CFO Weekly
CFO Weekly

Episode · 3 months ago

63. Automation: Love It or Hate It, You Need to Learn It w/ Max Gray


Automation has the power to free us up from being stuck on menial repetitive tasks and do what we were hired to do.

But without knowing when to automate, you risk wasting even more time fixing your automation than you would have otherwise.

To help understand what and when you should automate, Max Gray, Vice President of Finance at Bitcoin Depot, joins today’s show.

In this episode, we discuss:

- The benefits of tableau

- When and when not to automate

- Dealing with change management

For more interviews from the CFO Weekly podcast, check us out on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player! 

Presented by Personiv 

Welcome back to c FO weekly,where we're talking with financial leaders about how to build efficiency in their teams,create time for strategy and ultimately get results. With your host, Megan Niese,let's jump right in the day. My guest is Max Gray. Maxis currently the vice president of finance at Bitcoin Depot, where he oversees allcorporate finance functions and data analytics. Prior to joining bitcoin depot, Mas heldseveral roles with increasing responsibility and finance with the Home Depot. He holds abachelor of Business Administration from the University of Georgia. Max, thank you somuch for joining me today. Thanks so much, Megan. Very excited tobe here with you. Yeah, today's topic is operational improvements. It's somethingthat every organization should be undertaking on an ongoing basis, but many of theseprojects will fail to deliver the expected results. So today we'll be discussing how wecan be smarter in these efforts and drive better results. I'm excited aboutthis topic and learning from the challenges you've overcome, so let's get started.First, tell me about your career progression and how it is that you gotto where you are today. Day. Yeah, so definitely been a wildride. I graduated from the University of Georgia in two thousand and sixteen andwent straight from there to home depot. Started at Home Depot in merchandising,had somewhat of like a rotational rule and got to touch a lot of differentpieces of the business, pricing, merchandising, analytics, and got to Experience Howa Really Well Oiled Machine, Big Fortune Fifty company, runs and certainlyfound from their kind of what I was really interested in, which is,I think, for for right now, just process improvement and making things better. I had a very good mentor that pulled me over to finance there intoa totally new business segment home depot was starting. So essentially starting a businessfrom scratch in an already very large business, and fell in love with finance and, you know, all of the pieces of the business that you getexposed to just through controlling the numbers. Reporting was certainly one of the bigissues that we face in that business early on and we had to figure outa way to make it better. We were spending seven days a week,hours a day running reporting for this business and when we first off the ground, and you know, just through not wanting to do that anymore, foundsome different ways that we could make it go faster and then through that processlearned a bunch of different hard skills that have benefited me and move my careerforward ever since. So I was at home deproing finance for I think three, three and a half years total, and then I moved over to thecompany on that right now, but Queen Depot, about three months ago.So it's been very exciting. Certainly a lot of very, very great mentorsthat have helped me and move up and learn along the way. That Iowe pretty much everything too, but been a very exciting ride so far.That's awesome. And mentors. Yeah, you cannot, just cannot give themenough weight in people's lives. They're so, so loar. Most of the credit, for sure, absolutely. And Yeah, those rotational programs always seemto be so valuable in creating future leaders. So that's awesome that you had thatopportunity. Yeah, I think that. You know, one thing I wouldsay you know about Home Depot on specifically, is I think that theythey give you a lot of opportunity and...

