Krishna Vallabhaneni is the Vice President of Finance at Grin, a creator management platform for consumer brands to manage influencer marketing campaigns. With over a year of experience at Grin, Krishna leads the finance and accounting teams responsible for ensuring accurate and timely financials, which are clearly communicated to stakeholders across the company. Additionally, Krishna works closely with various business leaders to provide analytical support and insights on KPIs and their impact on financial performance.
Before joining Grin, Krishna held similar roles at Clear and Revel Systems, both technology companies with subscription-based revenue models. Krishna's strong foundation in finance was built through prior experiences in investment banking, private equity, and consulting right after college. With a diverse background in finance and extensive experience in technology companies, Krishna brings a unique perspective to Grin's finance team.
In this episode, we cover off on the processes that Krishna uses with his team to make sure the budgets and forecasts at Grin are as accurate as they can be. He discusses collaboration with other teams and how to create data integrity around headcount.
Krishna Vallebhenani: [00:00:00] in isolation, every one role or every two roles make sense, right? Mm-hmm. . But then when you look at it in totality, if every department is adding four or five roles or whatever it might, Uh, then the cash plan might not work
Tushar: Hello everybody, my name is Tushar Maja and I am the founder and c e O of t Moana. And today, uh, we are joined by Krishna Vali, who is the VP of Finance at Grin. Welcome Krishna. Welcome to the headcount.
Krishna Vallebhenani: Uh, hey Charia. Uh, happy to be here.
Tushar: Great Krishna, for the audience, uh, I would love if you start by just giving a short introduction about, uh, yourself and tell us when you joined Grin and what were you doing before Grin, and then we'll take it from there.
Krishna Vallebhenani: Yeah, sure. Uh, so I'm Christian Naval, the VP of Finance at grin, uh, which is a creator management platform for consumer brands to manage influencer marketing campaigns. [00:01:00] Um, I've been here for about a year, uh, now, and I lead the finance and accounting teams and we're responsible for, um, your typical finance functions.
Uh, and the way I like to describe. We ensure our financials are accurate, timely, and clearly communicated to stakeholders around the company. Uh, and then we also partner with our, um, uh, the various business leaders to provide analytical support and insights on our KPIs and how they impact our financial performance.
Um, prior to Grant, I worked at similar roles at Clear and Revel Systems, uh, both technology companies with subscription-based revenue models. Um, mm-hmm. , and then right outta college I learned the foundations of finance working in, uh, investment banking, private equity, and consulting. That's great. So
Tushar: you've seen the, the full gamut starting from banking and, uh, more traditional finance now leading finance at a.
SAS based startup. Um, can you tell us a little bit about [00:02:00] what's, how big is, uh, how big was grin in terms of number of people and number of headcount when you started and, uh, where you are today?
Krishna Vallebhenani: Yeah, so I think, I think when we started, I was rough. We were probably around a little under 300 employees or so, and now mm-hmm.
uh, we're a little under 400. Okay.
Tushar: And then, uh, uh, you said you, you have the whole finance and accounting and analytics reporting into you. What's the structure of your team today?
Krishna Vallebhenani: Uh, yeah, so I have, um, uh, a controller reporting to me who manages, uh, corporate accounting. , um, uh, billing, uh, accounts payable, uh mm-hmm. revenue, uh, recognition, revenue accounting. Uh, and then, uh, she also does kind of procurement, uh, just partnering with the various, um, business leaders on negotiating contracts as well.
Um, and then on the finance team, um, I, I have a FPNA leader, uh, a financial [00:03:00] analyst. And then, um, uh, Senior manager of strategic finance, um, that has a background in private equity. Um, and so, um, we have a pretty strong finance team that is well-balanced and I think the thing that, um, I find, uh, really.
Helpful at Grin is that, um, uh, our two teams talk to each other on a daily, weekly basis. Um, and nice. As most finance leaders know, um, anything accounting team does impacts how the finance team is gonna receive information. And so, uh, making sure that the two teams are kind of linked together and, uh, constantly communicating is really important, especially during the close process.
