Highlights

🎙️ Welcome to the Headcount People Podcast Season 2! 🎙️

In this episode, we're excited to welcome Deirdre Mullen, the visionary VP of Finance at Catalyst, who has transitioned from auditing to playing a pivotal role in finance within the tech world. Her journey is not just about numbers but about the strategic narrative that shapes companies from the inside out.

Chapters:

  • [00:00:25] Kicking off season two: Strategic partnerships in finance and HR
  • [00:01:22] Deirdre Mullen: From accounting to VP of finance
  • [00:06:17] Comparing experiences: Stripe, Fundbox, and Remote
  • [00:07:26] Leadership insights: Transparency, data, and communication
  • [00:19:40] Revamping pricing for growth and retention
  • [00:24:22] Modern tools for finance efficiency
  • [00:29:36] Strategies for effective headcount management
  • [00:33:46] Adapting annual planning for sustainable growth
  • [00:37:27] Negotiating resources: Engineering vs. finance
  • [00:40:27] Navigating leadership dynamics in finance

Deirdre's story is a testament to the evolving role of finance professionals in the tech industry, moving beyond traditional bookkeeping to strategic partnership, leveraging technology, and leading with data-driven insights. Whether you're an aspiring finance professional, a seasoned leader, or just curious about the strategic intersection of finance and technology, this episode is packed with invaluable lessons and insights.

Stay tuned for a journey through finance, strategy, and leadership with Deirdre Mullen. Don’t forget to subscribe for more episodes that bridge the gap between finance, HR, and technology, driving business growth.

Tushar Makhija: [00:00:00] Hello everyone and welcome to the Headcount People. We are kickstarting our season two and today I have the pleasure of talking to Deirdre Mullin, who's a personal friend, advisor, mentor, and a super VP of finance who just joined a very cool company out of New York called Catalyst.

And before we get started, I just wanted to let everybody know is that in season one, we really focused and got deep into the head count. expense management for companies that also resulted in an ebook that is now available for download on our website. And this season we are actually going deeper, understanding the strategic finance, strategic HR narrative that how leaders in finance and HR and talent can become strategic partners to the CEO.

So I'm super excited to have this conversation with you. Welcome. Thanks, Tushar. So

Deirdre Mullen: excited to be here.

Tushar Makhija: So, Indra, you recently joined Catalyst, but before we go [00:01:00] into Catalyst and your, why, why don't we start with a quick introduction? Who is Deirdre Mullin? How did she get where she is today? Tell us everything.

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah. So, , my journey to VP of Finance has been an interesting one. So, I started, , in college, I majored in accounting and finance. And I graduated during the financial crisis, so I decided finance is probably not the way to go. So I went the very safe route of accounting. I worked in audit for a few years, so I did internal audit at the Sherwood Williams, yes, the paint company.

And then I worked at PWC. And I got my CPA during that time. And it was great experience, really loved it, but I really like to build things. And in audit, you kind of feel like you're tearing other people's work down, right? And so I was like, I want to go somewhere small where I can really get my hands dirty and learn a lot.

And so I was living in New York at the time, and New York didn't have a huge tech scene at that point, this was like [00:02:00] 2012 really just like some retail startups and some media but I started working at this media startup called Thrillist, and I just Fell in love with it. I love, , being able to, , be involved with so many different areas of the business.

Getting to work with executives as like an accountant there felt so cool to me at the time. Got to really understand how the entire business worked. And so I decided, , tech and kind of the staff space environment was for me. And so I moved out to the Bay area because at the end of time, tech wasn't so great in New York.

And I started working for this consulting firm called Kong Basil that does accounting and finance for startups. I got intro to them when I was interviewing out here. And My first client with them and really my only client was Stripe. So this was 2014 when there were like a hundred people. You'd like still eat lunch with John and Patrick.

It's a very different time and a company that is now. And I did consulting for them for about [00:03:00] seven months. And then they asked me to come on board full time. And I couldn't say no to that. So I spent about three years in total at Stripe, working on like literally a variety of everything. When I first started there.

We had no, , we just need to help wherever. So I was literally like paying bills. And then as I progressed during my time there, , got very involved in I helped us get our first like SOC one report, which is, , kind of different for most accounting folks. I managed all of our like international accountants did all the accounting for like processing, et cetera.

And just love my, love my time there. And so after that, I went to another fintech startup called Funbox, and they do lending for small businesses, if you haven't heard, if anyone hasn't heard of them. And I started as a first accounting hire, and so helped build out the accounting team from one and some outsourced accountants to a full time team of about 10 people from the U.

S. and Israel. And Again, got to work on a variety of everything and really owned, like, the entire accounting [00:04:00] process, audits, taxes, everything. And after doing that for about three years, we were looking for a new head of FP& A because my peer in that side left. And my CFO was really kind and gave me the opportunity to do it, even though I hadn't had any FP& A experience.

