Strategies for building out your finance team: advice from experts at Stripe, 1Password, Circle and more
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As your startup or small business grows, successfully scaling and structuring your finance team can be the difference between growing on an upward trajectory or eventually hitting a ceiling. As we wrap up our first season of FinOps Today, where we’ve had the opportunity to glean advice from some of the most innovative leaders in finance, we’ve learned some valuable insights regarding how to successfully scale a finance team.
As guest Mary Liu, Head of Finance & Operations at Applied Intuition noted, “scaling to a thousand people is not scale, scale is doing more with less.” This article isn’t focused on how to arbitrarily hire fast. Instead, you’ll learn practical takeaways regarding onboarding, selecting the right partners and systems, and how to best prioritize strategic initiatives. Keep reading to discover how some of the best minds in finance have scaled their teams.
1. Onboard specialists
Generalists may be able to initially help your business stay afloat. But specialists are the secret sauce to helping a business get to the next level.
“As the business scales, you end up with a lot more specialization in certain parts of the organization, capital markets being one of them where you really need to start to focus on defining roles more specifically,” said Tom Egan, CFO at DivvyHomes. “And then recruiting people that have a specific background in order to be able to execute against what is becoming a much more specific set of objectives, as opposed to a broad mandate to just make sure we don't run out of money.”
Find the best talent and put them in a place to succeed
Growing your business can also happen from within. Giving current employees the space to find their strong suits is another way to scale your team.
“We need to get better and more precise, more efficient because the business is growing and scalability matters. We need to have people in the right seats. Folks who joined us a year ago were doing great work, but now we’ve learned a lot more about them,” said Patrick Corker, VP of Finance & Treasury at Circle. “What are their core strengths and where are they not as strong? As we build out the team, we can create tighter swim lanes, so figuring out where people go and giving them an opportunity to really shine within our organization is a big part of what I do as well.”
Focus on diversity, both in terms of identity and thought
Having people with different skill sets puts your team in the best position to succeed.
“I have a gentleman who was an investor for the last 15 years and he brings a very different type of experience,” said Patti Kangwankij, Head of Payments Finance & Strategy at Stripe. “And I also have someone who has a more mature kind of FP&A experience, as well as someone who was at one of the networks and actually had a big stint in product. And so having a diversity of bench I think is really important.”
When hiring, it can be tempting to seek out folks who think the way you do. But searching for complementary, not identical, skillsets when seeking out collaborators in the workplace can ultimately be extremely helpful.
“My first hire was about six months after I joined,” said Egan. “It was a guy who had a lot of FP&A experience and wanted to learn about the capital markets. So it was a really good fit for us, for me in particular, because it was a complementary skill set he had that I was able to bolster. I think my initial instinct was to find someone that looked a lot like me and had my experience.”
2. Select the right systems/partners early
Finding the right people for your team is only half the battle. Introducing third-party systems and partners is its own challenge and requires the same careful thought and consideration. Sometimes it can require some creativity to stay within your budget.
“A lot of our stuff is actually built on Salesforce,” said Artem Mashov, CFO of SwagUp. “We've managed to convert Salesforce into an ERP system, because very early on, that was the only system we could afford to be an ERP system. We're looking to move over from that now, because things are bursting at the seams.”
When you’re working with a small team early on, that may mean one person is doing multiple jobs. Introducing systems can alleviate some of the burden of this work.
“Payroll was very hard,” said Jeannie De Guzman, CFO at 1Password, of the company’s early process. “It was a one-person show and keeping track of HR records and things like that just needed to happen. So we had to bring in a lot of systems in the first year. We had to do a lot of structural tasks like looking at our legal entities and making sure they were set up properly. So a lot of basics happened in those first two years.”
Scott Orn, COO of Kruze Consulting, said many of his clients will go through Series C audits and having the right systems and partners in place to handle them can make a world of difference.
“Picking a good accounting system, using a great expense management partner like yourself, having a very clear revenue recognition policy, your accountant should put that in place for you,” said Orn. “Those are all things that just make the audit go smoothly. Using a cap table management software tool is also very helpful since another area that they're going to really audit and test is all the capital contributions, what investors own, that kind of stuff. So that's another place where software can be your friend and actually make it a lot easier for you.”
QuickBooks vs. NetSuite is a common debate among finance teams, but which is best really depends on your individual team’s needs.
“We only started in late 2020,” said Jonah Remz, Head of Finance at Capchase. “And we moved to NetSuite by mid-2021 because we saw on the horizon that need for the complexity around different subsidiaries and whatnot and figured that it was going to be a little bit easier to integrate the right way when there was a little bit less complexity in the business, even if that means spending a bit more money obviously on a system like NetSuite versus QuickBooks.”
Orn said that Kruze recommends QuickBooks and most of their clients use that software but “a lot of our companies graduate to NetSuite.”
3. Prioritize your own systems
You always want to satisfy your customers, but you can’t prioritize your clients’ needs over your own. Outsourcing or establishing your own in-house capabilities can allow you to scale.
“Prioritize your own systems,” said Orn. “There's an old saying that the cobbler has the ugly shoes, meaning you always prioritize your clients ahead of your own systems. And so we were totally guilty of that probably our first five or six years. [Founder and CEO] Vanessa [Kruze] and I used to do all the accounting and finance and tax compliance and all kinds of stuff. And then we got big enough where for us, it became an amazing luxury to actually hire a CFO and controller internally.”
Similarly, Egan said DivvyHomes was using an external accounting firm to do their monthly close when he first came on, but in 2019, they were able to hire a controller to bring accounting in-house.
“The accounting function is probably a little bit more linear,” said Egan. “It's also probably the last part of the business to get fully automated. And so what we're going to do over the course of 2022 is work very closely with the product and engineering team to continue to make that accounting function more efficient and more scalable.”
By implementing some of these strategies, you can help take your finance team to the next level. Ramp can also help you level up your business via time-saving automation, actionable insights, and seamless spend controls. Contact Ramp today to learn how your finance team can gain a competitive advantage and successfully scale.