Netlify and Airbase: Scaling accounts payable with software.
How Netlify uses Airbase to get ahead of spend, accelerate the month-end close, and set AP operations up for scale.
Head of Strategic Finance and Business Operations, Netlify
1. Eliminated month-end expense surprises.
2. Replaced 80% of expense reports with pre-approvals.
3. Reduced time-intensive accruals with real-time reconciliation.
San Francisco-based startup, Netlify, is modernizing the web. It provides businesses with a global application delivery network that eliminates the need to worry about infrastructure and hosting. The company has raised $44 million from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins.
Amer Ali is Head of Strategic Finance and Business Operations at Netlify. His top priorities were to set up efficient processes with software, get ahead of expenses, improve tracking of spend ownership, and making spend accountability a company-wide priority.
Amer focused on software because tools have a direct impact on AP operations. “Attacking increases in spend, driving good spending practices, and running a quick close is much harder if your business partners have difficulty navigating your financial tools.”
Building AP operations around Airbase.
Amer’s first step was to evaluate Netlify’s existing software stack to see how each tool fit into his plans for scale.
Attivo Partners, Netlify’s outsourced accounting firm, introduced the founders to Airbase as an alternative to their corporate card program. They evaluated and implemented the Airbase platform a few months before Amer joined.
Amer knew Airbase was going to make it past his review when he saw how well virtual cards simplified the payment and reconciliation process.
“Of all the financial tools I’d used, Airbase quickly became the one I liked most because it just worked. The UI is clean and intuitive — that’s something you just don’t see in financial software.”
The ease-of-use was exactly what he needed to drive efficiency. “When a new employee joins and needs to buy something, I just send them a link to Airbase, and I’m confident that they’ll be able to figure it out. We’re going to grow very quickly in terms of headcount, and getting someone spending without a training session is going to be a huge time-saver.”
In the months that followed, Amer broadened the scope of the product and put it to work on more than just virtual cards. He set up an integration with TripActions for T&E expenses, rolled out Airbase physical cards, tightened up approval policies, and increased adoption across the employee base. Almost all of Netlify’s spend now flows through Airbase today.
Robust pre-approvals to get ahead of spend increases.
Amer explains that implementing a pre-approval system is a tough problem to solve at both large and small companies. Large companies have the resources to purchase an enterprise software system or create an in-house PO solution but they get bogged down by “sophisticated approval processes that demand a large FP&A team to streamline.”
Smaller start-ups, on the other hand, don’t even have access to a software option to manage pre-approvals. At Amer’s previous company, also a startup, the only piece of software the company worked with was Bill.com, and “conversations on spend inevitably happened after the spend had occurred.”
Amer saw that Airbase offered a compelling middle ground — an approvals system that didn’t require a complex process or heavy management.
“With Airbase, you don’t need a ton of people to help with implementation or roll-out. It’s a simple, effective system that helps to get ahead of spending that hasn’t been approved.”
Having employees submit pre-approval requests for expenses helped Amer kickstart key conversations before the money was spent.
“We spend a fair amount of money with cloud providers,” Amer explains. “With most of them on Airbase cards, we can discuss how to bring costs down or how to update our contract with a vendor the minute there’s a spike in costs.”
This wouldn’t have been possible if Netlify was using invoices, he explains. “With invoices you have to wait until the end of the month, when the reports and statements usually come in, to get these conversations started. If you’re using invoices, it can take weeks to get the right people talking about a spend increase.”
Driving efficiency with real-time visibility into spend.
Airbase also gives Amer complete visibility into who owns each transaction which has been essential for increasing employee accountability for spend.
“In my experience, credit card spend quickly gets difficult to track, especially if you don’t have a PO process in place,” Amer says. “It’s difficult to assign accountability when you don’t know who’s spent money on what and why. Airbase pre-approvals have been a game-changer for us here.”
“We had a situation where our monthly spend on an analytics tool doubled suddenly. We found out about it when the card was declined because we had set a limit just above the normal monthly spend. The owner reached out immediately and we took a look at the numbers together. We realised that the charge was so high because we were tracking anonymous users that the business wasn’t really using.”
“We got in touch with them the next day, removed the tracking, and were able to get back down to our original monthly spend in two weeks.”
Using Airbase cards to save time and eliminate expense reports.
Virtual cards also cut down on accounting work for Netlify’s reconciliation team. “Having everything organized in Airbase in real time,” Amer says, “is going to be tremendously valuable as we scale.”
“With Airbase’s virtual and physical cards, the card is charged when the amount is supposed to be booked. So we don’t have to spend any time on accruals.”
Airbase also eliminated the travel expense reports. Employees now use a company-issued Airbase card every time they need to book a flight or a hotel with TripActions.
“If we didn’t have Airbase, this would be 20 people using 20 personal cards and creating expense reports after the fact. Now reconciliation happens in a click because Airbase consolidates all that information. Employees don’t have to worry about receipts and expense reports, and we don’t have to worry about finding out what marketing’s T&E expenses were.”
The expenses sync to the GL in real-time with set-and-forget virtual card rules. “The rules are almost fool-proof in the way they streamline automatic ledger entries in QuickBooks. It’s two clicks and you’re done.”
“From a month-end close point-of-view,” Amer says, “the only thing that takes time now is Revenue.”
Streamlining bill payments.
Most recently, Amer has transitioned bill payments from Bill.com to Airbase. “It just made sense to transition all ACH bill payments over since most of our spend was already there in Airbase.”
“Airbase has streamlined the bill pay process for us. Requests are easy to set up and get into approvals. Sending requests to other business partners who need to approve that spend is a lot easier. It’s very user-friendly. ”
Consolidating card and bill payments into a single system has made it easier for Amer to automatically categorize transactions and enter them into QuickBooks: “Airbase’s click-to-sync to QuickBooks has been super-valuable for us. It’s eliminated lengthy reconciliations.”
Looking forward to growing with Airbase.
Airbase will continue to be a crucial tool for increasing productivity as he builds out his team. “Airbase has been a foundational part of our software stack,” Amer says, “When I hire a new full-time person, I know Airbase will help [the new hire] spend less time closing the books and more time on strategic and analytical work.”
“Most of our spend is going to be after this year so it’s great to have Airbase from the get-go. It’s going to set us up for scale.”
“If Airbase didn’t exist, we’d be spending a lot more money on unnecessary expenses and a lot more time closing the books.”