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January 15, 2021

Evelyn Chan on building competitive advantages

Madeline Perretta

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What is your role? 
I lead our accounting team. 

Describe what you do in a few sentences.
The accounting team facilitates all incoming and outgoing flows of money at Plaid. We summarize all of these individual transactions into a digestible format in the form of financial statements. These statements help inform internal business decisions as well as foster trust with our external stakeholders such as investors, customers, and partners. 

How does your work impact people's financial lives?
Plaid's products help power the financial tools that enable consumers to achieve their financial goals. The work we do ensures that Plaid is in a great position to grow and invest in the products that millions of people rely on.

Tell us about the culture of inclusion at Plaid.
Plaid works actively to build an inclusive and positive workplace. We provide a platform for underrepresented groups to communicate with leadership through our own version of Employee Resource Groups - called Plaid Community Groups - which include groups like Women+ and Plaids of Color. More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Plaid has consistently encouraged managers to be mindful of adjustments to their team’s schedules, such as those of caretakers, as schools are closed and other available sources could be limited. Our People team also organizes virtual “new hire coffee chats” as a way for new hires to engage cross-functionally in a 1:1 setting. I always look forward to these conversations!

What I admire most about Plaid is that we choose progress over perfection. We make an effort to keep the dialogue open on how we can improve our culture through pulse surveys, Diversity and Inclusion meetings, and our company wide Q&A during All Hands twice a month. We are always looking for feedback and evolving in a way that works best for our people. 

What do you love most about working at Plaid? 
My team. I thoroughly enjoy working with each team member to understand their individual strengths and goals, so that we can build a career plan and find opportunities for them to grow professionally. I also learn a lot from them! I am always eager to hear their learnings from their previous job experiences on how we can approach a problem or advice on how I can sharpen my skills as a people manager. 

What Plaid Principle resonates with you the most and why?
The principle that resonates with me the most is “make it better”. This is something that we talk about a lot on the accounting team, because we are a relatively small team trying to scale with a rapidly growing company and a rapidly growing customer base.

An example that comes to mind is when I first joined Plaid. During Plaiderdays, our internal hackathon, I sought out an engineer on the tooling team to help us build a tool to automate a portion of our billing process. After communicating my idea, he was really excited to help and we worked together to bring it to life. And just like that, we made it better. This tool is still being used today and has enabled us to process customer invoices in the same amount of time as we used to, in spite of over 5x growth in volume since then.

Describe your journey into accounting. How did you choose that career?
I don't think I chose accounting so much as it chose me. My friends will describe me as being very hyper practical as well as cost conscious. Naturally these attributes are well suited for this field. However, the reason I stuck with accounting was because I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by great mentors who exposed me to the most fascinating parts about accounting.

For instance, learning how to set up efficient and strong systems in accounting can actually create a competitive advantage for a business. For example, the quicker we're able to set up different billing structures for different business models at Plaid, that actually creates an opportunity for Plaid to be able to support customers who might not be able to work under another business model. Over time, I learned how I could have an impact through my work in accounting. It has also been a great experience to build teams from the ground up at Plaid. And it's always fun to meet new challenges at Plaid every day.

How has Plaid grown since you joined?
When I first joined Plaid we were under 60 people and now we're just shy of 600, so it’s 10x since I started. It’s weird to say out loud! The growth has been crazy but also so awesome.

What do you remember most from the early days?
In the beginning, there were only four people on our finance team and two focused on accounting. I vividly remember the four of us splitting up hundreds of customer contracts and then coding them in JSON format so that our new billing system could read them and automatically charge our customers. I love this memory because this was a heavy volume project and everyone on the team stepped in to help get it done together.

We also had limited resources. Each time I wanted to make an improvement to our billing system, I would reach out to a few members of our engineering team to help us out by giving us a couple hours to fix something. We now have a dedicated billing engineering team, which is incredibly helpful. Our team has grown. Accounting has grown from two to nine and the broader finance team has grown to 15. My favorite part of my job is working and growing with the team that we have built. 

What’s your single greatest passion? 
I have two! I love to backpack. I am rather fond of the idea of being able to carry everything you need for a few days on your back. The feeling of knowing you can live off really little is incredibly empowering. Wandering in the woods and getting away from it all leaves me feeling rejuvenated. I also enjoy traveling. I try to take one or two trips per year, at least of varying lengths depending on how busy I am. I select destinations that are quite remote and places where accessing the internet is near impossible. Whenever I travel internationally, I never get an international phone plan because I want to feel fully disconnected. I think embracing a little adventure is important. 

Where did you get your sense of adventure?
I credit my cautious childhood for giving me a greater sense of adventure. I was very very careful, cautious, and relatively shy. An interesting tidbit about myself is that I never knew how to ride a bike until I was 28. As a child, the risk of falling was just too petrifying! When I was an adult and traveling in Amsterdam with my friends, biking was really the only way to get around, so I decided at that moment I would learn. Within two hours, I was biking around and exploring the city. Now biking is my preferred mode of transportation in San Francisco. I have grown a lot as an adult and welcome opportunities to take on new challenges.

What is the best piece of advice you've received?
My favorite quote is from a poem by Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." Though this phrase is simple, I find myself falling back on its meaning quite often. It’s a good reminder that people can always find common ground no matter how different they may seem from one another, and we should all strive to be more compassionate, empathetic, and inclusive in everything we do.