Tipalti took its Payables Nation Roadshow to the Big Apple, featuring the finance and accounting manager Mich McGrath of Foursquare and AP manager Shayon Donaldson at Zola. They were joined by Tipalti’s Shauna Steib and Scott Olsen.

Shauna So, thank you, everyone, for coming out to our Payables Nation tour. I’m Shauna Steib, I run product marketing for Tipalti. Just give you guys a quick rundown of what we’re gonna cover today, we’re gonna talk a little bit about kind of why I think you guys came here today, the opportunity in the finance organization. We’re going to have a talk from our esteemed panelists here. We have Shayon from Zola and Mich from Foursquare. They’re gonna talk about how they’ve been able to leverage technology in their finance organizations. And then I’m gonna do a quick demo of Tipalti and then we’ll save some room at the end for q&a. And then, of course, we’ll wrap things up with a nice steak lunch.
Shauna So, let’s get started here. So just providing a little bit of background on our tour, kind of what we’re doing here. So we’re going around the country, we’re having finance experts working at growing companies talking about their experiences. So the challenges they face in their businesses, how they are able to overcome them, be more compliant, be more efficient, and focus their team on other more strategic activities.
Shauna And kind of the approach we wanted to take here is, sharing this information through an engaging conversation, so you’re not just listening to me here talk forever. So yeah, we hope everyone will be able to take something away from our conversation today. So, the theme of our event is payables transformation. So I’m just gonna kick things off by talking a little bit about why that’s important now. So why you should do that now. So kind of, the first thing here that starts with the evolution of finance. The finance organization has evolved from finance experts to really being that true leader, partnering with other organizations, other departments in the organization.
Shauna So finance is doing a lot more today than accurately closing the books, preparing financial statements, and working with auditors. You know there’s a lot more scrutiny, both internally and externally, around compliance. There are things like business models are becoming a lot more global, data sources, there’s a lot more of them, just a lot more complex.
Shauna But, despite all this complexity, we have service and responsiveness is still key to all stakeholders. And you also have to think about, you know, your supplier ecosystem, and what you’re doing there. Their needs are a lot more critical today too than they were before. Because, pay a supplier late, or continually don’t pay them the correct amount, well then they might withhold service and then you have a delayed operation or something of that sort. So, just a lot more complexity and a lot more responsiveness is what we’re seeing here.
Shauna And of course, with globalization, the on-demand workforce, we have a lot of M&A activity going on, a lot more global suppliers, that’s of course just going to add more complexity. And finance needs to be able to adapt rapidly to this, but at the same time, finance is spending a lot of time on mundane activities that don’t at a lot of value. So we’ve heard from customers, you know, AP might be called even the backwater of finance, you know kind of, oh they don’t got a lot of technology, not necessarily known for innovation. Sometimes you might hear it referred to the necessary evil, you know the other business [inaudible], oh AP they just wanna reject everything and complain about everything. It’s just this group that just expected to work in the organization. But because it is largely manual today, that’s the reason why it’s most time-consuming function in all of the finance groups.
Shauna But when you think about it, there are many key AP processes around tasks, regulatory concerns, fraud, that if you don’t address those concerns today, you’re not really setting your organization up for success tomorrow.
Shauna This opportunity to modernize AP has some obvious benefits, freeing up finance to work on other projects, cutting out inefficiencies, being able to scale your payables operations, reducing errors and risks. That’s where the whole idea of payables transformation comes in. That’s when these finance teams are looking at technology to really take away the manual work. Really enabling CFOs and their team to really step up and take that leadership role in the organization, get rid of that manual work and focus on other activities. Really, that’s what Tipalti helps you do, scale and make sure your payables is done right. So you can focus on the bigger issues that affect your company. That’s really what we’re seeing drive greater impact across the organization.
Shauna With that, I’m going to hand it over to Scott and our panelists to talk about their experiences.
Scott Great, thank you Shauna. My name is Scott Olsen, and I’m Director of customer marketing for Tipalti. I’ve spent the majority of my career in software that’s been aimed at improving decisionmaking and automating functions of finance and operations. Today, we’ve got two rising stars of finance, Shayon and Mich. We’re delighted to have you. Thank you for coming.
