Tips for Building Effective Startup Accounting and Finance Teams
By Furey & Kevin Roth
Finding the right accounting and finance talent can seem daunting, especially for startups. Add to that fast growth, rapidly shifting responsibilities, and the need for specialized skills—and it gets even harder to know what roles to hire for and when.
We teamed up with Kevin Roth, Managing Director at NYC-based recruitment agency Advice, to discuss best practices for building effective accounting and finance teams at every stage of your startup’s journey.
IF YOU’RE A SEED STAGE STARTUP
Hire for the company you’ll be in a year, not the company you are today. Now’s the best time to build a strong and scalable accounting foundation to steer future growth. There are two approaches here: hire accountants in-house or partner with an outsourced accounting firm. To decide which option is right for you, focus on what gives you the flexibility to scale up or down with minimal impact on company culture. In many cases, outsourcing your accounting may be beneficial at this stage. Kevin of Advice explains, “These early roles will evolve significantly as the company scales. Take advantage of the right outsourced accounting firm to help set up and automate processes as much as possible before you start hiring for every function.” Whether you hire accountants in-house or get outside help, Kevin recommends focusing on utility players over specialists. “You’ll want to prioritize generalists who are capable of and enthusiastic about wearing multiple hats.”
Start from the top and work your way down. First, consider the wide range of accounting and finance functions: accounts payable, accounts receivable, accounting, FP&A, payroll, tax, and controls. Identify what’s crucial to your operation right away, which is typically accounts payable, month-end close, and financial reporting. Outsourcing these responsibilities may be a good move at this point. By doing so, you can allocate resources to senior and strategic support instead. Plus, you’re more likely to attract top-tier finance talent if your accounting operations are in good shape. Kevin notes, “The best finance leaders in the startup world prefer opportunities in which the accounting function is in good hands. Having a strong outsourced accounting partner in place at an early stage will make your company more marketable to the high-caliber candidates.”
IF YOU’RE A SERIES A STARTUP
At this stage, you’re likely focusing on your next round of funding. Now may be a good time to consider bringing on a VP or Head of Finance who can thrive in-house and work with your accounting team. This role should provide both strategic and operational finance support to help you reach your fundraising goals. And remember, the focus of this role goes beyond fundraising. It also includes scaling unit economics, FP&A, three-statement modeling, and cash flow analysis. Think of it as the difference between a three-month view and a five-year runway view. The latter requires a different set of skills.
What are some other considerations? For one, you’ll want to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your executive team and look for a candidate that fills the gaps. Kevin shares these tips:
If your founders come from investment banking or management consulting, prioritize candidates who bring operational finance expertise
If your founders lack expertise in capital markets, focus on professionals who have a foundation in investment banking or experience leading fundraising efforts at another startup
IF YOU’RE A SERIES B STARTUP
As a Series B startup, you may soon reach a stage when an external audit is called for. Bringing on a Controller who can help get your company audit-ready may be a wise move. Like your senior finance hire, this role should work in tandem with the accounting team you already have in place. Kevin suggests concentrating on candidates with a combination of audit and operational accounting experience. He explains, “The public accounting foundation will prove invaluable as the company works through audits and starts to implement more sophisticated controls. On the other hand, the operational accounting experience will provide expertise in ensuring efficient day-to-day accounting operations, procedural enhancements, and system optimizations.”
Find the right fit for your business model. Accounting is accounting is not always the case. When evaluating Controllers, look for candidates with demonstrated experience and expertise in your startup industry.
E-commerce: Look for experience with accounting concepts around inventory and COGS
Tech/SaaS: Look for experience with ASC 606, deferred revenue, and contracts
Retail: Look for experience with physical controls and construction progress
But that’s not all. The right skills don’t always guarantee the right fit. Kevin says, “Get guidance not only on how difficult it would be for a Controller to learn those unique concepts, but also the likelihood that they might find those areas cumbersome or less desirable (ie. insurtech companies dealing with premiums and claims or fintech companies dealing with high volume transactions). The latter of those factors is often overlooked, but can be just as critical when it comes to retention and overall success in the role.” Ultimately, the right candidate should have demonstrated knowledge and expertise in areas relevant to your startup, the ability to oversee the accounting team, and enthusiasm for the role.
BUILDING EFFECTIVE TEAMS
With the right mix of in-house support and outside help, startups can build impactful accounting and finance departments capable of scaling with the company. If you need help recruiting top-tier talent as your company grows, get in touch with Kevin Roth at KRoth@adviceny.com.
Advice is the trusted recruiting partner for startups and emerging growth companies throughout the tristate area. With a specialization in accounting & finance, the Advice team employs a consultative and relationship-oriented approach to ensure that you can identify, attract and hire the best possible talent for your organization at the most critical stages of growth. Visit adviceny.com to learn more.
Furey is the modern accounting firm setting the new standard for how work gets done. We build solutions to help startups make smarter decisions and move forward confidently. With Furey, high-growth companies have the best guidance and the smartest technology so they can achieve more at every stage. Get in touch at email@example.com to learn more.