Just because, , I wanted to get a more diversified finance background. And, I knew the business really well, even though it's from an accounting standpoint. So I did that and, , kind of loved it, loved getting to work more with other teams when you're doing accounting and really kind of the forward looking approach of the company.

And so did that for about a year. And then, , after COVID was over, we thought it was over. I took a little bit of a break and I went to remote. For, to be their first FP& A hire. So I led and built up the FP& A team there., we grew in my time there from 300 to over 1, 000 people in a year.

So it was a really interesting time especially [00:05:00] headcount wise to be there, as you well know. And also raised our CRC there. So we raised a 300 million round live by SoftBank. And that was most of my time there. And, , I think after that experience, I felt like. I had this really well rounded finance background, I had the accounting side, I had the, , FP& A side, I've done fundraising, and so I decided I was ready to go and be a leader somewhere, and that kind of led me to Catalyst it's been a really great, first year there.

Tushar Makhija: That's, that's thank you for giving us that detailed walkthrough of the experience because I think that will help set the stage for our conversation. Before we dive into Catalyst, because I have a lot of questions about, , how you are making finance at Catalyst, but because you've been through fast pace, high growth companies, if you have to sit down and just think about some similarities or some differences between Stripe, Funbox, [00:06:00] Remote what comes to mind?

Like how, how are these very similar companies and how are these very different companies from your purview? Yeah.

Deirdre Mullen: , Remote and Stripe kind of remind me a lot of each other in some ways. Like they had a very specific. In a good way, like operating rhythm like this is how we do certain things, how we write emails, how we communicate.

And so they they were also both, , bigger at the time that I left. So it makes sense for a company of that size. And, , they were also very similar where they were, , working with these. High growth tech companies and be able to grow tremendously with them. I mean, , you'll get Stripe and like Shopify lift, all of those got in so early and how Stripe was able to grow as a result of them and remote.

It was, , a similar case. Funbox was a little bit smaller. But , I think there, what I really loved about it is you just gotta work more with everyone in the business and you can really kind of. Brass [00:07:00] everything that was going on in the business. I think of other operating principles.

Tushar Makhija: It's our, , to help guide the conversation, do you believe that there are some best practices or a must do's that you have brought to catalyst from your past experience? And, and also what are the things that you think, Oh, absolutely, I'm not going to repeat that mistake or that process again?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah, I think there are a few, like as both. Just like a leader and what you do on people's standpoint, and then also kind of finance standpoint. So I'll talk like leader and people first, then we can talk about the finance aspect. So I think as leader and people, I think like, , most companies say they're super transparent.

It's not always the case, unfortunately, but I think that was something that all three of those companies were really good at. So I always try to be as transparent as possible with my team. I mean, especially cause. Finance is always not always, but frequently working on, , confidential things or things that you really need to be in the aware of what's going on with other teams in order to do your job properly.

I think [00:08:00] having some sort of discipline around , let's not do a meeting for this or this is how we communicate these ways I think it can just especially like i'm remote now and a lot of my team isn't or a lot of People I work with are in new york. It can just make things a lot easier on the financial standpoint, I think the biggest thing i've learned through all my experiences like how important it is to get Data right early.

And so whether that's on the head count side or on like, , your revenue side, just having a clean whatever it whether it's a CRM or, , I'm sure you can imagine how Crazy. Was it striped a zillion bank accounts or remote? , you have to be a 90 something entities and I was there.

And so it just makes your life a lot easier as a finance person. Good data earlier. Cause a, you can make better business decisions quicker. If you set a process earlier, it's much easier than having to go back and retroactively do them. And then, that's on the finance side on the accounting side too.

I mean, if you have to go through an audit and you. [00:09:00] You don't have to clean up five years worth of data. It can be pretty awful and expensive. So I think that's something that I've always tried to really bring to my teams and really. Brought to Catalyst is okay. We need to have clean data. We need to have definitions of everything This is how we look at all the data and, this will make our lives a lot easier it might be a little pain now, but make all our lives a lot easier in the future

Tushar Makhija: So invest in the data infrastructure early.

Yeah. Yeah I firmly believe that you are on this path to becoming cfo, right and you've had this and you've got this amazing experience for someone who is Either midway through this journey or embarking on this journey How do you was it serendipitous that you started in accounting and then you got to this or was there some method to that madness?

Or if not, what do you suggest people do to get that well rounded experience to become first the vp of finance? And then the cfo at a fast growing company.

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah, I think [00:10:00] I think being in accounting made me a have like the foundation of This is how a company operates really well. , you have to kind of get into the weeds of every single department really well with accounting that maybe you wouldn't have to if you were like in strategic finance, for instance.

