If you want to take the shot at being a CFO at a SaaS start-up, how do you reduce your risk on picking the right firm and making an impact in your first 90 days? I like to think the way you start is how you finish. This may not be true to all circumstances, but for transition into the CFO club it sure is. Growth through a subscription-based model is often the north star for SaaS startups. This goal requires a CFO who can lead the company with data and insights – starting in the first 90 days.
Whether you’re a new CFO or one transitioning into the SaaS industry, it’s important to assess the current state of your company. For example, ask questions like ‘does this create a new opportunity through a role that didn’t exist?’ It’s no surprise that some startups operate without a CFO initially, with financial responsibilities split across various executives. If this is your reality, consider how the burden impacts those functions. From there, create a plan that also enables your peers.
As for the first 90 days entirely, a SaaS CFO should outline how they want to balance the tactical and strategic elements of their role. The CFO seat (in just about all industries) has evolved – from technical expertise with narrow financial focus to business partner with strategic and operational focus (in most cases leading a low-cost finance organization).
That said, here are four areas to prioritize during your first 90 days:
1. Choose the right financial software for your organization
According to a recent Accenture study, 72% of CFOs have final say on the technology direction of the enterprise.
With final say comes great responsibility. There are a myriad of things keeping you up at night. Why make financial software one of them? Choosing the right financial software is one of the biggest strategic decisions to make in the first 90 days. Depending on the size of your business you will want to think about how much your software can do and at what volume.
2. Understand your customer acquisition costs and the stickiness of your platform
As a SaaS CFO you should use this time to get familiar with your organization’s Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC), as this can be packaged differently across companies. CAC is typically calculated on a quarterly basis and includes items like total sales, customer success and customer acquisition.
Consider best practices for your organization in this realm – like separating your CAC by different divisions or segments. For example, if your company ranges from enterprise, mid-size, and startup customers, you may consider separating each CAC. From there, think about the value of each group – how much does it cost to get each customer and how much are they worth to the business?
In this day and age you can’t keep competitors out of the industry through technology alone. Sales and marketing is the new barrier to entry. Keep retention at the forefront during your assessment, with churn as your key metric. As a SaaS company, happy customers are always an objective. That is why minimizing churn and happy customers go hand in hand.
Only net new APR provides growth. Downsell APR has to be replaced before growth starts making it difficult to grow with high churn numbers. The last thing you want is customers exiting stage left as new customers come in.
3. Understand where your free cash flow stands
Is your company spending rationally relative to scale? At CFO status you already know about cash flow, but a refresher shouldn’t harm. Cash flow is cash generated after operating and capital expenditures that adds back non-cash expenses like stock-based compensation. When positive, cash flow can be reinvested into your business or returned to your stakeholders. When negative, your runway is limited by the amount of free cash flow burned every year. Based on the definition alone, you can see how getting informed quickly is critical.
4. Assess current state of people, process and technology within your organization
Whether you’re a SaaS startup or have been around for a while, get on board with your growth model. The gap between customer acquisition and revenue can vary across companies, but it’s important for you to determine what’s acceptable. Find out your benchmarks or decide on how to implement them if they don’t exist.
In addition, build a level of trust to look at data without defense if you want to have a cohesive executive leadership team. Automating for instant decision-making data can support this kind of teamwork. This data can support different viewpoints and decisions. To support this objective, look for technology that:
- Integrates systems for quote-to-cash
- Establishes flexible contract-based billing
- Builds end-to-end revenue management
- Creates real-time SaaS and GAAP dashboard
- Forecasts and plans for the future
The role of finance leaders is changing and requires more strategy to lead than ever before. A SaaS CFO needs to strategically prioritize and allocate, not just monitor a budget. By putting these priorities at the forefront of your 90 days, you will have a positive start to lead your finance organization.
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