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Building a Fast-Growing Unicorn During a Global Pandemic

Building a Fast-Growing Unicorn During a Global Pandemic 1

By Mike Whitmire, CEO and Co-founder of FloQast

I’m going to be real with you: Prior to the pandemic, our company had no intentions of starting a new cycle of fundraising. Seriously.

You see, we felt confident that our Series C funding round and continuous growth had us in a great place, and didn’t plan to seek any additional funding until we felt the time was right.

As was the case for many others, when the pandemic hit, a lot of our plans changed. Our whole team was suddenly working remotely and figuring out how to keep everyone safe, collaborative, and happy, while also navigating a period of tremendous growth. While it was an adjustment, we soon understood that our teams didn’t need to be together in an office in order to efficiently do their jobs.

Our HR department and facility management team began planning events like happy hours and game nights to keep everyone connected and preserve a strong sense of community. Building on existing digital workflows and collaboration tools ensured remote teams were able to communicate effectively and do their work productively. And, of course, with VPN and SSO authentication for teams, everyone was able to access the information they needed in a safe and secure way.

From our more recently opened office in London, through to our sites in the US, we have since adapted to allow employees to continue working remotely. As our global footprint has expands and we embrace different geographies and cultures, it has become even more important to give our teams a level of flexibility and choice whilst maintaining as much communication as we can. We want our employees to feel part of the FloQast team and community.

Still, we had no plans to raise money. That was, until we started getting calls.

The momentum we had built pre-pandemic remained steady through 2020 and 2021 – which did not go unnoticed by investors. The latest round was led by Meritech Capital, and we count more than 20 of its portfolio companies as customers, including high-growth companies such as Anaplan, Auth0, Carta, Coupa, ForgeRock, Icertis, Outreach, Pendo, Self Financial and Snowflake.

Thanks to positive feedback across industries, including a number of the aforementioned Meritech portfolio companies, venture firms started reaching out, and the demand to participate in the Series D grew.

Three Keys to Growth During an Unprecedented Period

Using the phrase “unprecedented times” when referring to the global pandemic can induce eyerolls, but it really was (and remains) a unique set of circumstances unlike any most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Looking back, there are three pillars we relied on to not only maintain, but build, momentum during what has been the most challenging period in decades.

  1. Customer success means more than just happy customers. Venture capitalists often use feedback from their portfolio companies while researching a potential investment before making a decision. In our case, while we initially planned to raise capital in 2022, we encountered an influx of inbound interest and traction throughout the pandemic, which ultimately changed those plans. VC funds began to proactively reach out due to the highly positive feedback they received from portfolio companies using our products. Simply put, with users loving the product, their enthusiasm translated to investment opportunities for the business.

The end result was significant: a $110 million Series D funding round at a $1.2 billion valuation.

  1. ‘Company culture’ isn’t just a buzzword.To some it may come off as a cliche, but building a strong company culture is a real and tangible thing that helps make any business more valuable. For us, this meant rolling out a series of virtual events to keep our employees engaged during what was an otherwise very isolating time. We also made proactive efforts to help our team members keep stress levels down while we were all working remotely. Living through the pandemic was stressful enough on its own, so we wanted to do whatever we could to help minimize work-related stress.
  2. When in doubt, lean in on technology. COVID-19 taught us many things, but for accounting teams in particular, one of the biggest takeaways was that innovative solutions to improve communication, organization, and transparency are vital. Our strategy during the pandemic was to lean into these solutions, which made us realize that team members could be just as efficient working remotely — with the right tools — as they were in the office. We came across similar stories among our customers as well. While it would make perfect sense that the sudden shift to work-from-home policies would cause tedious and time-consuming tasks such as the monthly financial close to slow down, many of our customers were actually able to shave hours or even days off this process by smartly implementing our solutions. This not only helps build morale among teams because it minimizes mundane activities, but it also frees up hours that team members can use to focus on more strategic and rewarding tasks.

At the end of the day, speed is not the most important element of fundraising. It’s perfectly acceptable to be picky about choosing which investors to work with. To be sure a company selects the right partners, a lot of research needs to happen on the back end, including back-channel references and conversations with CEOs the investors have worked with in the past. The aim is a better understanding of how the investors work, their market reputation, and how your board will respond to them.

For us, successfully fundraising, growing the business, and maintaining a strong culture throughout the pandemic was possible thanks to a few core values that are truly integrated into the company’s DNA. We’re built on trusting and valuing our people, committing to providing an excellent product and user experience, and intentionally choosing investors who align with these beliefs. You can’t predict when a pandemic-level event will happen, of course, but I believe it’s these core values that helped us continue to grow over the past year-plus, and can help other startups continue their growth trajectories if and when they face challenging times.

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