And so I think that really helped me understanding what, , how everyone operates, but they're responsible for best ways to partner with folks. But I do think, , Okay. It wouldn't really have mattered, , that helped to me. It wouldn't really have mattered that much if I started in accounting or in finance.

I think the things that were best for me is , I'm able to collaborate with others pretty easily. I think that's really in as a skill You have to obviously work on it, but being able to collaborate and communicate with non finance folks It's it's not always easy right to just explain them Hey, you have to meet these goals because of x y and z or you you can't have this budget because of this or like Hey, your team [00:11:00] isn't performing, but I noticed that this metric is off and maybe you need to change their incentive plan.

And then, , we can get back on track. So I think That has what's in me that in particular has been what's made me successful in both the accounting world and the finance world and now kind of in this leadership role is being able to collaborate well with, , non finance folks and then really being able to communicate the like why I'm asking you of this.

I promise I'm not just a huge pain. This is important for X reasons or like why I'm pushing you on this particular issue. So I think, some people, some teams Companies not be scared to partner with finance, but I think it can be a really good tool to utilize. , if you are able to collaborate with them well, so I always try to be a good partner to everyone.

Tushar Makhija: That's, that's, that's great. So now let's talk about Catalyst, right? Yeah. How did that happen?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah so, , I had decided, , after the fundraising experience at Remote and everything, it [00:12:00] was, it was a great time. I loved my team there, really, like, one of the best teams I've ever worked with.

You know, I just decided it was time for me to go into leadership. And so this was actually the first job in a while that I actually applied to and didn't get, , reached out to or like a reference or something., I think.

But, , I really loved what they were doing and so for those of you who don't know Atlas is customer growth platform. So we service anyone on the post sale side. So , AEs, AMs, customer success teams, CROs, and we take all your data, we unify it in order to give you, , insights on your customers that help increase.

Gross net retention. So I had seen in my time at remote, , remote had tremendous expansions. It was really impressive. And a lot of that came from, , we had a great sales team, but a lot of it came from the CS [00:13:00] team and they were doing such a great job servicing our existing customers and growing with them.

And so I think that's. Particularly with kind of the shift in the tech environment, that's been more of a trend, right? Not growth at all costs. Let's find you some good customers. Let's grow with them. And, , I think CF's function is somewhat new. And so maybe they're a little bit less valued than they should Be And I think that's starting to shift and like CS and sales are really uniting.

So, , a catalyst for CRO overseas CS, and I've seen that happen on a lot of organizations. So anyway, that is kind of how I chose that catalyst would be a good place for me as I just really like what they're doing in the space right now. And I think it's been kind of undervalued in the past, but that's where the market is shifting towards.

So. I, , applied new, , new dead investors that I really I really, admired and had, , worked with some of them in the past at past companies. Went through a very rigorous [00:14:00] interview process and there I am. So it will surprise you, you can sometimes get even executive leadership roles just through like a LinkedIn application.

Tushar Makhija: Yeah, that's that's a great story. And I think I think it just opens the door that it's if you have the will to get something done, you follow the process, things will happen for you, right? That's awesome. So I think what I'm really interested in to dig deep now 30, 60, 90, because did you join right at Series B?

Deirdre Mullen: Is that right? I joined short, so we raised a B1 in in March of 22. And so I joined about six months after that. So it was kind of an insider's only. Round, but yeah, I joined

Tushar Makhija: about six months later. So there's this whole new push around strategic finance or finance, not spending all of this time [00:15:00] in record keeping, but spending more of their time in in forming the business.

And I think, I think that is the Finance always had the seat on the table, but they were reporting numbers at the end of the day rather than saying, Hey, now, here

is

Deirdre Mullen: how. People are listening to us now. Right? People, yes,

Tushar Makhija: we can say that. sO it's like walk us through the 30, 60, 90 with, with, with that lens of you becoming a strategic partner to the CEO and to the founders and to the staff.

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah, yeah. So. I, , again, during that October and I was lucky enough to join the same time as our new CRO so he joined us from outreach. She was there still higher and, , saw them from, inception until about a year ago. So grew them, over a hundred million AR and has been a great partner to me.

So we started at the same time and, there are a few things that we decided to [00:16:00] really. Partner heavily on. So I probably work with outside of like the rest of the leadership team. I probably work with the GTM teams more than anything. And so, , 1 thing that we started doing is we started doing this weekly.

We call weekly revenue meeting and it is looking. It is with sales. C. S. Marketing, finance, rev ops, And we, I put together basically where we're performing every stage of the funnel by channel by new business existing, versus, , week over week versus plan versus last quarter.

