Your Finance Team

When building scalable businesses, even startups begin establishing specialized teams. I don't think there is need to stress the importance of a good finance team as that's implied. 

But despite the widely understood need for a strong finance team, many entrepreneurs seem to misunderstand the different functions needed, the difference between them and even some fundamental differentiation between those that BUILD businesses and those that OPERATE them.

BUILDERS & OPERATORS

When it comes to startups, and pretty much any business for that matter, you will have the pleasure of working with two types of people: Operators and Builders. There are several different names and categories that people types can be broken up into, but for the sake of understanding financial infrastructures, this way of distinguishing them works well

Builders

Builders are the people that build the environments in which tasks can be performed. Builders put together the people, systems, and processes within the organization. Builders can see an idea and are able to bring it to life. Operators work in the environment built by Builders

Operators

Operators are the people that either prefer or function best when there’s a pre-determined path, process, or way of performing a task. Operators are task oriented and need an environment in which to execute on a task. Operators are a must – the ship doesn’t sail without them!


Where Do Entrepreneurs Fall?

A startup entrepreneur has to be both an Operator and a Builder. She has to be a Builder because a startup needs a foundation. She has to build the foundation and then Operate it. Sound abstract and vague? 

Welcome to the world of a Builder and Entrepreneur!

Functions & Roles Analysis

CFO

Type: Builder
Availability in the marketplace: low
Cost: High
Strengths: 
  • Big picture & strategically oriented
  • High technical analytics ability
  • Systems and process oriented 
  • People management 
  • Future oriented 
  • Able to build complex financial models and equity structures
  • Understands intricacies of business operations and financial impacts

Weaknesses: Not affordable for most young businesses so outsourced fractional solutions are recommended

The CFO is the person who will draft and execute the financial strategy of the business. How will the business be funded (debt, equity, or hybrid), when funding is needed and when fundraising should start? They will also manage financial reporting to investors, analytics, and performance targets while helping with product pricing, product costing, and other unit economics. 


Controller

Type: Builder
Availability in the marketplace: low
Cost: Medium – High
Strength: 
  • Ability to build financial infrastructures 
  • High technical ability
  • Understands the big picture and predicts future needs 
  • Ability to ensure quality control
  • Familiarity with tax compliance and tax filings 
  • Systems and process oriented
  • People management
  • Understands intricacies of business operations and financial impacts

Weakness: Can lack very specialized knowledge in highly complex situations such as Mergers and Acquisitions or Financial Modeling. Rarely affordable for very young startups.

Some think Controllers just do financial reporting, quality control, and manage the general financial functions like paying vendors, managing receivables, etc. 
All of those are important, but the best Controllers will focus everyday on building and operating the financial infrastructure. They will be focusing on building the infrastructure that is Cost Effective, Time Efficient, and Scalable. 


Accountant

Type: Operator
Availability in the marketplace: Abundant
Cost: Low-Medium
Strengths: 
  • Affordable 
  • Performs most tasks within the financial infrastructure independently 
  • Quality oriented

Weakness: Needs support from more experienced people, requires financial infrastructure to be built in order to operate well.

Accountants are the next step up from a bookkeeper. They typically have more education, more knowledge and they’re focused (at least they should be) on putting together the financial statements, not just processing transactions. They often don’t have the experience necessary to be self-sustaining and need more experienced people, like Controllers to help them through more complex situations. 


Bookkeeper

Type: Operator
Availability in the marketplace: Abundant
Cost: Very Low
Strengths: 
  • Inexpensive 
  • Fulfills minimum requirements of financial infrastructure once it’s built

Weakness: Low technical abilities, error prone, transactional role, low value-add, often disengaged and uninterested in building your business

A bookkeeper is a transactional role, they record and process transactions. They’re irreplaceable in a startup environment because they’re the only professionals that are able to get the minimum job done at an unbeatable price. Maybe it won’t be done perfectly, but it’s better than nothing. When you upgrade from a bookkeeper, expect to have to fix some mistakes, but it typically won’t be too expensive. But if your financial reporting is integral to your business then you should try to avoid bookkeepers and go for a higher quality service.

CPA

CPAs don’t just do taxes! Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a professional certification that professionals choose to pursue because of their dedication to professional development and commitment to expert knowledge, ethical behavior, and quality standards. 

CPA certification requires extensive education, experience, and examination. Most accountants don’t pursue their CPA license because it’s challenging to acquire. Proof of expertise in management & financial accounting, Audit, and Taxation is required. 

Hiring or engaging professionals with this certification will ensure considerably higher quality and expertise. However, CPA certification alone does not guarantee their ability or experience in building financial infrastructures, especially for startups - it's a highly specialized field

Tax Accountant

Type: Operator
Availability in the marketplace: Abundant
Cost: Low-Medium for basic tax services, High for specialized tax service (typically performed by CPA)
Strengths: 
  • General Tax knowledge and ability to handle tax compliance

Weakness: Needs support from more experienced people, focused on tax without consideration for financial reporting and analytics.

Tax accountants focus on tax compliance and tax filings. Typically, this role is outsourced to a CPA firm specializing in Tax. Tax compliance is a periodic burden and so long as the on-going work is done by the accountant, Tax accountant can handle tax compliance easily and cost effectively. 
Tax Accountants come with and without the CPA certification.