Carta is a Palo Alto-based tech company that specializes in capitalization table management and valuation solutions. Since the company is spread out over nine different offices, their Finance team was already comfortable working remotely even before Covid-19 hit.
What they weren’t so comfortable with, however, was rolling out brand-new technology over a six-week timeframe—remotely and during a global pandemic, no less. But that’s exactly what Carta’s Finance team did with Planful earlier this year. The result: cutting 10 hours from their monthly close process after the first week. But more on that later.
Carta viewed their six-week implementation as so easy, any company, of any size, could achieve what they did. Here’s how they rolled Planful out in just six weeks, and some of the important lessons they learned along the way.
When Finance Hits the Wall on Spreadsheets
When Kevin Zell, Strategic Finance Manager at Carta, joined the team two-and-half years ago, they were pretty lean. At the time, he reported directly into the CFO and was just beginning to carve out the traditional finance function by building out the annual planning cycle, developing the board reporting process, and establishing the standard monthly and quarterly metrics.
Like most companies, Carta built these items in spreadsheets and relied on a variety of disaggregated data and tools that didn’t always work well together. As the team grew, it quickly became apparent that spreadsheets weren’t going to be sustainable. So they began a search for a dynamic financial planning tool.
Evaluating different planning solutions, one of the things that stood out was the fast time-to-value of Planful. Many of the other platforms Carta considered also had pretty steep learning curves, but they were impressed by how easy and intuitive the Planful platform was.
A Continuous Planning Start in Six Weeks
Rolling out an entirely new FP&A platform in six weeks during a global pandemic felt daunting, according to Carta. To set themselves up for success, they teamed up with Planful partner KeenVision to help guide the implementation.
Along with Planful, KeenVision helped Kevin and his team establish goals and map out how to execute on the Carta vision. At a high level, here’s what it looked like:
- Define the goals. It was important for Carta to realize a fast time-to-value. This was a big consideration throughout their evaluation process, and they wanted to begin utilizing the benefits of Continuous Planning as quickly as possible.
- Execute on the vision. Carta and KeenVision decided on weekly sprints to keep the project on track. It also gave the team a chance to regularly celebrate successes and maintain momentum and morale.
With those two elements as the guiding lights, KeenVision developed a detailed roadmap to reach these goals. They started with the low-hanging fruit of reporting. Within a week, Carta was building reports and transitioning profit and loss (P&L) and balance sheets out of Excel and into Planful. With faster, easier reporting Carta was able to cut 10 hours out of their monthly close process.
Next, Kevin wanted to focus on recreating what they affectionately called their “Big Planning Model” in Planful. It required a tedious, tab-by-tab approach, starting with simple templates Carta could continue to build out over time.
To help speed the time-to-value, KeenVision used a “teach-first” build environment where they helped Carta build different pieces of the model. Kevin and team would then replicate what they were taught to build out other parts of the model. Eventually, the entire operating model was moved to, marking a huge accomplishment for Carta.
3 Key Takeaways for Carta
One of the (many) positive outcomes of the Planful implementation has been how much Kevin and team learned about themselves as a finance team. But, working remotely over those six weeks strengthened collaboration, communication, and ownership across the team in completely new ways.
Kevin said that it also left them with three very important takeaways:
- Celebrate the Small Wins
Celebrating small wins is important to the vision and critical to rolling out a tool like Planful. The shorter sprints were also really encouraging, and gave the team something to look forward to each week.
This incremental approach also turned into a great way to learn the platform. Since Carta started with their lowest complexity use cases, they were able to build up their skills and confidence before moving into more complex, multi-dimensional use cases.
The team added a weekly stand-up meeting with the CFO at the beginning of each week. During the Planful rollout, Kevin said it gave them a sense of accomplishment to preview a new feature that had been rolled out in the past week. The CFO could see the progress, and that Kevin and team were accomplishing big things.
The final takeaway: Rather than waiting months for the big “a-ha!” moment with a new tool, Carta had something new go live every week. They then announced each win to the rest of the business. This helped everyone in the company understand the impact of the project and the ROI Carta was realizing from the transformation.
- Bring the C-Suite into the Onboarding Process
It’s no secret that C-level executives have high standards and high expectations. But Kevin was really impressed with how easy it was to roll out the Planful platform to Carta’s executive team.
Similar to implementation sprints, they used a training program to get executives hands-on with Planful. They started by providing very basic reports, high-level summary budgets, and budget vs. actual reports within the platform. This helped the executives become familiar with Planful and the user interface. Since they were also moving away from spreadsheets, Kevin could direct the executives to Planful anytime they had a question. This alone has driven adoption faster than Kevin ever thought possible.
To help individual executives, Carta built out different templates for executives to explore. For example, letting them see what changing a quota might look like in real-time helped them see how that decision flows through the business. This visibility empowered their executives to make more insightful decisions.
The final takeaway: A lot of Carta’s executives have a financial background (we’re a financial services company, after all), but the overall ability for them to interact quickly and get value from Planful has been really impressive. It’s encouraged their executive team to ask a lot of really good questions, but gives Kevin and team more time to review numbers instead of just preparing them.
- Position Finance as a Strategic Business Partner
Over the past few years, Carta has expanded and evolved its business and product lines. Each of their business lines has what they call “The Trifecta”: the business lead, the engineering lead, and the product lead. Together, they control the full P&L for that business.
It’s Kevin’s team’s job to serve as the CFO for those mini business units. They help each Trifecta evaluate different business decisions and make the right trade-offs. Since implementing Planful, they can now look at data in real-time whenever they have questions (instead of calling on Finance to pull together an ad hoc spreadsheet).
The final takeaway: As a high-growth company, Carta has had plenty of business evolutions throughout the years and will continue to do so in the future. With Planful, they are able to make business decisions much faster, and help teams across the company interact with data in a much more dynamic way.
Breaking down barriers and creating new connections aren’t two activities you typically associate with Finance. But with Planful, that’s exactly what’s happened for Carta. It’s brought back the fun part of FP&A: spending time on the analysis, not building massive datasets and tabbing through dense reports.
With Planful, Finance is being viewed as a business partner rather than someone just telling the business if they are over or under budget. It gives Finance a way to transition into a strategic advisor to the business.