Shayon Thank you.
Scott The two of you, each work for some really innovative companies, and in fact, Zola and Foursquare have had some recent venture funding announcements.
Scott So let’s get started, let’s kick it off with you, Mich.
Mich Sure.
Scott Tell us a little bit about Foursquare, and your role there.
Mich Sure. My name’s Mich McGrath, I’m the finance and accounting manager at Foursquare. I’ve only been there since April this year, so I’m pretty new. We’re a technology company that provides location intelligence to our customers. I’m sure some of you, I don’t know how often you use it these days, but we have our consumer apps called Foursquare City Guide and Swarm. For an example of how we’ve monetized this is, getting the foot traffic data from these first-party check-ins, and being [inaudible] and provide that data to our enterprise customers.
Mich Prior to Foursquare, I worked at a telecommunications company as an accounting manager. Before that, I worked in public accounting, started my career at KPMG for about six-and-a-half years. It’s good to get out of that public accounting industry.
Scott (Laughing) Shayon, tell us about Zola and your role there.
Shayon My name is Shayon Donaldson, I am the AP manager at Zola. Zola is an e-commerce wedding registry website. We sell products similar to what you can find at Bed Bath & Beyond and Macy’s, for those who are getting engaged or planning their wedding. That’s the gist of Zola, we just had a [inaudible] this year, we’ve been in business for about five years, and they’re continually expanding to other means of funding through invitations and also inspiration products as well.
Scott Alright. Let’s talk a little bit about the philosophy and kind of the goals your finance teams have these days. Mich, start with you.
Mich Sure.
Scott What are some of the goals for your team this year and helping your company kind of scale?
Mich Sure. I mean, I think our overall philosophy within finance is kind of investing really heavily on technology versus just pure manpower. As can be seen by implement Tipalti at the start of this year. We’re also implementing technology to help with our collections process, rather than having my team call customers every day. I think just overall growing the company and growing our revenue, that’s our company goals for this year. Really investing in the Foursquare technology as well.
Scott Okay. Shayon, how about you?
Shayon Yeah.
Scott What are the team’s…how are you guys trying to support Zola? [crosstalk]
Shayon Definitely we’re just making sure that we’re able to scale our business as we continue to grow year over year. Just to reduce the manual work that accounts payable have to do as far as invoicing, just making sure that we can grow our business but also be as lean as possible.
Scott I’m gonna stick with Shayon on this one, although you are new as well to Zola, you worked there as it really started to take-off, but at what point was the payments operation becoming a challenge? To the point where you guys, you, in fact, had another solution as well, trying to tackle it but what was happening there? Explain the scope of your invoicing.
Shayon I came in right when we were transitioning from our previous software to Tipalti. Like I mentioned before, we are growing, doubling our sales from the previous year. We primarily do drop ship invoices, so we have vendors send the products directly to the consumer. Most vendors, they invoice us per order, so last year we did over 600,000 orders, so imagine processing 600,000 invoices manually. That’s definitely not possible for a team of four people. So we just realized that the software we were using before is not going to be reliable enough, considering that we’re also growing even beyond the 600,000 orders from last year. We definitely needed something that can be a little bit more automated and also reduce the amount of human error that can potentially happen dealing with so many actual invoices.
Scott Yeah. Also, you guys have a review for every invoice. It’s not a matter of getting it into the system, but it’s also people have to actually get involved.
Shayon Right. Every invoice requires an approval, so just previously having to have not only the finance approval, but the business unit approval. So just having people who are not in the finance field, who are not doing accounts payable as their day-to-day, having to be like consumed with that work, on top of their actual work, it’s just what’s viable enough where they can still focus on their actual duties.
Scott Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Mich, what was the payment operations under…the challenges that you guys were having that you decided, we’ve got to fix this?
