CFO Series: David Biggs (Pusher) on Personal Financial Management
Pusher are absolutely smashing it in the tech space. An $8M Series A round announced today, expansion to the US, awesome new offices in London and insane revenue growth. I had the privilege and honour of discussing all things career, tech and financial management with their amazing chief financial officer (CFO) David Biggs.
Lets start with your career David; from LinkedIn it's a fantastic CV
I never wanted to be an accountant. I initially wanted to be a physiotherapist. Someone told me it’s really hard and so I decided not to proceed; I can't even remember who told me that or why I listened. I did business studies at university and I started temping at a local firm. Completely by chance, the finance team left and I did more and more accounting for them. I went from being the finance clerk to being second in charge there, and enjoyed it. This was locally down in Brighton. Then I fancied moving to London so I started looking for graduate jobs in accounting. I got a job where I did three years of the accounting fundamentals will studying on the side for the CIMA.
After that I did travel advertising; at the time there was a shift in the market from marketing on newspapers to internet marketing. This was a really exciting time, and the company made a lot of money from this switch. I then joined BBC worldwide working as an investment analyst. I’d work with the team valuing programs such as Planet Earth; we'd then decide whether to invest and purchase them. We'd value the rights of television programs, based on how many of them (DVDs and online) we could sell in different territories across the world.
I was then Finance Director at Mint Digital, we were one of the first people to use Instagram's API to build physical products. We sold that part of our business (Stickygram) to the Photobox/Moonpig Group in 2013.
Then I left Mint and went to Brighton I was already married and had my first child. We bought a house and I started doing temp FD work. I worked with Appear Here for 3 months, Tech Will Save Us for 6 months, before joining Pusher, where I have been for 3 and a half years. During my time at Pusher I have helped raise two rounds of finance, opened a US subsidiary and grown the company from 15 to 60 people.
What is fintech to you? Do you use any fintech in your day to day life?
To be honest, I'm slightly cynical about fintech businesses; I had the Monzo prepaid card but I have not moved onto their current account. Most people find they have regular spending patterns and they don't deviate much from that. These personal banking apps just provide an interface on what you are spending; that's not something I, or many people, need. If you don't understand or know your spending habits then it's fine to use this card.
As I'm a finance person, and like many finance people, we look at our personal bank account every day. Non finance people tend to only look at their bank account once a week or once a month. Again, I'm not sure what providing visibility on my account adds to my knowledge of my personal finances. Maybe I'm just cynical as I'm in finance.
Finally, the existing companies have a huge moat around them with regards to the amount of cash and compliance resources they have. HSBC and Barclays could quite easily turn around and
Tech that I like includes Crowdcube and Seedrs; they democratise investment in businesses which is a brilliant idea. Seedrs has gone one step further and opened a secondary market which is great (to fully understand what this means, check out the interview with Sanjay from Black Sheep Coffee). I invested in Desk Beers through Crowdcube; that was a spin out of Mint Digital, my old company.
For a lot of people, the question what is fintech involves taking about FX. What do you do for FX?
I don’t go abroad often as I have two small kids; we tend to stay in the UK for them. I do, however have a FairFX card for when I go abroad. They have no fees on the charges, the base rate for exchanges and you can take cash out with them. I did a lot of travelling in 2009, and I used their card.
Personal Financial Management; talk to me about how you manage your personal finances?
I use First direct who I have been with for 15 years; I love them for many old school reasons. You can phone them up 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and the service they provide is fantastic. Unfortunately they are owned by HSBC and have adopted quite a few of their bad habits: the service has become a little poorer; pick up times are slower.
I also have a credit card with First Direct and I own quite a few balance transfer cards (0% interest cards) where I put big purchases. I bought my kitchen on a balance transfer card, and most home improvements tend to go on there.
With regards to pensions, I have a lot of different pension accounts; I've had a couple of jobs so they all provide me with a pension. My main pension account is my Royal London account. I don't have a SIPP; it requires active management. I'd rather just pick the areas I'm interested in and leave them there.
