Company’s Strategic Growth Continues With Gambrell Paving the Way for Sonar’s Executive Team
Sonar, the top-rated Change Intelligence platform, recently named Russ Gambrell VP of Finance and Operations. His appointment is a critical milestone for the Atlanta-based startup, as the company experiences rapid growth after receiving $12 million in funding in spring 2021.
Russ will serve on the executive team alongside Co-founder and CEO Brad Smith, Co-founder and CPO Jack McGlinchey, and Vice President of Engineering Sethen Maleno. With Russ leading the charge for the company’s finance and operations department, Sonar is positioned to continue its accelerated growth and expand its offerings to more go-to-market teams.
Russ brings over 15 years of experience in accounting, finance, sales operations, and revenue operations (RevOps) to his role at Sonar. Most recently, he served as the Senior Director of Finance at Terminus, where he helped build the company’s accounting and finance team ahead of its $90 million Series C fundraising round.
We recently chatted with Russ about his new role at Sonar and his deep experience working with organizations across growth stages–from startups to multinational enterprises. We also dived into his life outside of work, including his go-to concert venues, his favorite place to snowmobile, and his love for barbecue sauces.
Read on for our conversation.
Russ, tell me about your career path.
My career really started to take shape within the medical device and technology space around 2009, working for the publicly-traded company CR Bard. I was fortunate enough to be selected for a CFO rotational path, working (and moving) across the organization’s divisions. Not only did this experience help me understand the core fundamentals of finance and predictability, it also taught me a lot about people and the value of relationships.
During my six years in the public corporate finance arena, I worked primarily within the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) sector. I led the largest merger and acquisition within the company’s history. But eventually, I realized I would be more fulfilled at a smaller company with work that was meaningful to me personally. I found exactly that when I moved to Atlanta and became part of its thriving startup community.
I jumped in headfirst with the smaller-scale company vibe, leading a small fintech and payments venture for a few years. From there, I joined Salesloft, a leading sales enablement platform. That’s where I really learned about SaaS technology and the recurring revenue model. In that role, I worked for CFO Chad Gold and Chief Accounting Officer Chad Wonderling. Together, we built something I am proud of to this day. We took Salesloft from $20 million to trending above $100 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR).
I was part of Salesloft’s Series D fundraising round, two acquisitions, a debt facility execution, and–most importantly–a thriving culture that embodied constant improvement, embraced change, and enabled a predictable, scalable business. Salesloft gave me the invaluable opportunity to learn from some of the best SaaS technology pros and great human beings.
In spring 2020, I left Salesloft for an opportunity with the account-based marketing company Terminus. The company brought me on to help build its accounting and finance team and raise capital injection with a $90 million Series C round. I helped hire and build a robust finance team and establish an FP&A motion that delivered results to internal and external stakeholders. Additionally, the team and I built scale through technology improvements to the order-to-cash cycle that mirrored Salesloft’s successful working capital strategy.
Russ, let’s dig a little deeper into the startups you’ve worked with. How did they shape your approach to your work today?
My first startup, Payscape, showed me the value of a recurring revenue model and subscription software. Through that experience, I helped the company evolve from $15 million ARR to roughly $50 million.
The Payscape VP of Sales, Chris McDonald, taught me about the relationship between sales, finance, and operations. A great example of this cross-functional approach is the time we worked together to drive efficiencies for the sales team. We purchased Salesloft to deliver more authentic interactions between our inside sales team and prospects. We saw immediate success in the win and close rates, helping the team drive increased bookings and deliver on financial targets.
As part of the procurement process, I researched Salesloft and liked what I read. Then I met Salesloft’s CFO, Chad Gold, as he was transitioning into his new role. Chad wanted to build scale within the Salesloft back-office and financial operations team, and I was eager to help. I joined Salesloft’s FinOps team, owning revenue accounting and its system, Netsuite.
