When Mike Taylor mentions the customer experience during our talk, his intent—unlike that of many of his CFOs peers—is not to boast of some vast reservoir of data from which customer insights are routinely being gleaned.
Instead, he brings this up to let us know that there are some things that finance still struggles to see and measure.Read More
This is a startling admission from a finance leader who has already drawn our attention to his sharp lines of sight into the CFO role with the comment “Making certain that I am grounded in data is what has helped me to be a better CFO.”
Still, Taylor seems to distance himself from this bit of data wisdom for the moment in order to make a broader point about the customer experience and financial analysis.
Having served in several CFO roles over the past two decades, Taylor has a rich career portfolio from which to extract CFO lessons. Nevertheless, he quickly turns our attention to his nearly decade-long tenure at electric car manufacturer Tesla, where he held a number of senior finance positions, including vice president of finance and treasurer.
It was during the early years of Tesla’s groundbreaking Model S, Taylor recalls, that a financial analyst shared with him some analysis that revealed how a door handle modification could result in a per-car cost saving of hundreds of dollars.
“In the car industry, you’re looking to save quarters and dollars all through the bill of materials, so when you’re talking hundreds of dollars, this is just a fantastic moment,” reports Taylor, who credits the analyst with providing the required analytical firepower to prompt Tesla’s finance team to advocate for the adoption of “identical handles” for the Model S instead of the original ones, which had been designed with unique geometric shapes that were flush with each door.
Taylor continues: “The idea got shot down, and we scratched our heads. So, I went and talked with some of the designers. They asked, ‘Mike, what’s the first tangible experience that you have with a car?,’ and I replied, ‘Well, you know, I see it and I walk up to it, and then I touch the door handle.’” Thus, Taylor adds, this exchange served up a lesson in product design and how it is often the unseen levers of customer impact that ultimately drive sales.
“Your spreadsheets can tell you a whole lot about any business situation but focus first on what the customer impact of your product is,” observes Taylor, who also credits customer impact with having been the key determining factor in his original decision to join the car manufacturer.
At the time, Taylor notes, Tesla had sold only a few hundred cars, sight unseen, at more than $100,000 per vehicle.
“As part of my due diligence, I spent hours and hours on blogs and inside customer online forums,” he remembers. “I ended up thinking, ‘If this product has this type of customer passion, how can I not take this leap?’” –Jack Sweeney
Made Possible By
CFOTL: Tell us about Gusto … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Taylor: Gusto is a people platform. We help more than 200,000 businesses to solve really critical pain points that they may be reaching in trying to grow their business. These are things like helping them to pay their employees or offer benefits to them, creating a great onboarding experience for their employees, helping to file their corporate taxes, and just helping to create that great linkage between employee and employer that can exist if you sort of create what we might call some “moments of magic.”Read More
We do all of this with a really simple-to-use Software-as-a-Service platform. So, it’s all online. We have a number of monthly plans from which our customers can select. We do this with a very, very deep focus on customer empathy in choosing what to invest in and what to build. We like to remind ourselves that the leaders and owners and entrepreneurs of these 200,000-plus businesses are making really critical decisions each and every day. They’re wearing 20 hats. If we have the privilege of maybe taking five or six of these hats off of their heads, then by helping them to build their businesses—which are the backbone of the United States economy—then we’re creating a really great mission for Gusto.
The priority over the next 12 months will be to try to think more about the next 36 and try to have a really good long-term vision of where we want to go. By the same token, Gusto has always been a company being built for the long run. We want to be creating a great, durable business, so we challenge ourselves to look past the quarter, to look past the years, to look to 2025. We have a G25 plan that we try to execute against that guides us as our North Star to lead us to what we want to create. I’m really looking forward to helping this new plan evolve during the next 12 months, to helping us to create it. Then we’ll be working on a G30 plan because I truly think that this company has staying power. With our own values and the customer value that we’re able to create, I really believe that we’re going to be around for a long time, and I’d just love to be a part of the process.
Gusto | www.gusto.com | San Francisco, CA