At a growth-stage company, few people are as important as the controller. Each funding round is unique—requiring unique metrics to prove the firm is on the right path. In fact, for many companies, controllers are the first significant corporate finance hire. After all, the short runway of the early-stage company requires a stellar tactician—and who’s better than a controller at doing that?

At an Early-Stage Company, The Controller Needs to Put Time to Good Use

But the first thing a controller may notice when stepping into a new role is that the founder’s vision may not be rooted in fiscal reality. Vision needs to connect to strategy. Strategy needs to dictate tactics. And tactics need to ensure the business is heading toward both.

Knowing this, in the sixty to eighty-hour weeks expected from growth-stage controllers, every second is valuable. Knowing your role and the expectations from venture capital firms is critical and something we discussed in our guides to funding rounds (Series A and B, Series C and Beyond, the Road to Roadshows)

Success as an early-stage controller requires you to not only focus on the right things, but also avoid the wrong things. In the early stages, too much focus on a five-year plan can be useless if you only have six months of runway.

Should You Consider Hiring a Part-Time “Boss”?

At an early-stage company, your time is well spent on doing the work of a controller. A full-time CFO hire is still a year or more away, meaning that you’re the go-to person.

But what if there was a way to gain the benefits of a CFO without the high cost, bloat, or clashing personalities considered deadly to a small and nimble startup? What if there was a way to avoid spending countless hours doing out of scope work or work you’re not confident in?

This is where the concept of a fractional CFO comes in. Fractional CFOs provide the twin benefits of experienced and steady hands, all at a lower overall cost than bringing on a permanent CFO. 

The On-Demand CFO

The on-demand economy has done a lot for consumers and businesses. You get what you want for less than you’d pay—without owning it.

According to CFO Magazine, hiring a fractional CFO is a win-win for both the SMB and the fractional CFO. The SMB gets a cost-effective and experienced CFO while the fractional CFO gets flexibility and entrepreneurial work engagements.

“The total costs are a function of the service that the SMB needs. While costs are typically front-loaded, lower maintenance costs can be expected on an as-needed basis. In exchange, the SMB can leverage the fractional CFO’s financial expertise to overcome a wide range of financial challenges, including raising outside capital, helping the company navigate an audit, and reducing high expenses.”

The Power of Ideas

It’s not just the financial expertise and the ability to handle a few tasks you’re not totally confident in, it’s another person to talk turkey with. This kind of person already works in the startup space and will provide experience in a variety of areas. Need to discuss next steps? Need someone with cross-industry knowledge? Need to know about what kind of ERP would be best? This is where controllers may benefit from hiring a part-time “boss.”

Something to Consider on the Path to IPO

Did you know that the average US Startup goes through 4.4 funding rounds? Add to this the potential for a public offering, and getting from seed to IPO can be overwhelming for those who don’t have the right advice.

This could be a way for a controller to free up a few hours a week and get a lot more value from a partnership. But if you’re looking for a lot more depth in your journey through funding rounds and up to the IPO, we invite you to watch an on-demand version of our webcast titled Startup Scaled to IPO: A Controllers Perspective.

Additional Resources

Bracing for an IPO: How Controllers Can Plan for New Responsibilities

From Startup to IPO: The First Steps to Manage the First Funding Rounds

Series C and Beyond: Controller’s Guide to Successful Funding Rounds