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September 16, 2019

Five Questions with… Coupa CFO, Todd Ford

"In another life? I'd be racing cars..."

By CBR Staff Writer

Every Monday morning we fire five questions at a leading C-suite figure in the business technology sector. Today we’re pleased to be joined by Todd Ford, CFO of procurement software specialist Coupa.

Todd, What’s Your Customers’ Greatest Challenge?

I would say our customers’ challenges fit into three categories.

One is visibility into unknown risks that could disrupt business. Then it’s getting guidance on where they should spend time to optimise spending. (Everybody knows they need to be more efficient in how they spend; they don’t know where to look). The third one is navigating uncertain times.

Talking to executives here in London this week, what’s been fascinating to me is that they’re not really concerned about Brexit – although of course they’re certainly concerned about the political structure today – but because they have largely put their contingency plans in place already, they’re using it as air cover, for want of a better term, to drive change in their organisations; we’re in uncertain times, so they’re tightening their belts.

Where Coupa fits into that, is that one of the things you can control in an uncertain economy is your expenses. When you have a a quick payback from an ROI perspective – less than a year and a high likelihood of success – that’s a sweet spot for our customers: really understanding how they can optimise their spending.

Technology that Inspires you Most?

We’re in a once in a lifetime technology shift from legacy on-premise systems to cloud-based SaaS architectures that are helping companies get data, normalise it and run Artificial Intelligence on it. The power of that shift is immense.

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What we’re able to do at Coupa, is take that to the next level with what we call “community intelligence” and give our customers the ability to leverage the $1.3 trillion dollars of spending that’s come through our platform (including from customers like Airbus, Amazon, Barclays, Rolls Royce), to make sure that they’re buying from the best suppliers, getting the best price and reducing risk in their supply chain.

We’re getting to a next level of fidelity with the data. And our customers are using it on a daily basis to run their businesses.

In terms of other technologies… there’s certainly companies using technology that I’m excited by: what Okta’s doing with security is very interesting; Slack with communications: both disruptive and exciting to watch.

Greatest Success?

I have a different spin on this. I don’t see successes or failures as absolute. You can’t really define them until the end of the journey.

If you have lots of successes but the end game is a failure, were they really successes? Conversely, if you have a lot of failures but you learned from them, went on to do great things and build great companies or build the next generation of leaders, then I think you’ve been successful.

Sure, I’ve done things I’m proud of: taking three companies public and building some great companies. But I see it as a journey.

And it’s the same in my personal life. The end game for me is my three boys: at the end of the day when my journey is done, if they are good people, contributors to society, that’s success. I’ve seen a lot of people who are “successful” but maybe their family is not a success. I do look at them in a combined fashion and it’s about balance.

Greatest Failure?

Through the failures, I think what I’ve distilled my learnings down to is that it’s about the people: you invest in people more than an idea. That’s something I’ve learned in the VC ecosystem in Silicon Valley.

As a company grows, it’s all about the culture that keeps the environment intact: meritocracy, authenticity, owning mistakes.

We had over 30 people come back to Coupa last year because of the culture; they went to other companies and saw how disfunctional they were and that’s indicative of the strong culture we’ve built.

In Another Life I’d Be… 

Racing cars.

I like the team aspect of racing; I like the fact that it’s consistent with striving for excellence, you can always get better. I like the technical component, the telemetry, etc. And as you get older, you know, it’s a way that you can still compete!

See also: Five Questions with… IFS CEO, Darren Roos

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