How we're tracking. And so all of us get together every week, to review that together to see how we're performing. So we all have a pulse on the metrics. And so we can pivot very quickly if we need to. So that's something that one of the first things I instituted along with Mark, when I first joined so we could all kind of be aware of What our metrics were, because before I joined the outsourced [00:17:00] accountants, that was our CFO, which was, , great, but we probably didn't have that like real time view of how we were performing.

So that was one of the first things I did. Another thing was. , kind of we had a fairly confusing pricing strategy pre prior to my myself and Mark joining. And so we realized it was a little harder to sell and also harder to extract expansions through, which is obviously, , we're a customer growth platform trying to grow trying to help other companies grow through their existing customers.

We should be able to do that too. So, we modified our pricing and packaging. After a quarter they're together to be, , easier to sell as well as have more expansion opportunity. And then I think, , another thing I did in my first 90 days is I started in October, our fiscal year starts February 1st.

So I had to build out a full new plan for the following year. And so, not only revamping the entire revenue plan from the ground up, but also [00:18:00] really going through. All of our expenses with every Peter and saying, do we need to spend this? Do we need this many licenses? Like, , do we really need this higher?

And, , not only putting in place a good, budget and expectations are going, but also a good. Spend approval process. So if anything is outside the budget or , we're renewing a contract etc Finance can kind of be one of the first people and then know for that So there are no surprises and We can always make sure that we're staying on track for for budgets and Once you establish those things pretty early and people know, okay, these are my parameters You don't need that much work during , it's not crazy throughout the year doing Bvas all the time because people are already kind of know I have to spend within this and finance has already

Tushar Makhija: approved All that so let's talk about a few things.

How did how did this organization that has been doing fairly? Well, have been has been able to raise so much money and now You come in and you're changing or [00:19:00] implementing new processes. How do you think? Finance leaders can influence the organization's markup and say, what? This is a better way.

How do you get buy in? How do you do change management?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah, so I think I was a little unfortunate when I joined catalyst because the market was shifting too, right? And so it's no longer this growth at all costs. And so people were kind of expecting that to happen but I think The most important thing, regardless of what kind of market you're in, is just really being able to work with people like, okay, you want X for this new software.

Okay, well, what will this do? Will this get us more leads? Will this help conversion? Will this, , make your team more efficient? How can we, , or is there something else we can, , is there another software that we, or even like, , head count down the road that we can say, okay, we don't need this because we invest in the system.

So I think I always try to collaborate in that way, and I, , it might not be that we can still get to a yes, but I think if you try to [00:20:00] work with people and you try to, like, understand their whys and they understand where you're coming from, it just makes it a lot easier and people will feel more comfortable coming to you and not just thinking, okay, finance always just says no.

It's, , that's not the case. It's just often Yeah, , you need to have some rationale for why you want to do what you want to do. So I'd recommend finance leaders always collaborate and non finance leaders always come with the why and how it'll impact, , the financials and whatever way.

Tushar Makhija: Let's take one more practical example because changing pricing is a huge deal. Were there some indicators from the business or from the data that told you that pricing needs to be revamped?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah. I mean, our, We wanted to be able to improve our retention metrics. And so, , honestly we were growing very well in new business bookings, but in expansion, we just didn't have that many levers.

You know, we only had one SKU at the time and, our seat structure [00:21:00] just didn't allow for a lot of growth. And so. , some the pricing like didn't really change so much for new customers like our, , A. S. P. I think stayed pretty flat quarter over quarter when we made this change.

It was just more so that this gave more opportunity to grow with our existing customers. So as , they grew and also when they, , we with a lot of companies, we host a ton of data for our customers. And so as they grow our costs grow. So this just allowed us to make sure that we were, growing alongside them.

Tushar Makhija: Deidra, we, we walked through the early introduction. We walked through the best practices, your 30, 60, 90 at Catalyst. Clearly there is a new. I would say renewed importance given to profitable growth. And you also mentioned at the at the beginning of our [00:22:00] conversation that data and clean data is basically very, very important in order to make any meaningful business decision.

Can we talk a little bit about your current finance tech stack? Either directly that finance is buying or something that you're logging into and pulling data from. So walk us through the landscape of the tools that you're using today.

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah, so, , I guess first when I started at Catalyst what was in place is, , we're pretty simple.

We have one entity, thank goodness. So we have QuickBooks online for that, and that works great to a certain point, especially if you're a one entity company. So I think we'll be using that for, , the foreseeable future. We had, , bill. com and Novin for credit cards, and that was, and like travel.

That was kind of it. So we have a pretty good rev ops team that was keeping our CRM in pretty good shape. So that's great. We're also, , staff business. It's not too complex compared to like my [00:23:00] past lives at FinTech um, so, I think the most important thing for me was where can I easily.

