May 8, 2018 John Ewert
When I started my business career at PwC after spending time in the U.S. Army, I was part of a team of business advisors and auditors to several Global 500 organizations, as well as some small, private companies with extraordinary growth potential. Though I was learning from every client, I soon found that I was most enjoying the engagements where we were playing a supporting role in small tech companies’ growth stories. I thought someday, once I understand how companies operate in a mature state, I’d like to play a much bigger role in those kinds of stories. That’s why I’m pleased to have joined Nvoicepay, a fintech company putting the “pay” in procure to pay, as CFO.
Illustrated by Ryan Mason
This is now my third time around on the executive team of a high-growth company, and I’m doubly excited about it. First, because helping companies scale is fun, and second because this is the dynamic payments platform I use and can evangelize to finance leaders who are looking to increase efficiency and improve bottom line results. Nvoicepay addresses the B2B payments pain I’ve experienced over my 20+ years in finance. It’s a product I would have used in my previous roles—but for most of that time nothing like it existed.
B2B technology solutions
It would have come in handy at Sun Microsystems, where I went after PwC, starting out in the corporate controllership and then moving into finance as a business partner to our sales organization. While at Sun, we worked hard to improve profitability, centralize functions and manage costs. I also had the opportunity to participate in several large-scale acquisitions. Of course, Sun was itself acquired by Oracle in 2009, and I stayed on to support the integration and our combined team.
Oracle was very good at acquiring a company, deciding what to keep, integrating that into its business and doing it in a very fast and structured way. During my time there, I learned a lot about different business processes, including procure to pay—which can be a misnomer because most systems don’t handle the actual payment piece. I also learned a lot about go-to market and sales strategy from a world-renowned B2B enterprise software company.
But, I still felt drawn to up-and-coming growth companies, so when Mike Lehman, the former CFO of Sun asked me to take on the VP of Finance role at Palo Alto Networks in 2010, I jumped. The company had under 100 employees at the time. I knew I could learn a lot from Mike as a mentor, and that I’d get to wear a lot of hats and have a chance to be part of building something big.
Being part of a growth story
I had a chance to help scale the company in finance, accounting, treasury, legal, and investor relations. By the time I left four years later, we were a public company with over 2,500 employees and a revenue run rate of over $500 million.
That was an incredible growth story and being part of that experience confirmed for me that what I really like to do is build and grow companies. The whole exercise of prioritizing what's most strategically important for the company and figuring out how to create processes and systems to execute on that strategy is something I really enjoy.
So, when I had the opportunity to take on a broader CFO role at Elemental Technologies, a Portland-based software company that provides video services for content providers, I told my wife, "I like the team. I like the company, its technology, its trajectory, but they're in Portland. What do you think?" After considering what it meant for her career, the upside for our family, and the adventure of leaving Silicon Valley after 15 years, she gave 'Operation Portland' a green light.
I'd been at Elemental about a year and a half, rapidly scaling operations when we received an unsolicited offer to buy the company. We turned it into a selective bidding process and were ultimately acquired by Amazon Web Services, who was interested in bringing our video software technology into their management console of cloud services.
The transition into Amazon Web Services was exciting because we had additional resources to accelerate growth. Amazon has really refined its methodology for hiring and developing the best people, and for leading large teams, and I will carry many of these best practices with me for the rest of my career.
Amazon also already has a very strong business, and my intention was to be part of another growth story, as a member of a team of people that I’d really like working with. I found that in the board and team here at Nvoicepay. I thought when I walked in and saw the motto “Wake up. Be bold. Kick ass. Repeat.” written on the lobby wall that this could be an interesting place to work.
Scaling: Where the fun is
Scaling is fun because you’re not just maintaining; you’re building and creating. It’s almost like raising a child (I have four). It’s fun to be a part of the crawl, walk, run stages and feel a sense of pride as your organization matures in a positive direction.
Every big company starts as a small company, and working for big companies that have obviously been doing things well for many years has been a good way to understand what it takes to be successful, and what kind of problems can develop at different stages. Those experiences help inform my decisions as a builder of new things. I wake up every morning energized, knowing I’ve got a lot to do, but it's going to be dynamic and I'm not going to be bored.
The kicker is that I also can be an evangelist for our service with CFOs, controllers, and heads of accounts payable in every industry.
It’s a new and exciting opportunity to participate more in the outward facing side of our fintech business. I can speak to others who may be thinking about the pros and cons of what we offer and explain our value proposition very clearly. I can evaluate marketing activities and collateral using first-hand knowledge, or meet with a customer and add credibility as an advisor based on my professional experience and our common cost-savings objectives.
And, it’s an exciting market to be in. B2B payments is just beginning to take off. Unlike consumer markets where people have been using payment services from technology companies for several years, businesses are just now starting to embrace non-bank payment providers for the first time. There hasn't been a payment solution focused on the enterprise like Nvoicepay.
B2B payments is a largely untapped $30 trillion market. We have an opportunity to seize a portion of this market with a service that goes beyond just making all of a business’s payments with one ERP-agnostic platform. With Nvoicepay, you can actually unlock payables resources by removing inefficient processes, and optimize your electronic payment mix with the visibility and control enterprises demand. Any CFO at any company would like an ROI like that.