Mich Well I didn’t know you had 600,000, that makes me feel a bit better (laughing). I think we have like 100 to 200 invoices a month. But even then… so this is kind of before my time, I think we implemented at the start of the year. But prior to that, I’ve spoken to my co-workers and it was a completely manual process. Our vendors would email, like a Foursquare email, one of us in finance would get the invoice and then find whoever the account holder to that vendor is within the company, get them to either verbally approve it or email approvals, very informal. Then once that was done, someone in finance would eventually have to punch-in the detailed invoice into our ERP, which is NetSuite. Once it was ready for payment, would have to physically print off checks and wait for the CFO to be at his desk to sign those checks before we mailed them out.
Mich So you can see it was a pretty inefficient process. Which called for a change in automating and speeding up that process. Having Tipalti, I can’t really compare it but I can understand how much a pain for you that would be.
Scott Mm-hmm (affirmative). Even at 200, it’s a drag on your operations for sure.
Mich Definitely.
Scott So your company decided to make a change, they wanted to automate as much of the accounts payable process and operation as possible.
Mich Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Let’s talk about your workflow today. Let’s just get into, how does it, you just explained this approach you know they had before, can you explain how the workflow goes now today?
Mich Sure. I will to the best of my ability, I’m not true hands-on in Tipalti. I have Cecile here, who’s a finance associate at Foursquare. I don’t know if you want to chime in on the day-to-day process, on the workflow and invoicing and payments, and then I can probably add on to that.
Mich Yeah and I guess to add to that, Tipalti, as I mentioned, we used to just get email approval, sometimes I mean they wouldn’t respond. Tipalti ensures you can set managers to every vendor so it gets approved by the right department, and it leaves an audit trail. So it’s good for the controls and showing our auditors we’re doing the right thing. In addition to that, your coding invoices, which is synced to our NetSuite. When we process an invoice, it automatically links up to NetSuite. We don’t have to worry too much about cut-off issues and things like that. Then finally, as Cecile mentioned, the whole payment side of things is automated, so now instead of this printing check stuff, we just basically take the invoices that we need to pay, press pay now, and it’s all automated. Obviously, it goes through CFO approval still, and that’s it. That’s all done.
Scott Outstanding. That’s a great workflow.
Scott Shayon now, with the 100s of 1000s of invoices you guys are dealing with, how is your new workflow working?
Shayon We have two different types of invoices, manual entry and also API. We use SPS Commerce for our EDI vendors, so everything’s done electronically. Then it gets sent to our proprietary system, we call it, admin, hosts where all of our sales data is, our costs for specific products, that information gets sent to admin as long as it matches up. Our admin system speaks to Tipalti and transfers that information so that it’s automatically processesed, we don’t even have to approve those EDI invoices.
Shayon For the manual things, when a vendor emails us an invoice, we will email it directly to Tipalti. Tipalti has a feature where the vendor can upload, we just don’t use that functionality right now. But Tipalti will read the information through OCR, and then after time will learn information so they can easily extract the vendor name, the skews that’s being listed on the invoice, and also who usually approves the invoices. So that whoever’s manually processing the invoice don’t even have to select the approvers because Tipalti over time will learn who normally approves those specific invoices. Then once it gets manually processed, it will go to the approver who can either approve within Tipalti, or via email. They can just click ‘approve’ or view the actual invoice if they need to know more information. After that, it would be ready for payment and then we just have to click ‘pay now’ for rates paid through the actual invoice, either now or by the due date.
Scott Okay. Then the monthly close is something, Mich I think you’re involved with, Shayon, a little bit as well. Let’s talk about, as you’re closing the books, the reconciling of all these payments that are happening and you’ve got a system like Tipalti and you’ve got an ERP or a general ledger.
Mich Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Yours is NetSuite.
Mich Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Scott Let’s talk a little bit about the monthly close and how that process works together with the ERP and Tipalti.
Mich Sure. I guess Tipalti’s just a component of the close. To give you an indication, we probably used to close just AP around business day 20, prior to really using Tipalti. Now we do it on business day 4. So we can basically cut out the whole manual component of… as I mentioned typing in invoices, there’s always the room for error. Now, we have this hard cut-off on business day 4, we basically send out [inaudible] invoices, remind account holders within the company to approve invoices. And it’s all automatically processed.