Access this data and, , verify that it's in it's in a good space. And then also as we keep growing, how can I make sure that we continue to have clean data? So one of the first things I put in place was mosaic for forecasting. And we use it for forecasting as well as kind of like our KPI tool.

We use it to conduct those weekly revenue meetings I was mentioning. So No, it takes data from Salesforce and QBO from Sequoia. We're mostly using it on like top line side right now. Not as much on operating expenses. Just cause our OpEx has been, , fairly flat. But we've been using that and it's been phenomenal for that.

It did take some time to set up, but great tool and, makes my life a lot easier when I'm trying to do Uh, numbers for board deck, for investor meetings, et cetera. And has [00:24:00] been really wonderful to use., something else I always like putting in place is a great tool for procurement.

So just making sure that people are requesting spend before they actually go and spend it. So, , finance can be aware Mm-Hmm, . And so we can ensure that we're getting the best price. And that's cool. It's in the budget. And if not, using it. So we're going to be using, we haven't, we're about to put in place airbase where we met at at catalyst, , in the past, I've also used like zip and vendor for that.

And they're all great tools., airbase just

And then, I think luckily we had a pretty clean CRM, more so when we started adding. Et cetera, then, , you just have to, or like, if you wanna slice and dice the data different ways, you just have to make sure that everything works the way you were looking at it. So, , myself and my one team member are constantly working with Rev ops, our CSS team, our AEs making [00:25:00] sure that everything is in a good spot in Salesforce.

And then, yeah, I, I would say, , once we get a little bit bigger, we'll probably want to think about a better ERP in that suite or something along those lines, but we have a enforced accounting team. I don't think we'll be getting to that point. Okay.

Tushar Makhija: So that's your kind of any before we get into the, the planning for the new year because I have a lot of questions around that is that The most logical next step as companies grow is, , moving from QuickBooks to NetSuite.

But you have put in more modern tools in place already is what, what is the next outside of NetSuite? What is the, some other tool or. Areas of spend that you want to be tracking. How are you thinking about that?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah. So we're not growing headcount massively right now, but when we are, I'll be hitting you up, um, by

Tushar Makhija: Walk me through your process because you mentioned [00:26:00] headcount, which is great. And , I'll make sure I keep checking in every few months. But tell me about how, how should a company make a decision to put in a Headcount management tool. I personally feel that there's a there's not enough education in the market on managing This large bucket of spend everybody talks about procurement all day long and then vendor management and card spend people don't talk as much about headcount Why do you think that is and why do you think they should?

Deirdre Mullen: I Don't know why that is it baffles me why why people don't I mean account like 70 percent of your spend, right? We're like OpEx or SaaS is like 10 to 20. And yet there is a zillion options for procurements and one great player for headcount right now. So I can't believe that there aren't more tools in the market for that.

You know, like for me right now at Catalyst, we're not, , we're just not growing headcount that much just cause we're [00:27:00] trying to, , keep, keep burn in a good spot while we keep trying to grow. Our AR, but I would say, and, , I'm pretty aligned with the people team with leadership that everything goes through Deirdre.

And so I can manage it myself because it's not too much. When it gets to the point where., you can't manage it easily through one person or you have so many different systems of record. So let's talk about my experience at remote in a second. I think that's definitely when you should invest in a headcount tool.

And I think, I know a lot of people aren't hiring as much as they were in the current tech environment, but I do think as soon as things start to shift, which hopefully they will soon everyone's going to be hiring like crazy and, , because they'll need to, because it will be in growth mode again, and I think a headcount tool is so important for that and really understanding what the true impact to your burn is.

So, when I was at remote, we, again, 700 people met [00:28:00] and my you're there and we were hiring all over the world. So, we list our role and we can hire in us or we could hire in South Africa. So you kind of never knew what the. Actual salary for this person would be and, , we were hiring so many different people every month as well as backfills as well as new hire requests, et cetera.

So when I was trying to manage the headcount plan at remote. It would take me a few days to put it together because I would have a spreadsheet of what was requested and what was approved. Then I would say what's open from Greenhouse or what's been hired from Greenhouse. Then, , who's actually started and reconciling that to remote HRS.

You know, there was no unique identifier between all of them. So It would take me days. I felt terrible. The recruitment team would be following up with me. I'm like, I'm sorry, this is still, , I'm still having to do this manual reconciliation. So I think, , that was, [00:29:00] we were way overdue for a headcount system at that point.

But I think, if there's miscommunications between finance, people, team, or even, , people recruiting team and hiring managers or finance and hiring managers. I think that is always a great time to get a tool in place. I think thinking about, , your planning cycles and if you want to give managers some flexibility to think about their teams, I think that's always a good time.

And, , I think, Again, headcount is such a large portion of company spend. And , we've seen with like all of the reductions, right. Maybe some of these companies had a better, headcount management pool, they could have uh, , not had to do the same kind of layoffs that they had to, or just kind of planned a little bit better.

