Solid advice for your first 90 days as a strategic finance leader.
Nadia Asoyan is a highly experienced finance leader. As CFO of fintech startup Step and formerly Head of Finance and Strategy at Robinhood, she’s ideally suited to give advice on how the first finance hire at a startup should approach their first 90 days on the job.
Nadia is a three-time startup veteran, making the jump from Ernst & Young to Square in 2013. After helping navigate Square through its IPO, she was recruited by Robinhood in 2016, which, at the time, was a fresh-faced Series B company. She was tapped this year for the CFO role at Step a Series A fintech company.
The first finance hire is given an exciting opportunity to build out a finance function from the ground up. They can set the pace and become a key driver of a company’s success. Here is Nadia’s framework for approaching this significant responsibility.
Day 0 to Day 30: Understand the business.
The first 30 days should be laser-focused on developing a deep understanding of the business. Nadia points out that you can’t make plans or implement tactics without a solid understanding of how the business operates today, and how its requirements will change as the company grows. Use this discovery process to build relationships with major stakeholders; get everyone from department heads and executives to star-individual contributors to explain the key levers that drive growth.
- Start building relationships: “To understand the needs, priorities, and requirements of the finance team, build strong relationships with people at the company.”
- Compile business goals: “Sit down with the leadership team,” Nadia says, “and understand where the business is heading. You want to walk away from these meetings with a clear idea of what the founders want from the business in the next one to five years.” These business goals set the requirements for the finance function. Once you know where the business is going, you can start planning how to build out of the finance operations to support the company’s plans.
- Understand how the business operates: Gather as much information as possible from the various stakeholders in the company to develop an understanding of how the business delivers value. “It’s ideal to keep conversations with stakeholders open,” Nadia says, “and ask questions about how they’re operating at the moment.” She also suggests meeting with someone from every team to get a broad view of how the company delivers value. “Dig into everything, from engineering to sales and operations.”
Day 31 to Day 60: Assessing and defining finance priorities.
Your next 30 days should focus on developing a plan for getting the company from where it is today to where it wants to be one year from now, and then five years from now. The plan should map out both priorities and resources needed for success.
Day 61 to day 90: Create steps to success.
Flesh out your plan. Focus on filling gaps in operations and accounting before you start hiring for finance. Use software to automate manual accounting processes and prepare to handle transaction volumes.
- Assess accounting and operations: Accounting and accounting-related operations can create friction for businesses if they’re not streamlined, especially as transaction volumes increase. Many accounting teams just add headcount as a solution to operations and accounting problems, but Nadia recommends exploring software solutions that can scale as the company grows. This is especially important in a startup environment where G&A may not get a lot of headcount. “Creating automated processes with software is an approach that’s undervalued by a lot of early-stage companies,” she says. “Many finance leaders focus on the business and finance side of the function and ignore these transaction-related pieces until they’re constantly fighting fires. I’d start thinking about scalable processes first. You don’t want people on your team doing a lot of manual work. Every process in the company should be supported by software if possible. This makes operations and accounting a whole lot more efficient.”
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