Clockwork's Fady Hawatmeh Wants to Help Restaurants Achieve Financial Literacy

An interview with the company's founder and CEO
January 11, 2021, 10:27 PM UTC
Clockwork's Fady Hawatmeh Wants to Help Restaurants Achieve Financial Literacy

Welcome to BOH Banter, an interview series designed to introduce our audience of independent restaurant operators with the Verified Vendors on our Solutions marketplace. Have suggestions for who we should interview next? Pitch us: tips@backofhouse.io!

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Launched in 2015, Clockwork is a financial planning and analysis tool for restaurants. Founder Fady Hawatmeh grew up in his father's restaurants, so when it comes to running one, he knows what's up. And he knows that being aware of your financials is key—both in the present day, and in future projections.

Gone are the days of confusing Excel sheets and hiring less-than-satisfactory financial assistants who don't understand the restaurant industry, Hawatmeh insists. Clockwork is here to make all of that easier. The platform's goal is to help restaurant operators gain financial literacy so when they take risks, they're not taking them blindly.

Back of House spoke with Hawatmeh about how what value Clockwork can add for a restaurant operator, who the ideal Clockwork client is, and how the platform is shifting the cultural expectation of restaurant operations.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Meet Fady Hawatmeh of Clockwork

Back of House: Let's start with the basics. Tell us who you are and what you do at Clockwork.

Fady Hawatmeh, Clockwork: I’m Fady Hawatmeh. I'm the founder and CEO of Clockwork. I've been working on Clockwork for five plus years now [since 2015]. I used to be an outsourced CFO, so, a finance and accounting guy. I worked at Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Edward Jones, oil and gas consulting, and then started my own outsourced CFO company and needed software to help make my life easier and help my clients. Clockwork is what came out of it.

BOH: What is Clockwork and what's the problem it seeks to solve?

FH: Clockwork’s an intelligent financial planning and analysis tool. What that means is it allows businesses to have better visibility into what they're going to make this month, what they're going to make next year, what they're going to make in five years — their metrics. How much cash do we have in the bank right now? Can I afford to pay someone? [It addresses] all these what if questions and scenario planning. If I go and take out a loan, if I go and open a new restaurant, or if I want to offer a new product, what are my margins? [It gives] a lot more visibility into the actual finances of the business in an easy tool.

For small restaurants, the financial answers literally lie in one or two people's heads, so you have no real understanding of everything.

BOH: It sounds like your background is in finance. What's your connection to the restaurant space?

FH: I grew up in a restaurant — my dad owned two restaurants in St. Louis. He bought them when I was two years old, so I literally grew up in the restaurant. Restaurant life is who I am through and through. I worked all the way through college, and even after college, when the markets would close, when I was a financial advisor and on the weekends, running the restaurant for my dad.

BOH: Knowing what you know about the restaurant business, what are some of the challenges that Clockwork can potentially seek to solve for restaurant operators?

FH: It’s managing your margins — really understanding your margins. My dad had three restaurants at one time. Even though I was a finance guy and I was managing all the numbers, for me to make a decision of what we should or should not order, I still had to call my dad because I didn't know what our actual numbers were. We had an accountant, but everything was in my dad’s head. For small restaurants, the answers literally lie in one or two people's heads, so you have no real understanding of everything. My dad's an engineer by trade, so he's naturally very analytical. We were fortunate enough that he had that expertise to do that. Clockwork really allows people that aren't really financially literate to be financially literate in an easy-to-use software.

“Do you know how much money you're going to have in your bank in a month? Do you know how much money you're going to have in six months?”

BOH: Is this thing actually easy to use, or is it going to be over my head? It’s a challenge to give people the tools they need without overwhelming them to the point they don't know what to do.

FH: That was one of the main inspirations of Clockwork. The tools that I was building for my clients when I was a CFO and had restaurant clients, I'd send them over a pretty Excel sheet with charts, and then they're like, “I don't know what to do with this.” So that was a real inspiration of Clockwork. I want it to be where someone will literally open it up, and all the numbers are right there. You don't have to click, you have to do anything. That's part of the machine-learning aspect of it, where it's learning your business from the data that it's getting from your accounting system and it's updating every hour. You literally don't have to touch it. You log in, you see all the numbers right there, there's no crazy onboarding. It takes a minute to create an account. That was really a huge emphasis that I had from the very beginning of Clockwork.