I also have stocks and shares, predominately in tech companies. I'm about to make a couple more investments too, mainly in Amazon, Facebook and Google. These companies are pioneers in what they do and have the best people, cash and infrastructure.
All my investments are specific investments rather than a diversified portfolio. Portfolio theory in my mind is for the uninformed investor. All you do is minimize risk. I like risk. Like Warren Buffet, I like investing in things I know about. I invested in Domino's pizza when they first listed on the AIM market. I liked pizza, knew there was demand for takeaway pizza and understood the business model; the franchise model has provided exceptionally successful. Look at McDonalds as well. I ended up buying my wife's engagement ring when I sold my Domino Pizza shares.
I’ve also lost money picking specific shares. I invested in Woolworths. I spend a lot of time on investment forums. Day traders live on there, who tend to feed false information onto these sites. When Woolworths were collapsing, there would be comments like "there's a potential buyer out there"; I believed them.
I like gambling in general. I'm a Brighton and Hove Albion supporter and have a season ticket; I go every week and I usually put money on them. I put money on the Brexit referendum, which I lost. I put money on Trump to win and won. If I ever go to the horse races ing I loose.
What tech do you like?
I love a company called Tado; they're a German company, based in Munich. I really like smart home devices. I appreciate there are quite a few out there but Tado is fantastic in that you can have temperature control in each individual room. My house has multiple beings that all require a different temperature. I have a small baby of 18 months and he is in the room furthest in the house which gets quite cold. He requires one temperature. My daughter is 5 and requires a slightly higher temperature, and in my wife and my room, we turn the heating off. I can control all the different rooms in the house to different temperatures. It's my favourite piece of technology.
I like practical stuff in general. If it's a real world problem such as helping my kids sleep, it's great. The other pieces of tech I like are my Tom Tom sport watch. It's a GPS tracking tool and I used it when I did my marathon. I'll use it again if I do another marathon. I also use Evernote; they’re great for taking and organising notes.
In your financial management, what are your biggest outgoings?
My biggest outgoing every month is my mortgage, followed by child card. The nursery is incredibly expensive, and it's only for three days a week.
My football season ticket is £60 a month; most football clubs make you pay up front but for Brighton and Hove Albion I only have to pay per month which is great and very cost effective.
I don't really budget in general; we have a family one, but nothing particularly granular. I spend a lot on my house; from doing it up to renovations to fixing things when they go wrong, I like spending money on the garden, roof etc. Property is the best tax free investment there is.
Do you have any personal finance goals?
I would like to significantly out perform the FTSE i.e double my investment. I just like double figure returns.
I would also like to invest abroad in property. In todays world, it's great as you can leverage Airbnb easily so it's a good investment piece with short and long term returns.
What has your work life taught you that you employ in your personal financial management?
I have learnt a lot from implementing work place pensions. It's a fantastic tax efficient way to save for the future, and benefits from both tax efficiencies and compound interest. I will always have the minimum contributions, if not more.
As a general rule, I'm overly prudent. I always try to overestimate what I'll spend, from a company perspective, and my own perspective. I always expect things to cost more than they do.
What continuous learning do you do?
For me AVC.com by Fred Wilson is the number one blog; he provides so much great information on being a CFO. All the stock plans I've ever devised have come from there. I also follow Tomaz Tung and David Scott.
From a personal perspective I really enjoy Reid Hoffman's, Masters of Scale.
From a book perspective, I really like "Outsider CEOs"; they discuss ways to allocate capital efficiently and effectively run a company. I'm a big fan of the Economist. I read Andy Groves book, High Output Management recently; it's fantastic.
Other than that I used to collect sportsman's biographies; some are dull and some are funny. I like the way sports people think; they are very driven people generally.
Any tips for readers.
Happiness is not a destination; enjoy the journey. I do think everyone should be prudent with their finances, but remember that money enables fun. If you enjoy something, use your money to enable it.