HappyCo builds software to help manage real estate with a broad range of products. They are the leading real-time operations platform for inspecting, managing and monitoring residential properties and commercial facilities. Its unique culture is reflected in its name, and every member of the team has their very own happiness quote.
When Andrew Vernik joined HappyCo as VP of Finance and Operations, he was determined to drive operational excellence, while balancing optimal levels of process, reporting, and structure. His small finance team of five was stretched to capacity and needed to find ways to improve operational efficiencies to support the rapidly growing business.
It’s not surprising that a company like HappyCo, with a strong core culture of happiness, would care about “the cost of systems that are not appropriate, adequate, or pleasant to use. Such systems create disharmony and frustration.” Andrew further explained.
“We've probably all worked in places where a system is imposed that doesn't support you or your work. And then you feel resentful and wonder why can’t it work better; why can’t it work differently?”
Andrew had three pain points—or areas of unhappiness—that motivated him to find Airbase.
HappyCo was an early adopter of Airbase. Andrew recognized both the value and potential of Airbase and was willing to “explore and grow as two companies.” He was looking for a comprehensive solution, and Airbase had a good product and a compelling roadmap for new features that attracted him. “It was a leap of faith that we took on Airbase, its people, and their plan for the future, and each time we’ve gotten to the point of needing a feature or capability, Airbase has been there.”
We circled back with Andrew to see how Airbase had addressed the issues he was trying to solve. What emerged was a picture of tremendous improvement, especially around what Andrew described as “intangibles.”
“After Airbase, we spent a lot less time shuffling papers, and doing the really tiring, boring administrative processes that nobody cares about but have to get done.”
Andrew continues, “I've always felt that every minute we spent doing that is time that could have been spent having a meaningful influence on the company, and driving the business forward.”
“Airbase has definitely freed up our time and our energy. It changed the way we see our role as a finance team and how the company sees the value that we can add.”
“I suppose this is a byproduct of not chasing people for very small things. The Airbase system is empowering us to have those grander conversations.”
Andrew faced a challenge getting the company excited and comfortable with Airbase. “Saying, ‘I've got a new expense system,’ probably sounds as exciting to the business as, ‘I've got a new dentist.’ The watershed moment came when I switched approaches by saying ‘You’ll never have to file an expense report again,’ and only then perceptions and enthusiasm changed.”
A system like Airbase is “a paradigm shift.”
“It doesn't sound sexy until you really look under the hood, and then you think, ‘that's pretty cool.’ There are a lot more bells and whistles than we fully understood in the first pass.”
Associate Marketing Operations Manager, Yuliya Maystruk, is the trade show and user conference organizer, and responsible for marketing operations, with an overview of the marketing budget. She is an enthusiastic user of Airbase, saying, “It is so easy to organize all of our expenses in one central system and stop using just one card for so many functions.”
“It was a complex logistical challenge trying to figure everything out before Airbase.”
She explained that, before Airbase, “Categorization was challenging for us because we have so many different types of expenses.” Yuliya now uses a combination of virtual and physical cards as well as the invoicing feature.
“It was great for me because previously when we made a purchase with our Amex card, we recorded each transaction into a spreadsheet. Matching receipts to expenses was a difficult task and often slowed down month-end closes. Now, receipts are sent to one place, and they are matched to the expense in the Airbase platform.”
When COVID-19 led to the economy shutting down, HappyCo’s finance team, like most around the world, was thrown into overdrive. The turmoil created a need to assess cash positions, runway, expenses, and overheads. At this point, delivering good data quickly to management, and boards for decision making was essential. Andrew described the event as follows. “It was incredible having the Airbase system in place because straightaway, as a company, you say, ‘we need to get on top of this; this could be rough.’ As a finance team, you focus on what you can control, and that's expenses."
“Airbase allowed us to very quickly answer the questions: What are we spending? Where are we spending? Can we reduce the spend?”
With Airbase-enabled visibility into non-payroll spend, implementing the shift to tighter budgets was made easy with the Airbase pre-approval system for card spend. “It would have been very difficult and friction inducing asking people to hand back corporate cards, or telling/asking them ‘Please don't expense that.’ Or, ‘We asked you not to spend. Why did you spend?’ With Airbase, we did in days what would have taken weeks, or longer.”
The built-in approval system solved another problem for HappyCo, one they had experienced as part of an audit. Andrew explained: “Previously, approvals would happen through multiple streams (email, Slack), making it quite hard to know exactly what was approved. Now, the entire approval chain lives in Airbase. It's been really good, particularly during COVID-19, where we've reduced budgets across the board. We now know that all items are approved and within budget. We really appreciate having approval rules in place.”
“I think people were a little surprised when we were able to present expenses in a way that they could consume and digest.”
“People could see that we were paying for duplicate or similar subscription services. But it wasn't obvious until you put all of the information together for the business units. It's been empowering for the business to see and understand where the expenses are. Having that knowledge moving forward is great because, in the past, it was a matter of digging through the accounting system to find expenses. Now we can answer questions quickly.”
Like many finance teams, Andrew felt that his team's role was viewed as an administrative one, expected to just pay for things without any context. Now he feels they play more of a proactive oversight role; the invoices and information they receive allow them to recommend changes.
“It’s organically bubbling up a lot of those things in a frictionless, non-confrontational way. It’s helping people to have conversations with vendors more easily. So it's had a really positive impact.”
Andrew has been pleased with his team's ability to “answer questions a lot quicker—almost in real-time.” When HappyCo originally onboarded to the Airbase system, it did not have the reporting module it has today, which was an essential requirement for Andrew. This feature was on the Airbase roadmap, and Andrew now says that his faith in Airbase was well placed.
“The reporting is providing incredible levels of transparency.”
It was important to Andrew that Airbase was more than just a platform for corporate cards. “I didn't want there to be one system for some expenses and another system for other expenses.” Andrew’s team was pleasantly surprised to see that the bill payment feature did more than just allow for check and ACH payments. “It allowed us to do a couple of quirky things, like reimbursement of mileage, or reimburse for company share of home office expenses.”
Andrew set out to reduce the many hidden costs and friction around a finance team, wasting time on manual tasks, especially the few days spent every month reclassifying expenses. He wanted to eliminate the guesswork around how money was spent and feel confident that spending was approved and within budget. He also wanted a process that yielded accurate reporting but didn’t expect his team to compensate with manual processes constantly.
“I did not want us to become one of those bloated finance teams dedicated to data entry and manual information gathering.”
Andrew explained that before Airbase, if HappyCo was going to scale the finance team would have needed to increase headcount as the business grew. “Our finance team can operate the Airbase system with the same sized team, regardless of how much the company's headcount grows, which allows the finance team to become a forward-looking business partner rather than an expense processing team.”