Hi Mark, please tell us about your current role at Sinequa, and how you reached here?
I’ve just been appointed chief financial officer (CFO) at Sinequa, where my role is to direct the financial strategy in support of the company’s sustainable growth, international expansion, and continue to support its strong position as a market-leading enterprise search provider. I’m starting with Sinequa on the back of 30 years of financial management experience in the hi-tech sector – working with start-ups and Global 2000 companies across the UK, France, Sweden, and the US. Most recently, I served as CFO at JDX Consulting Ltd., a global service provider to the banking and financial services industry. In 2010, I was one of the original team that started Seal Software, the AI-contract analytics leader that was acquired by DocuSign in 2020. Prior to that, I served as CFO for IBS AB, Paris-listed Hubwoo SA, Atempo, London-listed Sherwood International Ltd., and Converge Inc. In my early career, I held senior finance positions with Baan, Attachmate, Sun Microsystems, among others.
Could you tell us how working with large tech companies helped you scale your expertise in financial strategy?
From a business perspective, the most valuable and most accelerated learning experience was with the start-up I joined: Seal Software. When we were six people trying to start the business from scratch, there were no beans to count – so my financial skills were more or less redundant!
In the large businesses where I was CFO, I had teams of people to address IT, HR, legal, as well as financial issues, sometimes across dozens of countries’ operation. Now there was me! So, I had to learn how to produce legal documentation, negotiate license contracts, open bank accounts, present and demo our software – and then write the invoices myself for the first customers, close the accounting books. All the things I took for granted before, I now had to do myself. And not only did I find that I loved doing it, I was also pretty good at doing things that I had no idea I could do! I found a creative side to deal making that I didn’t know I had, the ability to play a role in negotiating a sale with a customer, working closely with sales reps to close deals; I became a sales advocate.
Then there was the experience of raising money in multiple rounds over many years; Seal raised more than $100 million in capital during its early days, mainly from high net-worth individuals, venture capital professionals investing their own money, software executives, bankers and the like; and then later from venture capital firms. All this was new and enriching experience.
I now consider myself a business professional first, a financial professional second. The most rewarding thing for me in my professional life is working together with a first-rate team of people with complementary skill sets and who trust each other. If they like each other as well, that’s a bonus! There is nothing better in life for me than succeeding as a team.
How have financial strategies evolved through the pandemic months? What kind of challenges did you meet in these months in your revenue generation tactics?
I have been lucky enough to work in businesses that have not been severely affected by the pandemic, except, of course, that the effect on the economy hits almost all businesses in some way.
In my previous company, JDX Consulting, which provides services to the financial sector, we didn’t know, when the first lock-down started if we would even have a business in a few months. How many of our banking clients would allow our employees to work from home? The answer was: almost all of them. JDX actually grew revenues in 2020. We had to work very hard in updating our information and IT infrastructure to cope with this, and to comply with the security requirements of our clients, and we managed that well.
When companies face new situations – like the pandemic – they need to act in a measured way, but fast. They need data – fast. And they need to adapt fast to the changing demands of their customers and the new constraints on their employees.
Eliminating manual searching for information, easing access to the data hidden across a plethora of systems, this all becomes a business imperative. And this is where Sinequa’s software excels.
So the pandemic posed threats – and opportunities – to businesses.
Your personal milestone for 2021 that you have targeted:
Sinequa has a number of strategic projects over the next few years; important technological steps to maintain its market leadership, and geographical expansion to expand its global credentials. My aim is to genuinely contribute in every important move that Sinequa makes, to make my mark in every important customer and partner transaction.
Could you tell us more about your CFO technology stack? Which tools / platforms are your favorite or want to spend more time on:
I don’t spend too much time in accounting systems, but I love to analyze the data that comes out of them. I have not spent much of my career implementing tech platforms, although that changed at JDX. In 18 months we completely revamped our Salesforce implementation, implemented Kimble (a platform to run service providers), Bamboo (for HR), and NetSuite (for accounting). Previously the company was basically run on spreadsheets. I’m not sure I’d like to spend the rest of my career doing platform upgrades but this was a task that needed doing, and I rolled up my sleeves and dove in.
Your predictions on the role of CFO evolving further with the influence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning applications:
AI/ML will become ubiquitous over the next few years. My eldest son is in his last year at engineering school in Paris and he is using machine learning models to solve real business problems already. This is not rocket science, it’s technology that can be used by everyone trained in writing software. And with the advent of low-code/no-code platforms, soon it will be within the reach of anyone with basic business training.
CFOs will be consumers and drivers of AI technology. It just enables faster access to relevant information. It’s as simple as that.
Which other technologies influence this evolution of CFO’s role:
New technologies don’t just enable faster access – they let you answer questions that you simply couldn’t answer and wouldn’t even try because you know it’s just too hard.
Let’s say you want to find the best person in your company to solve a given business problem. You have 100,000 employees, and billions of documents across hundreds of platforms in which you know lies the answer to your question of who is best qualified to help you.
What are you going to do? Email 100,000 employees? Of course not. Search through billions of documents? Of course not. You wouldn’t bother; it’s just too hard, right?
Well, this is exactly the kind of problem that Sinequa’s software solves. Using AI and other advanced techniques, it analyzes very document over every platform, not just searching for given words but examining context and meaning, and offers answers. These new technologies are not just making things faster, they’re opening up new possibilities about what can be achieved.
A piece of advice for every young finance professional looking to build a career in B2B Tech industry:
Be a generalist. Speak to the developers. Speak to the sales reps. Learn to demo your products. Be able to go to a white board and set out the important numbers describing your company without notes.
Make sure you know who your board members are, your investors. Take an interest in everything. And if you don’t love coming to work every day, fix it or find a new job. It’s too important and life is too short!
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Sinequa serves both large and complex organizations with the most complete enterprise search, ever. Customers employ our intelligent search platform to connect all content (both text and data), derive meaning, learn from user interactions, and present information in context. This solves content chaos and informs employees through a single, secure interface. They get the knowledge, expertise, and insights needed to make informed decisions and do more, faster. These organizations accelerate innovation, reduce rework, foster collaboration, ensure compliance, and increase productivity. Become Information-Driven™ with Sinequa.
Mark Williams is a CFO , Sinequa