Toast CFO On Going Public—And Beyond

Elena Gomez at CFOLC Spring 2024
Keynoting the Spring CFOLC Conference in Boston, Elena Gomez shares what it takes to get an IPO right.

Elena Gomez, finance chief of Toast, joined the Boston-based company a few months before it planned to go public. She had only five months to meet investors, build relationships with the board, determine the talent she would need before the IPO and the years after, and help form a narrative and strategy for the restaurant automation provider that would stand the test of time.

During the opening keynote at the CFO Leadership Council’s Spring Conference in Boston on Wednesday, Gomez shared some of the key moments and struggles before and since the $3.9 billion-revenue company listed and what other CFOs could learn from her three years as finance chief.

Before going public, for example, Gomez saw two areas as vital. The first was the team around the CFO. “Probably the most important thing I did is figure out what talents I had and what talent I would need for the next three to five years,” said Gomez. “And I’m happy to say most of them are still with me.”

Gomez looks for finance team members who have intellectual curiosity. “The trust-and-verify mindset is so important,” especially in FP&A. Across all finance, however, Gomez said, she wants leaders who can “fly at high altitudes but also go deep”—a person who can deal with the board of directors but also get their hands a little dirty.

The other vital area that Gomez spent most of her time on pre-IPO was honing the company’s narrative and a strategy that would withstand the test of time. “I spent a lot of my time from the viewpoint of, is this strategy completely bulletproof?” Gomez said. “The reason I joined Toast, and I still believe it, was to not just build a good company, but to build a generational company,” she said. “I would encourage any CFO taking a company public to spend a lot of time on the strategy and narrative.”

Building a company for a generation or longer, obviously, requires financial discipline, especially once the company’s public.

At this stage in Toast’s lifecycle, like many organizations, there’s tension between the goals of quarterly profitability and growth. Gomez said Toast’s focus is investing organically and driving profitability in a disciplined way. “And then you generate cash flow, and that earns you the right to invest in new things,” she said. Toast has made international bets in English-speaking countries—investments that will have a very long payback period or no discernible one at all.

“There was real tension” when Toast started investing internationally, Gomez said. “There were people in the company who probably questioned that. Why not just extend into our core business in the United States, where we have only a 13 percent market share? “It comes back to we want enduring growth,” she said.

Gomez had three other salient pieces of advice for fellow CFOs:

Don’t hide behind your decisions. “I want to be front and center” when difficult decisions are discussed with employees, Gomez said, like a reduction in the workforce. “If you show the proper empathy in the moment, people remember that. They might not remember a colleague who was laid off but they will remember the company handled it elegantly,” that management showed up and explained what happened.

Use the customer as an anchor. When the CFO and CEO are misaligned, or there are other misalignments in the C-Suite, what anchors Toast is “solving for the customer,” doing right by the customer, Gomez said. The CEO may have a different way of solving a problem, but if the outcome is good for the customer, that’s what matters. “The other piece is, if you really are in that situation where there’s lack of alignment, data can bring clarity to the problem,” she said.

Build personal resiliency. Asked what advice she would give her younger self, Gomez had two lessons: First, “as a CFO, there are some dark days,” said Gomez. “It might be because the stock’s not doing what you expect it to do or you had a tough day. In those moments, people look to you to be the resilient leader. Building resilience on your journey to the CFO role is important.” Second, Gomez counseled younger finance executives not to worry about not knowing it all. “I think I worried too much early in my career that I had to know at all,” she said. “I don’t know it all today. And I’m completely comfortable with that.”

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