This week’s profile is with Therese Tucker, CEO and Founder of finance controls and automation software company BlackLine.
Our questions are in bold.
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1. Who are you and what’s your background?
I’m Therese Tucker, founder and CEO of BlackLine, the first company to provide enterprise software to automate the entire financial close process. Before BlackLine, I had retired from my role as Chief Technology Officer at SunGard Treasury Systems and SunGard Trading Systems. I thought I’d try being a full-time mum to my two children. That didn’t last very long and I came out of retirement to start BlackLine in 2001.
My career is pretty unexpected considering my background! I actually grew up on a farm in Illinois, where from an early age I was herding cows, raising pigs and working hard. I was not an academic. My parents made sure that I took typing and shorthand in high school so that I could get a good job as a secretary!
In my second year at university, I took a simple programming course on an Apple computer and fell in love. I switched schools to University of Illinois that had a terrific computer science program and got my degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. My first job took me to California where I was an engineer for Hughes Aircraft, building fault detection firmware for surface ship sonar.
However, as much as I liked being an engineer, the ability to apply technology to solving business problems eventually caused me to shift my focus to a more programming oriented career.
2. What is your job title and what are your general responsibilities?
I am the founder, CEO and Chairman of the Board for BlackLine. I am responsible for leading BlackLine and am involved in all aspects of the business. While we’ve grown substantially from the time when we were three people in a small office, our focus is still the same—building amazing software that solves business problems for people. At BlackLine we try to hire people that bring that same passion to their jobs. It’s important to us that we continue to focus on our customers while we have fun.
3. Can you give us an overview of your business?
Every company closes its books monthly, quarterly, and annually. If it’s a publicly traded company, those results flow into its financial reporting and the accuracy and integrity of those results is important. Unfortunately, most of the activities around these processes are conducted in spreadsheets, outside the general ledger and ERP systems. Companies have been known to keep thousands or even tens of thousands of spreadsheets, in email, on shared drive, or printed in binders. It makes validating the accuracy of the process very difficult and errors in spreadsheets cause finance executives incredible heartburn.
BlackLine builds and markets software that brings control and visibility to the close and other finance and accounting processes. It provides an alternative to Excel processes that provides unparalleled visibility and control while the built in automation helps eliminate manual labour.
In 2014 we were named as a ‘Best-of-Breed’ provider for Enhanced Finance Controls and Automation (EFCA) software by industry analysts Gartner. This accolade recognised not only the fact that automated software had become a vital part of the accounting process for businesses, but also that BlackLine is a leading player in this field. We also became the first company to launch a completely unified cloud platform at the end of last year, bringing together all our solutions, products and technology around one cloud-based system to maximise control and visibility.
Between 2010 and 2014 we experienced 428 percent growth and we have just surpassed 1,000 clients, including major names like British Gas, Camelot Lotteries and Schroders.
4. Tell us how you are funded.
BlackLine is privately funded. Up until 2013, when we partnered with Silver Lake Sumeru, we were completely bootstrapped.
5. Why did you start the company? To solve what problems?
My original idea for BlackLine was to build and sell wealth management software but that’s a difficult market to crack. One of our customers in that arena, the First National Bank of Nebraska asked us if we could build something to handle their account reconciliation process. I was surprised that there were no solutions available in the commercial marketplace and that this type of functionality was not provided by ERP systems.
As we started to see the potential and really understand that this was a problem that existed in virtually every company, we decided to completely focus on the financial close. More modules were developed, driven by customer needs, and very slowly we gained more customers. Our initial customers were those who’d had some serious accounting issues and really needed technology to solve problems. Over time, we started to gain customers who were simply forward-thinking rather than crisis-driven.
What’s amazing about the market that we’re in is that the software really does improve the lives of individual accountants. They’re able to eliminate drudge work and really focus on strategic analysis that helps companies run better.
6.Who are your target customers? What’s your revenue model?
BlackLine now has more than 1,000 clients! We’ve come a long way from the early years and the diversity amongst our client base is surprising. We have large and small clients, well-known and unheard of. Our largest clients have thousands of users; our smallest has three at a credit union in Tennessee. Many are publicly traded, but almost 40% are privately held. Our clients are headquartered all over the globe and our users log in from more than 100 different companies. Our software is utilized in over 15 different languages.
Customers in Europe include Lord Suisse, RSA Insurance Group, Spotify, British Gas, Camelot Lotteries and Schroders. BlackLine is available on subscription via a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.
7.If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you change in the banking and/or FinTech sector?
In 2013, 90 percent of companies in the UK were still performing their account reconciliations manually. I find this statistic staggering. Generally we find that companies simply don’t know that BlackLine software exists or that it can actually help the way it does. If I had a magic wand, I’d want every company to understand the possibilities that are currently available with our software and how it can genuinely improve their lives.
8. What is your message for the larger players in the Finance industry?
Well, because we are cloud-based and require minimal IT support or investment, we’d most likely be talking to the CFO or Controller, rather than the CIO. Having said that, I’d tell them that if they are not considering automating processes, they will be left behind as their competitors move to adopt ‘Modern Finance’ organisations. They really need to be integrating cloud technology to gain a digital edge.
9. What phone are you carrying and why?
I have a SamSung Galaxy 4. It’s getting a little older, but I don’t really care because I’m not a gadget person. It works really well, both domestically and internationally, and the camera on it is fantastic.
10. Where do you get your industry news from?
There are several on-line publications that I read, including TechCrunch. We also still subscribe to the The Wall Street Journal at our home.
11. Can you list 3 people you rate from the FinTech sector that we should be following on Twitter?
I can give you one name off the top of my head: Richard Branson, he’s trying to bring a holistic approach to many segments of business.
12. Finally, let’s talk predictions. What trends do you think are going to define the next few years in the FinTech sector?
The obvious answer is more automation of manual finance and accounting, simply because there’s so much room for improvement. But I think there’s so much more! The reality is with automation and centralization, there’s a wealth of information that can be mined to truly understand what’s happening in accounting and finance, not just survey data.
An important focus for BlackLine over the next year is to begin to define the metrics and benchmarks that define a truly optimal finance and accounting organization. We have the ability to understand and quantify and publish metrics on how world class organizations run their businesses.
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If you’ve any suggestions for other hot FinTech companies (startup, or established ventures) that we should be profiling, I’m all ears. Don’t hesitate to drop me a note at email@example.com. There’s more information on this page.