Today, we’re talking with Dawn Knaggs, Privalgo’s Financial Controller. Dawn’s been with Privalgo since the beginning. In this article, we talk about the few benefits of working from home, building up a back office from scratch and much more.
Let’s talk about young Dawn. Did you grow up locally?
No, not local. I was born in Lincolnshire, in Grantham. My first memories are mostly of horses. My mum always had a love of horses, me and my sisters caught the bug!
When I was about six my dad made the mistake of coming home one Christmas and asking if we wanted a pony. Me and my two sisters got one. Before we knew it, we had three, then five, then it grew from there.
My dream job was horses — eventing. All why I wanted to do was be an eventer. But before I went off to university, I fell off my horse and cracked my shoulder and found out I had scoliosis. After having a full spinal fusion my surgeon said that I couldn’t event anymore. So what next?
We found out there were some university courses where you can take your horse with you, and we found one called Writtle, in Essex. And off I went!
What level of eventing did you get to?
Before I found out I had an issue with my back, I went through the Pony Club, as far as the Team Championships. Then had just started in British Eventing.
I had a placement when I was 16 with an Eventing family. And spent the summer riding and training, and that’s what I was going to do. Then it all went belly up.
It was hard, but at the age of 16/17, you learn to get on with it. I was still able to ride but unfortunately the dream was taken away.
What were you studying at Writtle?
Equine studies with business management. That’s where the business bit came in. I’d already done maths A level at that point, so I knew numbers were my thing. I was good with (and enjoyed!) the numbers.
I completed three years at Writtle and then still didn’t know what to do from there. My mum said I like numbers so why didn’t I become an accountant? She got me an application form from her work. I filled it out and somehow managed to get a job as a Chartered Accountant trainee. The hardest three and a half years of my life so far!
After working there for six years I bought a flat in north London and got a job at an accountancy firm in the West End. One of our first jobs was working with an FX firm, where I met Privalgo’s founders. I worked on their company from 2008 until 2015. So, I got to know them pretty well.
In 2015 I was on maternity leave for my first child, and I decided to move from practice into industry. I started working with Dan and Richard at the FX company on a more permanent basis. It started with a day a week, then quickly moved to full time until I went on maternity leave with my second child.
It was then I got the phonecall! Dan (Privalgo CEO) said we’re doing this new thing, what do you think? Join us? So, I did.
How sure were you? Obviously being on maternity leave gives you that space to think.
I knew I was game from the moment Dan talked to me. I knew it was going to be a success. These boys don’t know how to fail!
I went to go meet all of them in the city, where we talked it out and it was really exciting times.
Was that pretty daunting? A big step?
I didn’t find it daunting. I usually go with my instinct and it felt right. The only slight hesitancy for me was that I was on maternity leave with a 6-month-old. But we just had our initial meetings with Freddie in tow. Nobody minded — we just got on with it.
What was the biggest hurdle? Somebody was going to have to put these numbers together to see if it was going to work. Did that come down to you?
They’d already done the business plan and had their numbers for the first three years set out. And they match the numbers now — more or less. It was a pretty good forecast.
They knew the business and they knew their revenue line. And if you know that, the percentages that come off it are pretty set. We’ve have spent a little more in some areas, but a little less in others, so it all balanced out.
The biggest hurdle was creating the back-office platform and the accounting entries — becoming the fintech we were striving for.
Your team’s growing. Where’s that going to get to? Is it going to grow organically, as we need it?
It depends on how much we grow. If we keep getting bigger, we’re going to have to grow finance to facilitate all the necessary functions.
We have just expanded and hired a Bookkeeper — Makesha, who is keen to grow and learn and move into the management accounts function. We will build the finance function up as we need it, and implement any tech required to automate systems where we can.
I have a couple of previous colleagues I’d love to bring into the team, but let’s see. Watch this space!
What would you do with an unlimited budget?
Maybe a bigger finance team, but actually, in practice, there wouldn’t yet be enough work to keep a bigger team busy. That will come! An unlimited budget would mean we could invest even more in our current staff and provide them with any support they need.
Since Privalgo began, things seem to have gone to plan. Has anything caught you by surprise?
At the moment, it feels like we’re on the same path we set out on. There are Brexit developments that we’ll have to bring into the business — any regulatory changes have to be acted on straight away. No big surprises yet though…
What’s been your proudest moment?
At the beginning, Nicci (Nicola Sawyer — Settlements Manager) and I spent hours planning, building and testing out the back office. Getting the accounting entries right, understanding how we wanted it to look, how we wanted it to work, and what we wanted to achieve from it.
Then when we started trading and we saw all our hard work come together, the account entries were working. It was definitely one of my proudest moments to date. It could have all gone wrong, but because of the time we put into it, it didn’t. Phew!
Have you worked with Nicci before?
Yes, I worked with her a lot before, so I knew we worked well together. I was really happy when I knew she was onboard as well. Her work in settlements and mine in finance complement each other really well.
The last 12 months have been difficult. Anything you miss pre-Covid? Were you in the office much?
Pre-covid I was in the office around two days a week. But had reached a point that I needed to be in more to help with my progression, to be able to attend more meetings and be a bigger part of the day to day.
It was a struggle balancing a career and being a mum. But then lockdown happened. And it has actually been really good for me. Everyone was thrown into the same boat working from home and all of a sudden, I was able to be more involved in the day to day, and online collaboration became the norm. I didn’t need to compromise my work or being a parent.
I do miss the days in the office though. It is such a vibrant place to be, and a great team. Looking forward to getting back in, even if it’s only one day a week.
On the plus side this year, we have saved a lot of money on expenses, but I’m sure we will make up for it this summer!
Considering the times at which I get emails from you, to call you a night owl would be probably be an understatement. Is that how you manage your day?
With the kids at home, it’s very difficult for me to get everything done I need to during the day. The directors are great with that. If I can’t work during the day, I can work during the evening. It’s the quietest time and nobody minds. I can get through my emails and prepare for the next day. As with a lot of people, and having home schooling to do, it’s the only way to manage my time.
Your team’s growing. That’s got to take some of the pressure off.
Yes, it’s taken the pressure off already. Makesha’s come on and taking charge of some of the day-to-day work, which gives me a small amount of breathing space.
What do you enjoy most about the Privalgo culture?
That it’s a team. Everyone is working towards the same goal.
Are you concerned that we’ll lose that dynamic as we grow?
Slightly. There’s a lot of people who have joined in the last year who I don’t talk to on a regular basis and with Covid it has been really hard not meeting all the new team members. We’re doing a lot of things to encourage involvement between the teams, and we’ve done some good Teams socials, but it’s not the same as face to face.
There’s a balance when it comes to remote socials, though. We tried to do more at the beginning, but people get a bit tired of constant Teams calls.
I’d like to interact with the other teams more, maybe in smaller groups, and now I have hired Makesha on my team. I’m conscious that I want her to meet the rest of the team and see what we are all about.
Where do you see us in ten years?
Off the scale! I think we’ll just keep evolving and thriving. New offerings, new offices and maybe countries. Let’s wait and see — the sky’s the limit.
The directors are not the type of people to stand still. They’re always striving for something more, something better. Exciting times ahead!
Last question: Who’s your favourite director?
[Laughing], I can’t tell you that.