Tushar: That's great. I think, uh, you seems like Grin as a company and you as the leader of the finance team have put a lot of impetus in having the right stakeholders involved. Do you feel at your stage of a 400% company, the current size of the [00:04:00] team is appropriate? Is that the right way? Other leaders should start thinking about how they scale, set up their teams or, or if you think that you need to hire someone else, who would be your next?
Krishna Vallebhenani: Yeah, I mean, I, I think that, um, first and foremost, um, having a strong accounting team is really important. So you can build out your finance side of the house and have, you know, lots of people doing lots of analytics. Mm-hmm. and lots of analysis. But if they're getting bad numbers, Then it's garbage in, garbage out.
So having a really strong accounting closed team that can accurately close the numbers consistently and timely, uh, because obviously everyone wants numbers on day one as soon the month's over. Um, and while that's easy pulling sales data outta Salesforce, it's a little harder doing. when you're, uh, doing, um, you know, revenue recognition and accrual expenses.
Um, and so I do think it's really important to get the accounting side of the house, [00:05:00] um, uh, in tiptop shape first. Um, and then you can kind of add and expand on the finance side, um, which, which is exactly what, um, our, our team has done.
Tushar: That's great. So because we are the headcount people, and now we will start, you know, doubling down on having the headcount conversation.
Who is, who is responsible for managing headcount in your team today?
Krishna Vallebhenani: Uh, yeah, so it would be our fp and a, uh, team, our senior manager of fp and a. Um, and he works really closely with our, um, head of talent acquisition, um, a as well as the VP of people. Um, so our, our process is interlinked with, with their team.
Um, and it's a very collaborative process, starting all the way back at the planning cycle. They're involved. Mm-hmm. , um, from the very beginning, um, it's, you know, I've worked in other environments where the finance team is just putting random start dates in the model. Uh, and then the recruiting team gets it and they're like, oh, [00:06:00] well that's not, that's not happening.
Like, you wanna hire a, a product manager with a specialized skill in the next 30 days. And I don't even have a job rep yet.
Tushar: Right. So, and you know, we've been hearing this more and more from finance leaders is that this collaboration of actually understanding who we are going to hire and what should that be, what their skillset should be, and how long does it take to hire actually truly inform, uh, A good headcount plan, but let's start at the highest level in your organization at Grin.
How do you think about headcount planning at the highest level where, what is the first step to building a company's headcount?
Krishna Vallebhenani: Yeah, I mean, so, uh, I think most companies, uh, have an annual planning process, but then they will refresh it, um, either monthly or quarterly. So let's make the assumption that you have a starting point, which is your annual budget. Um, and so our, our, our process is that we, um, uh, have a quarterly, uh, [00:07:00] reforecast cycle.
And so we take a look at all the open. Any new requi, uh, any new rec requests that come in from, uh, various departments, and we kind of match that up with recruiting capacity and the time to fill those roles. So a sales role, which you may, um, have, uh, a lot of, um, people already hired in, uh, you already have the jds, the comp is pretty standard.
Uh, and those roles just tend to be, uh, to fill a lot faster. Then let's say either an engineer with a specialized skill or a product manager or maybe, um, you know, uh, a tax accountant, which might, might not be as easily mm-hmm. , uh, e easy to find. And so then we get an idea of how many roles can actually be filled in a quarter.
We input realistic start dates. And so that way every team, uh, whether it's the marketing team, the sales team, they know that, um, the recruiting team is signing up to [00:08:00] fill this many roles next quarter. And so they can plan their goals around when those new roles might come in, uh, from a, a start, start date perspective.
Um, but how, I think, uh, your question also comes down to, Well, how do you know how many new roles you should add to the plan in any given quarter? Right? And so what we do is we actually start with planning revenue. Um, like with many subscription businesses, especially startups that are, are not cash flow positive.