BOH: If I'm a skeptical restaurant operator, what am I missing if I’m not considering Clockwork?

FH: The simplest question I ask is: “Do you know how much money you're going to have in your bank in a month? Do you know how much money you're going to have in six months?” 99% of the restaurant operators won't actually have an answer, but they'll try and think that they do. It comes down to: how much money are you actually making? Clockwork is supposed to provide value for the restaurant. If restaurant owners think that they have all their things figured out, they’re not going to use Clockwork, and we don't want you on the platform. We want really forward-thinking people who are going to be really engaged in the tool. We're not here to twist anyone's arm sign to sign up for Clockwork, but if you want to sleep better at night knowing that there's a system that's literally built for your business, then you're the kind of user that we need.

BOH: What are some of the value-add areas that you feel like Clockwork is strongest in?

FH: The best, obviously, is ease-of-use. You don't have to fumble with Excel and figure out all these little formulas. You log in, and, boom, it's there. Also, the accuracy of it. Say you hire a CFO, or an outsourced CFO, or bookkeeper, or you're trying to build your forecasts in Excel yourself. If you don't have a significant amount of experience, your forecasts may be completely wrong. Usually people that are building accurate forecasts have extensive knowledge, and they may not be offering bookkeeping services for restaurants. Finance talent offering [services to] this space isn't really where it needs to be. The accuracy of Clockwork is where [you] have the brain of a CFO in a software without the price tag.

BOH: Why is it, in your opinion, that financial talent doesn't gravitate to this business?

FH: Financial talent is expensive. As you know, in a restaurant game, your margins are 10 to 20, maybe 25% if you're doing really well. When a founder or a restaurant entrepreneur hires someone to run their books or run their finances, the person that's worth it is going to be $250,000 a year. A restaurateur is not going to pay someone $250,000 to be their CFO, unless we have a Wolfgang Puck or PF Chang's-type empire. When you're getting up and running, finance people can go get a much better-paying job, especially the qualified ones. Then, unfortunately, you're left with all the unqualified cheap ones around the restaurant game giving you sh*t advice.

BOH: We have to imagine that you've encountered clients before that have been burned by that type of that type of finance advisor.

FH: People get screwed over all the time, so this is another aspect. Restaurant owners are super-stubborn — it's their way of their highway, [but Clockwork can be] just one more tool in your arsenal. Now, you don't need to depend on someone else. You don't need your bookkeeper to tell you what you made that month. You have a tool that costs 100 bucks a month that does it for you, so it gives a lot more control back to restaurants.

BOH: Tell me about the here and now. What are you thinking about the future for this product? How does it fit into the new way that restaurants are doing business?

FH: Restaurants unfortunately have been, for so many years, running fast and loose — “We'll worry about the cash and worry about all the boring sh*t and the sh*t that I don't understand later.” COVID smacked everyone straight in the face [with the consideration of:] “You don't have enough cash for another week, let alone for another six months, let alone for another year.”

This pandemic has put Clockwork’s need right up in people's faces. Before the beginning of this year, we were telling people, “This is why you should care about your cash flow.” [Folks] were like, “Yeah, I do, but I don't. And I'm busy. I'm focused on other things.” Now, people are like, “Please give me a tool so I can actually start seeing a little bit of the future, so I don't get smacked in the face with another uncontrollable thing.”

BOH: Obviously, the pandemic will end at some point, but do you expect that this experience is raising the floor on financial literacy for restaurant operators?

FH: It's completely raising the floor across the board. If you're not a good business operator, you're gonna get run over by COVID — all the closures, all the restrictions. If you've been running fast and loose, it's a super-sad reality, but if you're not on top of your game on all fronts, you may not survive this pandemic. But if you do, and you are, you’re gonna have a tool like Clockwork in your back pocket.

BOH: Tell me about shifting the cultural expectation and need to plan with operators. How have those conversations changed?

FH: To be honest, you don’t become a restaurant operator unless you’re a little bit crazy. When you’re in that game, you may not be a planner, but you have creative ideas. That’s what makes restaurants so fun to run and so awesome to be a part of. So the conversation has changed to: let something give you a little more confidence to do that more. Don’t not be crazy. Think of all the crazy shit you can do with your restaurant, but go and get more business. Be a little reckless, but not too reckless.