C-suite career advice: Mike Whitmire, FloQast – IDG Connect

Name: Mike Whitmire

Company: FloQast

Job Title: Co-founder and CEO

Location: California, USA

Mike Whitmire is CEO and Co-founder of FloQast, a provider of accounting workflow automation software created by accountants for accountants to help them work smarter, not harder. Prior to founding FloQast, Whitmire was part of the accounting and finance team at rapidly-growing Cornerstone OnDemand. It was during the Los Angeles-based tech company’s preparations for its IPO that Whitmire first composed the idea for what would become FloQast. Whitmire began his career in audit at Ernst & Young, where his focus was on media and entertainment. During his time at EY, he performed public company audits, opening balance sheet audits, cash to GAAP restatements, compilation reviews, international reporting, merger and acquisition audits, and SOX compliance testing.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? It was when I joined audit at Ernst and Young and we were wrapping up our two weeks of training before heading out to our first client. The head Partner of the LA Office was basically doing a motivational speech for us and made the comment (paraphrasing) “Learn as much as you can while you’re here – you won’t be here forever, and that’s ok, but if you learn as much as possible it will make your career. We’ve had people leave EY and become CAOs, CFOs and even CEOs. You can learn about a business by auditing the numbers”.

I really took this to heart and tried to learn as much as I possibly could from each client I was assigned to. When I left for industry, I continued that practice and tried to get the broadest exposure possible to Cornerstone.

Sometimes I wonder if FloQast would exist had that speech not occurred. I very well might have gone through the motions to get through the day and not learned as much about how businesses are built and run. But I didn’t and here we are.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Summarising the feedback I received from dozens of VCs and Advisors over the years: “Why are you hiring accountants as sales reps. They can’t sell. You can’t recruit them. You can’t scale that.” I’ve ignored that and we have done incredibly well as a result. Many of the people who were doubters up front have since changed their tune.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Talk to people. In my experience, chatting to finance executives, investors, and other entrepreneurs has been very informative over the years and helped me develop my strategies for FloQast.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No, my initial role was in accountancy. At FloQast, we always say that it is a product for accountants built by accountants, and that really is the case. I was working on the finance team helping the company I worked for prepare for IPO when I realised that busy accounting teams like ours could really use a tool to streamline communication and organisation and make us more efficient overall. The rest, as they say, is history!

What was your first job in IT/tech? My first job in IT/tech was when I set out to establish FloQast. It felt like a giant leap at the time, but my understanding of the accounting process was critical to the development and success of FloQast. That knowledge has been central to developing our core product, and our chief objective of helping finance teams achieve accounting operational excellence.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? Both IT and accountancy have perceptions of being a bit boring or nerdy but the reality is everyone is different and it’s unrealistic to label an entire industry.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Identify the C-level role you want. Then it’s all about making the right career decisions to give yourself exposure to all the areas needed to be successful in that role one day. Grind, learn, network, and be great at what you do so people want to work with you. Then, it’s all about getting a shot at interviews. The obvious move is to learn who all the best recruiters are and get to know them. Turbocharge that by networking heavily with VC’s as they tend to place their friends at their portfolio companies. They love placing C-levels because it’s a great way for them to “prove” they can add value to a company they have invested in.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? It is incredible to say that I am CEO of a company now valued at $1.2B. As career goals are achieved, and as FloQast grows, my career ambitions change. With increased funding, we can become even more product-focused, work towards our goal of IPO and become a public company. We have expanded into EMEA and plan on doubling down on international expansion — our goal is for FloQast to be a must-have global accountancy software product.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? In my role? No. I might not be on Zoom for 16 hours a day, but my mind is always wandering to FloQast and, as such, is consuming my life. That said, I’m the founder so it should be that way. Personally, it’s what makes me happy because FloQast is both my job and my hobby.

I do expect a similar level of commitment from VPs and C-level given their responsibilities and compensation packages. But for the rest of FloQast, part of the FloQast culture is to strive for a healthy work environment. We have made proactive efforts to help our team members minimise work-related stress and supported them with remote working during the pandemic.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Nothing.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I’ve never attended either, so I’m not in a position to say, but what my experience proves is that a tech business can be started without either. At FloQast, we have eliminated the need for our customers to code to achieve our core product workflow automation functionality. The creation of the FloQast software was undertaken by our CTO and co-founder Cullen Zandstra — who leads FloQast’s long-term technology vision and product execution — in conjunction with myself and our co-founder, Chris Sluty. Before joining FloQast, Cullen developed digital solutions for MySpace and OneScreen Inc. He is extremely talented and having him on our team has allowed me to focus on the business side of developing FloQast without a computer science degree.

How important are specific certifications? This is very dependent on the field. In the CPA world it’s only necessary if you want to sign tax returns or audit opinions. Other than that, it’s nice to have. But it really does look great on a resume.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? One of the most complex parts of my job is recruiting executive-level professionals to FloQast. It’s so important to me that the innovative culture we have at FloQast is nurtured, and I look for people who embody that. If I had to boil that down to three characteristics it would be passion, drive, and innovation. To stay competitive in our space, we need innovation and fresh thinking; we’re helping our customers drive a digital way of thinking, and the team is vital to supporting that.

What would put you off a candidate? I strive to hire thoughtful people who are empathetic. One thing I’m always on the lookout for is how they treat people that society would deem “below them”. How did they treat our receptionist when they checked in? Are they nice to the waiter if they mess up the order? How do they interact with their Uber driver who wants to talk? etc. I can think of multiple executive candidates where I saw poor behavior here and shut down the interview process.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? For better or for worse, be yourself! I find myself speaking with the professional version of a human being far too often and it’s easy to sniff out. We’ll be working together closely after this interview process, so we need to genuinely make sure our personalities are a good fit!

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? It’s always good to have both to build a business in the tech space. I have drawn on my knowledge as an accountant to create a technical product, and I believe it is already making a massive difference to hundreds of businesses.

FloQast has fast-tracked the development of my entrepreneurial skills and business acumen, but as my technical abilities are limited, I trust my technical partners to help turn my vision into reality.

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