You, you need to, um, really understand what your revenue growth is gonna be in the next quarter, next six months, and even probably two or three years down the line. Um, and getting a refreshed view of that every month, every quarter is really important. because the way I think about it is, um, the more revenue you have, the more cash you're gonna generate, and therefore the more people you can hire, right?
Um, so sometimes you, you can think of it as like, um, a bottoms up or tops down approach, but, um, either [00:09:00] way you have to get the pieces to kind of fit together so you understand if I add. 20 new roles next year or, or next quarter, how does that impact our cash, uh, runway? Um, and what is the sensitivity of sales needing to hit their number?
Um, cuz as a finance person, uh, that's responsible for managing the finances or, uh, financials and, and, and cash, you also want to have some level of sensitivity around what the sales teams thinks they can actually accomplish to.
Tushar: That's great. I really like how you have, uh, how you are running this process because it's not just about, uh, how many roles you are going to hire or how much revenue you wanna bring.
You're also making it a very iterative and agile process because as quarters go by, If you have to make adjustments, this process really helps you adjust and either pull back or actually accelerate
Krishna Vallebhenani: hiring. Um, yeah, that's exactly, yeah. Cause if, if, if your sales team is hitting it out of the park, you're gonna be able to add more [00:10:00] roles onto the, into the budget,
So it's like, uh, so in a SaaS startup, you know, it's really becomes. Product engineering planning and a sales capacity planning, kind of an initiative that brings mm-hmm. and dictates primarily the headcount plan, um, is in this early process when you are engaging with the, I would say the, uh, people leader, the talent leader, your ceo, and you know, the engineering and sales leader.
Is there, is there some, some guiding guidelines or some. Uh, I would say best practices that you follow, like how would you, given the resources, let's take an example. Given the resources, I think your engineering leader would say, yeah, I wanna hire all of these different people into the company. Like, are you giving them some guidelines?
Are you giving them some on like a budget envelope, like, Where do they start? Or, or it's [00:11:00] like, truly, tell me what you
Krishna Vallebhenani: need. Right. Yeah. So I, I think one thing that we, we start with is, um, having a, a very good documented timeline with like key milestones and dates. So we typically will run one to two rounds for every forecast cycle.
, really depends on, the way the calendar falls, uh, when the next board meeting is, um, as well as if we're gonna have like an offsite to review plans or anything like that. Um, and then I, I think what we do is we share with all the leaders. What their current spending budget is as well as their current roster and already approved roles.
And so to to, to your point where we say, where you said we, we were dynamic, let's say, uh, there's some new initiative that we want to invest in. . And so that requires more engineers and more more product people on the product team. Um, those requests would come in. We will consolidate everything, right?
Because if you start in isolation, [00:12:00] every one role or every two roles make sense, right? Mm-hmm. . But then when you look at it in totality, if every department is adding four or five roles or whatever it might, Uh, then the cash plan might not work, right? Because every role that you add, unless you get to a point of where you're generating cash, you're gonna run outta cash sooner than, uh, uh, than you expect.
And so, right there is a little bit of what I'll say, philosophical and sort of, uh, investment decisions that need to be made. Which is usually made by the the c e O and and, and the C-suite in terms of what areas do we want to invest in for the next quarter, the next six months, because obviously anyone you hire in quarter probably isn't gonna make an impact for at least a couple months as they get onboarded.
Tushar: Let me ask you a few more tactical questions, which is how, how do you think about compensation, especially in this planning phase?
Uh, you may get information about who you want to hire at what level. [00:13:00] A compensation has been a moving target for the last 12 to 18 months, and it keeps changing and the variances are like 10, 20, 15%. How are you working in, in your budget? Exact compensation. .
Krishna Vallebhenani: Yeah. I, I mean, so our, our, um, VP of people, you know, uh, works with e external parties to do benchmarking, uh mm-hmm.
on a regular basis, uh, for all roles at the company to really understand what is market. But I do think it's important to kind of set up what your philosophy is on compensation and pay. Are you gonna pay top of the market median or you bring people in at an entry level and let them grow? And so what what we try to do is we peg, uh, a range, um, and so that, that way, uh, the department leaders are not pegged into an actual, like, hard number. But if there's, let's say a, you know, tier one talent person and, you know, everyone agrees that we want to go above [00:14:00] the budget of what we have in.
