(Webinar Recap) The CFO Exchange: The Role of Finance in a Hyper-Growth Startup

By
Writers@Aspire
Published
April 1, 2022

Last week, we were joined by Allen Shim - the former CFO of Slack - for an exclusive webinar.

Joining as one of the first 20 employees at Slack, Allen played an instrumental role in shaping the company’s growth into a global household name worth over $27 billion.

In a candid fireside chat with Aspire’s CFO Alvin Ip, Allen shared his unique advice on how to successfully scale a startup with a finance-led approach.

Some of the questions that they discussed were: 

  • How should a CFO of a fast-growing startup allocate their time and resources at each stage of their company's growth? 
  • What are the most important things to keep in mind when growing a team? 
  • How should finance leaders utilize technology to optimize productivity?  

In case you missed it, here’s a roundup of three key takeaways from the webinar. 

Scroll to the bottom to find a full recording of the webinar.


Set up clear internal financial processes from day one 

When you’re in hyper-growth mode, it is crucial to build a strong foundation that underpins your financial management strategy and culture.

For startups building at the earliest stages, Allen recommends applying a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs framework to topics such as accounting and G&A. Rather than focusing on closing your books in record time using sophisticated software, finance leaders at this stage should focus on the most fundamental needs -  security and visibility over all cash flows and processes at all times. Finance leaders  should set up robust internal processes to protect against fraud or irregularities, and prioritize building a team culture that values transparency and safety.

Once you have these fundamentals in place, you can then divert your attention to automating and scaling your financial processes. 

Don’t underestimate the consequences of hiring too quickly 

According to Allen, one of the biggest mistakes startups make is to hire too rapidly once they hit product-market-fit and start to receive huge inflows of cash. This temptation to hit the gas pedal on hiring can backfire in two ways: 

  1. You start to create “80% jobs” which are loosely defined in their scope and may not fully occupy your talented and ambitious new joiners. As an unintended consequence, they will end up finding work to do, resulting in parallel teams working on the same projects without alignment. 
  2. If your teams are too focused on hiring and scaling, who is focused on building the product? Who is selling the product? 

Allen’s advice is to make sure that you are extremely intentional and deliberate in your hiring: take stock of what your priorities are and make sure you can clearly articulate why hiring is the best solution for the gap you are trying to fill. When it comes to successful traits, particularly in the earliest stages of a startup, he recommends to hone in on candidates who are passionate about building from zero to one. 


Ask yourself three important questions before investing into your finance tech stack

In today’s flourishing tech ecosystem, there is a SaaS tool for each and every financial need. According to Allen, the emphasis shouldn’t be on trying to find the right tool. Instead, you need to focus on building out the correct processes. 

When evaluating your finance tech stack, Allen encourages CFOs and finance leaders to ask themselves these questions: 

  1. What are my current requirements and processes? Are they documented? Can they be explained?
  2. What are my future requirements? 
  3. When/if something goes wrong, which vendor will provide the best service to get things back on track?  

Allen’s advice to CFOs looking to invest in finance software? Focus more on your approach and thought process, rather than fixating on a given feature or software name. In order to fully understand your processes, you need full visibility and transparency into your company’s past, present and future financial makeup.

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