The role of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at a startup is typically broader than the same role at an established corporation. Startup CFOs are often the main commercial managers and in charge of several processes that go well beyond pure finance. In some early-stage companies they have the characteristics of a Chief Operating Officer.
Typical responsibilities of a startup CFO include:
- Financial planning, budgeting and budget management
- Financial reporting (including to investors)
- Financial and legal aspects of the fundraising process
- Accounts receivable and payable
- Treasury and cash management
- Purchasing and vendor relationships
- Expense management
- Risk management
In some companies they additionally include:
- The HR function
- Operations, often including sales operations
- IT infrastructure (systems needed for internal processes)
When to hire a CFO
Very early stage startups often feel that hiring a “true” CFO is overkill for a small company. That’s generally true, but most companies err on the side of hiring a qualified CFO too late in their growth process. Earlier on the growth pass, financial and operational tasks can often be covered by a director or VP of Finance, VP of Operations or similar role.
A typical staging of these roles would look like this:
- Post Seed: Hire at least a part-time accountant, but ideally a full-time Head of Finance and Operations.
- Post Series A: Hire at least a full-time Director or VP of Finance who could also cover many of the operational duties. Some companies in addition hire a part-time freelance CFO with a lot of experience in order to prepare for their next growth stage
- Post Series B: Hire a full-time CFO with significant experience. They will build a team of finance and operations specialists.