Building a finance function from scratch while supporting a fast-growing business operationally poses unique challenges. Francis Trudeau, BrainBox AI’s first CFO, shares what he’s learnt along the way.
Francis Trudeau is CFO at BrainBox AI, a tech scale-up fighting climate change by bringing artificial intelligence to the built environment. As their first-ever CFO, he needs to build the finance function from the ground up, while at the same time supporting the business’s rapid growth.
‘The mindset of management is ‘we’re building the plane as we’re flying it’…We know we’re not perfect, but we want to improve and we need to demonstrate that we’re getting better. That’s our goal right now.’
We interviewed Francis on The CFO Playbook podcast, where he shared his best advice for building a finance team from scratch.
When you’re the CFO at a hyper-growth startup, you can’t be too precious with your ideas or your resources.
Coming from being the CFO at a large, established company to a scale-up, Francis appreciates the flexibility that management exercises in taking a big picture approach:
‘Internally everyone is focused and working towards the same direction, which is customer success and our technological success.’
If your team is aligned on its goals, mistakes become learning opportunities rather than roadblocks.
It’s important to strike the right balance between cash burn and building value for the company.
While CFOs tend to be risk averse, Francis stresses that they play an important role in helping CEOs invest for the future:
‘Even if it leads to losses, it’s rare for a company to break even early on…So you need to accept this phase. From what I’ve seen, this period of growth is critical for future success.’
In the early stages of a company, it’s important to make investments that will allow you to develop a world-class product, and gain market share. By trying to constrain costs too much, you risk slowing growth.
Technology frees up your finance team to do more meaningful work.
As the first CFO at BrainBox AI, Francis is charged with implementing foundational systems and tools for both the finance team, and the wider business.
‘I needed to build a base while strategically grading and business partnering with the operation. So, an important part of that is putting processes in place, [and with that] automation is very important.’
By reducing manual processes, you free up your team’s time to deliver strategic insight to the wider business, helping fuel growth.
Stay open to collaboration as you grow.
Francis’s best advice for CFOs at larger companies moving to a start-up includes aligning the finance team’s objectives with the growth targets of the business as a whole:
‘Your goal should be to propel those divisions and those internal clients and bring them value so that they go to you and they utilise you and they see that it’s fun to work with finance.’
Modern CFOs model a partnership mindset that the finance team can emulate.
Building a finance function from scratch while supporting a fast-growing business operationally poses unique challenges. But by keeping Francis’s tips in mind, you’ll be able to reap the rewards further down the line.
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