...latitude at a very young age,which I think for me was the perfect fit. I don't know a lotof other companies either that you know that provide you that much freedom when you'refirst starting out in business. So that was definitely played a huge role bydeveloper. Yeah, especially really big companies like that. Exactly. So arethere any particular stories? Are Moves that stand out in your mind? IsTurning points? Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean I think they just don't. You know, getting that or that first job at home depo was wasdefinitely a turning point for me. I think that going to a really largecorporate company was was a great move for me personality wise, right out ofcollege. Gave me a lot of structure to learn around. You know,I mentioned my mentors. I think getting pulled over that. You know,that new business segment over at home depot is Great. I had a fantasticboss over there that taught me everything I know now about excel and business modelingand certainly being exposed to it side and learning a lot about process improvement andautomation, and then the company at that. Now that Colin Depot, Brandon Mints, the CEO, is a friend of mine from college. I've watchedhim and his company grow explosively over the last couple of years. He's donea great job. Him and Scott, our CFO, have done a greatjob, you know, making making that grow pro bust and turning it intoa very large player and the largest player in the crypto currency ATM space andthe world. So coming over there is definitely been very exciting. Totally differentthan what I was doing at Home Depot, just from a you know, financeperspective, even you know, controlling an entire panl balance, eat andcashulow statement and you know, it's much more running the full business versus just, you know, one piece of a business segment. But yeah, it'sbeen very exciting. That's probably been that the biggest move I've ever made.Going from a very large corporate company to go private company with has a beena big change of pace to it. It's been a very fun certainly loveworking with Scott and branded in the whole team over there every day, verytalented. Let's talk about bipcoin depot and what it is that they do.Yeah, so bitcoin depot is the largest CRYPTOCURRENCY ATM network in the world andessentially the service we provide is one of the easiest ways to purchase cryptocurrency thatthere is today. So, as a customer, you can walk up toa kiosk but a hundred dollars and it instantly by a select number of cryptocurrencies. We offer the same service through our website online. Our fleet and networkcontinues to expand. We just expanded into Canada earlier this year. So it'sgrowing very fast and think you know, the overall mission is to start tobreak down these barriers to actually purchase cryptocurrency and make it easier for everyone tobe able to access it and access it very quickly and without, you know, painstaking amounts of the things that you have to go through to sign upfor major extam exchanges or have a bank account, those types of things.Where are these kiosks? There everywhere. So we're expanding very quickly. Rightnow our coverage is essentially an almost every single state at this point in theUS, all major cities, several Canadian provinces. So I mean, ifyou Google the one right now, I'm sure, unless you lived in NewYork, I'm sure there would be one very close to you. Yeah,I've been doing a lot of I've been doing a lot of reading about cryptocurrencies and yeah, they've it's been a slow progression to the mainstream, butI feel like it's about to explode. I think we're certainly in the earlierphases of it, but yeah, that would definitely be theough but yeah,it's I think we have over four thou kios now. We should have finishedthe year with's with, you know, substantially more than that. So it'sbeen a very quick progression and growth for...

