586: Why it’s Time for BI to Turn the Page | Mohit Daswani, CFO, ThoughtSpot

Listen to the Episode Below (00:59:58)

When Mohit Daswani stepped into the CFO office of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based ThoughtSpot this past January, he ascended to something more than just another finance leadership position inside a SaaS start-up.

Daswani was joining a special class of CFOs distinguished by their ability to communicate a vision that connects not just with investors, but also with other CFOs. This is a cohort widely visible within the realm of business Intelligence, or BI, the space where finance leaders frequently shop for new technologies and tools to analyze their business data while surveilling the messaging of BI’s latest class of CFO thought leaders.

From the perspective of ThoughtSpot, which raised $248 million in late-stage funding last August, the world of BI is now colliding with the world of artificial intelligence and moving the competitive state of play from visualization to real-time data delivery.

“This is just a very different offering and value proposition from the current state of BI,” explains Daswani, who was previously the head of finance and strategy at payments company Square, Inc.

“This is about giving business customers not just a static dashboard, but also the ability to query the data in real time and create a natural language search on the front end,” adds Daswani, who quickly lists Walmart, 7-Eleven, Celebrity Cruises, and Hulu as ThoughtSpot customers.

For some BI watchers, Daswani’s arrival is a feat of fortunate timing, perhaps matched only by that of those executives who once occupied the CFO office at such companies as Cognos and BusinessObjects, the pioneering BI technology companies that many credit with having helped to launch the first big wave of wide-scale BI tool adoption.

Then came Tableau, with its powerful visualization tools that indoctrinated even more CFOs into the ranks of the BI faithful. Acquired by Salesforce last June for $14.6 billion, Tableau was a property whose sale became a milestone that few BI watchers could ignore. Add to this, Google’s purchase last year of Looker, another visually driven developer, and it’s clear that visualization is now in BI’s arsenal, says Daswani.

“If I’m a CFO or marketing lead, I no longer have to enlist a data scientist to go build a query or dashboard for me,” notes Daswani.

“We’re talking directly to that decision-maker and company and saying, ‘How do we make your life easier? If you’re a CFO, you need to understand what’s going on with working capital, because you’re managing your cash flow. Let us make it easier for you to do that directly,’” reports Daswani, who these days is busy standardizing work flows and procedures.

“The Valley is building a lot of great companies right now. I’ve met with many of them over the past few years, but ThoughtSpot stood out for me in multiple dimensions,” says Daswani.

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Guest: Mohit Daswani

Company: ThoughtSpot

Connect: www.thoughtspot.com/

Headquarters: Sunnyvale, CA

The following edited abstract features CFO Mohit Daswani’s comments on the role finance leadership plays when it comes to helping craft and advance a business narrative that achieves “buy in” with employees, investors and board members.

Daswani: It’s always a two-way street. I have to straight-shoot with people and identify the trade-offs that would need to be made. Are we going to put that incremental dollar into marketing or into product? Let’s bring the stakeholders around the table and make this decision. Or do we want to decide that instead of growing margins right now, we’re going to invest more in the business because we think that this is the right thing to do. And then you go and explain this to your board and whoever your stakeholders are, whether you’re a private company and it’s your VCs or, if you’re public, it’s obviously your investors. But let’s make sure about the story, and then let’s have our key things that we’re going to measure to show that we’re being successful with that story.

And then, let’s be honest, right? If we got it right, great, we push forward. If we got it wrong, what did we get wrong? And then let’s pull back. This is just how I think about managing a business, which is not behind a veneer of numbers and metrics and data and benchmarks. It’s making real decisions and having everybody thinking as a fiduciary of the company. Communication is a part of this, and it’s also related to transparency. Build relationships of trust with people you work with, whether they’re on your team or key constituents from the business or investors. There’ll be times when you miss a quarter or get a piece wrong, but if people understand the journey and your thought processes and where you were and now what you’re going to do about things, that’s how you build confidence, right? This is a lot better than having to explain in hindsight something that people didn’t really understand to begin with.

This is what I have found to be the best way to think about managing and growing your business in a CFO capacity. We’re continuing to evolve and to develop the key metrics for our business, but I think that we’ve got a decent sense of what they should be. We’re really starting to dial in on these and our new bookings cadence. We’re an enterprise software company, so we have long sales cycles and we sell to the biggest companies in the world. How do we create more predictability there? A lot of this comes from the cadence of, Hey, we’ve now got a nice steady ability to grow with our customers and expand with them, so this kind of land–expand motion is very important for a company like ours.

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