Name: Venkat Prabhala
Time with company: 3.5 years
Education: Bachelor of Science degree from San Jose State and an MBA from Santa Clara University
Company headquarters: Santa Clara, California
Revenue: less than $60 million
Countries: U.S., India, Japan, South Korea, U.K., Spain
Number of employees total: 120
Number of employees the VP of Finance oversees: 4
About the company: Stoke provides mobile broadband gateways to carriers. The company website is http://stoke.com.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I have over 20 years of business management and financial experience and have had a history of working with companies who have been acquired. I started at a Colgate subsidiary, MedaSonics. I then went to Star Medical, which was acquired by Coherent. As the director of finance at Certicom, I played an instrumental role in their Nasdaq IPO. After that, I was corporate controller at P-Cube, where I took a hands-on role leading the company's accounting and financial management team until its acquisition by Cisco in 2004. Most recently, I served at Swan Labs, introducing sound fiscal practices that played a major role in the success of the company's acquisition by F5. At Stoke, I have been able to apply my leadership skills and financial experience in helping to build the company from the ground up.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
Richard Brounstein, CFO at MedaSonics and Certicom, had a major influence on my career. He showed me the value of profound financial modeling skills in bringing companies to successful outcomes, either IPO or acquisition.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
It is a challenge to support the immediate, tactical needs of a growing company while putting in place the resources that will help meet long-term strategic objectives. There is a constant need for prudent financial management, to identify the most essential areas for investment, and balance the "nice to have" with the "must have." Those choices are not always obvious.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
A good day at work is when we either win new business or we develop a new solution. When you work in a startup, this type of breakthrough gets the adrenaline going.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I ask people to deliver the best possible, highest-quality work that they are capable of because this provides them with the best possible rewards. We work hard, and we enjoy the results.
6. What strengths/qualities do you look for in job candidates?
I demand the best out of people. I am looking for job candidates to show their best characteristics during an interview and have the right foundational skills to grow with the company.
7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? And what sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?
I like job applicants who are realistic. I tend to ask candidates what phrases they think their references will use to describe them, and what improvements their previous employers would suggest they make. Answers like "Perfect" and "No improvements" aren't credible.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
Working at Stoke is very different in that the company is at the heart of the explosively growing world of mobile data, delivering paradigm-shifting technology solutions. In an industry dominated by giant corporations, we are competing and winning. Every year since I've been at Stoke, it has grown by triple digits. We have received over $90M from leading VC firms and carriers, we are poised to double in size during 2011 and we continue to pass our revenue and shipment milestones ahead of target. Navigating uncharted waters is exciting and seeing the company's growing success is even more so.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I enjoy a glass of red wine. And I like to cook a few favorite vegetarian dishes.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
I would be traveling and consulting to a nonprofit organization.