Joining Salesloft brought me to another pivotal moment in my career: my introduction to a relatively new philosophy called RevOps. It all started when we began interacting cross-departmentally with customer service operations, sales operations, business operations, and marketing operations. The consolidation of these organizations is widely known today as RevOps.
Why are you passionate about working with startups?
I love the constant collaboration with super-curious people who have great attitudes and possess a willingness to adapt to change.
Secondly, I really enjoy the problem-solving you get to be part of every day. In the early stages, everything is new, which means you get to build.
Lastly, I love the opportunity to design and optimize processes that help a company scale. With each process, I apply the lessons I learned at large organizations, doing so with velocity and cross-functional buy-in. This is a huge attraction to helping founders grow their vision the right way.
Tell me about the mentors and colleagues who have influenced you throughout your career.
- Chad Gold. Chad is a phenomenal leader I worked with at Salesloft who taught me all about the FP&A motion related to technology and software. I had previously learned a lot about FP&A in my publicly traded corporate finance days. But watching Chad operate with his FP&A leader, Nic Zagorski, gave me a new understanding of how strategic finance can successfully impact a software business that’s rapidly scaling. Chad taught me the value of designing an environment to enable quality financial data related to the fundraising motion. He embodies transparency and truly believes in removing obstacles so his team can be successful. Chad lives and breathes the “team over self” value, and his teams reflect it.
- Melissa Trubacz. Melissa appreciates doing things the right way for early-stage startups that set the tone for larger initiatives. Like building data rooms and executing on due diligence for fundraising efforts. All of this while delivering on budgets and forecasts for department leaders. It’s really impressive, and it’s been great to watch her progress in her career.
- Jason Moore & Chad Wonderling. Jason and Chad taught me invaluable lessons about what it means to deliver on a working capital strategy from two sides of the spectrum: sales operations and financial controllership. Jason continues to advise the Sonar team, and I admire his thoughtfulness for how an outcome may impact others. Chad taught me the value of creating a culture of cash.
- Nate Remmes. Nate and I first met while he was leading the business operations team at Salesloft. He, Sophie, Jason, and I were part of the team that designed how recurring revenue should flow through the tech stack, from prospecting and negotiations through cash collections. Nate is also a part of the Bills mafia (Go Bills!).
- Sophie Darch. Sophie led a customer service team at Salesloft before moving to operations. She’s just one of those people you want to win with, much like Nate and Jason. Sophie is competitive and appreciates building processes the right way for future success and to win at scale. Also, she loves a good whiteboard session. At Salesloft, it was widely known that a meeting with Sophie wasnâ€™t impactful unless we tossed a few markers in the trash.
- Ben Foley. Ben was one of the first people I gravitated to when I joined Terminus. He understands the back office impact through deal structuring and is always thinking ahead as it relates to predictable processes. Ben is one of those people you leave a conversation or meeting with feeling like you learned something new. He’s as curious as they come.
- Danny Garcia. Danny is one of my all-time favorite sales leaders. He communicates. He takes ownership. He holds himself accountable to high standards. He truly loves winning as a team and is as competitive as they come. I learned a lot from Danny about how the customer thinks about the negotiation process at Salesloft. He gave me a general feel about the “give to get” levers. And, he embodies the “team over self” value we love at Sonar.
What are the main things you’re focusing on in your role at Sonar?
First and foremost, I want to do everything I can to ensure Sonar’s employees have the tools and resources they need to be successful. Secondly, w’re dialing in the operating model. This helps us understand how and when to deploy resources to the right internal teams to grow the business efficiently.
Lastly, I want to ensure we have quality commercial and financial data. This drives everything within Sonar and, most importantly, how we communicate with our investors and board of directors. To have good financial data requires processes that need to be scoped, executed, repeated, and optimized to set the stage for who we want to be two to three years from now.
What brought you to Sonar?
I purchased Sonar at Salesloft and saw first-hand the critical problems it’s solving for RevOps and finance teams.
