“You have to spend money to make money.” The familiar business adage is perhaps nowhere more true than when it comes to fundraising. From researching VC firms to developing the pitch deck to buying that carbon fiber bike and lycra suit for cycling-based networking, finding investors is an investment in and of itself.
With the right team of financial professionals, however, you can minimize your upfront expenses and maximize your fundraising ROI (or is that ROIOI?). Whether strategizing with you as a co-pilot or merely taking some responsibilities off your plate, bookkeepers, accountants, controllers, and CFOs all play major roles in your startup’s fundraising success.
Bookkeeping is the process of day-to-day money management. Your bookkeeper is the person who records your company’s financial transactions according to the general ledger. Although bookkeepers are sometimes referred to as “accounting clerks,” there’s a slight difference between the two: bookkeepers tend to be independent contractors, while accounting clerks are employees who typically work under the supervision of staff accountants.
How does a bookkeeper help you during fundraising?
During fundraising, your bookkeeper (or accounting clerk) can help create an accurate historical picture of your financial performance in the following ways:
- Banking data categorization: Your bookkeeper should, well, keep your books in order. Clean, organized, and accurate bank statements are a basic requirement during any fundraising round.
- Preparation of financial documents: Prospective investors expect to see balance sheets, profit and loss statements, cash flow statements, invoices, receipts, vendor agreements, and so on. Your bookkeeper can prepare and arrange it all.
- Accounting software administration: When investors have questions about your books or you need to produce financial information quickly, it pays to have someone on-hand who knows their way around your accounting system.
Additionally, some bookkeepers may be able to help directly with invoicing and bill pay, but these skills fall outside of the formal job description.
When should you bring on a bookkeeper?
It’s essential to have bookkeeping covered from day one. If you have expenses (read: startup costs) and any income, you need to have someone tracking it—preferably through smart bookkeeping or accounting software.
That’s right: although elements of their jobs overlap, bookkeepers and accountants are not the same thing. If your financial department were a kitchen, your bookkeeper would be a line cook, and your accountant would be a chef.
In contrast with basic money management, accountants are the ones responsible for interpreting, classifying, analyzing, reporting, and summarizing financial data. Some accountants have developed specialties in certain areas such as taxes or forensic accounting. Regardless, they should have the ability to perform all the bookkeeper’s data collection functions, fix any errors, and then take that information and consult on your business’s overall performance.
How does an accountant help you out during fundraising?
The following accounting skills can help you out during fundraising:
- Accrual accounting: When many non-financial professionals think of accounting, they tend to think of what’s known as cash accounting, in which transactions are recorded when actual payments are made—i.e. when money changes hands. Accrual accounting records revenue and expenses when they are earned in real-time, regardless of whether cash has hit an account. With this more advanced—and accurate—accounting method, your business can easily defer revenue, better understand monthly spending and income trends, anticipate future cash flow, and more. Basically, it gives you more control over and insight into your organization’s financial present and future. Oh, and by the way, it’s part of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles investors expect to see.
- Financial reporting: Accountants can help prepare balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and cash flow statements, as well as accounts receivable/accounts payable aging, shareholder equity statements, and any other reports your business may be able to generate. While a bookkeeper is able to prepare financial reports, an investor’s reporting requirements are generally a bit outside a bookkeeper’s capabilities but right in an accountant’s sweet spot.
- Asset depreciation: Accountants may not be fortune tellers, but they can see into the future. Specifically, they can calculate how the value of your fixed assets (such as vehicles, computers, and office chairs) will change over time, and how fast. This information is useful for investors, given their interest in your company’s long-term value (and potential tax liabilities).
When should you bring on an accountant?
In terms of fundraising, the ideal time to bring on an accounting is the moment you start thinking about anything more substantial than a family and friends round. Even at a seed or angel stage, reporting requirements are much less daunting with an accountant on your side.
The job of a controller, sometimes called a comptroller (though still pronounced “controller”), is what it sounds like: controlling the accounting department. The role is a logical step up from accounting—in fact, many accountants eventually become controllers. The biggest difference is scope: controllers are able to handle virtually any financial matter, rather than focusing on a certain area, and have the skills necessary to manage others and consult on the health and performance of your business.
