David Lee, CFO of private jet-booking service provider Stratajet, gives his views on the year ahead
What have been the biggest challenges for your business over the past year, and what role did finance play in addressing them?
The last year-to-18 months has been a whirlwind for Stratajet, as the company has gone from six people working in a bunker developing the platform’s prototype, to launching as a fully operational international business. We launched across Europe in April this year, the US in September and has already achieved a $10m (£8.1m) run rate.
When working in fast-paced environments, it’s vital to have clear planning and forecasting procedures to ensure everybody is aligned on the commercial strategy and where we are going. We anticipated this level of rapid growth, both in terms of the business operations and its staff – which now numbers 65 – and knew it would not have been possible without a robust finance foundation and dedicated finance team. I was tasked with building this when I joined in June 2015. It was crucial to put in place the necessary finance infrastructure and operational processes very quickly in order to support this growth.
Ensuring growth was viable and sustainable also required a significant amount of fundraising. As such, we secured an $8m round of investment (led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from existing investors Playfair Capital and JamJar Investments), bringing our total funding to $14m to date. This has aided us in developing additional technology functionality and to expand into the US.
What are the key political and economic risks/opportunities you face in the year ahead?
We are keeping a close eye on the impact that Brexit will have on the London labour market.
Talent acquisition is key to the success of any high growth business; it’s like the oxygen we need to grow. We are looking to hire another 50 team members in the next 12 months and the EU has been an amazing talent pool for us. More than 40% of our team are European, with a further 30% being non-EU internationals. We are working with political campaigners to ensure London remains an international destination for talent.
Which capex projects will you be focusing on in 2017, and how will these be financed?
As a tech company, our main asset is in the platform we have built, the patented intellectual property, the software that makes everything work and the data we have collected.
Therefore, expenditure in the coming year will largely be on the continued investment into that technology platform and expansion into new international markets. This is funded primarily by institutional venture capital investors who are backing us for the long term.
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How do you expect the balance of your role to change in the coming year; between compliance and forward-looking/strategic? And why?
As a CFO in medium-sized business my role is quite all-encompassing, overseeing our HR, legal, analytics, facilities and commercial functions, as well as finance. My time is therefore split across functions and ensuring each one is developed in order to support the rapid changes happening throughout the business.
But I firmly believe the most important role that any CFO plays is right hand man to the CEO, helping to develop and implement the right tactics and strategy to set the business up for success.
To that end, we have a number of major milestones due in the coming year, both in terms of geographical expansion and major partnerships that we’re working on across the private aviation and general travel industries – watch this space! Planning is underway for these milestones/announcements, with all the major areas of the business – marketing, customer service, I.T., finance, etc – collaborating to deliver what we anticipate will be another huge year in the development of the Stratajet business.
Advice for other FDs for the coming year?
This isn’t specific to next year, as, even though there have been some major events in 2016, which some worry will result in political instability, there is no suggestion that this will impact on the scope for any business to conduct its affairs.
Therefore, my advice to FDs is to stick to the basics; ensure you have a finance team who are not always stuck in the detail of the financial accounts, but who are proactively immersed with, and supporting, the business operations.
A team who can adapt the operations quickly to any changes in the business environment as opportunities (or threats) arise. And it goes without saying that you will always need robust planning processes, timely management information and razor-sharp cash controls – this is where an effective finance team can add huge value to the business.