Featuring Zimpatica and Foresight CFO
Welcome to Episode 11 of Students vs. Startups! We've got a great episode this week as we talk with the COO of Zimpatica, Walter Borges, who's helping companies better understand and improve their business processes. Following up is Scott Thompson, the VP of Business Development at Foresight CFO, where they increase the value of companies by overseeing their financial ecosystem and provide insight to their executives.
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John Gilroy: Welcome to Students Versus Startups showdown on the Potomac. My name's John Gilroy, and I'll be your moderator today. The structure for this podcast is quite simple. You put a leader of a tech start-up in the hot seat. Students ask questions. We find another innovator and then do it again. The founding sponsor for Students Versus Start-ups is The Radiant Group. If you enjoy solving problems and like to work with bright people, the Radiant Group is the place for you. Contact Al Di Leonardo or Abe Usher at radiantgroup.com.
Here we go. Round One.
Well, we have three students today. Two are in a program and trying to complete a Master's Degree. One has completed the Master's Degree. One has an additional Master's Degree, so it's so many students, so many backgrounds, I don't even know where to start. Let's start off with our first student, Arthur Deegan. Tell us where you're studying and where you work please, Arthur
Arthur Deegan: I work at the Georgetown Law Library, International Collection and I'm a student at Georgetown for the Technology Management program. I think I'm the least educated of the three here.
John Gilroy: The best looking one. The best looking on in the room.
Arthur Deegan: I guess. Luckily, I'm on radio. Yeah, so you really don't have a technology background. I've kind of fallen into it at the library doing a lot of help desk type stuff but all self-taught. Kind of new to this all still. It's my second semester. Just hoping to learn more.
John Gilroy: You're trying to get a Master's of Professional Studies in Technology Management from the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University, correct?
Arthur Deegan: Correct.
John Gilroy: Well, great. Well, here's a graduate right next to you. Maura.
Maura Imparato: Good luck to you. It's an excellent program. This is Maura, and I graduated a few years ago in 2012. I'm now studying for my Doctorate Level program in Neurotechnology. During the day, I'm an IT Director for a healthcare association. I'm enjoying it. Loving every minute of it.
John Gilroy: Great. Our third student is Asad Jabbar. Asad, tell us about your background please.
Asad Jabbar: Sure. Well, good evening everyone. My name's Asad and my background is a little bit of mix of finance and tech. I used to be investment banking and a little bit of venture capital and then, I got into technology after getting my MBA at Smith. Right now, I lead our small business growth and strategy at CSRA.
John Gilroy: That's the University of Maryland Graduate Gold, just to clarify that. Well, we have some pretty smart folks on this side of the table. On the other side of the table we have Walter Borges, who is the COO of a company called Z-I-M, Zimpatica. Walter, how are you?
Walter Borges: Doing great.
John Gilroy: Well, tell us a little about your background and your company please.
Walter Borges: Yeah, so this is Walter. My background for most of my career is embedded software. I was working on spaceships and building the software for an autonomous vehicle, but my brother started this company about two years ago and convinced me to join him, so now I'm working in the business process management space.
John Gilroy: UVA. George Washington University Master's Degree. All kinds of letters after your name, huh?
Walter Borges: Yeah. The Master's Degree I got while I was at Orbital, which is the first place that I worked, and they were offering to do the program there and pay for it. The professors actually came to Orbital and I was able to study there.
John Gilroy: Wow. That's the way to go, isn't it?
Walter Borges: It was a good deal.
John Gilroy: Well, I'll ask you the question I ask all of our innovators, all our start-ups is, so what business problem does your company solve?
Walter Borges: We're trying to allow a company to figure out what their processes really are and reduce errors and improve their efficiency in whatever processes those are. An example would be, hiring someone. Everybody has to hire people. Everybody does it differently and sometimes it's a mess and they want to improve how they do it.
John Gilroy: BPM, Business Process Management.
Walter Borges: Yes.
John Gilroy: Good. Good. Well, Asad, would you like to start off with the first question, please?
Asad Jabbar: Sure. Walter, I guess my first question is, BPM is a relatively new space. Over the years it's evolved and I see you've got a lot of partners like, Appian being the primary one. Do you guys see yourself partnering with multiple service providers and software providers or are you focused fully on Appian in this new field?