So yeah, I think it's incredibly important. And yeah, there's so many different things like you don't. Think about with that count like, oh, there's severance or benefits or, , commissions. And so having one place to manage it all [00:30:00] and being able to collaborate with others, I think it's so important.

Just like a procurement tool?

Tushar Makhija: Just like a procurement tool. Yes. Yep. It, it's remind me again, when you joined remote, was it a 300% company?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah, I think maybe two 50. I 50. Okay. Yeah. 300 to two 50. I can't remember like between when I got my offer and when I joined, but yeah, they had, they had grown Aton, I mean started that year, 2022 at 70 people.

And so., in, um, nine months, I think they went to 70 to 300 and then at another 700

Tushar Makhija: from there. So is that, would you, would you say that? When should companies start thinking about this as, as the, , the new era of growth unfolds and people start investing again? In your mind, is there a magic number of employees when things start becoming unmanageable?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah. , I don't necessarily think it's a magic number. Like I think like honestly, even [00:31:00] companies like 50 could use this if they're growing fast. I think it depends on how frequently you're hiring, what kind of turnover you have, like what do your backfills look like? And just kind of how complex it is to manage headcount.

You know, again, we're, we're small, but also I have a team that works really closely with me and always keeps me in the loop. And so that makes it so, , I can manage headcount myself without a tool right now. Probably won't be for that much longer.

Tushar Makhija: And how many people at Catalyst at this time?

9090. Okay. All right. Yeah, before we get into planning, I keep saying that before we get into planning, I have one more question that comes to my mind is that especially headcount is, where does the responsibility lie to manage headcount? And where does the budget lie between talent, HR, hiring managers and finance?

So [00:32:00] how should both finance leaders or, even CEOs listening to this podcast, what are your thoughts on who manages headcount and who's responsible for the head for the budget to buy a tool like this?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah. Thank you. That's a great question. So I think um, I think every organization does things differently, right?

Like I had joined when I joined Catalyst we already had quite a few people on our people team and they had done a great job of setting up like processes for some of these things. Sometimes finance comes first. So, , I think it depends company to company. I think best practice.

I think finance manages the budget, I think finance manages headcount with a lot of collaboration and support from, , recruiting and talent teams and the people teams. I think it's incredibly important for [00:33:00] finance and recruiting to be in lockstep and treat each other as peers and partners through throughout the recruiting, , process and building headcount plans, et cetera.

And you can't. Do it without each other. But I think at the end of the day, because finance is responsible for the budget and how this impacts the bottom line, I would say finance probably responsible if they're, I had to choose a user, I would choose finance. So granted I'm biased. So and I mean, I think for the tool, I think it makes both teams more productive.

So, I think it could go. Either way I know. I'm used to being at places where finance is managing the hiring plan and it takes more work like and more spreadsheet time on finances end. So from that, I would say like I would put it into like my own budget, but , it kind of depends company to company, but it, it does benefit both teams and just shows.

How closely they need to collaborate. [00:34:00]

Tushar Makhija: One more question comes to mind. Mm-Hmm. . And I would love your thoughts on this, is that Yeah. Traditionally the fp and a team buys an fp and a software where workforce planning is a module or is Yeah. It, it exists, right? Mm-Hmm. , I mean, traditionally adaptive Anaplan plan full, all have some ways of managing headcount.

And I think a lot of, especially given that the budgets are so constrained, people think about why one more tool, why can't I repurpose an FP& A software? Do you have thoughts on that? How should people think about pros and cons?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah, I think, I think Listen, like, I know, like, I get it. There are a zillion tools out there, but I think take this from someone who has used Adaptive and Planful in the past, but it's been a while, right?

I've been at mostly small companies for my past or very growing companies that haven't gotten a full[00:35:00] larger planning system yet. But I think, , Those tools typically aren't as collaborative on the headcount base. And also if you're a company that's growing and changing a lot you need something that is a tool that's pretty agile and you can work with all these different parties with.

And so a lot of those, , you can't get your greenhouse information in there. You have to like still do all these manual updates still takes a ton of time. And so maybe that's good for, , this is where your budget is set, but like, Comparing your and that can be kind of a gut check to comparing whatever your head count tool says, but to get a real time view of what your head count is, especially like.

You know, even if you're using a bunch of H. I. R. S. tools, like if you have some contractors in the country and then you have like, , payroll, something else, sometimes you have to take multiple work to be even like, who's at this company right now? , what's their salary? And so I think something that can give you that unified view in real time.

And this is [00:36:00] where you are is really important. And unfortunately, late At least from my experience, I don't think any of those other planning tools are quite there yet as well as the piece on , just being able to collaborate with recruiting hiring managers finance all together As well as just giving you that live view,

Tushar Makhija: right?

