Tell us about your journey in SaaS Tech.
I started at Siebel Systems at the height of the dot-com era in 2000 and since then have worked in various roles, including business development, sales operations, management consulting, strategy, and M&A.
In 2011, I became CFO of the payments division of Intuit in LA, where I realized that payments are what I refer to as “SaaS-like,” because it’s a recurring revenue stream. After that, I was the CFO at an ad tech company in LA, Steelhouse, before I found my way to FastSpring, where I started in July as CFO.
How would you describe your role at FastSpring?
I like to describe my role as CFO in terms of two concentric circles. In the middle circle are core finance tasks such as budgeting, forecasting, reporting on key metrics and managing cash. The second circle is more about business, e.g. who are your target customers, how do you allocate resources, which acquisitions do you do, etc. It is this second, outer circle which enables a finance organization to differentiate itself by facilitating an informed decision-making process using fact-based analysis.
Everyone does the middle circle very well, however, the second circle can vary on the specific team. My role at FastSpring is two-fold — manage the middle circle, while simultaneously strengthening FastSpring’s success in the outer business circle to accelerate the growth of the company.
What led you to FastSpring?
FastSpring plays at the intersection of three fast-growing markets: Payments, SaaS/subscription billing, and e-commerce. Any of those by themselves are useful to today’s online sellers, but what puts FastSpring one step ahead is that our platform addresses the needs of all three. Another thing that is special at FastSpring is even as CFO, I’m a part of the solution process and work day-to-day with our clients on improving their own selling processes.
How do you see FastSpring’s platform evolving around the global digital economy?
We’re proud to offer a service that gives our customers more time to focus on their strategies as a business and less time on handling the back-end logistics. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to make sure we’re meeting the needs of each customer, no matter their skillset or background. As we look forward, we always try to get ahead of their pain points by thinking, “What other solutions can we provide to make them even more successful?”
How can small businesses leverage FastSpring’s platform to increase sales and provide better customer experiences?
Put simply, our goal is to streamline the payment process for our customers’ customers. Our niche is the small and medium digital goods providers who are selling internationally. One of the many ways we offer a source of value is by taking care of the back-office essentials such as sales tax, which, of course, varies across states and countries.
What are the pain points you see with customers looking to streamline the sales process with an e-commerce platform?
One pain point we try to solve is localization. For example, a company located in France is likely not selling online to customers just in France, but to Germany and the UK as well. If you only have a website in French, you miss out on reaching a customer pool simply because they can’t read your website. We address that problem. Cart abandonment is another big challenge for e-commerce. FastSpring is an effective solution to localization and cart abandonment because we optimize each business across borders and supply a simple checkout process to be used in any country.
What do you see the future of SaaS looking like?
I see all future software being provisioned by subscription-based SaaS. In addition, I think you’ll also see consolidation in the industry — in tech, you evolve to an industry standard for an application with a clear market leader and a handful of other smaller players. Lastly, I think you’ll see more innovation around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
Today, you can’t ignore AI, Machine Learning and blockchain — these are the future of technology. You do, however, need to be careful about the level of investments you put into these technologies and when your company is ready for them. This could impact underwriting or who we take on for new business, with Machine Learning and Big Data having a lot of advancements in underwriting and risk management.
As we start our strategic planning process, one of the things I like to implement is horizon planning, which involves three stages. Stage one is what you have now. Stage two is what product you would release in 1-3 years. Stage three is long-term planning, or in 3 years and beyond. In the payments business, fraud is a perpetual problem. I think you’ll see a lot of innovation around AI and blockchain in that area.
What startups in the MarTech ecosystem are you watching/keen on right now?
I’ve been keeping my eye on performance-based marketing companies, specifically looking at those who focus on re-targeting, prospecting and more-recently, connected TV. I like to see what value we can bring our customers beyond our current product footprint to be more successful. In so doing, we improve our retention rate so it is truly a “win-win.”
What is one word that best describes how you work?
Relationships. In finance, it’s easy to bury your nose in your Excel spreadsheets, but in order to be successful for the business, a finance team needs to establish relationships to become more of the connective tissue of an organization.
I go to the marketing staff meetings, for example, to understand what’s happening in that department, where dollars are being invested, how what this team is doing fits into our overall budgets, and where I can play a role in improving things. This is an uncommon thing but a way I prefer to work with my teams.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
One of my favorite books is, “The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction,” by James M. Citrin and Richard Smith. The authors suggest that in order to have an extraordinary career, you must: find a job you’re good at, feel passionate about, and surround yourself by people you admire and respect. I aspire to optimize all three of these. That’s why I enjoy working at FastSpring.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
For me, my smartest work-related task is not to multi-task. When I see people trying to do multiple things at once, I know right away that the quality will suffer. You have to be fully present in what you’re doing.
To keep myself focused, I use Evernote, in addition to my handy spiral ring notebook, and I prioritize the main things I want to accomplish with the week, month, quarter and year.
Thank you, Sian! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Sian is an experienced finance and strategy executive with a proven track record of creative problem-solving, operational P&L accountability, and transaction negotiation.
- Deep expertise in developing growth and M&A strategies and driving cost optimization projects from seven years in consulting/strategy at McKinsey and Intuit
- Combines operational P&L experience as divisional CFO of $650m revenue Payments unit at Intuit with strategy background
- Extensive private equity, business development, and transactional history both in high tech and on Wall St. as a corporate lawyer
- Demonstrated success in fast-moving, hyper-growth environments and with emerging SaaS business models
FastSpring is a complete e-commerce solution for payments and subscriptions. Founded in 2005 by industry veterans, our focus is to power the digital economy by providing excellent tools for revenue growth, global purchases, and information management – all done with leading-edge security, seamlessly integrated + customizable user interfaces, and award winning customer service!
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.