It was the type of role that any recent business school graduate could envy—not because of the position’s title (Chief of Staff) or how much it paid, but because of its proximity to management decision-making.
The job is one that Bennett Theimann remembers well as he looks back on the days when he served as chief of staff for the president of Gruner + Jahr’s German magazine division.
“It exposed me to that sort of very-high-level strategic thinking. We launched magazines, we sold magazines, we bought magazines,” says Theimann, who very often found himself finalizing some of the documents that Gruner + Jahr management ultimately used to brief its board.
“My job was to help senior management translate their investment proposals, budget requests, or whatever they needed to get done, and very often they needed money,” explains Theimann, who adds that while the position was not officially a finance one, this early experience of being a “business case builder” later helped to propel him into a number of FP&A and senior business development roles.
Theimann, who would step into his first CFO role in 2005, has now occupied the CFO office for several early-stage companies, the latest being Applicaster, a SaaS developer specializing in app development and content distribution. –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Bennett Theimann
Headquarters: New York, NY
Theimann: What really attracted me to Applicaster was that I felt like it was a true product company. I really felt like the platform and the solution that they deliver had achieved a real product market fit. I was convinced after talking to everybody that there really wasn’t anything else out there and that this was one of those rare breeds in the tech space where the product should really make a difference. We know we have a lot of companies that are tech companies and that there are a lot of companies that have good tech, and that’s perfectly fine. You have competitors that have very similar and good tech, but there’s not truly—at the end of the day—real product differentiation. A lot of companies rise and fall, last but not least, because of their branding or their customer success or their marketing or their financial discipline—all of the stuff that you would also have in manufacturing or in traditional industries.
I think that this was really the one thing that I found interesting. I thought that here was a product that really could make a difference or is different from the rest of the industry. That’s what attracted me to it, as well as —obviously—that people like me don’t get hired into companies if everything is hunky-dory. You have to know how to help the company to build for scale. I was attracted by the fact that there was a lot of my past experience—in media as well as in SaaS companies and software companies—that could inform how the company organized and developed its go-to-market.
Do we have the right size sales team? Do we have the right demand generation? Do we have all of the components and pieces of the puzzle that make a good tech company or a good software company work and scale? Answering these questions has been what the attraction is here for me. I don’t want to say that it was a diamond in the rough, but for the purpose of this question it’s a diamond in the rough, and I could do a lot to help polish and scale it. jb