I was recently introduced to Tim DeBone, a finance and accounting expert with The Bagchi Group in Morrisville, NC. We were comparing notes on how best to staff a company’s finance department as it scales. Here were our takeaways from that discussion, which can hopefully point you in the right direction for your business.
As tech companies grow and evolve, the company’s finance/accounting requirements and challenges change along with the skills needed to successfully complete them. Because of that, your first finance hire may not always have the right skillset for when the company is 10 times the size, as an example. And, you may need to augment that team with fractional strategic level help. To address the variability in the work and the time required to complete, many high-growth companies use outsourced bookkeepers and fractional CFOs during their early years, until they can better afford full-time talent of their own. In this article we discuss the appropriate resources a CEO can engage to ensure the finance suite is properly managed, along each stage of the company’s growth, and whether that talent should be outsourced or internally staffed.
Before we dig in, here is a brief description of the roles discussed in this article below, so you can better understand what we are going to be talking about here:
CFO – Senior Finance Person with normally 15+ years of finance/accounting experience
- Can come from a finance background with roles that are analysis heavy
- Their accounting background is normally deep in their industry of focus, but weaker outside that industry
- Can also come from an accounting background with roles that were focused on preparing financial statements
- Their analysis background is not as strong, but they may have taken roles in the past to improve this skillset
Bookkeeper – transactionally focused employee that runs payroll, collects invoices, and pays bills
- Does not require any formal finance or tax background
Accountant – a certified professional with an educational background in accounting, able to perform all the duties of the bookkeeper
- The accountant is senior to the bookkeeper with a better understanding of GAAP principles and why accounting entries need to happen
- Will partner with CPA firm on financial reviews and audits
CPA Firm – Outside accounting experts that partner with businesses on tax issues and review of financial statements, including financial audits, if needed.
- They can also help identify small business and R&D tax credits to reduce tax liabilities
At Formation (Pre Revenue)
At the start, the CEO can manage the core finance functions. Software systems are now sophisticated enough that non-finance professionals can manage early-stage payroll, collections, and payments. Depending on the growth path or complexity of the business model, the CEO may want to engage a fractional CFO to help create the forecast and cash planning. But until the company has significant revenue or outside investors, the CEO can complete most activities. We would recommend that the company engage an outside accounting firm at formation to help with annual tax preparation. Even without the need for a financial review or audit, this resource prepares annual tax filings and significantly reduces tax risk for the company.
Pre-Seed Stage (Generating Some Minimal Revenue)
Once the company has revenue and non-founder employees, they should engage an outsourced bookkeeper to take over the back-end transactional work. This involves running payroll, collecting from customers, and paying vendors. While these are straightforward tasks, the CEO hesitates to outsource them and their time is better spent guiding development or aiding sales. At this stage, a fractional CFO can help on a project-to-project basis, but the company will not have enough work for the CFO to require a preset amount of help each week. The CFO can improve metric tracking, evaluate back-office processes to prepare for growth, and help prepare the business for a seed raise. The CFO helps the fundraise by preparing employee and customer documents for investor diligence, ensuring the management team understands their growth metrics and benchmarks, and creating forecasts showing how investor funds will grow the business.
Seed Stage ($250K-$1MM in Revenue)
After raising a seed round, the investors may strongly suggest that the company employ a fractional or full-time CFO to manage the finances and strategic planning. The CFO will introduce budget vs actual analysis, scenario planning, and project out the cap table. Dilution calculations become more complex as the company hires more employees and brings in outside resources, especially when those new funds are SAFEs or Convertible Notes. The company may also switch from cash accounting to accrual (or GAAP compliant) accounting at this stage. Accrual accounting may be outside the skillset of the original bookkeeper so upgrading that role to a part time accountant may be required. Depending on how fast the company scales, that part time accountant may become a full time hire before the Series A fundraise is completed. That accountant, along with the CFO, will partner with the CPA firm to prepare annual tax returns and any financial reviews or audits.
Series A Stage ($1MM-$5MM in Revenue)
Once the company has raised a Series A, the CFO will be spending 8-10 hours weekly on the business. In addition to the previous work around strategic planning, the CFO will be building and training the back-office team, introducing additional risk mitigation processes, partnering with the CEO on tracking company performance, and partnering with the CPA firm on tax issues. The company will be growing quickly with increasing complexity across all back-office functions, referred to as General and Administrative (G&A) on most financial statements. The CFO will be managing and training the HR, Recruiting, Finance, Accounting, and Facility planning teams to enable the company to support the company’s growth. At this stage, a full-time junior level hire is required, either heavier on accounting or finance depending on the business model and the CFO’s background. With the expansion of the employee base and revenue base from additional growth, the CFO will need to identify and mitigate potential risks before they happen. Those risks can involve employees, security, legal, tax, or financial issues. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) become essential as current investors, and future investors, will need to understand how the company performs versus targets and industry benchmarks. The CFO should also be measuring forward-looking metrics to anticipate whether the plan is succeeding or failing compared to pre-set plans and budgets which have been prepared by the CFO.
Late Series A or Series B Stage ($5MM-$10MM in Revenue)
If a company continues to grow and hit their metrics after the Series A fundraise, the workload will require a full-time CFO to join the team. The amount of effort required to help the next fundraise process, run the G&A team, and support the CEO will be too much for a fractional resource. Hiring this role before starting the Series B fundraising process allows time for the new CFO to learn the business and can assist with the fund raise. The fractional CFO should have the processes in place to enable a smooth transition, along with highlighting which areas need improvement to scale the business. Two full-time finance/accounting employees should be able to manage the business at the Series B start, but the company may want to expand the HR/Recruiting function at this time to include a full-time employee.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how best to staff your finance and accounting needs as your business scales. Thanks again, Tim, for your collaborative brainstorming on this topic.