Startup King Offers Free Advice to Financial Businesses
John Kogan (pictured) is founder, CEO and CFO of Proformative.com, his fifth startup. He’s been in corporate finance for 20 years at companies as large as Cisco Systems and Cardinal Health, and as small as two guys in a living room.
His two-year-old site offers a unique resource with practical advice for people with finance, accounting, and related questions.
We asked John about the kinds of issues discussed on Proformative, why it’s completely free for the users, how it's been funded, and how he’s survived as a serial entrepreneur.
ISBB: What kind of advice can someone find at Proformative.com?
Kogan: Topics addressed by our Proformative community of over 350,000 people are wide ranging and include company financing, financial planning and analysis, accounting, operations (from HR to legal, IT, and beyond), technology and more. Typical issues range from “How do I get my company Angel funding” to “How do I open a subsidiary in Hong Kong” and much more.
All questions are asked by community members (membership is free) and answered by other community members and subject matter experts. It’s kind of magical to see a Controller ask a question and have six CFOs, four other Controllers, and two VPs of Finance answer it. You can’t pay for this kind of advice, and yet here it is for free, without ads, self-promotion, or other distracting noise.
How does your company generate revenue?
We’ve found a very harmonious way to fund our site in ways which work for both users and partners. We’ve created a few products which are completely at the beck and call of the users and offer valuable features to them. The product and service providers who want to reach our user base can be found by our users when they need their products and services, not via banner ads, or pop-ups.
Our revenue generators are an online B2B directory of service providers, which is like an online yellow pages, an Ask The Experts area, and sponsored events. We charge a fee to companies who want to list their company name, logo, and web link in these areas per a rate card. All of these areas of our site enable users to get direct value without having to pay, so it’s a win-win.
How did you evolve from a CFO to founder of a financial advice startup?
Years ago, I discovered that corporate finance professionals, and especially the CFOs, are the “garbage men” (and women) of the enterprise. And I mean that in the most affectionate way, in that they have anything and everything coming their way every day of the week.
As I spent my last two decades in finance and operations, I noticed that an incredibly diverse set of challenges came to the finance organization at any company -- and we were trained for almost none of it. Thus, we spent our professional lives learning on the job.
We had to create direct professional networks to help us as each new challenge was thrown our way. That led to building Proformative as a way to instantly tap into hundreds of thousands of peers and experts and find free answers to almost all of your finance, accounting, operations, and related questions in one spot.
How have you raised more than $100 million to launch five companies? Don’t you know the economy is struggling?
Very funny. Most of that money came over the course of the past decade and went into my four prior companies. I have raised equity financing in amounts ranging from $10,000 up to $50 million and have closed a huge variety of debt deals. It’s all fun and challenging.
Proformative is lucky to have a lead investor in Mike Maples of Floodgate, with an amazing track record as an early investor in companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and more. We can only hope he’s picked as well this time!