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As the newly appointed CFO of agtech start-up Cooks Venture, Ankur Agrawal lists one of his favorite duties as designing menus. Of course, we are referring to the menu of performance measurements featured on the poultry company’s maturing business dashboard.
“One of the beauties that comes with joining a new company is that you get to build from scratch,” explains Agrawal, who says that he’s relied on some of his earlier experiences using dashboards at Pepsico and Blue Apron to help Cooks Venture to build a better one.
According to Agrawal, a successful dashboard begins with understanding what measurements are needed inside a company’s different business functions. At Blue Apron, Agrawal says, the firm’s finance leader improved the company’s dashboard design by first asking functional leaders across the company, “What are the two or three measurements that you are looking at?”
“Once he got that list from everyone, he said, ‘All right, now let’s create our dashboard.’ I’ve tried to take a similar approach in which we talk to people and try to understand what they need to see,” explains Agrawal, whose tour of duty at Blue Apron offered far more than lessons in dashboard design.
As a finance director for the innovative meal-kit company, Agrawal worked closely with Blue Apron’s cofounder and COO, Matt Wadiak, who left the company in 2017 to establish Cooks Venture.
Says Agrawal: “We had worked closely for four years. We had a great partnership and complemented each other very well. We had been talking for a while, so when he started this company, essentially it became the right time for the business and for me because I had been looking for the right opportunity.” -Jack Sweeney
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Guest: Ankur Agrawal
Company: Cooks Venture
Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
CFOTL: Tells about your priorities when you first stepped into the CFO role at Cooks Venture?
Agrawal: Big company or small company, your job in the very beginning is just to listen. There’s a reason why things may be done a certain way, so I don’t believe in going in and reorganizing or things like that. I really want to listen first to understand what’s working, what’s not working, what our team’s skill sets are, what the areas to develop are. Then, after that, I’ll start looking into, “Hey, do we need to operate differently? Do we need to enhance our team in any way?” We haven’t gotten to that point yet, and currently I’m just continuing to learn the business. I’ve learned the team, but in the future, I think that as we grow and have to become bigger, such inquiries will definitely become an important area.
You want to focus on building the finance culture. People can have varying degrees of what finance means to them, but for me, finance is an enabler for growth. We find creative solutions to make things work, whether it’s a new ingredient, a new product, a new process. So, I really try to instill that culture into every company I’ve joined. Hey, we are partners. Our job really is to make sure that everyone else at the company is successful, and that’s when we’ve done our job well. I have tried to make sure that the culture is very clear from the very beginning and that we’re not a function that’s there to say “No!” and things like that. We’re there to actually help to find solutions.
Definitely the first thing that I try to do from a cultural perspective and then from more of a business or operating perspective is really about managing cash, especially for a younger company. This is such a critical part when you’re at a younger company, versus being a more established firm—paying close attention to our working capital needs, our pricing, our labor costs, our fee costs, things like that. So, it’s really all about just trying to build the processes around really getting to that one version of the truth and how we’re actually doing and then figuring out how we can impact those decisions that we make as a company. How can we impact things so that we’re operating in a better and better financial way?