Talking business ingenuity during COVID-19 and remote working… with Ben Margolis, CFO

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Ben Margolis has been Chief Financial Officer at FanFinders for almost 3 years. With his consultancy supporting a small number of ambitious growth businesses with their financial and development strategies, we caught up to get his perspective on the past few months and what lies ahead.

What have you been working on during the pandemic?

All of the issues have meant jumping into things like support with the various loan schemes that are out there. For most smaller businesses, the focus has been on preservation of cash but you’re aware that you have to act in a way that’s fair to your suppliers and keep your teams engaged and motivated. Investment plans in some instances have had to be reined-back or adjusted.

But not every company has responded in the same way?

Well there’s a wise school of thought that says during any crisis – when everyone is cutting back – that’s the time for you to really push ahead. For those businesses that are able to push their product or marketing, they will benefit from lower costs of doing so and better hit rates, because the market competition isn’t as high.

Have you discovered anything over the past few months?

This is a fairly strange answer, but I found it exciting to be based at home with my kids and for us all to be in lockdown together. I would have thought prior to COVID-19 that working here would be an absolute disaster. But, being at home with our tech has meant all of us reconnecting a little bit and appreciating what’s important. It’s been exciting to take a step back and not take family for granted.

Are there lessons to be learnt from FanFinders’ remote working culture?

After a short time working here, you come to realise a lot of people in the business are remote. Conventional wisdom says everyone has to be in an office together, because that’s how you manage teams and create a culture. However, real camaraderie is there and the business is a great user of the latest technologies to help teams glue and communicate effectively. In terms of the crisis, that culture of remote working with accountability has helped it to thrive over the past few months.

What has struck you about how businesses have reacted during the pandemic?

I think the idea of ‘how can we keep ticking over somehow?’ has brought ingenuity and we’ve seen businesses pivoting. Within about four weeks of lockdown, the pub around the corner was online. They have a reasonably substantial Instagram following and started doing pub lunches and roasts for you to take home at the weekend; plus they’re stocking fresh grocery boxes. That business is keeping itself afloat and its staff paid.

So, what does the immediate future hold?

Usually after huge global incidents, people always say this is going to be absolutely cataclysmic, but things actually revert back to normal pretty quickly. However this is a real unknown. There’s an inherent fear in people and I think some of the changes we’re seeing now may be a little more permanent.

How important are adaptive leaders for business success?

There are factors within your control that can lead to failure and sometimes factors that are not. If you had started up a restaurant three or four months ago, you’re going to be in the sh*t. But invariably, I always look at management teams. Businesses never evolve in a straight line, there are always challenges that crop up. But maintaining the belief in what you’re doing is key and being willing to adapt to market conditions, which takes a certain type of person. A resilient character. Not everyone makes a great entrepreneur.

Ending with FanFinders, what’s attractive about the business concept?

Firstly, I’ve got kids and you don’t forget when they were babies and your complete lack of information. It’s like “what do we do?” and a rush of sudden responsibilities. So, I think back to the opportunity there to engage with brands online who might have been able to offer me something, in my newness to the role. From a brand perspective, getting that crucial 1st party data – which is qualified data at the end of the day – seems likes the perfect fit for both parties.

What changes have you seen in the company over the past few years?

We’ve seen some really exciting growth, both in terms of the people coming on board, the brands we’ve engaged with and the development of the platform. I think what’s really interesting is that with the strong technology background, we’re really across the data in this business – utilising that to make the product better, listening to what the brands say they want and letting that inform our progress. However, maybe the biggest thing that has changed is the confidence in the platform and the business model to say ‘we can go for it now’.

How do we go for it?

I think there is a huge amount of ambition amongst the board, but there has also been the right  degree of caution. The desire has been to grow the business organically, so we’ve tested each step and every penny that has been made by the business has been reinvested back into the growth. But if you look at the customer base we have, our technology and what we’re developing, you get a high degree of confidence that we could attract similar consumers and brands in more countries. We’re really on the front-foot now in terms of expansion and driving this business forward.

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