Workiva CFO on making choices to drive top-line growth

September 10, 2021

First published in CFO Dive, September 10, 2021, by Robert Freedman.

 

Growing into the CFO role at financial reporting software company Workiva Inc. (NYSE:WK) has been a lesson in prioritization, Jill Klindt said last week in a CFO Thought Leader podcast.

The former financial analyst and consultant, who joined Workiva 13 years ago as one of its first employees, steadily took on new finance responsibilities until she was named CFO earlier this year.

Despite the institutional knowledge she brings to the role since starting as the company controller, she didn’t fully appreciate the tradeoffs she would face to support the company’s ambitions for top-line growth.

“We could be a profitable company,” she said. “We could be a very big, very good company where we’re at, but that’s not what we want.”

The company wants to plow its revenue into new geographic areas, including Europe, where it wants to generate 25-30% of its revenue over the long-term, and new fit-for-purpose solutions, such as the environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting solution it rolled out not long ago.

“It was there in the back of my mind before, but coming into the CFO role, it became clear that’s what we need to do to succeed as a company — grow that top line,” she said. “So, focusing clearly on how you deploy those resources to make the best investments has been my priority."

 

Talent issues

 

As a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, those investments largely come down to new hires and developing existing talent. 

“I can’t overstate how important it is to get the right people in the right seats,” Klindt said.

The company has mostly relied on in-house engineering and development teams to expand its platform to new reporting and workflow management areas, including in the energy sector and for HR operations. But, going forward, it could also expand through acquisitions.

“We have a strong development team, but could we get to a point where it makes sense to buy technology?” she said.

 

Trade-offs

 

Keeping the focus on top-line growth means pulling resources from other areas, if it comes down to it, she said. 

“Are there things we’re doing that we don’t need to, that don’t drive towards that growth?” she said. “Some things you have to do to maintain compliance and keep the lights on, but are there things that can be left to the side so we can focus on higher growth opportunities?”

The company launched in 2008 as a collaborative platform to make it easier for finance teams to prepare their 10-K, 10-Q and other reports required by the Securities and Exchange Commission, including Sarbanes-Oxley disclosures.

It expanded to include System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval (SEDAR) filings, which are required for Canadian companies, and today its platform provides fit-for-purpose solutions in some two dozen areas.

To help keep customers on board once they become subscribers, Klindt monitors retention and other SaaS metrics that can point to problem areas. 

“We’ve ramped up our programs around customer engagement,” she said. “We look carefully if a customer seems to be stepping away, or if they aren’t using the platform to its fullest extent. [If a metric] shows customers are not engaging, we get a warning sign and we’ll reach out to them to make sure they’re getting what they need from a support standpoint.”

She oversees a centralized financial planning and analysis (FP&A) team, but its analysts are distributed over business units to monitor performance and factor in what’s needed in preparing the company’s budget and forecast. 

“The team works side by side with these businesses to understand what they’re working on, their metrics, and their growth needs from a headcount or other services or programs spend standpoint,” she said. “That way we can better build our forecast and understand what the top line is going to look like.”

Since the company’s specialty is financial reporting, Klindt and her team have an additional role to play, as users of the company’s solutions so they can inform the development and engineering teams what’s working and what’s not. 

“It can be as simple as, ‘This button doesn’t make sense; you would expect it to be on this side,’” she said. “We can help with certain functionality within our spreadsheet application, being able to sort and organize the data in ways that maybe the engineers weren’t thinking of, things that are more second nature to financial people.”

That’s insight she and her team can draw on as they look at where, and where not, to deploy the company’s resources to drive growth. 

“I’m gaining a better understanding that, if we want to grow our company, the way to do that is via some of these vectors we're investing in,” she said, referring to new fit-for-purpose platforms the company rolls out and the geographic areas it enters. “Our revenue, our cash, is a resource to drive better or faster growth. That’s something that wasn’t as obvious” before taking the CFO seat, she said. “I don't think I did that enough — focusing on the higher-value projects and making sure you’re aligning the teams behind that.”

 

For the latest news and information, visit The Workiva Newsroom.

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