Walter Borges: Yeah. That's a great question. Right now, we're focused on Appian. My brother worked there for many years and he's developed a great network of connections there. It's a great tool. We really like it.
There are other tools in the BPM space that we might someday get into. We certainly want to keep our options open.
Maura Imparato: I'm very interested in knowing what it's like to have a start-up and I wonder what's your best client experience so far and do you have a good solid client yet?
Walter Borges: We do have several good clients. Right now we're doing a lot of subcontracting work. We're really small right now. We have four people, so we'll get into that later how we want to start getting direct work, but for now it's been really good working with Appian, working with some of the other partners to help them on urgent projects.
It's been really interesting doing a start-up. Both my brother and I are billable, so we have our Zimpatica responsibilities as well as our day jobs.
Arthur Deegan: I've actually never heard of BPM before this. How do you target customers that don't necessary know what they need?
Walter Borges: Yeah. That's kind of a twofold answer because it sounds like a marketing question, which has been a challenge for us. Getting a marketing plan together is something that we're working on. Actually, Eastern Foundry's helping us with that a little bit and what kind of message we want to deliver.
To help a client understand what BPM is, I usually just come up with an example and hiring people is one of the best examples to come up with because every business does that. I might ask them a few questions about how they do it, what their process is, and sometimes they know, sometimes they don't know all the specifics and that's step one of BPM is understanding what your process is.
Maura Imparato: About that marketing plan-
Walter Borges: Yes.
Maura Imparato: Do you have experts that you can consult with? You have a partner, Appian, so who's your best resource?
Walter Borges: Right, so we haven't focused a lot on that because we have a good network of connections that we've been relying on and that have really helped us out, but it's something that we're going to start focusing on now. Eastern Foundry has been helping us to develop the content on our website. Eastern Foundry also has a whole network of partners that help small businesses with all the challenges that they have, so we'll be using them probably.
John Gilroy: Why'd you choose Eastern Foundry?
Walter Borges: Yeah, so it's all about the network, the community. It's two fold. One, the member companies at Eastern Foundry focus on government contracting and that's where a lot of our business is, so we can both partner with other members and also just learn from them and how they do contracting. The other big selling point and has been already a tremendous help is, all the partners, either in house or external to Eastern Foundry that help small business face their challenges.
Asad Jabbar: Walter, I interact with small businesses every day at CSRA, and just to develop those partnerships, and one of the first things that I've always noticed is the difficulty of scalability in our business because at the end of the day, when we set labor services, it's the bodies, it's the people, and it's the knowledge set that we sell. Can you tell me a little bit about your growth trajectory with respect to scale of your people and not just hiring but how you see growing from a “bodies” perspective?
Walter Borges: Yeah. Something that we've thought a lot about, I think, I mean, I'm not an expert in business per se, but something I've thought of, is that there's two growth strategies. You can hire a lot of people and just win those big contracts and hire, hire, hire, which is fine. That's one way to grow. The route we're taking is focusing really on quality and hiring the right people.
There's a book that has inspired both of us called Good to Great. I'm sure a lot of you have read it. We really focus on getting the right people on the bus.
Maura Imparato: I'm dying to know. Your former career. Building, if I can recall it correctly, embedded software for space vehicles?
Walter Borges: Yes.
Maura Imparato: Has that helped you and how?
Walter Borges: Surprisingly, yes. It's a very different type of software, so it's not the same programing language or anything like that, but a lot of the skills that I've learned there are applicable anywhere. Understanding what I'm building and always asking the question, "Am I building the right thing?"
We're not just coders. We're software engineers, so we have to understand what we're building, what the requirements are, and do they sound right? There's a lot of interaction either with the customer directly or with the people that are writing the requirements. Those skills have absolutely transferred.
Maura Imparato: You have to have knowledge of the whole life cycle?
Walter Borges: Yes. You have to have knowledge of the whole life cycle. All the soft skills are really important. I hate calling them soft skills because it makes it sound like they're not important, but they're equally important as the technical skills.
"I actually heard the other day from somebody who's very wise and senior to me, that relationships and those soft skills are the most important thing that he's found over the years, and he has a start-up as even now."- Maura Imparato
Walter Borges: It really makes a difference between a good coder and a bad coder, if you want to put it that way.
Maura Imparato: Yeah.
