Checklist for a Startup Finance Function
When should you hire a finance person? What type of function or person should you hire? Are just a couple of questions that spring to mind for Founders of early-stage start-ups, so I decided to create a simple checklist that can help provide you with some steer.
When and How to Build Out a Team:
- In early stage (pre-series A), consider using an outsourced finance team from a full-service accounting and finance firm.
- You should look to outsource payroll and basic AR/AP functions but stay intimately involved in digesting the reporting you will receive.
- Once you execute on a Series A round, consider building an in-house finance function. This is likely when you also want to hire your CFO/Head or VP of Finance to oversee the transition from the outsourced firm and build out the team and internal processes.
- Start hiring when existing processes or lack thereof begin to become a problem for existing staff or hinder your ability to get information in a timely manner. You will know when this occurs due to delayed monthly closes, late reports and team working higher than normal hours.
Solid Finance Team Characteristics:
Once you reach the stage of either hiring an outsourced firm or building internally, you will want the resources working on your financials to have the below skills.
- Deep understanding of product or service being offered, target market dynamics and external competitive influences. They should be able to tell stories around what is happening in the financials and link back to what the key business drivers are.
- Solid handle on the overall strategy of the startup and what the key milestones are. Can develop, refine and provide execution of the financial roadmap which will become the operational plan.
- Focus on Gross Margin, cost control (efficiency), cost to acquire (CAC), cost to serve (CTS) and lifetime value (LTV).
- Good accounting knowledge and even better Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) skills, including Excel, database (SQL) and reporting (dashboards/KPIs/charts/PowerPoint).
Below is a proposed team structure for a start-up in the post Series A stage. Exact needs and team size will vary by business complexity but a good rule of thumb is the Finance function should be between 10–15% of your total corporate staff. Anything more than that may indicate some inefficiencies in existing structure.
- CFO/Head of Finance — Will be responsible for three main areas initially: transactions (GL), compliance (audit/tax/etc) and performance (reporting). You want someone fluent in all three. Capital raising can come later but if you anticipate having to raise capital eventually (very likely), you want someone experienced in this area or at least comfortable interfacing with external parties.
- Accounting Analyst (AP/AR) — Will handle basic bookkeeping and bank reconciliation.
- Controller — As you get to a big enough structure, having a Controller who can oversee the AR/AP analysts and get into tax as well becomes helpful. Will likely also handle initial reporting needs but the backward looking focus will limit ability to forecast future.
- Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) Analyst — Will expand on reporting capability and build out a robust budgeting/forecasting framework used to evaluate performance vs targets. Can also own financial model used for strategic planning purposes. Will likely be very involved in information provided to external parties such as investors and banks.
In addition to staff, there will be some other groundwork needed around Finance. Some initial needs a startup should have:
1. Accounting Software — Now that most software exists in the cloud, there are tons of options to choose from and due to the lack of IT infrastructure needed and an ongoing subscription model, they are very attractive.
2. Payroll Provider — Most of the accounting packages mentioned above will come with a payroll feature as well.
3. Bank Account — Your banking needs will change over time most likely but for initial startups look for banks that provide free checking options, online tools and allow mobile deposits. As you scale, if obtaining a loan is ever a potential option, you may look to move your accounts over to the bank lending funds as it can lead to better terms.
4. Financial Model — this will likely be done in Excel initially. As you scale, consider implementing an online financial planning tool such as Vena, deFacto or Adaptive Insights. All are good options to take your financial planning capability to the next level.
5. Cap Table — Do you know what a cap table is? You will likely be able to manage this in Excel initially but once you start raising capital, this can get complicated and software like Carta or Reportally can assist.
Written by Dav Masaon| Co-Founder @ Zanda
As an expert in partnering with early-stage tech start-ups, feel free to reach out to us if you require advice or are keen to hire that first or even second person for your finance function. Dav.firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrew.email@example.com