April 21, 2022

How Mary Liu of Applied Intuition is betting on the future of in-office work


Mary Liu, Head of Finance & Operations at Applied Intuition, is used to people staring at her incredulously when she tells them Applied Intuition’s employees come into the office 5 days a week. It’s become almost an inevitability that companies, especially technology companies, must offer a hybrid or remote work model to capture top talent. However, Mary takes a contrarian approach to this conventional wisdom, noting that “the magic happens in person.” In this episode, Mary dives deeper into the collaboration that can only occur in the office and how she thinks about culture at Applied Intuition.

When Mary joined Applied Intuition, she was a finance team of one, and even now with a $3.6 billion dollar valuation and 8 global offices, Mary’s team is still super lean. While she’s looking to hire for a handful of roles, her intention isn’t to scale her team dramatically. As she notes in the episode, scaling is doing more with less, not necessarily adding more headcount. Instead Mary gets the most out of her team by leveraging contractors for repeatable and predictable business processes. She also relies heavily on the power of finance automation to enable her lean team to focus their time and energy on business strategy and the future of Applied Intuition.

We’ve condensed some of the major themes from our recent conversation with Mary on the FinOps Today podcast and summarized them below. But to get a full picture of Mary’s story at Applied intuition, be sure to check out episode 9, available on all major podcast streaming platforms. Here’s some of what you’ll hear about in this episode: 

What Mary believes is the true definition of scaling

“I really, really believe, a lot of times, capital flushed, venture backed companies in Silicon Valley have misused the term scale. Scaling to a thousand people is not scale, scaling is doing more with less.”

Why you shouldn’t only fundraise when you need money

“In my perspective, when we think about fundraising, we actually didn't need the money but what makes sense is to negotiate in a position of power. I think, when the market is hot, you want to time it in such a way that you're not desperate for capital but you're in a position where the business is growing really well and it makes sense to take that capital to then further accelerate growth in the business.”

Why she’s bullish on the return to office

“The conversation, the way you make decisions, the relationships that you build with your team, none of this can be done through a screen. And I think as much as we think that communication can be done through screens, as you know, 80, 90% of communication is nonverbal, too. So, that body language, the way you communicate, all of that is lost and it's hard to say that you can build the same type of camaraderie and same type of bond within a company while remote.” 

Why so many companies fail after their Series C and the pitfalls to avoid

“Companies at our stage die more often from suicide than homicide. We're not looking out into the market, we're looking internally to make sure our execution is being done well. And it's not rocket science, it's just making sure you're constantly grinding against the targets that you have set ahead of you, supporting our customers, it's the basic building blocks and I think, for us, there's a very common sense approach that we've taken to building the business.”

The full transcript is available here.

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