Most business owners consider their controller their most trusted financial adviser. Controllers generally have experience helping businesses scale through growth-driven financial management, making them ideal partners in fundraising.
How does a controller help you out during fundraising?
The following skills and capabilities of a controller come in handy during investor interactions:
- Accounting and revenue recognition policy creation and management: Before you begin fundraising, your controller can work with you to determine your accounting and revenue recognition policies—that is, how, when, and where you record transactions. In meetings with investors, your controller can not only explain the fine details of your books but the larger picture of your organization’s overall financial health and outlook.
- GAAP compliance: Remember those Generally Accepted Accounting Principles I mentioned earlier? The ones investors are looking for? Your controller is a master of GAAP standards and can ensure and report on your company’s GAAP compliance.
- Profit margin analysis, budgeting, and forecasts: To demonstrate why you need the capital you’re trying to raise now, you’ll to explain your burn rate. And to explain your burn rate, you’ll need to show investors the profit margin that justifies what you’re spending on growth. This is an ideal job for controllers, as they understand—better than anyone at your company—where your revenue is coming from, where it’s going, and why. They can provide the tangible financial details that prove the unique opportunity in your pitch.
- Audit and due diligence support: Impressing investors is one thing; meeting their due diligence requirements once they’re interested is another challenge entirely. Leave it to your controller to comb through your financials and give investors the information and peace of mind they need to move forward.
When should you bring on a controller?
Traditionally, once a business starts to receive revenue, it’s time to bring in a controller. From a fundraising perspective, controllers enter the equation somewhere between seed and Series A. These periods are monumental tests of a startup’s growth potential, and with that comes complexity that only a true financial partner can address and help founders navigate unscathed.
Chief Financial Officers are the executive decision makers at the top of the accounting chain. Beyond mere numbers, they understand the story an organization’s financials are telling, and how finance relates to every other business process. They’re the planners, communicators, consultants, and leaders of their companies’ financial strategies—and ultimately the ones responsible for the success or failure of those strategies.
How does a CFO help you out during fundraising?
While your controller, accountant, and bookkeeper all play pivotal roles in managing the financial records that exist, a CFO envisions the financial model to come, with details about what that means in terms of returns for those who invest today.
A full list of a CFO’s roles and responsibilities during fundraising would be too long to include here. Indeed, along with the company’s CEO and founding team, the CFO is the person who takes the lead before, during, and after fundraising. They handle things like pre-planning, pitch development, investor communications, financial modeling, financial planning and analysis (FP&A), revenue projections, and board representation. They can also come up with contingency plans and budget for various fundraising outcomes.
When should I bring on a CFO?
For most startups, the CFO plays a pivotal role as they’re gearing up for Series B to help the founders think about fundraising. CFOs also help owners prepare for potential exits (e.g. through a merger, acquisition, or initial public offering).
However, there are reasons to have some level of CFO input right from the start. At the onset, CFOs can provide guidance on and oversight of accounting, assist with investment raises, help work through initial cash projections, and advise on corporate governance and ownership structure.
Wait, Four Different Financial Professionals?
Relax. You don’t need to switch accounting providers at each funding round.
As a business grows more complex, so does its accounting. But CEOs of growing startups don’t need to start fresh before every fundraising round. With inDinero, you get a dedicated finance team that’s built to meet your business’s needs now, and scale with you as your obligations grow. We have the ability to give startups the financial services they need, when they need them: from seed-stage bookkeeping and accounting all the way through controller and CFO-level series B, M&A transactions, IPOs, and beyond, with fractional CFO consultations and sevices available at all stages of growth.
It may be true that you have to spend money to make money, but when you use inDinero, don’t think of it as the flat cost of doing business. Instead, think like an investor: get in early and watch your money grow. Schedule some time today to talk to one of our financial experts about how inDinero can be your fundraising partner.
By the way, this blog post is adapted from a chapter in our ebook: The Startup CEO’s Guide to Accounting that Meets Investor Expectations. See everything you need to know before heading into your next investor meeting.