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Meet Rose Punkunus – Making The Spend Management Product And Processes She Created At Uber Accessible To All Finance Teams

Today we have selected Rose Punkunus to take her interview. She is the Founder and CEO of Sudozi.

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

We’re in a unique spot because we started the company and built our team this last year during COVID, so we don’t have any non-COVID benchmarks to go off of.  Some of us have worked together before, but not all of us.  While we would love to meet up more often, we’ve only met up once in person and hope to do that more often as cases decrease.  Everyone is figuring out daily routines and work schedules to fit personal and team schedules, and we are supporting each other where needed.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?

From my earliest days, I’ve always been very analytical and interested in technology. After getting my economics degree from MIT, I started my career as a research fellow at Stanford, thinking I would pursue a Ph.D.  I quickly learned that I’m very operational and working in a business setting was much more natural and comfortable for me compared to a life in academia.  This realization led me to pursue an MBA from UCLA Anderson. After my MBA, I was the strategy & analytics lead for iTunes TV and Movies.  I helped build strategies for studios using the data we had on the iTunes platform in this role.  I spent a lot of time helping studios optimize pricing to maximize revenue and other objectives.  This global pricing expertise helped me land the lead role at Uber, heading up global pricing.  That role happened to be in the finance team, and I’ve held various executive finance roles since then until I started Sudozi late in 2020.  At Sudozi, I am the Founder & CEO, and we are building software to help finance teams manage vendors and budgets.  I used these features and tools in my previous roles, and I’m excited to help finance teams with more automation.

How does your company innovate?

We don’t have an exact process we run, but I ensure that every team member understands what we’re building and who we’re building it for.  I also try to get each team member exposure to the end-user as appropriate.  I’m a core believer that innovation does not come from one person or one team.  The combination of everyone working on the problem can provide innovative solutions for different dimensions of the product and business.

How does the Coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?

The pandemic has made it more obvious for businesses and finance teams that they need lightweight processes and tools to manage their employees’ spending.  The pandemic has not stopped the need for businesses to buy things, whether it be marketing, contractors, software, etc., but it has made. Still, it is difficult for finance teams to check to spend amounts against budget, communicate approvals, and share context for that decision with relevant stakeholders.  In a way, the pandemic has triggered an increase in expense visibility and management software. Because we are a relatively young company and our product is still in beta, we are trying our best to keep up with feature requests and get our software into customers’ hands.  There’s a balance between satisfying customers and making sure our employees are not getting burnt out and still enjoying their jobs day-to-day.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Because we have limited resources on the team, we are always making difficult decisions about what features to build and what not to build. Ultimately that’s going to upset some customers.  We are still learning the best way to do this. Still, one thing I’ve found very helpful is to have in-person conversations (or at least over zoom) when delivering news about difficult choices, particularly when it negatively impacts the recipient of that message.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Even though we are smaller than our ideal customer, we use Sudozi internally to track our vendors.  In addition, we are on a typical stack of slack, notion, zoom, and google workspace to keep everyone in sync on the team.  On the personal side, I spend quality time during the mornings and evenings with my family.  It can be easy to let work slip into the family and vice versa, and I’ve found it good to have some dedicated time to each.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Today, our main competitor is spreadsheets, excel, and human hours spent manually tracking vendors and purchases.  While some budgets have gotten tighter during the pandemic, we still see great interest and an appetite for software in the finance space.  To stay in the game, we need to listen closely to our customers’ needs and translate those needs into amazing product features.

Your Final Thoughts

Sometimes I joke that if you made a software engineer do any finance or accounting job for a while, there would be thousands of technology companies in this space.  While several technology companies tackle different workflow components, much of the work is manual and not data/API-driven.  There will certainly be more automation in accounting processes and strategic finance at all companies a decade from now.  We hope to be a major part of the solution as finance teams adopt new technologies.

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