Doug Ireland is the VP of Finance at Prezi, the zooming presentation software as a service with over 60 million users. He built and leads a finance and accounting team of seven outstanding professionals in San Francisco and Budapest. Doug has ownership of financial planning and the accounting and financial reporting processes. We sat down with him ahead of his talk at the FP&A for High Tech Summit.
How did you get started in finance?
After doing my undergrad, I spent a decade overseas, working my way around Asia and ending with two years earning a Masters in Telematic Engineering in Spain. That brought me to San Francisco, where I spent years as a sales engineer at AT&T. It’s there that I realized how much I craved broader impact, influence, and visibility into the company's operations.
I decided to go to business school in order to pivot my career direction. I got MBA degrees from UC Berkeley and Columbia University in a joint program, and was hired by an investment bank to work with network equipment companies - a great cross-over with my former life. The crucible of equity analysis is a fantastic learning opportunity and a pretty good way to pay off school loans. After 2 years of business school and 4 years of banking, my wife was tired of never seeing me, and it was time to go back to industry.
I met a lot of CFO's of up and coming software companies while at the bank, so it wasn't very difficult to get a role in FP&A when I was ready. I thought that in order to be considered for a CFO role I would have to strengthen my accounting skills, so I worked on earning a CPA license during those first years in FP&A. My current role at Prezi actually started as a Controllership, as the first accounting hire at Prezi. When the head of finance later left for another opportunity, I became the VP over finance and accounting, which is just the place to have the kind of impact, influence and visibility into the company's operations that I always wanted.
What unique challenges have you faced within your industry/in your current role/current company?
One of the interesting things about Prezi is that our founders are Hungarian, and 80% of our headcount is still in Hungary. It is a relatively complex post-soviet regulatory environment, and a minor currency, which creates an unusual risk profile. The benefits certainly outweigh the costs, as there is some cost advantage, and we are a premier employer in that market so have a much better time attracting and retaining excellent engineering talent there than we do in the Bay Area.
When I came in, we had outsourced all accounting functions, and it was a black box. I built out a local team and integrated the Hungary and US entities under Netsuite, which made GAAP reconciliation transparent and global consolidation painless. We also rolled out a hedging program to give us a predictable long-term view of the Hungarian Forint-USD exchange rate, which has made budgeting and forecasting more accurate. As a side benefit, we built out a small shared services center in our Hungary office, sending all of our AP/AR and most of our close processes through the team there.
To what extent have you seen the finance function further integrate with other areas of the business in recent years?
Over the past three years, our FP&A team has created a tremendous amount of value with timely and granular reporting and analysis that supports decision-makers around the business. We started by accelerating the monthly close to 15 days, publishing a full P&L and individual departmental performance reports (budget and forecast variance). We then added a weekly KPI dashboard for leading indicators that is shared internally and with the Board, improving the Board's confidence in our controls and operating effectiveness. Now that all of the weekly/monthly/quarterly reporting is automated, FP&A has the capacity to help with the daily decision making analysis like the evaluation of complex A/B test results or competitive analyses.
What will you be discussing in your presentation?
I'll be talking about the process of pricing a new product. Prezi is on the cusp of releasing a new product for the first time in years. As we progressed through the launch readiness process, the pricing and packaging team came to finance to discuss how the new product should be priced. They asked us to build a model to test scenarios, without having a consolidated view of the strategic decisions about the positioning of the product. That led me to run a cross-functional process, where the marketing, product, sales, and customer success teams all participated in building out a holistic view of where the product would fit in the market. The pricing decisions were then a result of the strategy, with a clear focus on achieving specific goals for the new product and the company as a whole. In the end, because of the cross-functional effort the whole company understands the new product's place in the market and in Prezi's portfolio better, and we have better alignment across teams and more confidence in our decisions.
You can hear more from Doug and other industry leaders at the FP&A for High Tech Summit , taking place in San Francisco this April 20-21st.