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Find out how to be an amazing startup CFO in tech

A Chief Monetary Officer (CFO) place carries numerous duty, and all of the extra so at a fast-paced tech firm. Startup CFOs are tasked with driving a rising enterprise in direction of success and profitability as rapidly as doable, which is definitely no simple feat.

Whether or not you’re a budding entrepreneur searching for insights into this profession path, or a mid-career skilled aiming to enhance your expertise, there’s no higher strategy to be taught than to seek the advice of with a seasoned professional. To that finish, we’ve introduced you some unique suggestions from TravelPerk’s present COO and former CFO, Huw Slater (LinkedIn).

Huw’s spectacular profession spans practically twenty years, together with 10 years in finance positions at BT Group, 3 years as VP of Worldwide Finance and Operations at Field, and CFO positions at Typeform and Travelperk. To be taught extra about Huw and his prime suggestions for startup CFOs, try his interview on Soldo’s podcast, “The CFO Playbook.”    

space nebula

Huw’s journey towards turning into an skilled CFO began in a stunning place: the College of Manchester’s physics division. Constructing on his lifelong curiosity in math and science, he graduated together with his BSc in Astrophysics in 2003.   

So how did he shift his focus from the celebrities to the C-suite? After an opportunity encounter with a British Telecom worker and a dialog about rugby, Huw joined the corporate as a brand new graduate and kicked off his profession in finance. Starting as a Monetary Analyst, he labored his means as much as ultimately turn into a Finance Director. Subsequently, he joined cloud content material administration firm Field as they have been increasing internationally pre-IPO. He then moved to Barcelona to take a CFO position at Typeform, earlier than turning into TravelPerk’s CFO and COO.

Whereas astrophysics and finance could look like very totally different topics, Huw has discovered some attention-grabbing parallels between the 2. Each require robust analytical expertise, and the flexibility to dissect advanced information and break them down into core concepts. Additionally they each contain curiosity and asking the suitable questions.

In physics, velocity is the measure of each velocity and course. This is applicable to enterprise as properly: to acquire outcomes, leaders have to mix velocity with focus. Startup CFOs are tasked with sustaining a robust development trajectory in a company with many transferring elements.

One other physics idea that ties in properly with an government’s tasks is entropy: dysfunction, uncertainty, or randomness. In enterprise phrases, this implies managing the numerous distractions that come up daily. Paraphrasing Steve Jobs, Huw says CFOs should “say ‘no’ to 999 good concepts, to allow them to say ‘sure’ to 1 nice one.”

How TravelPerk overcame the pandemic problem

The COVID-19 pandemic was a serious problem for corporations in practically each business, and journey was significantly affected. Luckily, TravelPerk got here out robust from the pandemic, without having to make redundancies. So how did the management group handle this disaster?

As Huw studies it, the TravelPerk group had scheduled a board assembly for about 10 days earlier than the primary COVID-19 lockdowns began. At that assembly, management needed to deal with the unsure actuality of the pandemic at a time when few individuals knew what the longer term would appear to be. They put collectively some strategic planning for various situations in two phases and determined to briefly minimize advertising and freeze new hires. They then agreed to provide weekly updates to board members because the state of affairs developed, planning to make extra vital cuts in two months if circumstances demanded it.

A key consideration right here was long-term considering. For instance, whereas layoffs may need eased monetary ache within the brief time period, they might have additionally harm the long-term well being of the corporate. As a substitute, the finance group aimed to make strategic cuts in areas that represented excessive price financial savings and low impression. Additionally they made some stunning selections, like doubling the dimensions of the engineering group as an funding in future enterprise success.

In the end, the COVID-19 pandemic created a necessity for new kinds of enterprise journey. Journey-related spend tripled in 2021, and the market is anticipated to develop much more in 2022. As corporations have shifted to full-time distant or hybrid fashions, there’s now extra of a necessity for inner conferences as distributed groups get collectively in particular person for offsites, group constructing actions, and extra. On this context, the way forward for TravelPerk appears to be like brighter than ever. 

