Just as Zhi Li was entering the world of investment banking in 2008, many of his future CFO peers were making hasty exits from the banking realm.
“We were the smallest incoming associate class ever,” recalls Li, who joined Credit Suisse’s New York office during some of the darkest days of that economic downturn. “After a couple of years, deal activity picked up and the work began coming in really fast, so it was a great place to get deal exposure.”
Still, as the number of deals grew, so too did the workweek, explains Li, who served as vice president of the bank’s technology, media, and telecom practice.Read More
After 6 years inside New York’s banking corridors, Li felt that it was time to open a new career chapter on the West Coast—or, more specifically Seattle, Washington, where his wife had family members to whom she wished to live closer.
“I wanted to be supportive, so I agreed to move even though I didn’t have anything lined up yet,” continues Zi, who adds that the relocation prompted him to “reposition himself” in order to find a new career course—one that would open doors to different roles in industry.
“At the time, I felt that if I really wanted to advance down the CFO path, working under a seasoned CFO as a number two would really allow me to learn and could become my bridge from the banking realm to actually scaling companies,” reports Zi, who would ultimately step into a senior finance role with Skytap, a Seattle-based cloud services company.
This fast-growing firm provided him with a wide berth for garnering experience in areas beyond finance, such as sales operations and pricing. What’s more, Skytap offered Zi the opportunity to help to lead the firm’s commercial strategy by broadening its important partnerships with key players Microsoft and IBM Corp.
Along the way, Zi tells us, he was able to forge rewarding relationships with his finance colleagues as well as Skytap’s CFO—whom he characterizes as an ideal mentor.
Says Zi: “I just had a great relationship with him, so I was able to hit the ground running at Skytap, which allowed me to get ready for a CFO role.” –Jack Sweeney
Made Possible By
- CFO Zhi Li’s Career Background: Zhi Li’s professional life begin at Bell Canada, where he was involved in operational finance within the Wireless Division. The division, Zhi tells us, served as the growth engine for the company at the time.
- Li entered the investment banking realm during the economic downturn, then pivoted to tech; highlights operational finance experience at Bell Canada and investment banking tenure at Credit Suisse’s tech group in New York.
- Transition to CFO Role: Discusses the pivotal moments in transitioning from banking to tech in Seattle, eventually landing the CFO role at Customer.io.
- Customer.io Overview: A startup providing customer communication platform services to various businesses, emphasizing personalized engagement and scalability.
- Role and Responsibilities as CFO: Focuses on strategic initiatives, fundraising, M&A, financial operations, and providing guidance across departments to drive growth and operational efficiency.
CFOTL: Tell us about Customer.io … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Li: Customer.io is a customer-engagement platform designed to power communications that people want to receive. I’ve been CFO at this company for about 2 years now.
We have two main products. The first, called Journeys, is workflow messaging automation that allows our customers to engage with their users through email, in-app messaging, push notifications, SMS, and webooks—so, basically, all of the media that you might want.Read More
We have also just recently launched our second product, Data Pipelines, which is essentially a customer data platform that enables you to connect data to everything in your tech stack—so, we’re super-excited about this. We want to be the single source of truth for your customer records. Our platform is differentiated by the way in which we are able to handle millions of events per day and then use them to create workflows that you design to run your campaigns and see your ROIs.
We are fully remote. I would say that the other thing that is pretty unique about our company is that we have a very diverse customer base, with about 5,000 clients across a lot of different maturity stages. We like to work with early-stage companies because we find that once they are onboarded, they become really passionate about our products—and then we can grow with them. Some of these companies have been with us for a long time. They were small start-ups that then became really successful, and now they’re our large customers. We see this flywheel effect working really well for our company.
“Don’t be hesitant to deliver the bad news. Always be proactive in identifying a problem and take ownership of fixing it. For a strategic CFO, it’s just as important to think through the downside as it is to articulate the upside.” –Zhi Li, CFO, Customer.io
Costomer.io | www.customer.io | Seattle, WA