Mich We just completely rely on it now. We don’t really have to reconcile numbers. We don’t have to worry about duplicate payments, for example. Tipalti has a warning system where you can invoice, sorry, if a vendor sends two invoices of duplicate nature, it gives you a warning. I mean, who knows, we could have maybe double paid vendors in the past when it was more manual.
Mich I don’t know if I’m answering your question, but the fact that we’ve been able to cut from business day 20 to 4, and then close the entire month by business day 10, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we’ve implemented Tipalti. We don’t have to worry about these, I don’t want to say trivial, but a lot of the time consuming manual part of the close.
Scott Yeah. Shayon, this isn’t your direct, what you manage per say, but you guys have a different ERP system Intacct and it’s not integrated with Tipalti. But there’s still a way to close the books, and I just wanna know a little bit about that workflow that you guys do.
Shayon Yeah. Currently, it’s not integrated. Hopefully, we’ll have that done soon. But the good thing about Tipalti right now, is that I can… or the accounting team can extract, export the information of the bill details from Tipalti and then easily import it to Intacct. So the fact that we can still see where things are being booked, by how much, it can still help with the reporting that standpoint.
Shayon Joe, I don’t know if you wanna chime in as far as the functionality Intacct with Tipalti.
Joe: Yeah, the controller does all that and kind of manage the monthly close process. Where Shayon is doing all the [inaudible] As Shayon said, no integration directly with Intacct and Tipalti, but it still right now is satisfying our needs as a business and we’re able to close the books. We, in the near future, know that we can set up integration between the two. And we’ve talked with Tipalti engineers and our own internal engineers about setting up either some sort of API or even just FTP, to be able to just…at a summarized level, as Shayon said, we have over 400 vendors and 100s of thousands of transactions. So we’re gonna definitely brainstorm ways of getting the two systems to talk to one another. But even as it is right now, we could go on and satisfy our accounting needs without having any integration setup. We treat Tipalti as our sub-ledger and Intact as our general ledger, and it works just fine.
Scott Okay. Alright. Little bit about supplier onboarding. Shayon I’m gonna stick with you for this one, because it seems… well, all suppliers or vendors are important to a business, but in your case as an ecommerce company it’s a unique relationship. So let’s talk a bit about supplier onboarding and just how that’s gone with Tipalti paying your suppliers. That was a change, they had to get off of a prior system and move on to a new one.
Shayon Yeah. Our vendors are the heart of our business, without them we won’t be able to actually run our business. With our old system that we had, and transitioning to Tipalti, Tipalti was very helpful with reaching out to the vendors and sending out the registration link, saying this is our new software; this is what you’ll need to do to get paid; it’s very simple to register; all you have to do is just register, all you have to do is just input your bank information, your contact details, and also your W9 information. Without actually having to import any type of forms, everything can be done within the system. So reaching out to the customers and following up with the customers, our vendors as well. That was definitely helpful, for Tipalti to help with us.
Shayon But also, if for whatever reason a vendor did not choose to register with Tipalti, the fact that we can manually on the back-end add-in that information, so that we don’t have to disrupt any potential payments going to the vendors, that was also awesome. One thing I definitely enjoy about Tipalti is that, the vendors have visibility on payment history, invoice history, so that they can see if something’s missing in the system, it’s more so they don’t have to email us to ask, they can log in themselves and see if something’s missing. Or if they’re inquiring about something, they can go into Tipalti and confirm themselves, like okay I see a payment is being processed, or a payment was made last week.
Shayon So the fact that it can minimize the communication, where if it’s 10 o’clock at night, they can login themselves. But also, showing that we can continue to maintain our relationship with them, because it’s word of mouth. If they can show we are actually paying ourself on time, things are being automated, they can spread to another vendor who might be in the business that we’re interested in, to say okay yeah, Zola is definitely on top of making sure that we get paid and I would recommend them for you to use as well.
Scott Outstanding. Yeah.
Scott Mich, let’s just get an understanding, who are you guys paying? It’s your operational spend at Foursquare there. Just how that’s gone getting your suppliers onboarded to this new way of getting paid.