Asad Jabbar: To that point about soft skills and solving the human problem, what's a really cool use case that you guys have done that you can speak to? Something really at a cool business problem you solved using your firm?
Walter Borges: Yeah. I mean, cool might not be the right word, but a really cool example that we're working on right now is at USAC. They collect taxes on everyone's cell phone bill and provides that money to rural schools for telecom services.
"It's a really complicated process or set of processes and using Appian has helped a lot to reduce the errors. Again, improve efficiency overall and it's just a better experience for the applicants as well."- Walter Borges, COO Zimpatica
John Gilroy: For our listeners, can you define that term, USAC. It's an abbreviation.
Walter Borges: Yes. Universal Service Administrative Company. It's a special organization under the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). They manage this fund that provides grants to rural schools.
Arthur Deegan: You said that you like Eastern Foundry because they focus so much with government type business, but ideally would you want to only do government work?
Walter Borges: That's a great question. Appian applies to any organization really, any business, so we're equally capable and willing to work with commercial and federal clients. They're both great clients and we can see a lot of benefit to both.
Maura Imparato: I'd like to know about funding. Can you tell me how you got your start and what kind of support do you have?
Walter Borges: Yeah. That's another thing we thought a lot about and again, I see two different ways you can get outside investors to invest in your business and help you grow faster. We've opted for now to really try to just use the revenue that we create internally between my brother and I. We pay ourselves a decent salary, so we can live a fine life, but the rest of the money goes into the business. Using that money, we save up to then hire new people.
John Gilroy: Good job students. Good job Walter. Now, if you're listening to this and want to have more information about your company, where would they find more information about your company?
Walter Borges: Zimpatica.com.
John Gilroy: Could you spell that for us because it-
Walter Borges: Z-I-M-P-A-T-I-C-A.
John Gilroy: Good. With a Z. Zimpatica with a Z.
Walter Borges: That's yet another thing that Eastern Foundry's helping us with.
John Gilroy: Oh great.
Walter Borges: There'll be a newer version within a month or two.
John Gilroy: Speaking of Eastern Foundry, we are hosted by Eastern Foundry, a community of government contractors who are bringing innovative solutions to the government marketplace. For information got to eastern-foundry.com.
Our monthly sponsor Acumen Solutions has been in business since 1999. Today, they help with public sector to streamline operations and improve productivity. For more information go to acumensolutions.com.
Welcome back to Students Versus Start-ups showdown in the Potomac Round Two. Well, you already know our students, Arthur, Maura, and Asad. We have a new start-up here in the hot seat today. Actually, he's been here before. He actually was a student a few weeks back but we decided to drag him over to this side of the table. His name is Scott Thompson, and he's the Vice-President for Business Development of a company called Foresight CFO. My, my, my. What an interesting name for a company. Tell us about your company and tell us about your background, please, Scott.
Scott Thompson: My background was, you know, John, is it has a little bit to do with Georgetown. Got my Master's there. Previous to that, I actually was in Special Operations for some time. Did a lot of human behavior analysis type stuff. Then, got into BD (business development). Worked for a variety of companies in marketing, all in the D.C. area. Found myself in Foresight CFO working with another Georgetown professor, became my business partner.
John Gilroy: Well, that's great. I went to your LinkedIn profile, and I saw you use the words "value builders," so is that what company tries to ... are they value builders?
Scott Thompson: We do. We generally increase the value of companies. What we do, is we try to take the financial ecosystem off the shoulders of the executives. It takes 40-50 years for a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) to really build an expertise, so we provide that insight and access to small businesses. They range from one million in revenue all the way up to ... we have one that's 120 annual revenue.
John Gilroy: Asad's almost jumping out of his seat. This is right in his strike zone. I mean, we can have two hour conversation with Asad on this. Asad, I got to let you jump in first.
Asad Jabbar: Thanks for teeing me up there, John.
Scott Thompson: Be kind. Be kind.
Asad Jabbar: Really innovative, in a really innovative space, so I guess the basic question is, how do you build trust to let these “small's” (small businesses) get access to the most intimate and most important pieces of their information from a financial strategy perspective and guide them, right? Your job is so much about relationship management and really being that, I don't want to say, hand-holding, but being the guy that tells them where they should be in five years. How do you build that trust?
Scott Thompson: Takes time, so I'll be honest, some of our sale cycles when we first start talking with some companies, it takes some time.
