A Letter from a CFO in Times of Pandemic

As I was driving home from the grocery store (my coveted weekly outing), I reflected on how much I’ve learned as a CFO in times of Covid. I thought about lessons in strategy, fundraising, executive communication, staff communication, and compassion.

First, let me explain my starting place – that is, as a contract CFO pre-Covid. I am currently working contracts in the cannabis, blockchain, and real estate development industries. I am a sunny person by disposition. I love my job. I work hard to understand problems to allow me to see the possibility in everything. This means that as a CFO, I’m in a cheerleader role on executive teams where I love pushing companies to achieve audacious goals. (Entertaining sidebar: I was an actual cheerleader on my varsity cheerleading squad. Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight!!!). At the time Covid hit, I was mid-fundraise for two separate teams raising $6M. If you’d asked me on February 1st, I’d have told you the rounds would have closed by April 15, April 30th at the latest.  Bing. Bang. Boom. Let’s do this!

Then Covid happened. Neither company ended up closing their rounds on time (see lesson 1 below). When the virus hit, it changed….everything.  Here are the lessons I’ve learned.

LESSON 1: THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO FUNDRAISE

Markets are tanking, companies are going under, unemployment is at an all-time global high, and the future is uncertain. More than being a little tone-deaf (given global investment plummeting), it means any deal you’re going to get is going to heavily favour the lender. Interest rates will be high, conversion rates will be low, and you can bet that they’re going to milk the sweeteners.

Instead, I encourage companies to look at short-term cash needs and to raise bridge loans from closely-held investors or institutions*. This will allow the company the cash it needs to grow, the markets the time to establish a ‘new normal’, and the investors the time they need to regain their confidence. To determine an appropriate bridge loan amount, make sure the new amount  is enough to produce meaningful returns and that it doesn’t squander investor cash.  This involves your executive team skinny-ing up the cash flow budget and projecting 3,6,9 month cash flows.  When you do this (and any fundraising exercise) make sure that you understand the assumptions behind your refinancing risk. In other words,  you need to understand what needs to happen for you to pay back short-term lenders – what targets do you have to hit? Make sure you feel comfortable that you can execute those targets, such as revenue goals and cost-restrictions; if you can’t reasonably achieve what’s on paper, you shouldn’t be taking the cash. 

*Looking to institutions is not out of the question: as a result of Covid, and part of the Government’s stimulus package, banks have an influx of cash to invest in companies. These ‘investments’ the bank will make are unprecedentedly insured by the Government of Canada and the banks have a mandate to release the cash to uphold the economy. You may find your banker more willing to work with you than you think.

LESSON 2: IT’S TIME TO GET CREATIVE

I know you need $50,000 for your ideal marketing budget, but guess what? It isn’t going to happen. And that deal you brought us? We need the terms renegotiated for a faster payment, or we can’t make it work. It’s time to get creative. When everyone is strapped for cash, everyone needs to get creative. This got me thinking…

As a student of the future of work, I’ve been reading about the requirement for collaborative thinking as an essential skill for work in a future, higher-tech world. I am all for collaborating, but this part of the future vision seemed to be a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘need to have’. I was waiting for a precipitous event that caused our economic environment to require collaboration. I believe Covid is that event. Now is the time to focus on relationships with your key suppliers. Get to know them, and be clear of what they want, what they need, and how you can help each other.

Here are some awesome collaborative ideas I’ve seen play out over the last few weeks:

  • A collaboration deal where both parties adjusted their ways of doing business. To go to market we rely on a middleman. They didn’t have enough cash to be able to purchase our goods to present them to market. This meant they were losing business and so were we. They integrated a website for B2B purchasing, which allowed us to post our inventory on their site without them paying for it. We lept over hurdles with technology.  We got our goods to market, and the middle man got paid when the goods were sold.  We are now watching the changes and looking for efficiencies in our strategy as we navigate to a more drop-ship model.
  • Negotiating trades with other companies must be done with tight contracts. 
  • Rather than have $50k approved for videographers, team members performed a graffiti art installation with local artists (Risque, I know… but I LOVE it). 

LESSON 3: FOCUS ON COMMUNICATION AND COMPASSION

Change is the only constant in the world, and we all have experience adapting to change. Covid is challenging because it brought (and continues to bring) massive change at a rapid rate. Things I believed yesterday are no longer valid because of what I know today.

Allow people to change at their own pace. Be patient. Plan your agendas for meetings so that everyone is clear on the agenda and has had time to think about their point of view.  Communicate your perspective clearly, and be open to new information that might change your stance. Who knows? It might even bring opportunity.

LESSON 4: EXCELLENCE WINS

If you are in the fortunate position of being okay for cash and your go-to market execution, you may have found that Covid has brought a slow-down to your daily work. You have more time on your hands to think about the company. Use this time to improve! Think creatively. Think collaboratively. Think about how to use your power to negotiate better deals.

Now is the time to make the changes you need to bring your company to the next level. That way, when the global market recovers, you will be ready to reap the rewards that result from excellence in execution. There are numerous opportunities with which to show excellence in creativity, agility, and compassion. My belief is that the organizations that identify and ace those opportunities are the ones best poised to succeed.