“Even though you might be working for a fast-paced tech company don’t be surprised how long it takes to get some processes improved. Especially when working with traditional third parties like your bank”
- Sam Maxwell, Finance Manager at Tradify
Startups are very different from corporate jobs. Established procedures, corporate hierarchy, and dedicated departments generally aren't the norm. While basic financial processes may be in place, it's up to you to design the rest. Exciting yet equally daunting, you'll find yourself doing everything from board meetings to payroll. Here are some things to help you with the road ahead:
Your main priority in these first 30 days is to understand the business. A new context, new business, and new situation mean it's unlikely to be a 'one size fits all approach.
“My biggest learning was to leave behind any preconceived ideas of how processes, systems, and teams should work. What worked in a previous company may not be the best solution for a startup/scale up, and you can waste a lot of time being stuck in old ways of thinking”
- Iva Charlopova, Senior Finance Manager at Brighte
Don't rush into planning procedures and implementing new processes. Understand the business first, then you can develop the strategy. While a particular process may have worked well in your previous company, it may not be the best for a startup.
Shadow the external accountant/bookkeeper through their monthly reporting process. Create a cheat sheet on all the key activities/reporting requirements, their deadline, and how they need to be done.
Take the initiative to introduce yourself to the wider team. This also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the business. Once you've received access to basic systems (hopefully your colleagues' calendars too), schedule onboarding and introductory meetings.
Needless to say, it's pretty difficult to do your job if you don't have the right access.
Day 31 to 60 is the time to identify where the company is at and where it needs to go. After your initial diagnosis, you can start building on the strategy.
“Finance in start-ups becomes a support for solving small and complex situations. When you join a start-up, you need to learn about all the non-financial processes. Then you will be able to see the whole picture and think bigger than just finance”
- Guillermo Rojas, Financial Controller at Indebted
Take over the ownership of all finance operations, with some assistance or support from your predecessor. Create a list of what's missing and rate each existing process on a scale of one to ten, from 'Need to change everything ASAP' to 'No need to touch it again.'
Be realistic about what you can achieve and when. Receive input from your key stakeholders and define what to expect in the short, medium, and long term. To shorten the feedback loop, schedule frequent meetings with key stakeholders. Ask for feedback and understand how you can best support them.
You have understood the business and developed the strategy. The first two months have given you the foundation you need to carry out your action plan. Now it's down to the execution.
“To ensure you're developing a robust FinOps, budgeting/forecasting, and reporting process, take all the functional leaders on the journey with you. They own and are accountable for the inputs as much as you are.”
- Nan Meka, Head of Finance & Operations at Simply Wall St
Set up a reporting cadence that works for you. Take ownership of all monthly reporting for the first time e.g. payroll, month-end, tax, invoicing etc. Be sure to build out reporting structures for tasks such as budgets, forecasts, and board packs.
Create a finance key date calendar, list every key activity e.g. insurance and lease renewals. Automate as much as possible. It's likely that most finance processes are manual, so you should be able to create an immediate impact. Start thinking about how you can better manage your subscriptions, automate your reimbursements or issue virtual credit cards to your team.
Keep your stakeholders in the loop. Build financial metrics and KPI dashboards to bring greater visibility to your stakeholders.
Meet with the founders and/or board to understand their next fundraising strategy. Is it possible to raise funds via debt rather than equity? Request a copy of the cap table and review employee ESOPs.
There you have it! Now don’t stress, there’s a lot to get through. At the completion of your first 90 days, it's a great opportunity to self assess and ask yourself:
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