"It takes a few months of getting them through but we built a very specific pipeline to walk them through step-by-step and that builds the trust with our CFO's."- Scott Thompson, VP Foresight CFO
The beauty about it is, once that trust is built, we're locked and we literally go hand-in-hand. We are by their side together. The beauty about our model is we don't take a board seat. We're not sitting at the C suite trying to get other votes. We literally are advising them all on where they should go, what their model should look like, are they spending the right capital in the right areas. I mean, you know this, it's every line item is combed through and to make sure that they are growing. It's actually feasible. A lot of companies think we can hit ten million in five years, let's go do that.
Well, we show them means 600% growth. That's not feasible.
Asad Jabbar: From an advisory perspective, there's never issues of conflicts where you're going to be advising competitors or similar industries?
Scott Thompson: We do. We do have some ... No conflicts. We purposely know CFO's. CFO's portfolio doesn't cross within the same industry, so one CFO and everything's managed very, very carefully. Our accountants and everything, they're very, very structured, so we basically build bubbles around them so nobody else can see what everybody's working on.
Arthur Deegan: How do you sell your business to a company that might want to try to keep all of this in-house?
Scott Thompson: We are tried and true. I'll let you know, we have 100% close rate on everybody we talk to once we show them our first product, which we call "financial health check." That starts building the trust. We have tons of people that bring up that discussion. We're actually talking to two companies right now that just really want to put somebody in-house. We will outperform every single time and we have done thus far. Like I said, it's once we show them what we do and just build trust with them and we show them the output. We give them a 36-90 day plan. They can implement that in-house if they want or they can talk to us. Every time they talk to us.
Arthur Deegan: How do you keep them on board after 90 days or is that, after that you're happy?
Scott Thompson: No. We take them from pre-revenue to exit. Again, different companies come in at different points. One company actually, they're looking to sell in two years, so they brought us in specifically to handle the selling process. Once again, it's trust.
When somebody hands over their finances to a CFO, and our CFOs are very seasoned, we're locked, so we're in and we are very, very good at building trust. In helping, we've even trained other CFO's who already have somebody internal. We will walk them through our processes, which again, are tried and true and built by a series of CFO's.
Maura Imparato: I'm interested in your background and human behavior analysis, so I'm hearing this come through in every sentence that you speak. We build trust and we walk everyone through and we build a bubble around their information, so did that help you in the beginning? How long have you been doing this and are your skills translating?
Scott Thompson: Yes. Definitely translating. I studied human behavior specifically for the government in a variety of different ways, so it has to do with why people behave the way they do, what are trigger points, patterns and things like that, which is why I got into business development right after that, because it's all about consumer behavior relationship building stakeholders. I worked for a pretty good size marketing company who had some very heavy clients like Nike and things like that, to where we were helping them get better buying power from certain people and certain segments. It's really not about the products as much as you think it is about the relationships, the brand, and stuff like that. Eventually, once they buy the product, you have to prove, but getting them to buy is all about the relationship and a lot of it has to do with my background.
Asad Jabbar: Tell us a little bit about this market segmentation. How do you guys go about the different firms that you advise on? Do you do it by based on domain, by industry, or by technical capability? How do you look at your client set?
Scott Thompson: First, we build up based on the CFO's that we have. If they have certain expertise and certain verticals, I'll be honest right now, we're kind of screaming in their own verticals, so we actually aren't looking too far outside. A lot of them is manufacturing tech start-up, cyber, and, I'll be honest, beauty. Beauty in our portfolio has ... It's actually my favorite client that we have. It's really interesting. It's a high end saloon. They're actually in D.C. but we're really tapping into ... because it's trust, right? The CFO's have trust within their verticals and industry and they're known experts. They write content. They put everything out that we basically build them. It's not so much about foresight. It's about the individual CFO that they're getting, but we do have one vertical that's been coming up a lot and that's in the medical industry.
As we know, the past few years, with a lot of policies coming out, people are just trying to figure it out. They are trying to figure out private practices and things like that. What's changing, and I'll let you know, a lot of private practices are losing control of their businesses. It's a vertical that we are diving into very much in trying to understand because it's off to the races. Who can know what the best, the quickest, will get a lot of that business.
Arthur Deegan: You keep mentioning trust. What are the hardest parts about developing that trust?
