“Now I understand a broad-spectrum of the financial tools to invest”
Prove that Airbnb needs a sales team inside the business. The challenge set by his CFO gave Alberto Cuevas a powerful reason to take London Business School’s (LBS) Financing the Entrepreneurial Business (FEB) programme.
After joining the corporate world as a high-tech consultant for Accenture, Alberto felt “anxious to get out there”, and so entered the start-up world. After a stint in sales at Groupon he joined Airbnb in 2012. Over four years he went from managing sales to overseeing operations. By 2016, Alberto had become the global manager for customer experience innovation.
“I create teams, build them up to scale, and if they’re successful they become part of Airbnb’s core business.” For instance, although Airbnb already had a global sales team spread across different countries, Alberto designed an “inside sales team” made of customer experience agents based in three key hubs (Dublin, Portland and Singapore). His instincts told him that creating the team was the right thing to do. All he had to do was prove it.
“I needed to sell the idea of having a dedicated team to the CFO, who was formerly a Blackstone investor,” says Alberto. It was critical to speak the language of a shrewd investor, using financial tools such as a profit and loss statement to win funds for new projects like this.
As well as helping Alberto in the Airbnb boardroom, FEB helped him raise his game as a start-up investor. In 2015 he set up Bull Partners, a club of angel investors. But with no formal financial background, his investment decisions were based on the advice of other experts. “I wanted to better understand how to value a company and make those calls myself.” With the help of the programme, he’s doing just that.
Thanks to the well-matched faculty teaching on the programme, Alberto discovered that investing in entrepreneurial ventures was a matter for both the heart and the head. He says: “They [John Mullins and Martyn Williams] are talented and experienced – and the two of them perfectly complement each other. Martyn is financially savvy and has all the calculations to challenge the most senior CFOs in the room. John brings the other side.”
John Mullins, Associate Professor of Management Practice in Marketing and Entrepreneurship at LBS, shared a particular insight that stands out in Alberto’s mind. “John told us, ‘Investing is not just a numbers game, it’s also about intuition’.” Before FEB, Alberto made investment decisions based on gut rather than financial reasons. But over five days he adopted Mullins’ approach: a healthy mix of both.
“I worried that I needed more finance knowledge to invest in start-ups, but I soon realised that it’s also about proving your ideas – and sometimes about finding different routes to the same results.
“In the past, I would think in terms of investing to get equity. I didn't understand the other models and associated costs. Now I understand a broad-spectrum of the financial tools to invest.”
Unpicking the finance behind entrepreneurial ventures is not the only benefit. Alberto has used the programme as a platform to build an influential network to support Bull Partners. The blend of CFOs working at some of the mightiest corporations, entrepreneurs and investors made the classroom a dynamic pool of contacts.
Alberto says: “The LBS network is enriching. There were lots of experienced CFOs in the class; they understand finance but are just starting their journey in the investment world. I don’t come from the finance world but I’m already an investor.”
The mutually-beneficial relationships developed at LBS means that while the programme’s over, the learning never stops.