Um, that's, you know, I'd say reasonably accepted, but at the same time, we have an overall budget that we need to fit. So then is there another role where you might come in under, um, and so I think what the, I guess maybe a in summary, the way I would answer your question is you have to have. Sort of a plan of how you're gonna approach it, but then you need to build in some flexibility because you may have an all-star that you wanna hire, and you may have to go above and beyond what you initially said at the budget.
Tushar: So, uh, what I really like what you said is that you just can't rely on the benchmarks that are now available. You have to actually take that benchmark and make it your own and come up with what is your company's compensation philosophy, and then mm-hmm. use that as the dial in force. Um, how do you think about the, the second aspect around organizational design?[00:15:00]
Are you looking at things like, I would say it's a span of control in which location you are hiring. And how does the, how do you make those decisions or how does those decision influence your headcount plan?
Krishna Vallebhenani: I wouldn't say that we target specific geographies, um mm-hmm. , uh, to fit into a certain comp band or anything like that. I think we want to have the best person for, for, for every seat at the company. Um, you know, um, sales headcount planning is really important. So we do look at all those ratios in terms of.
Um, how many BDRs are supporting AEs? Mm-hmm. the number of managers to individual contributors, and then, uh, you know, how many CSMs you might have, uh, to either customers or a r depending upon how you build your model. So those are pretty standard benchmarks or, or ratios that you'd want to use, um, from a planning perspective.
Tushar: I [00:16:00] think now maybe a good time to step into. More operationally, uh, trying to understand like, okay, now that you have a plan, you have started executing on that plan. The plan may change. So you are, how do you communicate or how does the hiring managers communicate those changes to you?
Krishna Vallebhenani: At the beginning of every quarter, the recruiting and, and, and, uh, uh, people team, they get a list of all the. The hiring plan that was effectively approved. Right. Um, so they have all their recs, they assign recruiters to them, and, and they, they go off and start recruiting.
Uh, some roles are even, you know, that we know that will get approved because of the, the late time they, they're probably already being worked on. Um, and so in terms of how updates get, um, made, um, we meet with our, our, our talent team. Regularly to get updates, but they also have a Google sheet that they update and track each role in.
Um, you know, it's, it's, it [00:17:00] is manual. Um, I will say that our, um, recruiting team does a great job because, um, they put a high emphasis on, on data quality and keeping that, um, those records up to. date Um, and so effectively every, uh, week we're updating our, uh, financial model with any updates to new hires, uh, dates that get pushed out, maybe, um, compensation change because the jd uh, the job description change.
So all of those things get updated on a weekly, biweekly basis. Um, and I think the key to that is just having. Communication with your partners, and, and that's where the collaborative nature of planning comes into play. Um, I, I've been in an environment where finance is just kind of putting in numbers and then, um, if, if, if you don't get buy-in from your partners, it's hard to really like execute against the plan that everybody believes in.
Tushar: Yeah. Collaboration is really key. I, you know, and we'll dig deeper into this, is that there are three [00:18:00] different systems. Like the, there is a, there is a planning system of record and there is a application tracking system where, which is, I would say the recruiting system of record. And then there is your H R I S where all the existing employees are there, which may also be going through some churn or change.
Uh, so all of these three systems have to be in sync. And the three people, or the three different departments that's managed these, uh, systems
Krishna Vallebhenani: also
Tushar: have to be in sync. So you, you spoke about like working closely with the talent team. How about internal transfers, backfills or managing, uh, you know, attrition that is Yep.
That may not be h how do you, who is responsible to pass on that information?
Krishna Vallebhenani: Yeah, so there's a, there's another Google sheet, uh, that we use, okay. Where, um, all of those changes that you just described, um, get inputted on a weekly basis. And then, uh, we also get a download from our H R I S system, uh, with, uh, all the active [00:19:00] headcount.