Another huge reason is the people. Sonar’s founders, Brad and Jack, are great listeners, believe in radical honesty, operate with a servant leadership mindset, and have a collaborative, forward-thinking approach. I met Brad, Jack, and Sonar’s first finance leader, Melissa, during my Salesloft days. Back then, we bonded over having heartburn around the RevOps tech stack, integrating systems (like Netsuite), ensuring accurate, timely forecasts, and predicting cash flow. I went on to work with the three of them at Terminus and was eager to partner with them once more at Sonar.
Lastly, when this role was created, it included helping lead a broader operations team. Our people leader, Kayla Cox, played a role in my decision to join the team. She is a highly-skilled HR professional who I look forward to learning from.
Why is now the right time for you to join Sonar?
Jack and Brad are facing challenges that are the culmination of what I learned from the Salesloft team and what I helped build at Terminus. I could not be more excited to help steer the team through strategic growth processes, scale the finance and operations team, and tackle any future fundraising initiatives.
Do you have a guiding belief or philosophy that drives your work?
Early in my startup career, I learned radical candor and servant leadership are leadership styles I want to embody every day. It’s all about building trust so you can drive success through healthy debates.
I’m an operator at heart, so I enjoy assisting the go-to-market teams in delivering. I focus on helping drive financial results from a revenue growth standpoint versus the legacy finance leader routine of just reporting the news with financial statements, historical reporting, etc.
I like serving as a strategic partner to other leaders at the organization. I believe the finance function’s biggest customers are the internal departments we support.
Is there an experience that’s defined your career the most so far?
Early on in my career, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of putting people first and being as transparent (as possible) with them. At the time, I was at a company transitioning its entire operation from one location to another. This meant that 350 employees either had to move or lose their jobs.
Unfortunately, the leadership team I supported lacked transparency with employees along the way and did a poor job communicating the company move’s impact on them. That experience taught me a lot. Most of all, I realized my values aligned more with smaller-scale companies that emphasize transparency.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
As companies scale, add leadership, bring on technology, and hire aggressively to support the financial plan, the most challenging part is ensuring the processes, people, and systems can deliver predictable financial and cash flow results. Change is constant in startup life, and building relationships with stakeholders to aid in predictable outcomes is paramount.
Additionally, a big part of my role is supporting the rest of the functions and giving our teams the resources and autonomy to succeed. But that investment needs to be balanced to hit financial targets and build a repeatable, predictable business for our investors. This balance between investment and a financial game plan is what a good finance leader can deliver.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Blake Wolff, a friend of mine who is a software customer service and support executive, once delivered a message to the Salesloft team that’s stuck with me to this day. His number one priority and mission is putting his team in a position to succeed professionally. That really resonates with me.
Who’s your favorite band and why?
I have a group of long-time friends who get together every summer for a Grateful Dead celebration. Yes, I’m that old, but the Dead’s music has always accompanied meaningful friendships for as long as I can remember.
What podcasts are you listening to?
Smartless. Bateman, Arnett, and Sean Hayes have fun with each other and their guests. Not only do they bring on a variety of comedians to the show, but they also invite guests who are impacting our society, from science to exploration and technology to journalism. I really like how they don’t take themselves too seriously and call each other out.
What are three things people don’t typically know about you?
- I love snowmobiling in Wyoming. The snow machine is a sneaky thrill ride full of adventure.
- I’m a big fan of music and the outdoors. I once climbed a 14,000 ft. mountain and went to an Avett Brothers concert at Red Rocks on the same day.
- I love eating and cooking food. Pimento cheese is at the top of the list. I once made 250 pimento cheese sandwiches for the office during the Masters golf tournament week. Also, if you look in my fridge, you’ll probably find nine different barbecue sauces.
Bonus: I’m a proud owner of a 9.5 lb Maltese Shitzu, Charlie. We share the same birthday (May 10).
Where’s your favorite place to hang out in Atlanta?
When I’m not at the Young Bucks field in the Buckhead Baseball complex, I enjoy hitting music venues like Variety Playhouse, Tabernacle, and Terminal West.