Mich Yeah. Pretty much what Shayon said. We pay probably about 95% of our vendors on Tipalti now. Exclusions being, anything that comes directly from our credit card, for the most part. Anything from utilities, rent, to our data centers, our legal fees, our media cost, pretty much everything. I guess onboarding them, yeah exact same. I mean, I think originally it was just more about informing our customers, here we have a new AP system, send them the registration link, and then from then on it’s pretty much straight-forward. It’s a step-by-step… I believe they upload they’re account information and their W9s, so it ensure that we’re tax compliant as well.
Mich Then to add-on to what Shayon said, was when…not only can, I believe, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but not only can vendors login and see what the status is, they also get emails when a next step has been progressed. For example, when we remit payment, they get an automated email saying: hey Foursquare has remitted a payment for this invoice. So, it does cut a lot of time off our hands, because we’re not having to respond to vendors going: when are you gonna pay? We’ve already told them automatically. Have I missed anything Cecile? I think that’s kind of….
Scott Okay. Let’s get into some of the efficiencies, some of the…you’ve done the work to modernize your AP. What’s the big impact that’s happening for you guys? You’ve said some things that are really interesting, like a 20 day close down to 4.
Mich Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Love to hear, you go through this change, you modernize, how is it worth it to you guys? What’s the benefit so far? So Mich we’ll start with you.
Mich Sure. Number one would be time we close, at least from my position. It’s good to be able to close the books on business day 10 now. Number two, probably the fact that vendors are happier, I wouldn’t say they’re always happy. But it’s a big improvement from how we used to pay and the timeliness of payments. Which obviously leads to better relationships and negotiated discounts, things like that. Number three, it’s basically really reduced errors. As I mentioned earlier about duplicate invoicing and things like that. It’s really eliminated our time spent on AP but also reduced the risk of error.
Scott Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Mich In invoicing, where we used to manually do it. So I think they’re the three main points, for us anyway.
Scott And Shayon, how’s the impact for you guys?
Shayon It’s definitely a time saver. In the sense that we don’t have to do as much manual things, which also reduce the risk of human error. Also, for our accounts payable team, it’s not where they have to spend all day just doing invoice entry, data entry, double checking their work. So that gives us time to do other projects, actually delve more into accounting or finance things, and not just simply just data entry. So definitely a time saver on the entry part. But also for our team, being more efficient and not having to in-turn have to hire more people because we can do a vast amount with just a small team, just making sure we are as lean as possible, and working as efficient as possible with Tipalti.
Scott Alright. And then just for the audience today, any advice, like looking at going through a modernization effort like this, to really digitize and automate accounts payable, any advice? Or any worries you can lessen about how it’s gone for you guys?
Scott We’ll start with you Mich, just the overall experience of implementing.
Mich Yeah, I think we can really…implementing new software can be daunting to any company. Including the individuals themselves. But, one thing we’ve really appreciated, is we do get really good support from Tipalti, so when we do have issues we can always contact support. We have an account manager who’s [inaudible] I think knowing that there’s someone’s gonna assist you along the way, definitely, I mean I wasn’t there for it, but it seems like it helped out a lot. I think secondly, if you overcome that you can really allocate more of your time and resources to other parts of finance. I have so much more time to do other things versus worrying about AP. So I think they’re the two key points for us as a team.
Scott Yeah. Shayon, how about you?
Shayon Yeah. Mich, you stole my answers. It’s just more so the efficiency, is definitely worth looking into Tipalti, knowing that you can minimize the amount of manual work that you would have to do, with the benefits of Tipalti is something definitely it’s worth exploring. And also the customer support team, we had an onboarding specialist that helped us during [inaudible] that any time we had a question, she was there to help respond. And also, now that we’re actually fully live with Tipalti, the customer service team is great. I’m emailing them all the time and they’ve actually been super responsive.
Shayon And the fact that I’ve made suggestions that have been implemented since using Tipalti. The fact that they actually listened to us and tried to allocate to our needs as well, I definitely appreciate that they want the product to work for you. So that’s really great about Tipalti.
Scott Okay, thank you so much.