Scott Thompson: Not being too aggressive. I found that over time, it's best to let the consumer, the client, or whoever you're talking to, even if it's just friends at the table, everything, let them come to the conclusion on their own because more importantly, you will have total buy in from them when you're ready to actually start talking about a price point and things like that.
"Again, deliver. It's too many companies and too many people ... They put too much money in sales and marketing without delivering first."- Scott Thompson, VP Foresight CFO
Talk to your clients face to face and put something in front of them. Take some risk as a company and deliver something. We do that all the time where we know the companies are strapped for capital, like we work with a lot of small businesses. We have some people under a million. We know capitol's very important to them. We'll deliver for them for a year. We'll be like, "We'll just take you on," because we see the numbers, so we're like, "You have something here," so we'll take them on and we will deliver. We'll take the risk and that builds so much trust, and again, we delivered. We've done very well so far. Knock on wood, but it's all about them. It takes time, especially with finances. It's very hard to convince people but again, once you get them, you have them.
Asad Jabbar: One of the things that I'm sure your customer set would be interested in is, the whole broader partner and networks of other functional areas, so not just financials but also marketing, right? Pricing strategy. Tell me a little bit about how your firm interacts with other partners to bring in expertise that your client will care about in their financial trajectory.
Scott Thompson: A lot of it depends on the type of clients. I'll break this down in two segments under 40 million. Under 40 million people, they don't have dedicated CMO's (Chief Marketing Officers) and things like that, so we actually have a list of vetted partners that we trusted, that either one of the business partners, myself, the CEO, we have used in the past. We'll actually bring them in and help the business. Again, we normally, we know the finances so we immediately do the negotiations up front. We say, "This is what they can afford," because we see the numbers.
Above the 40-50 million round where people tend to have ... they've gone through series round or something at that point to where they have a heavy stack as far as executive suite. We actually will discuss with them what's worked and what hasn't worked, and then we start running the numbers first to make sure that their model isn't what's broken, it's the partner that they're with that's broken.
There's a lot of other variables here. What tools, platforms, lot of stuff goes in, so we get to our basis, get to our foundations and look at the numbers to make sure customer index, all those other things are right. If they're not, then we start dissecting them.
John Gilroy: Scott, we have more, but you tell us about that CMO. Perhaps a listener doesn't understand what that means.
Scott Thompson: Chief Marketing Officer. It's a big, big buzz word coming out the past few years.
John Gilroy: Great. Great.
Maura Imparato: I'm very interested ... You said you were talking about getting into the medical vertical, so not only am I interested in that, but more importantly, how do you grow? If you're going to go through a growth spurt, you're going to reach out into a new area and you're a small business, how do you get that bandwidth and that extra capacity?
Scott Thompson: I like to think we did this pretty well. We failed a bunch of times. Everybody knows start-ups. You fail through some things. You build models. You think it works, then it doesn't. We've actually gotten really good at building our human capital pipeline. Front loading that by our projections. We know where we think we can grow. We know what each CFO can handle within their portfolio and we have built in surges within them because some companies, if they're going to do a “series round,” they need the CFO full time to start getting that through, so we have those surges, which means we know exactly when we need to bring on other people, other CFO's, other accounting staff, other ... We actually don't bring on too many sales and marketing people because, again, we're all organic growth right now. From there, it's expanding a new vertical because we're handling with peoples finances, we're going to do this very slowly because there are a lot of ins and outs. We have a couple advisors. We started talking to. We brought in that know that niche very, very well, so them within our structure and our infrastructure combined with our CFO's, we really think we can put something together to help the entire vertical.
John Gilroy: Well, great job students. Great job Scott. Scott, if someone's listening and wants to get more information on your company, where should they go?
Scott Thompson: Foresight CFO.
John Gilroy: Can you spell that? F-O-R-E.
Scott Thompson: F-O-R-E-S-I-G-H-T CFO.com.
John Gilroy: Great because everyone spells things differently. Well, we're running out of time. I like to thank our founding sponsor, The Radiant Group, our host, Eastern Foundry, and our monthly sponsor, Acumen Solutions.
If you like to see a transcript of this episode, please visit the blog at eastern-foundry.com. Signing off from high atop a nondescript building in lovely downtown Rosslyn, Virginia, I am John Gilroy. Thanks for listening to Students Versus Start-ups Showdown in the Potomac.