Um, so we effectively take that the following week and, uh, um, do a reconciliation against the model. So that way, um, you know, our, our financial model is never more than four to five days out of date. Um, and so that sheet is populated by our, um, people, operations team. Um, and, you know, uh, sometimes there's no changes and then other times there's a lot of changes just depending upon, um, you know, whatever week might, might, uh, be happening.
Tushar: So two follow up questions there. The first one, why the importance of having the model up to date and not being, you know, off by more than four or five
Krishna Vallebhenani: days? Um, so I think one, uh, I think the longer you let something get out of sync with reality, um, the more likely you are to make mistakes when you have to go update it.
Mm-hmm. . So as you can imagine, it's kind of. Um, biting off a little bit, um, every week. Um, [00:20:00] so I've been in scenarios where, um, we don't update headcount for, you know, let's say four or six weeks or something like that. And when you do that, then you might have 40 roles that you have to go and update. And if you're ma, if you're manually updating 40 rows in a model, you're more likely to make a mistake, maybe miscode a date or something like that.
And it takes a lot longer too, rather than taking 10 minutes once a week and just updating it. Um, so I think that, uh, in terms of the data quality, uh, is really important and doing it more frequently, uh, we feel like has a better, um, uh, uh, better consistency ratio.
Tushar: Are you reporting these numbers up the chain to department leaders and also the CEO at the same ca weekly cadence?
Krishna Vallebhenani: Um, so not, not the individual changes, but like what, uh, we, we do look at the forecast on a weekly and biweekly basis in terms of like where [00:21:00] we think the quarter's gonna end, um, the end of the year, um, where cash is, where, you know, our, our different KPIs that we look at. Um, in terms of whether it's revenue growth or CAC or unit economics, um, all all of those sorts of metrics are things that I, I look at on a daily, weekly basis.
How often we share them out, depending upon the audience and sort of the relative change from the prior version that that's what can kind of be different depending upon, um, sort of the, uh, environment that you're working in.
Tushar: So now we, we spoke about the individual processes. We spoke about how different teams, how you're engaging with the different teams. Uh, you did mention that this is a manual process involving multiple spreadsheets and the dependence on having someone to manually update this data. Can you share some best practice?
On, because I, I would say many companies are in the same boat. There's a Google sheet for, [00:22:00] uh, that respective departments are sharing with each other. What is your recommendation or what is your suggestion that you would give, uh, based on your experience to heads of HR on how they should work with finance?
And then I'll ask you about the other departments.
Krishna Vallebhenani: The most important thing is having a consistent process that's documented and making sure that everyone's on the same page with, um, how things will work either on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly basis. Uh, and then, as I said before, putting a heavy emphasis on data quality, um, because, uh, those in.
Inputs that the either talent or people team provide. The finance team has a downstream impact, uh, from a financial modeling perspective, how it impacts metrics and then decisions, uh, uh, are made. So investments maybe to further marketing spend, uh, pull back on marketing spend, uh, or hire more people are all [00:23:00] made based on kind of what the sort of financial outlook of the company's going to.
And, and so I think that's why it's really important, having really good data. Um, and so in terms of like tips for, um, uh, hiring managers out there, I would just say working really closely with your finance partners and sharing data, um, and meeting with them on a regular basis is really important. Right.
Tushar: so I think it's, the bedrock is all about having a well-defined process. Following the process and then keeping the data integrity, data integrity up to date, um, by regularly meeting and sharing
Krishna Vallebhenani: that information. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yep. Um,
Tushar: I, I think this brings us to our final question, which is very appropriate in this new world
Given how the market has changed and, uh, you know, if you go back in, in the last [00:24:00] 24 months, we were growing at all costs because there was a lot of cash available, and now funding is harder to come by.
