Digital mapping startup Mapbox Inc. announced on its blog last week it hired Nitin Agrawal, a former Amazon finance executive, to be its CFO as it gears up for a critical stage in its growth.
“Now that Nitin has wrapped up his work at Amazon, we can finally be public about the news,” said Mapbox CEO Eric Gundersen.
Gundersen said he wanted to find a CFO who wouldn’t just sit and control budgets, but would get into the mix and be a true strategic partner. “I needed someone who not only intimately understood what we’re building, but also knew how to enable us to take risks and work directly for the benefit of our customers,” he said.
Finding CFOs who can be part of the innovation process and allocate resources to advance the company’s core business growth and not just oversee the numbers function is a major challenge for many companies, according to a recent report from The Financial Times and Apptia, an IT cost-analysis software company.
The report found that, of all corporate executives, CFOs tended to be the least aligned with the goals of the technology function at their company, driven in part by the difficulty in setting and measuring the value of technology investment. “It's becoming harder ... to track the impact of new technologies across the business,” the report said. “And that makes it difficult for the technology function to make its case to finance leaders.”
The strength Agrawal is expected to bring to his new role, according to Gundersen, is his understanding of pricing models for technology platforms and his appreciation that a digital company like theirs will only succeed as long as it keeps innovating on behalf of its customers. “For Nitin,” he says, “CFOs aren’t outside of the organization — they’re an indistinguishable part of the team and act as internal advocates for customers.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Agrawal said he understands the growing strategic role of the CFO in a fast-moving digital company such as Mapbox.
“The CFO’s job is to figure out a way to enable the team,” he said. “My job is not to make the least risky decision, but to make the most calculated risk-taking decision, and put in adequate risk mitigating measures in place should the decisions go wrong.
"CFOs need to ask the hard questions, be convinced about the investment and the decisions we’re making, and be the person who’s enabling the business to serve our customers better. The function of finance has changed a lot over the years — it’s no longer a function that is limited to the core basics of control and accuracy of numbers. CFOs, and their team should work as advocates, working on behalf of the customer to optimize company resources to make faster innovations in the company and drive impact in the biggest opportunity areas.”
That view mirrors the assessment in the Financial Times/Appito report. It also puts Agrawal in a position to help Mapbox grow now that it appears to be on its way to becoming a unicorn — a tech startup that’s reached at least $1 billion in value — according to some analysts’ valuation. He officially starts in early August.