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Put a Controller in the Starting Lineup of Your Startup

In the startup world, forward progress is a top priority. Often that is interpreted as getting the product out to customers, closing new deals, and expanding market presence. These become the hottest-burning fires and require top talent in sales, engineering, and management. But that progress could be accelerated by an often-forgotten role – a solid financial controller. A great Controller plays a unique role because they can influence just about every decision the business makes.

Expect more from your finance team.

Startups, like all businesses, have countless competing priorities for financial resources. It takes strategic planning to find the right balance of spending, savings, and financing to best position any company toward its goals. There are the obvious finance responsibilities; paying bills, managing taxes, invoicing customers. That’s the easy stuff! It’s important to look deeper into strategic planning to see how a great Controller can be a real game-changer. The right Controller can accelerate plans for critical business growth including headcount, facilities, capital equipment, and financing to maximize efficiency of the almighty dollar.

Don’t wait to hire an all-star finance guru.

Startups are often focused on the core tech team, and rightfully so! But don’t wait too long to get the right accounting team in place. It’s an investment that should be made early and at the right level. If you skimp on your finance team, or wait until revenue picks up to hire, you’ve set yourself back. It’s a tough, and costly, battle to correct financial missteps of the past. Bring a qualified accountant in early and really use them to maximize financial efficiency in your early days. It’ll pay off in cost savings and potentially a better business trajectory.

Your finance team is part of the production, not the audience.

Include your Controller in the decision-making process to provide financial insights from the outset of a project. If they are meant to be responsible for the numbers at the end of the day, then it is critical that they have the opportunity to influence those numbers. For example – Is it better to lease, purchase, or repair equipment? Without financial analysis, your engineers may jump into a lease agreement if it’s the easiest way to get equipment in the door. That could cost you big time in the end! Let your finance team review the alternatives before you commit. They’ll still get the equipment delivered but could save you thousands. If you diminish your Controller to a month-end data processor, all you’ll get is a report of financial results. If you empower them to drive decisions, you can improve financial predictability and that is a huge asset in any startup.

Find the right fit.

When recruiting for your first Finance hire, be sure to find a person that is up for the challenge of finance in a start-up world.  Like any role in a startup, the Controller will wear many hats. That will get a lot of candidates excited to live a life outside of excel, but it may intimidate others. Look for candidates that show a genuine interest in the business mission and values. You’ll need to find someone that is self-motivated, ambitious, eager to learn, and driven to make a difference. When you recruit, be up front about the analytics and the decision-making support you’re looking to get out of your Finance team. The right candidate will dive right in, asking questions and engaging from the outset. With that, you’ll be sure to find the right fit for a Controller that’s ready to break out of their office and make a big impact in the business!

Janelle Gorman is the Chief Financial Officer at TRM Microwave. @JCGorman

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