There are many paths to becoming a Chief Executive Officer. But, especially in the world of Tech, few backgrounds are as helpful to a CEO as one in Finance.
Case-in-point: Amy Spurling, Co-Founder and CEO of Compt.
Having served as CFO and COO of several Tech startups, Spurling was well-prepared to use her strengths to guide a new company to success—while strategically finding strong partners to help when needed.
We talked to Amy to learn more about her leadership philosophy and more.
Tell us about yourself and your career path to this point.
Sure thing! My name is Amy Spurling, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Compt,
which is an early stage company focused on employee benefits and perks.
Compt helps companies provide flexible, customizable, and scalable perk solutions. If you’re not familiar with perk stipends, they take the money HR would invest in buying a few selected perks—things like yoga classes or dry cleaning—and instead puts that in the hands of employees. They can then buy what they individually need to meet their own evolving needs. So it’s 100% personalized, it’s inclusive, and it provides a meaningful approach to employee perks.
Before Compt, I was part of six startups in finance and operations functions. I’ve been CFO three times and COO twice— managing both finance and HR in each of those roles. Those companies have been spread across the US geographically, and operated in, I think, 15 different countries. I decided to build Compt because of the challenges I saw managing teams, both from a finance perspective, but also from a People Ops perspective, and seeing the way compensation has changed over time.
What has your transition from CFO to CEO been like, and how do those roles compare?
The CEO role has been an adjustment. It's definitely a different role from the CFO function, because you have to make a lot more decisions. It's not as operational as the CFO role is. CFOs are still very much strategic and they need to think about things in a very strategic fashion, but the CEO function is so much more outwardly-facing.
As CEO, you want to set the tone for the culture, but you also need to hire really good people to be running all the individual areas of a business—and give those people space to be able to do what they do best.
As CFO, you're certainly touching every part of an organization, but your day-to-day is focused in key areas. Whereas a CEO needs to keep the whole ship going in the right direction, be aware of what challenges may be coming up, and always be thinking about the long-term trajectory of the company.
It's that finance muscle that lets me know, for example, what triggers we need to be looking at in our revenue that allow me to hire ahead of the curve. So that CFO experience comes into play literally every single day when I'm thinking about how we grow, where we grow, and where there are opportunities.
How helpful do you think it is for a CEO to have a background as a former CFO?
Honestly, I can't imagine being a CEO without a finance background. It would be really difficult. I’m always looking at where we're going, not just from a strategic perspective, but also with finances and resources at top of mind. How much cash do we have access to? How do we think about growth? How do we think about hiring? How do we budget for that?
Without the finance skill set, that would all be really difficult as a CEO. It's that finance muscle that lets me know, for example, what triggers we need to be looking at in our revenue that allow me to hire ahead of the curve. So that CFO experience comes into play literally every single day when I'm thinking about how we grow, where we grow, and where there are opportunities.
What strategic shifts have you made this year in response to COVID?
At Compt, we moved to being fully remote. Previously, we had been partially remote—. working remotely two days a week, since we had folks that were commuting from all over the place. We liked that hybrid model because we could spend some time together, but we also had the flexibility for folks to do some work from home as well.
Now, we're fully remote. We didn't design to be a fully remote company, and that's been an adjustment for us. You really need to design how that works.
So many companies are in the same boat we're in, with the same questions. How do you communicate? How do you make sure that people feel connected? How do you make sure that people feel like they're part of a team? You really need to be very thoughtful in how you answer those questions. So that's been a huge shift for us.
From an industry standpoint, we see that COVID has laid bare a lot of the challenges that businesses were facing already. And this is part of the reason that we exist. If you have a lot of vendors that you bring in as employee perks, and you're offering them at a headquarters, they don't meet the needs of the remote team.
So now that everyone's fully remote, it’s become more obvious that having vendors in an office doesn’t solve for this. But vendors outside the office are impacted too. Gym reimbursement is a good example of a perk that isn’t solving employee needs right now. Many people can’t go, or aren’t necessarily comfortable going.
What this all leads to is an acceleration of HR’s movement towards personalization. Health and wellness means a lot of different things to people, and you should be able to allow for that without having to be prescriptive for your team. The goal is to support their health and wellness. Let them determine what that looks like.
So it's accelerated that conversation that's happening in the market, which has been great.
If things are on track to goal, we keep things simple. If and when we see problems, then we’ll take more time to dive in deep on those.
What’s your advice on how to build a strong leadership team and keep them aligned?
First, hire really good people who are much smarter than you in areas where you might not have much knowledge. Then set measurable goals as a company.
So for me, it starts with having an amazing co-founder who is a brilliant marketer. I have no idea how she does what she does. It's magic to me. We talk about what the goals need to be and what's reasonable, but then she owns her own space and I never try to control all those decisions myself.
Same on the engineering side, hire really good people. We talk about product direction, but I let them drive how that's happening.
We all set quarterly goals together as a team, and then we measure against them and stay in sync on progress weekly.
Staying aligned that way and ensuring we’re all running in the same direction, without any blind spots, is really critical for us. But we also try to avoid meeting overload. If things are on track to goal, we keep things simple. If and when we see problems, then we’ll take more time to dive in deep on those.
As a former CFO, what is your advice to fellow founders who might not have your background on managing a company’s capital and finances?
Outsource what you can. Find good partners. If Finance isn’t your strength, if you're an engineering CEO or a marketing CEO, find yourself a partner in Finance who can help a few hours a week.
Chances are, you're not going to successfully teach yourself how to be both an amazing CFO and CEO. The amount of tax and formulas in my brain—I wouldn't wish that on anyone. So do what you do best, and outsource what you need to.
Get advisors as well. That's what advisor networks are for. You can ask those questions and you can find people to help and guide you. Figure out what your blind spot is, and then find folks that are smarter than you in that area and leverage them to help guide you.
As CEO, you want to set the tone for the culture, but you also need to hire really good people to be running all the individual areas of a business—and give those people space to be able to do what they do best.?
Finally, if you weren’t a CFO or a CEO today, what might you be doing?
Well, this really is my dream job. But if I weren’t working, I’d love to be out there just hiking long trails. I wanna hike the PCT, I wanna hike the AT. I think that hiking 2,600 miles seems like a great thing to start doing when you're in your mid-40s and everything feels phenomenal and you don't hurt at all when you wake up in the morning. So that's what I would be doing.
For Tech CFOs and CEOs like Amy Spurling, reducing costs and simplifying processes is the key to success. Learn more about how Flywire helps software and technology companies lower costs and solve global receivables.