So love it agility collaboration and Single source of truth Yes All right. Okay. Let's get into planning now And because,, we, we talked about this is, we are no longer growth at all costs. Yeah. And, there's also aim to become some parts profitable, extend runway. How are these things influencing your annual budgeting or planning

Deirdre Mullen: process?

Yeah, I think when we're planning so we're starting to kick off because we're, we're a month behind because we end end of January. And [00:37:00] so we're starting to kick it off. And I think when we're planning, , whether it's this fiscal year or like previous quarters, not planning with, oh, we know that there, we can just keep Burning and try to grow and there's some VC money at the end of this breath.

That's not the case and I think a lot of , not just catalysts, but a lot of companies are trying to and work towards cash flow positivity So they can really take control of their own destiny because I think we've seen in this market. That's the most important thing So, , we're trying to balance What's realistic what we can do to, , keep our runway in a good place while still growing and improving all the metrics that are really important to us, such as, , retention and any efficiency metrics.

So, , we're working to balance all that. And obviously you have to think about. , you're growing, you need to add sales people, if you need to have marketing spend, you need to fix these features or add these new features in order to [00:38:00] expand more. So it's really just trying to prioritize and balance all that with the rest of the budget owners and, figure out kind of where we want to be by end of year, whether that's like with runway or AR.

And then, , finding a way to work together to get there.

Tushar Makhija: Have you, are you, are you seeing a,, because things change so often now and now that you have set the apparatus to get real time data, does it make sense to make a 12 month plan?

Deirdre Mullen: Because I make one, I have a 24 month plan, but I, we change every quarter.

Honestly we change., I have kind of our board approved plan at the beginning of the year, and then, we, , we'll typically change revenue forecast, maybe not every quarter, but at least every like half and then probably affects about the same and, , granted on affects, we're keeping everything like fairly flat.

We, , tried to [00:39:00] get as efficient as we can. But I think, At growth stages like us and kind of like where we are and also like where the market is right like none of us really, i'm optimistic that we've seen early signs that things are going to turn but none of us really know and so it's hard, , it's hard to say.

Like okay, we'll, we well, we see an explosion of growth because of, , there's more VC funding and all this is coming into the market or, do you think we can still keep growing steadily, but a little more cautiously. And so I think when you don't know that, I think you're going to have to be able to pivot quickly.

So I, , always recommending having a few versions of the plan. So, , , kind of best case scenario. Likely scenario, worst case, but then also knowing that this will probably change in however many months and make it easy with data to be able to change that and to be able to pivot quickly if you need to.

Tushar Makhija: How [00:40:00] would you, how, let's, let's, let's role play. I am a hiring. I'm the VP of engineering. You're the VP of finance, right? Yeah. My argument or my hypothesis or my assertion. to you is I need to hire the engineers first who will build a product so that, , Mark can hire the salespeople to sell the product, right?

So all kind of like you have to grow headcount, you have to incur expenses before you can realize any kind of growth or profit. Yep. How do you balance this?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah, Well, I think looking at and , it's the same, like for marketing spend or any of that, okay, we need the lead so we can hire the sales folks.

So we can grow. So I think it's, first I'm always, if we're going to do something like that, maybe I'll say, okay, let's. hire one engineer and can we repurpose this other engineer that's [00:41:00] working on x, y, and z to do this and then if we feel like they have good velocity and that maybe we, , I think first making sure whatever in this hypothetical situation that we feel is Really fellible and that will really contribute to our growth once we have indicators of that and whatever they're doing is working Maybe we'll say okay.

Well, maybe we can invest one other person here or can we change the roadmap on something else? So I think It's not necessarily Saying yes to everything or saying no to everything. It's just what are the resources we have? What are we trying to achieve? Where is that on our priority list? And what can we reprioritize?

To get there or if not, okay, maybe we would add this one engine engineer because we need to go to market earlier with this product, et cetera. But I'll need a commitment for Mark that he can sell this like as soon as possible, and that we'll get excellent sales for that, that will compensate for this higher.

Right. So it's just trying to kind of find the balance that, trying to keep your burn [00:42:00] where it is. Try to keep your growth. Still on a good trajectory and so Finding a finding a balance and figuring, , based on the resources you have and figure out how to make it work,

Tushar Makhija: right? It's it almost sounds like planning is Yeah, I cannot just sit in one silo because it's such a connected process It is if if you if you spend money on X.

Yeah, how will that affect why? team composition, future sales. So it's, it's fascinating how, the fabric of the company now has to really change into not operating in silos, but trying to come together. Do you feel that is a lot of pressure on finance leaders now to become that? , central point that pulls everyone together, keeps them aligned on the same thing.

