I can focus more time on analysis instead of creation. I'm getting out of data collection and into the strategy game.
- SmugMug's CFO saves time because Cube automates so much of her workload
- Templated reporting makes budgeting transparent and simple
- The team now has better interdepartmental collaboration thanks to Cube’s integrations with Google Sheets
"We tried to implement an FP&A tool right before I arrived," said Stephanie McVey, CFO of SmugMug. "It got scrapped."
Why? To answer that, Stephanie and her team went back to basics. "We remapped our chart of accounts. We restructured all of our departments."
But even that level of organization couldn't fix what would turn out to be Stephanie's biggest issue: a tangled budgeting operation that SmugMug's unique business model necessitated.
This is the story of how Stephanie used Cube to bring SmugMug's financial house in order and turn that complicated budgeting affair into an elegant, practical, and fair process for the ever-growing business.
Budgeting wasn't the only challenge Stephanie was tackling. Three other areas were keeping her from simple and streamlined FP&A circumstances:
- Disconnected accounting system created too much manual work
- Decentralized headcount planning was haphazard and erratic
- A unique business model required more dynamic solutions than what was on the market
Disconnected accounting system created too much manual work
"Our accounting system was disconnected from everything," Stephanie said. "Which meant I was doing everything manually in a spreadsheet."
Because this source system was isolated from everything else she used, Stephanie was trapped in the copy/paste/attach cycle that many finance professionals fall into when wrangling detached systems.
The opportunity cost of this was Stephanie's time. Copying and pasting your accounting data into cells and then double-checking your numbers requires time that should be used to analyze and study the data, and picking out the best recommendations to grow the business.
This isn't unique to Stephanie and SmugMug. At most companies, 75% of FP&A time is spent doing data chores like copying and pasting between systems (and then cleansing and formatting the data, double-checking it, etc.). Stephanie needed to free up her time to do more analysis.
Decentralized headcount planning risked resource misappropriations
"Headcount planning was identified as something we really needed to keep a pulse on," Stephanie said. "We didn't have a globalized view of our planned resource allocations to make sure that our new hires were strategically placed."
She was quick to point out how the squeaky wheel bias could become a problem: the loudest voice in the room isn't always the best (or most strategic) investment. "We wanted to make sure we weren't shortchanging one department over another," she said, aware of how the personalities in an organization add an extra layer to the budgeting process.
The problem was managing that balance: cutting through the noise and confusion to create a well-reasoned budget rooted in the company’s strategic objectives.
A unique business model made budgeting difficult
SmugMug is more than a SaaS company: photographers can also run their businesses on the platform. This means SmugMug also supports them with physical merchandising (like prints on a variety of physical mediums and gift sales), as well as an advertising marketplace.
This hybrid business model made Stephanie's reporting, analysis, and strategic planning work more complicated than had SmugMug been pure SaaS. She knew that she needed an FP&A tool that was customizable for their unique business model.
SmugMug had also recently acquired Flickr, an online community for photographers. The two companies had different business models, which made the budgeting process extremely complex.
Cube gives structure to a dynamic, growing, and changing business. "We have specific requirements and changing OKRs every quarter," Stephanie said. "We needed something that was automated but also designed for our current needs."
Stephanie was ready to use Cube within two weeks of closing the deal.
Cube integrates with everything and is a single source of truth
Since Cube integrates with virtually any source system, Stephanie's ERP NetSuite and other source systems are now connected, through Cube, with her spreadsheets.
Stephanie no longer has to spend time double-checking and reconciling her numbers when she pulls in her actuals. She knows that the numbers are loaded and accurate since Cube is a database.
"I tend to go to Cube before I go to NetSuite to pull numbers," Stephanie said. And when she does pull numbers from Cube, Stephanie can fetch them directly into her working spreadsheet with Cube's add-on. She doesn't need to copy and paste data anymore.
Cube's add-on and scenarios make headcount planning a breeze
Stephanie's unique solution to her headcount planning problem was to make full use of Cube's spreadsheet add-on and scenarios.
