Let's face it: most entrepreneurs don't love accounting and finance. In fact, that whole World is a necessary evil when it comes to building your company. Still, there's no avoiding the fact that at the end of the day, business is financial. We measure business success in dollars and cents. And in today's fast moving, competitive landscape, having a solid grasp of the numbers is a must.
Good news: If you don't love debits and credits, don't worry because CFOs do. The CFO or Chief Financial Officer can help you grow your business. Here's everything you need to do know about what CFOs do, what a good CFO looks like, when you need one and where you can find one.
What does a CFO do?
CFOs perform a number of essential tasks, but at the highest level they:
- Act as a right hand and sounding board to you as you grow the business. CFOs have a broad view of your whole business and can help advise across all areas.
- Help you raise the capital needed to grow. From equity to debt to ensuring timely collection of revenue, CFOs play a key role in keeping your business fully funded.
- They maintain a deep command of all the important drivers and levers in your business as well as the industry that you operate in. Today's businesses are more data-driven than ever. CFOs can consume all that data and bubble up the few key insights that you need to pay attention to.
- They bring deep relationships with sources of capital and help relieve you of the burden of managing relationships with your investors, lenders, key partners, etc so that you can focus on actually building your business.
What does a CFO look like?
CFOs come in all shapes and sizes, but I boil them down to three profiles:
"The Accountant": This person has a CPA designation and is all about the details. This person won't be the most strategic member of your team, but you can sleep at night knowing that she will be on top of every little detail. If you run a retail store, manufacturing business or any other business that has lots of complexity, low gross margins, etc, you need someone like this.
"The Dealmaker": This person is more likely an MBA than a CPA and comes from a dealmaking background such as investment banking or venture capital. This person is most focused on big deals that grow your business. Whether it's fundraising or acquisitions this person is looking to do deals that multiply your growth rate. If you are growing your business through transactions like these, then you need a dealmaker on your team.
"The Advisor": This person brings a broad perspective to your business. She has the ability to go way beyond numbers and advise on all aspects of operations. Often this person has served in non-financial operating roles in previous companies. Her focus will be on execution and getting things done. If you need someone to help drive operations, or if you really need a sounding board to help you strategize then this is the person for you.
Now, I know what you're thinking: At different points in your company you want all of these skill sets. This is why thinking through what you really need and taking the time to find the right person is key.
When should you get a CFO?
It's overkill to have a CFO from day one, but you should have access to the expertise of a CFO from the start. I always advise founders to get a mentor or advisor who is a CFO from day one. Once you're up and running and starting to grow, get a part time CFO. Only when you're really growing (think over $10M in revenues) should you get a full time CFO.
Where do you find one?
Since a key function of CFOs is to help you fund your business, the best CFOs should be very plugged into the investor community. Don't post an ad on a job board. Ask around. Ask your investor (if you have them). Ask your lawyer. Ask mentors and advisors that you trust. The best CFOs will have a strong reputation and will be known to the people that you trust the most.
One word of caution: if you're looking for a part time CFO, don't hire someone who is really a full time CFO and just in between full time jobs. That person will leave you when a full time opportunity comes up.
So, I hope I've made the case for why you need a CFO. If you're still not sure, check out this presentation I gave a few months ago the "High Performance CFO".