...the company. But very excited tobe a part of it and it's fun to see see something grow this fast. Yeah, I bet. Okay, so let's talk about operational improvements.Can you tell us a bit about some of the projects you've tackled over thelast two or three years? Yeah, I think the first major one wetackled was was when I was at Home Depot, and you know I mentionedearlier on there running reporting for this business unit seven days a week. Iwas a senior analyst at the time. Certainly didn't want to spend my saturdays, you know, running reporting, and so just that derived to not dothat maybe trying to figure out ways to get around it. So we implementeda number of different pools and software is to get around that. My favoriteone by far over the years it's been Tabalow, taught myself out of rightsequel. Had some fantastic it partners that helped us along the way and Ithink that just kind of broader and the supplies to both m e gooing bitpin depot over my career. I think that as you start to get someamount of data, there's a tipping point where you just cannot operate an excelanymore right. I mean you're downloading, you know, extracts from some serversomewhere and it's millions of rows of data and your computers crashing over and overagain. It's really an analytical nightmare and so you have to figure out waysto be smarter pole less data but get the same result. So you know, not pull everything at the transaction level that aggregated up the day, whateverit is. That's definitely been a big key focus for me so far.So I think moving over to Bitcoin depot, doing they actually have. We've gotsome great databases over there and I think everything's structured now. I meanobviously three years ago it was definitely not like that. I had helped bringhim with a couple of smaller projects that, you know, we had to letyou know, let it's it and excel over night and calculate move.was definitely a totally different time back then, but now it's more about I thinknow is the fun part, especially over a bitcoin depot where we havea lot of the data and the structure and the databases it needs. Itneeds to be in we have the tools to pull the data out and havesome actual fun analyzing it without our computers crashing. Yeah, I've used haveloow before and it's such an amazing and very cool tool just to visualize data. It is definitely yeah. So when it comes to operational improvements in general, how do you decide what project should be pursued versus those that should maybejust be left behind? Yeah, I think it's so dependent on the businessand what's going on, but I think overall I've always applied the process improvementin automation to the things that take the most time. I think that,you know, if a business unit or someone's asking for the same report overand over and over again every single month and it's taking hours to pull together, there's definitely a better way to do it and I think that, regardlessof, you know, maybe how well it's used or how often it's used. Just freeing up that time from your team to go do other things besidesof manually update or report is very valuable. I also think that, you know, there's some there's some projects I've been on over the years where wedidn't really know what it was and it still had to be up already meeting, like, you know, we didn't know what we were going to findor what what stones we were going to turn over, but that, youknow, we knew that, at least checking those things off the list interms of like business drivers, Kpis whatever, they were more important to look at. So I think it totally depends on the business unit, but I'vealways favored the things that have taken the most time because I have yet tofought find an instance where you can't make it faster. Yeah, that's agreat rule of thumb, and you may have just touched on this, butautomation obviously very, very popular subject these days, but not everything should orneeds to be automated. So how is... that you decide what automation projectsto take on, though? It's a great question. I yeah, Imentioned that we use tablow a lot and I've used it my entire career sofar. I think that the one kind of downfalls to Tabloa, which youkind of touched onto, its you can make these really beautiful data visualizations andpeople will spend hours and powers doing them and uploading them to a server,and then no one ever uses it right and so it's a very tough balance, I've found, to build these things and spend the right amount of timeand make them user friendly, and the end result should always be the personyou're providing this tool to uses it very often. And I think that sometimeswe automate a little too much. You know, I think that the bestthings to automoly are the things that are used for, you know, Iwould call reporting the news right for the business, like you know, justyou just need a KPI to update every week. You just need to figureout how much you sold yesterday or those types of things. I think forthe things are projects that are much more in debt and require some deeper levelthinking, that I actually try to stay away from automation as much as Ican. I think that what I don't stay away from is using the toolsthat we used to automate, like sequel tableau, using utilizing our databases andpulling in less data is still very important, but I definitely stay away from automationin the deeper thinking tasks. I've never found that to be beneficial tothe business unit. Yeah, it's especially things evolved over time, right.I mean most of those those projects that are very specialized or ad hoc oreven if you have to repeat them every single month, they're evolving constantly andso even if you do automate something, you're going to backtrack and automated againpretty much every single month. Is You giterate? Yeah, I guess I'scertain things that will always need human insights. Yeah, definitely, where I'm outof a job, bagon. Yeah, yeah, I'm sure at some pointor another, as a countains are in finance, we've all worried that. You know, that's the direction the world is heading, is ai andautomation, and what are we going to do? So we're far away awaysfrom that, but I will I love leaning on the tools we have todayto it to make things easier for us. So how is it that you cantell when the process is good enough and avoid maybe over simplifying something oroverinvesting and it's so what's a great question. I think that you have to relyon the end users for that right in your business partners. I thinkthat when they find it the most useful is the time for you to takeyour hands off and stoff. I mean, we always try to make things betterand we're constantly on the product and projects that we were providing our businesspartners today. Are always trying to provide the them more and give them moreinsight, but I certainly think there's an appropriate time to be done versus havingit perfect. I don't think there is a perfect that exists in this worldof automation and reporting and finance today. So for me, done is muchbetter than perfect, and as long as they're able to use it for,you know, a majority of the reasons why we first set out and creatingwhatever it is we created, then I'm happy. I think I mentioned,you know, a lot of these projects, and PAVALID ashboard specifically, end up, you know, never getting used and so even the ones that peopleask for, which is definitely no fault of theirs, it's because of ashwood, doesn't do what they needed to. But it's definitely a very fine balanceto to taking your hands off and just letting them use it versus constantlyupdidot. I can't tell you how any time times I've seen a business unitget very comfortable with using something like that, whether it's Tabalou or not, justsome form of automated reporting, and then it gets changed and they haveno EA sport anymore or they're so confused...