How are you working with your c e O in changing. Uh, how you plan and how you look at headcount. So what would be your suggestion to other finance leaders how they should be planning for the next 18, 24
Krishna Vallebhenani: months? Yeah. So I, I think what's really important I think this applies to kind of most businesses, but definitely for, um, sales led organizations is, is really, understanding your revenue model and how, your sales headcount can impact that.
So do you have enough sales rep and quota assigned to hit your revenue targets? Did you account for a ramp time in your plan, or are you assuming a hundred percent uh, quota assignment on month one? Um, and then does your, um, you know, revenue expansion plan include a new product from, from, um, from the product team and product and engineering team?
Well, is that product dependent on [00:25:00] hiring a pm. To actually build the product with the engineering team, when's that actually gonna get released? Because you have to launch the product before you can actually sell the product. Right. Um, and then I think it's also thinking, um, from a downside, uh, and running case, different cases.
So, if, if your sales were to fall 10, 20%, what, what does that do to your cash runway? So I think running different scenarios to understand the range of different outcomes. It's very easy for a finance person to build a model and say revenue is going to be X in. Uh, 2025. We all know revenue will not be X.
It's a range of values and outcomes and there's a, a, a range of probabilities and possibilities. And so I think it's important for the finance person to, uh, be able to communicate to the entire leadership team, um, the sort of confidence level on what that projection is, or give a range of values. Right.
Tushar: So I think the three key [00:26:00] words that you know from this conversation is that, uh, you have to be agile, you have to be iterative, you have to be collaborative. I think your final thoughts on like, especially by headcount, has your outlook to how you give new head. How do you approve new headcount requests, or, you know, how do you approve pacts changed.
Krishna Vallebhenani: yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I, I think probably in the past, at many companies, you, you tend to assume that any role will, like, from a backfill perspective will get filled. Um, and I think also, , uh, when it's one incremental role, it's like, well, it's just one more person. Let's add it to let, let's add it and hire it.
Mm-hmm. . So I do think the bar, uh, to get additional roles hired at all companies now, I is a lot higher. And so it's really important to kind of manage that process and like, Who gets to approve it? What's the sort of, um, benchmark that you need to hit [00:27:00] to, to, to get a role approved? And it really comes down to like picking your bets.
You can't necessarily just hire a bunch of people and expect that growth is gonna materialize. I think a lot of it comes down to being really focused. I think there's a lot of studies that go back, like if you look at startups back in 2010 to 2012, the number of employees that they had before they got to, uh, different milestones of 10 million, 50 million and a hundred million of revenue was way smaller than it is now.
part of that is because of how, uh, the funding environment was very different in the second part of the last decade than the first part of the decade.
Tushar: Yeah. I was just reading a recent article that said there were 15 employees, uh, average number of employees for the series A company, and now that is closer to 30 28 to 35.
Krishna Vallebhenani: so.
Tushar: I think the key message is that moving forward we all have to be really intentional on, [00:28:00] on headcount requests or headcount management and continue to have this laser focus on like what are we really, what bets are we making, as you rightly said, and how long it would take for that bet to materialize before we make a decision to invest in headcount.
Krishna Vallebhenani: Um, yeah, and, and, and I think one other thing I would say is that many times. Less is more. Uh, you can actually get more done with less people. Um, uh, and hiring more people isn't necessarily always the answer. Obviously you need to hire people to grow. Um, but sometimes when you have scarce resources, you can come up with a little bit more unique.
Um, solutions to things, uh, it makes you kind of think a little bit harder. And, and one of my, uh, fundamental philosophies is rather than try to , fix the problem, go to the source of the problem and fix that. So don't try tr so try to cut, cut the problem off at the source of it opposed to trying to just bandaid it, um, with more [00:29:00] people.
Tushar: no more throwing bodies at the problem go actually go solve the problem. Right, right. I think, I think Krishna, that was great. Thank you so much for spending time with the headcount people, uh, some great insights that our listeners would really enjoy. So thank you so much.
Krishna Vallebhenani: Yeah, no, no problem.
Thanks to, char was great, great, uh, talking with you.