Presently, TravelPerk is sustaining its core focus whereas creating extra partnerships with corporations like Soldo (a spend administration platform with pay as you go firm playing cards). This fashion, we are able to present clients with a 360° enterprise journey provide, whereas staying true to what we do greatest. Utilizing our SaaS software program, finance groups can streamline their enterprise journey applications, gaining management and visibility over budgets whereas enterprise vacationers keep their autonomy. It’s a win-win state of affairs for everybody. 

phone with a chord

Why startup CFOs have to grasp clear communication

At TravelPerk, we’re all about in-person connection and communication. That’s why it’s not stunning that Huw mentions efficient communication as one of many keys to succeeding as a CFO. 

A part of this includes strategic transparency. There’s no query that transparency is essential in enterprise, and folks respect it — a Paychex survey confirmed that 83.3% of staff with very clear employers have been glad with their jobs. Nonetheless, this want for transparency doesn’t essentially apply to each single difficulty: the survey additionally confirmed that staff have been largely involved with points that immediately affected them.

Based on Huw, “excessive transparency” can rapidly flip right into a collection of undesirable distractions. Whereas groups completely have to find out about key points, overloading them with irrelevant data will merely waste their time. Actually efficient communication is about delivering the suitable data, to the suitable individuals, on the proper time. Whereas this idea isn’t sophisticated, it does require dedication and work.

However, relating to goal-setting and targets, it’s higher to err on the facet of “overcommunication”. Huw recommends a radically open and sincere strategy to sharing progress and context. This fashion, groups can stay aligned and perceive why targets have been set the best way they’re.

On a private stage, CFOs want to recollect to provide themselves the house they must be efficient communicators. Huw likes to put aside 45 minutes of “alone time” after he comes dwelling to calm down and rebuild his vitality. Nonetheless, he additionally finds that being round individuals may be energizing — throughout the lockdown, this grew to become particularly clear.

darts target wall

Setting targets and KPIs at a fast-paced tech startup

Whereas highly-ambitious targets are interesting to buyers, these targets additionally must be reasonable and achievable for the group. The objective isn’t just to get individuals to the following goal, however to allow them to work sustainably with out burning out.

At TravelPerk, the manager group meets commonly to brainstorm targets, then palms them off to the prolonged management group for suggestions earlier than finalizing. Whereas it’s inevitable that targets might be missed typically, it’s essential to maintain this in examine — sometimes lacking a goal by 10% would possibly work out, however lacking one by 50% could be very demoralizing.

Huw believes that targets should at all times be truthful. For instance, he recollects a state of affairs in a earlier job the place staff at decrease ranges of the corporate hierarchy got extra formidable targets than their seniors. They might steadily miss targets, inflicting them to really feel disillusioned, whereas the administration group would obtain bonuses. To keep away from the sort of final result, Huw advocates for setting reasonable targets throughout the group, whereas being clear with each staff and the board of administrators.

To stability achievability with ambition, TravelPerk’s management group allocates round 10% of assets to “moonshot targets” (extremely formidable, revolutionary targets) and 70% to “incremental targets” (core, routine duties of the enterprise).

Cool company event

Changing into a profitable CFO within the tech world

If there’s one key objective startup CFOs have, it’s this: transfer quicker with fewer assets. In fact, it is a critical problem. To fulfill their targets, right this moment’s CFOs steadily select to put money into software program options like TravelPerk and unlock their staff’ time for higher-value duties.

You’re a frontrunner first, and a CFO second.

Huw Slater, COO at TravelPerk

What his assertion means is that, though CFOs are answerable for accounting features, monetary planning and evaluation, metrics, and money stream administration, a CFO’s prime priorities ought to be communication and higher-level enterprise technique. Profitable CFOs ought to over-index on management by specializing in each group targets and firm targets. The finance perform ought to help the corporate’s general technique from a cooperative, relatively than confrontational, standpoint.

Huw’s ultimate phrases of recommendation for finance leaders are:

Run in direction of the flames… discover the toughest downside that exists within the firm. Simply go and assist any person, get it accomplished. That’s the way you develop.

Huw Slater, COO at TravelPerk

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