...of what they're that what they're lookingat, it doesn't it's you know, it takes some longer than it didfor them to read the report is to figure out what's going on. Yeah, sometimes simple is best. Yeah, exactly, by far is especially inthis world. Absolutely there's so many ways you can make the numbers dance andyou know there's so much data available with your fingertips that simplicity is best,not only for the people that are creating the report but also for the peoplethat are reading it. There's nothing worse than looking at a complicated KPI andtrying to figure out how in the world it was calculated. Definitely frustrating.So when you're looking to tackle a process improvement, how do you ensure thatyou've put together the right team to do it? Yeah, the great question. I think that definitely starts before the project right. I mean we're we'realways on the lookout for the best talent and I think building your team startsway before any project gets handed down to them specifically. So I think thatmaking sure that you have the right bit of people that you're working with isis critically important. I've been incredibly lucky over my career to have fantastic businesspartners across both companies who have helped me learn pretty much everything I know andI'm always learning from the people that I work with and for. So Ithink that starts way before and I think that now there's always room to improve. I think that there's a lot of especially in this field of automation andreporting and managing databases. There's just some like really easy things that you canteach people to make things go much faster. tablows a great learning ground for forall of that. So it's we're always learning. Obviously the software isalways changing, so that's a challenge for all of us too. But Ithink it starts, starts away before any project starts. And all of theseprojects obviously are an investment of time and money. So how do you getthe business to buy in that the improvement is necessary? Yeah, no,great question. Well, I think the good news is that a lot ofthese, you know, you can achieve a lot without spending a lot ofmoney. I think that's the tableau. You know, for small to midsizecompany is really power Bi and it gets competitors really very inexpensive. Managing adatabase in the cloud, depending on the size of the rest of all midsizecompanies, also very inexpensive. So you can get a lot of our allyon your time by not spending a lot, by spending very few dollars. Ithink for the bigger projects, you know, as you grow as acompany, you need to be able to scale here. Ability to analyze data. It's not so much in my eyes, you know I want it's in it'sa necessity. I mean if you want to continue to access those deeplevel insights efficiently and be able to turn answers very quickly to your business partnersto help them drive growth in the business, you have to have you have tohave automation, you have to have, you know, the right database structure, you have to have everything set up the right way or it's justit's slows everything down, and slowing that type of stuff down means for lesstime for the ad hoc work for people to think about how to improve somethingelse. I mean the last thing that I want is anyone on my teamor anyone that I work for spending hours pulling data that you know could takeseconds or a minute to pull, and so it's definitely always top of mindfor me. I've I've never had an issue so far in my career gettinganyone bought into that. I guess that could change is the projects. Projectshopefully get bigger and bigger, but certainly has not been a challenge so far. Definitely a necessity for any six. Yeah, I guess at some pointit becomes impossible to scale. I think, yeah, after and I think anyyou know, any deep level question, I always gives, you know,some crazy example of, you know,...

