9 Minutes With - Ciaran O'Donnell

Ciaran O'Donnell is PLATF9RM's Finance Director and has been working with the company, virtually, for the past two years. Having recently won CFO/Finance Director of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards 2019, we thought this would be the perfect oppourtunity to find out more about how he makes work wonderful.

You’ve recently won CFO/Finance Director of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards 2019, huge congratulations! What does this mean to you?

It’s great to be recognised by the sector’s equivalent of the Oscars and the esteemed panel of judges given the sheer number of applicants. I’ve been hustling in this space for 10 years so to be shortlisted was all that I was looking for - winning the award is a little surreal. And i think my mum finally now understands what I do for a living.


Ciaran, you’re the founder of The Virtual FD, could you tell us about your business and what led you to start it?

Simply put, I wanted to surround myself with remarkable people so I left the corporate world in 2009 (when my wife was 8 months pregnant with our first child) and set myself up as an early stage FD for start-ups and entrepreneurs who are creative, talented, ambitious and focused on creating value.

You’ve been PLATF9RM’s, FD for over two years, and we’re clearly super lucky to have you. Please tell us how this started and what the needs of the company were?

Seb reached out back in spring 2017, he was already up and running and Tower Point 6th Floor was open and busy. Seb, being Seb, wanted to get clearer visibility of his immediate and actual financial position and also build a robust plan to expand PLATF9RM to other locations. Like all businesses I work with, it starts with addressing immediate issues - which might require not much time at all. And then build an open/flexible relationship that ends up with a structured finance function, Finance Deck, metrics, forecast, cashflow, etc. robust to track our performance and underpin our planned growth. The first time I met Seb, I passed through Brighton en route to Gatwick with my wife and three daughters who all loved the guided tour (and icecream).

Working from home on the Isle of Wight, how have you managed to stay motivated? Surely you should be co-working?

I’ve never had a problem working from home - mainly because I love that I do, the room/setting has great energy (light, positioning, yellow wall opposite me - I know, feng shui works!). And I balance this with a ferry/train to see clients when face-time is needed.

I’ll continue to influence PLATF9RM to open a hub (or offshoot) in Ryde on the Isle of Wight as they expand and own the co-working market along the south coast - it will transform the community in the same way as Brighton and Hove. I love the model. On the day I went to the British Accountancy Awards, my wife had a number of colleagues using our living area for the day as their office is being refurbished - they all loved it so much it’s now known as the best co-working space in Ryde. I would happily lose the title to PLATF9RM.

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Your model means you have other clients other than PLATF9RM, how do you manage these multiple requests on your time?

The CEOs and teams I work with are all busy people, and we all get into a workflow which gets stuff done, cleared, balanced up, paid, resolved, etc. in the smoothest possible way. So our work methods compliment rather than clash. Of course, diaries clash from time to time, but relationships are based on making it happen. And CEOs know I sometimes have to triage my inbox. There are some occasions when you can’t be in two places or on two calls at the same time. 

It’s not all about the numbers, how do you spend your free time?

This isn’t going to sound very rock n roll, but at the moment with a young family I get just snippets of free time. Aside from work, school runs, ballet runs and other kids activities, I will sneak in a quick walk by the sea whatever the weather with some music or sport on headphones. I’m easily pleased. 

Can you let us know some of the other companies that you work with? What motivates you to work with them?

I’m pretty diversified across different sectors, the current mix includes coworking/creative-workspace (of course), property-tech, financial securities-tech, marine-supplements, SME-flexible-working-capital, Zip-Lines, free-from-plantbased-meals, internet-TV-platform, creative-childcare. Quite a mix but so many common threads!

I’m always conscious of being the right fit - which can be hard to define, but such an important factor. So we (me and CEO/company) need to be the right fit. After that tech, online, recurring revenue qualities are the business models which I’m genuinely interested in and lean towards, mainly because success and value is driven by customers returning and their lifetime value. 

What do you offer PLATF9RM? How does this work day-to-day?

Over a month we have some clear outputs and deliverables which we use to review performance and address certain issues. We call our monthly report a ‘Finance Deck’ which consolidates financials, metrics and investor outputs - has the input from all the team and also reviewed at Board Meetings. So whilst the operational team are working day-to-day, aside from monthly workflow, I’m easily reached if needed to step in, contribute, advise, update or forecast, put out a fire (of the numbers variety). Our operational team are great, we’ve got some slick/agile processes in place, they continue to grow and develop and handle issues with the professionalism and maturity of an ageing/greying FD.

What do you bring to Make Work Wonderful?

I’ve always been output focused and like that I work with people who are normal and don’t get all that excited about a page of numbers so I need to bring something different. I think that my collaborative approach to working, patience and a sense of humour underpins what I do and makes work wonderful. I am probably heavily influenced from listening to BBC 6 Music and Shaun Keaveny for a couple hours most afternoons?!