CFO sets out to lead Little Birdie to brave new heights

A brand new AI-driven online shopping site that secured $AU30 million in investment from Commonwealth Bank has appointed ex-Kogan.com CFO Joanne Smith to its senior ranks.

Headquartered in Melbourne, Little Birdie launched just last month, securing the CBA funding, which represented the largest-ever pre-launch funding round for an Australian startup.

Driven by smart technology, Little Birdie is a new home page of online shopping, listing more than 70 million products to search, compare, track and share, giving shoppers access to the real-time price drops, sales events and exclusive offers across a range of brands and stores.

Smith heard about Little Birdie from the co-founder, Russell Proud, who she had met when working together at Kogan.com. “Russell left just after the IPO and we’ve stayed in touch since.”

Retail prodigy

Smith was an integral part of the team that led Kogan.com through its 2016 IPO and also worked in KPMG’s deal advisory team, advising clients on M&As and corporate transformations.

She brings a unique combination of experience and passion to the role. With extensive experience across ecommerce and technology businesses both in Australia and the UK, she has demonstrated success in taking organisations from the start-up phase to profitably operating at scale and into high-growth companies.

Shortly after moving to Melbourne from the UK with KPMG, she managed a due diligence project for Kogan.com, meaning she knew the business well before joining as Financial Controller in 2013.  “It was my first role in industry and it was a pivotal time for the business. To say it was a baptism by fire is an understatement but I wouldn’t change it.

“Having taken a business through IPO and experienced a few years post-IPO was extremely valuable. The way you report on, communicate and scale a private vs. publicly owned business is very different and I’m so grateful that I have a solid understanding of both.

She added: “In a business with a startup mentality, a lot is expected of you, but your work never goes unnoticed – you’re always appreciated and I’m fortunate that all three of my most recent roles have embodied that.”

Despite being a new player in the market, she believes the retail platform will experience rapid growth, and looks forward to putting her stamp on a brand new company. “The CBA investment was another big draw for me. It’s not every day in your career that you get to be part of launching an idea that attracted $30 million investment before it had even launched,” she says.

Ground zero

CFOs can often be the last executive hire to be made at a startup, because so much effort is placed on building the product and brand, she says. “Thankfully, though, this wasn’t the case when I joined Little Birdie.”

Before joining Little Birdie, Smith was CFO of private equity-backed Compass Education. Based in the Melbourne suburb of Windsor, Smith will build her finance team over the coming months.

“Joining Little Birdie before launch was a huge advantage because it meant we had a clean slate to build out robust financials and reporting from day one. The right systems are not just invaluable to support growth, but also to help guide key business decisions as they provide  detailed insights into the drivers of our performance, and we can move quickly to make tweaks to our strategy.”

Retail frenzy

But she’s got her work cut out for her. The Australian retail sector has been through a radical transformation in the past 18 months as CBDs close down and consumers demand faster and better services from online retailers.

While Covid-19 had a devastating impact on many bricks and mortar retailers, online players have had their time in the sun, with Australia Post unable to keep up with strong demand for parcel deliveries.

Inside Retail’s Australian Retail Outlook reveals that in many ways, the new normal of retail has forced the sector to raise the bar when it comes to customer engagement, digital, delivery and physical retail. It’s not easy. Customers are savvier than ever and their demands and expectations have increased in the past 12 months.

“The role of CFO encompasses a bit of everything as I need to have a birds-eye view of the whole business and how the different areas are performing. It’s my responsibility to bring it all together to present the bigger picture to the board and leadership team to help make informed decisions of how to best optimise the business. 

“It’s also my role to keep an eye on the broader market to identify and build out a blueprint of future growth opportunities – taking Little Birdie to the new heights we’re aiming for.”