When John Bonney joined San Francisco–based Harness a little more than a year ago, he became not only the company’s first CFO but also its first finance hire.
“For me, this was the first time that I came into a role with a blank slate—it was at Ground Zero,” explains Bonney, who says that the software start-up specializing in the automation of software applications delivery had theretofore been outsourcing its finance, legal and IT functions.
Initially, he recalls, he was somewhat doubtful that he was good match for such an early-stage firm—and especially one with such meager internal operations.
However, he became intrigued by the challenge that Harness CEO Jyoti Bansal put before him.
Looking back, Bonney says that he knew that “we could become really big, and here was a chance to set the foundation right.”
Within 5 months, Bonney relates, he had fielded a team of roughly eight people, including a controller, an FP&A leader, and department heads for legal and IT.
“Generally, when companies are really small, it doesn’t always make financial sense to have people in-house, but as you grow to 100 people and beyond, what you quickly begin to experience are bottlenecks impacting responsiveness to IT needs or legal bills that are beginning to balloon,” explains Bonney, who adds that positions outside the finance realm were filled first, with the FP&A hire a more recent addition to the team.
Says Bonney: “When a company has raised capital and the question becomes ‘Where do you put that capital?,’ the CFO and FP&A team have to impact this and monitor it.”
Meanwhile, as Harness scales, the company has prioritized the use of new applications and technologies to perform work traditionally completed by back office hires. For example, Bonney says, Harness did not hesitate to adopt applications vendor Airbase of San Francisco to manage its companywide credit card spending and expense management.
Asked to reflect on his first year as CFO of Harness and his Ground Zero “to do” list. Bonney quips: “12 months gone by in a blink of an eye.” –Jack Sweeney
Guest: John Bonney
Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
CFOTL: What are your priorities as a finance leader over the next 12 months?
Bonney: While running any business, you’ve got to track the pulse of it all the time. Now more than ever—when it’s a very uncertain time—it’s important for a business not to overreact to what’s going on but to track the pulse of the business and understand the trends. Right now, we’re monitoring things weekly, daily, and we’re looking at trends and leading indicators to consider what they mean for the pipeline. What are we seeing with our customers’ usage? We’re really diving in now to focus on and understand our customers. How quickly are they up and adopting our product? Where did they stumble, or where did they not? We’re using a lot of things to constantly refine our operating cadence, how we build our product, and how we serve the customer.
This is something that a company should always be doing, but in these next 12 months it is especially what we want to keep our eyes on. We are high-growth, we’re in a competitive space that’s growing, and what we don’t want to do is overinvest. We don’t want to underinvest. If the market starts to recover more quickly, we’ve got to be there to put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, but not all the way. If we see things stumble further, we’ve got to be prepared to potentially scale back, so we’re just being much more attuned to the leading indicators, the trends, and really trying to stay on top of them.
Then, when you see a sustainable trend—not just a blip—that’s when you start to react, or proactively react, so that’s what we’re watching. We’re making sure that we have capital in the bank. We’re going to weather this out. We’re luckier than a lot of businesses because what we do helps companies with their own software, to build their own and to thrive. So, we’re watching and hoping that we get out of this as soon as we can. jb