more of that. Meaning you need the tenacity to solve the issues of today. Because when you’re in this phase of a company, there’s always issues that are coming up that are top priorities and you need to have this lens of now and later together. Which is we’re trying to stabilize and build an infrastructure that hopefully a year from now, the issues that we’re chasing down will be automated or improved process-wise. And so somebody who’s got that agility to do both at the same time, it’s not easy to find quite openly. And that’s one of the things I emphasize a lot.”

“I think having a real strong foundation, cross disciplinary, across multiple things, with an intersection with technology – that’s where success will lie. Not necessarily continue to fragment in our own little silos, which is what everybody does. They really only understand their silos because everybody then has their own agenda and their objectives of what successes. It’s then how do you intersect that altogether? I think that thesis, ‘Hey, technology will solve that is inaccurate. It really has to be the compounding between humans and technology.”