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Am I the right person for the CFO role?

CFO career objectives examplesI am writing anonymously but am an active member of Proformative and I would appreciate any advice in my situation.

I have held the senior finance role for a venture backed tech startup for a year now.  Currently, we are 100% professional services with a proprietary technology platform that we use in-house to service our clients.  In the next 6 months we will go to market with a SaaS product, effectively drastically changing the business model.  Until now I have been comfortable heading the finance operations for a straight services company but doubt I'm the one for the job if/when we make this pivot.

I am a generalist with an MBA (finance) and enough accounting knowledge to know that there's an abundance of complexity around rev rec in a SaaS model.  I currently have an accounting manager doing all the A/P, A/R and accounting functions (including prepping for our first audit).   

I am looking for honest advice because I want the best for the company (and I want to be successful in my job).  Is the company better off, at this point, replacing me with an experienced SaaS controller who wishes to grow into a larger strategic role?  Or is it possible for me to learn the SaaS side of the business and try to hire for my weakness (assistant controller)?  

Our CEO has no finance background or experience, if that plays into your advice.   Please feel free to ask any questions for clarification.  But, I'd love to hear from CEOs who've grown a company from ground to $30m in revenue!

Thank you.

Answers

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Director of Global Accounting
Company: Agrinos, Inc.
(Director of Global Accounting, Agrinos, Inc.) |

Anon,

You sound like you could use a career coach more than advice.

Rev Rec in SaaS is different, but not inherently worse than other software (and way, way easier than in the virtual goods / gaming space, where rev rec rules are currently [imho] ludicrous). SaaS can in fact be pretty simple if you get ahold of the rules, because you can make things like deferred revenue go away.

SaaS is relatively new, and lots of us have had to make the transition. A couple of days of hard-core research and you'll know 80% of what you need. The other 20% will come from experience and company-specific factors.

I would guess that the company values your experience and competence more than rev-rec. If need be, hire a rev rec analyst (start interviewing now).

Back to the career coach thing...it is a valuable investment. Do research and find a good one, and determine if the role is right for you.

Cheers,

Keith

Anonymous
(VP Finance) |

Really great insight and advice Keith. Thank you for your candor and time!

Topic Expert
Joan Varrone
Title: CFO
Company: Cloud Cruiser
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Cloud Cruiser) |

I agree with Keith that you can learn the SaaS part of the business; remember that anyone who knows it now did not know it when they started so this should not deter you.

Your company is best served by someone who can help with strategy, pricing and planning so that they can understand various options on the road ahead. In fact many companies are seeking CFO's with this strengh over accounting which was dominant during the SARBOX era.

Also if you have garnered the respect of the CEO and the team and have the strengths mentioned then I say go for the CFO job.

Topic Expert
Brenda Goudey
Title: CFO/VP of Finance
Company: KDR Designer Showrooms
(CFO/VP of Finance, KDR Designer Showrooms) |

The fact that you are even asking this question shows a level of dedication to the firm that is much more valuable to a growing business than an accountant with SaaS Rev Rec knowledge - and I bet your CEO would agree.

Anonymous
(President) |

SaaS revenue recognition is not all that complicated. You need to have faith in your own abilities. If you have the skills you can learn any industry and be a great CFO. I have been CFO of four different companies - different industries, different ownership structures, etc. It is all about taking your skills and experience and applying it the position and industry you are in.

Didier Jupillat
Title: CFO
Company: Atlantic.net
(CFO, Atlantic.net) |

Totally agree with Brenda: if you are asking yourself questions, then you're the right person for the job. Knowledge can always be acquired, while the right attitude and dedication (and being humble about it) is key to your success. So go for it!!

Anonymous
(CFO) |

I think you should go for it. I agree with everyones comments above and just for having anxiety about the challenge infront of you will make you a better CFO.

Ginny Burkey
Title: Executive Recruiter
Company: Colorado Corporate Search
LinkedIn Profile
(Executive Recruiter, Colorado Corporate Search) |

You can also hire a strong senior accountant with revenue recognition experience to head that side up - and work with your auditors or a CPA firm to help you make sure you have the right processes in place. Once you get the processes in place, you'll be able to handle it.

Thomas cherian
Title: Corporate Controller
Company: Rediclinic
LinkedIn Profile
(Corporate Controller, Rediclinic) |

Guys how do you find a career coach? I would like some inputs

Kirk Westbrook
Title: VP - Tech Banking Group
Company: US Bank
(VP - Tech Banking Group, US Bank) |

Brenda, Keith and the others have pegged it. Your institutional knowledge and exisitng relationships within senior management of the Company is much more challenging to effectively replace than specific accounting expertise. In some VC backed technology companies the CFO takes the role of business strategist with less of a day to day accounting role, especially in situations where the CEO is the founder driving the technology side. You mentioned that your CEO doesn't really have a financial background, so it sounds like this is the case for you. I have seen very effective teams built around a CFO that drives the business strategy, while the CEO is continually pushing the technology. It can be a nice check and balance if they work well together. Given the tenor of your comments, which indicate that you are invested in the Comapny, I woudl take the opportunity and run with it. A career coach is a great idea too! Use your local network of C level contacts to find one which others have had a favorable experience.

Michael Breier
Title: Owner/CEO
Company: Breier Consulting
(Owner/CEO, Breier Consulting) |

Ginny has the right idea here regarding revenue recognition for a SaaS company. You already have a terrific resource in your auditors for learning the intricacies of revenue recognition in your industry. Ask them for all of the GAAP, related pronouncements and emerging issues literature they have on SaaS revenue recognition and learn it. Your CEO is relying on you to quarterback the financial function and therefore you need to know your plays. One thing CEO's do not like is surprises, especially the one's that are uncovered by auditors. Let the Groupon debacle be an example for you here.

Based on your concerns, your head is in the right place and right now the job is yours - fight for it and be that person who grows into the more strategic role. You are thinking stategically now whether you know it or not!

Topic Expert
Mark Pieper
Title: Director, SCS Finance
Company: Premiere Healthcare Alliance
(Director, SCS Finance, Premiere Healthcare Alliance) |

Jump-in and go fo it! If you learn accounting treatment around SaaS model you will now become that much more attractive a candidate if you decide to make a change. This model is only going to become a larger part of the business lansdcape for many software product firms!

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