...a couple of how how many ofour customers have spent x number of dollars in the last thirty days andmore than a thousand dollars year to day and transacted with US last year?And that type of question, if you're using excel and manual data extract couldliterally take you hours to answer versus seconds in Tableau or power bi or somethinglike that if you know what you're doing. So I think there's a very fewthings left in the world today that you can improve to that let meanyou're talking like, you know, Onezero x improvement on your time. It'srare that you find things that you can improve to that degree left in theworld today. So definitely very important skill. And regarding change management, I knowthis is often the piece that most people struggle with the most, buthow do you overcome organizational resistance and get people to start doing things the newway once it has been improved? Yeah, that's a great question. I thinkthat you know all of all of these things kind of work in tandemand when you make those improvements, certainly, like I always equated to getting anew update on your iphone. You know, you're like, what isthis? I don't know where any of the buttons are, how do Icall someone? Now, after a week you realize how much better it isit in most cases. It's certainly not every every update that apple ever putbut the possibilities are well expanded after a lot of these changes happen, andso I think that people are definitely creatures of habit. We all like seeingthings a certain way and over time, if we keep seeing things that sameway. It's just easy for us to digest very quickly. We're used tothe form adding whatever it is. I think that once you run through alot of these automation process improvement exercises, you're able to access so much moreand ask way deeper questions than you've ever been able to and get the answersway baster. So I think that certainly can be a challenge at first,but I don't think that I've have the reaction I've usually gotten from a lotof a lot of these projects is not push back. Its excitement and inthe possibilities of what you can start to drive from the business perspective to theseinsights. So it's usually a very exciting time whenever you start to unlock unlockthese pieces of data that were there are processes that were really painful prior thatare now very easy. Yeah, I guess the end us is reaction givesyou some insight into the value of the project to definitely. Yeah, that'ssuch a good point. For sure. I think that you know, wewe rely on our business contract. I think that I'm in finance, butwe provide the reporting, a big Winyvo to almost all of our functions,and so we rely heavily on our business partner to tell us what's working andwhat's not and what they need to see. So they're the experts in each oftheir fields and and we certainly we use them that way. So yeah, definitely a great we indicator. No frowning faces when they're seeing the endresults. Good and I know you know you've mentioned tableau, but are thereany other tools or technologies you're using right now that have really helped to makelife easier? Well, I I'm an excel junkie, so that will thatwill always be my crutch. I think you know one I valued tablow alot just from USABILITY perspective. I think the UX for for their software asa really great it's really easy to pull in tons of data and analyze itusing it tons of different formulas that really aren't available to you in a lotof other programs and we we've use power beyond the past. We have acouple of different backend sequel database UX type software is that we can work into, but by far tableau has been been...

...the best software I think I've usedover over my career to do this type of work. Big Tableau Fan yeah, it's just been one big tableau ad. I can agree, though. It'sdefinitely really fun tool and to be able to dig down into numbers ina matter of seconds has powerful stuff. It cannot do that with that amountof data and excel now for so. Lastly, what challenge, as ourrisks are keeping you up at night these days? Yeah, a lot ofthe question. I think that, you know, we have so much dataavailable to us and I think I mentioned earlier, you know it's pretty easy, when you have that much data, to make the numbers tell you anythingyou want to hear, and so reading in between the lines and not relyingwhen hundred percent on our data is is so important. Being able to understandthe business well enough that, when you're working with these huge data sets andprocess automation, all these different software's, understanding what the numbers mean is soimportant, or understanding when you're maybe pushing the number one way versus the other. My biggest fear is that, you know, we maybe miss something thatwe should have really easily seen because we were so tied up in what thedata said that we couldn't get around it's I think that's going to I thinkthat the challenge for most businesses, regardless of size. Once you start toget a lot of data, it's really important. You know, the qualitativeside is just so important to understanding what's actually going on there. But,you know, keeping the customer and actual business and what we do and howit's evolving in mind is it's a big piece of that, and that's sucha good point. It's so important to not just take things at face valuebut to remember to still dig into what's under the covers and think for yourself. Pretty much it's as much in art as it is a science, butI think that, you know, you just you've got to spend time learningthe business and understanding it so that when those types of red herrings come alongyou're able to really quickly track to them and get away from it, becauseI think it's very dangerous. I think you can. I think in today'sworld you can make some really bad business decisions based off of what looks likereally good data. Yeah, Max, thank you so much for being myguest today. Absolutely had a great time. I really appreciate you taking the timeto do is. Yeah, I've really enjoyed speaking with you and hearingabout your experiences and the resulting insights and I appreciate your time today and wishyou all the best in the future. Thanks for good yeah to all ofour listeners. Please tune in next week and until then, take care.If you're ready to boost efficiency and streamline your accounting processes at significant cost savings, it's time to talk with personive. Their people powered solutions have transformed thedelivery of back office tasks and general accounting functions for decades, partnering with clientsto provide everything from accounts payable to pay will services. See What personive cando for you by visiting PERSONIVECOM. You've been listening to cefo weekly presented byPersoni. Please subscribe wherever you get your podcast to hear all of our episodes. Want to learn more, check out personivecom. Thanks for listening.

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