Deirdre Mullen: It's nice. I think it, I think, , tech industry in general, kind of probably gotten some bad [00:43:00] habits in the last couple of years. And I think the companies that, , come out of this will be much stronger because they've all kind of learned to To prioritize, to, , not be at this, let's just throw money at this problem.

And so I, I, in general, really, I like it. And I think, , I'm lucky. I have a wonderful leadership team that I work with and we all, , are very collaborative with each other. So I enjoy it. And I think it's, makes us all. Respect each other more in the decisions we have to make and, , each other's roles more and makes all of us more considerate of each other and work well together.

So I think it's. I think it's great.

Tushar Makhija: Let's, let's end with sharing some advice now for for two types of advice. We'll start with, you're already a VP of finance, but you're working with very strong personalities, CRO, CTO. Yeah., let's assume they all have the right intentions, but they've [00:44:00] learned some bad habits or yeah They've been operating at a different level without Financial oversight.

Let's see at the end of the day. You are providing oversight. Is there any advice you'll give? To bring people together is it? Is it something that the CEO has to do from the top down, or is it just something that, does it take time to, , change your habits?

Deirdre Mullen: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think it's definitely always good if the CEO gives that messaging, right?

I think that's important. Because at the end of the day, that's probably who these people report to, not VP of Finance. But I don't think it necessarily has to come or start with the CEO. I think breaking bad financial habits. I think it can definitely take time, but I really think Kind of to my earlier points of really walking through like the why and really understanding, okay, what are you asking of me?

This is what I can give you, or this is why I can't [00:45:00] give it to you. And how can we work together? And I think,, once you have a few of those conversations with someone who may have been in some bad habits in the past, I think they'll really understand, okay, she, , especially if they're an executive, this has a real impact to the business is, , if I want to hire these.

30 engineers, this reduces burn by like, , X, X amount of time and we don't want to do that. And so I think I think, , really explaining and like, , sitting with them and really trying to collaborate. I think that is. At least for me, that's what made, kind of, I think, my partnerships with other leaders so successful and made people feel like they want to come to me when they have a problem instead of let's talk about finance, they're just going to say no.

We were, we were

Tushar Makhija: having a similar conversation the other day about your superpower. I think I think I think now we are at that time in our conversation where you share that superpower with everybody.[00:46:00]

Deirdre Mullen: So, , I think, so I think I have two superpowers, and I'll go to the one that you're referencing first. So I think the first one is, , really being able to find a way to break down complex financial scenarios or metrics or what's going on into something that is easily comprehensible for, for everyone or for at least like someone in their specific role, right?

And so I think that is something that From what I've heard, other leaders are missing and their finance leaders. And I think it's just because, , you can have your blind or goggles on. And I think that's something that's made me again, really effective as a leader and, and a good partner.

Because I, , first I try to understand where all my peers are coming from and I. I think because we're a small company, because I like, , worn a variety of hats in my past lives, I really do understand, , at least on a pretty good [00:47:00] level, what all my peers are dealing with on a day to day basis and like why they, , why they might be asking for something or why something's important.

And so I think, having that empathy for what they're kind of going through and then Being able to explain it from a financial perspective and something that they can easily understand, Has been pretty effective for for me at least. So that's one. The other one is, , I think because i've been at startups for so long and , even as a I'm a VP now, but like, I'm still paying bills.

I'm still like, , doing remodels a lot and in Excel spreadsheets all the time. We're a very small, , team, and so I am able to kind of go from zero to a hundred, , going from having discussion with board members to, like, explaining a commission calc to an SDR in a matter of, , a few minutes.

And so I think. That's something else that, makes me a little unique where I really understand what everyone on my team is working on [00:48:00] can help them problem solve. And at these earlier stage companies where you have to do a lot of different things, I can really make sure that we're set up for success, , longer term by getting good processes in place, even if they are like a little more low level than you think what a VP of finance will work on now instead of having to Suffer and hire a zillion people later.

Tushar Makhija: Yeah, if if if you keep sharing any more details other ceos will try to poach you and they will be very mad at me, but I think this is a this is a great, opportunity for us to stop stay hands on learn how to storytell show empathy Those are some great superpowers. And yeah, this was a great conversation.

Thank you, Deirdre. All right. Appreciate it. Thank you. Bye.

About the guests

Deirdre Mullen
VP Finance
Deirdre Mullen's career in finance began with a focus on accounting, navigating through the financial crisis to roles in audit at Sherwin Williams and PwC. Her passion for building rather than scrutinizing led her to the tech scene in New York, eventually moving to the Bay Area for broader opportunities. At Stripe, she contributed across various finance functions before leading the finance team at Fundbox and Remote. Now as VP of Finance at Catalyst, she applies her extensive experience to guide strategic financial planning and management.

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