"Every department has their own headcount list and proposed future," Stephanie explained. "They add in their proposal and then it goes into a scenario. We switch it to 'approved' once it's been approved."
Because Cube is platform-agnostic—it works with both Google Sheets and Excel—Stephanie's department leaders can submit their proposals and provide information in Google Sheets, and using Cube, Stephanie can fetch it into Excel.
From there, she can create scenarios and forecasts off of each.
The net impact is that Stephanie can now easily get information from department leaders without messing with the company's master budget or forecast.
"We can see in the next 12 months what the total salary impact is," Stephanie said. "We can see what's being asked for and if we're missing anything. It's a dashboard that we regularly look at and update."
Cube's flexibility makes it easy to involve stakeholders in the budgeting process
The other big pieces of the budgeting puzzle are (1) how Cube makes it easy to involve stakeholders and (2) the ability to sync to forecasts.
With Cube—and because she's working in spreadsheets—Stephanie can easily manage different permission levels for each person involved in the budget process.
Because Cube works everywhere, Stephanie can share her budget with the other executives and stakeholders at SmugMug. There's now effortless transparency within her process.
Cube also lets Stephanie run scenarios and automated forecasts within her budget. That means she can create several different budget scenarios, quickly compare each of them, and involve the necessary stakeholders at every level of the process to reach the best, most strategic scenario.
Stephanie is much happier, gets work done more quickly, and is looking forward to Cubifying the rest of her projects.
"Cube syncs to forecasts and makes it easy to run forecasts, and headcount planning and analysis gets done. It's been a huge step in the right direction for us," she said.
Here are some of the benefits Stephanie now enjoys:
Stephanie saves time on data collection and can focus on strategy
Overall, Stephanie and her team work much faster. "I can focus more time on analysis instead of creation," she said. "I'm getting out of data collection and into the strategy game."
During one conversation with Cube, Stephanie told a quick story: "The budget was done but I needed to create a forecast. I thought I'd have to go through every spreadsheet and manually change them. But in Cube, I can immediately create that forecast using the base scenario.
"I thought I was going to have to make a forecast for every spreadsheet," she exclaimed!
Forecasting isn't the only thing that's faster for Stephanie: her close times have all but vanished to a few minutes. "The month-end reporting process is just a few clicks," she said.
Budgeting and headcount planning are simple and quick
"Collaborative budgeting with Cube has been extremely beneficial to help stakeholders understand all the dynamics of the budgeting process," Stephanie said.
And her "squeaky wheel" problem? The bird's-eye view that Cube gives her means it's totally gone.
"We have two main scenarios with our budget," Stephanie said. "One is a steady state, and the other is a goal. We always know where the gap is. From a P&L and also a cash flow by-entity scenario, this is hugely beneficial for everyone to see what the impact of our initiatives is."
It's hard to underestimate how valuable this enhanced transparency is for Stephanie and for SmugMug's leadership team.
Stephanie can work with SmugMug's unique business model
"Flexibility and customization are huge. We have a standard reporting package but the business needs are constantly changing," she said.
Stephanie also reported how happy her internal stakeholders are. "Department leaders love this new budgeting approach," she said. "Visibility and communication among departments has increased. I can get accurate data out quicker and in a meaningful way."
Better transparency, a global headcount dashboard, and a history of requests mean Stephanie has more information to ensure the process is fair for everybody.
For Stephanie, this means that SmugMug's unusual business model is no longer something to work around, but rather an idiosyncrasy to embrace. It makes her work more interesting.
When asked what she'd advise others on who are seeking an FP&A solution, Stephanie said, "Look at your business needs. Then look forward and make sure your FP&A can scale with you."
Stephanie looks forward to continued growth with Cube. "I've had a great experience," she said. "The systems that we have are working."
When asked what's next for SmugMug and Cube, Stephanie said, "We're just now leveraging Cube's functionality around forecasting. As scenarios change, we can adjust the forecast." Then, with a big smile, she added, "I'm excited about that!"