Categories Business

Startup CFO: How to be successful and create company value

The role of startup CFO isn’t always easily defined. Today’s CFOs come from a wide range of backgrounds, with different skill sets and expertise.

But one thing is clear. The CFO is no longer there simply to guard cash flow and set the rules. While the position has finance at its heart, the most successful CFOs, or the Fractional CFO, are value creators, helping build dynamic companies.

Today, the best CFOs are Swiss Army knives, in charge of everything from legal and HR teams, fundraising to expense policies. In many growing companies, they literally keep the lights on and the wi-fi flowing. They’re multi-disciplined, quick to adapt, and know how the business is run.

In this article, we’ll look at what’s really expected from modern startup CFOs. We’ll also hear from some who’re leading thriving finance teams from the front.

For more on the subject, check out our recent guide:

Navigating the Role of a Startup CFO for Success and Value Creation

The role of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in a startup setting is often multifaceted and dynamic, necessitating a diverse skill set and adaptability. Gone are the days when CFOs merely monitored cash flow and enforced financial regulations; today, they are integral in driving value creation and fostering the growth of the company.

Understanding the Modern Startup CFO

Modern startup CFOs hail from various backgrounds, each bringing unique expertise to the table. While finance remains at the core of their role, successful CFOs are akin to Swiss Army knives, proficient in diverse areas such as legal, human resources, and fundraising. They play a pivotal role in not only managing financial aspects but also in shaping the company’s trajectory.

Startup CFO Responsibilities: A Comprehensive Overview

Startup CFOs shoulder a broad range of responsibilities, particularly in the nascent stages of a company. Initially, they may find themselves as the sole finance resource, handling everything from accounting to strategic planning. Over time, as the team expands, they oversee various functions, including:

  • Finance Function: From capturing financial data to analyzing it, startup CFOs manage critical aspects like accounting, tax, controllership, cash management, forecasting, and reporting.
  • Human Resources & Office Management: Given that employee payroll is a significant expense for startups, CFOs often take charge of HR functions initially. This includes ensuring compliance and managing HR-related challenges.
  • Legal Affairs: While not expected to be legal experts, startup CFOs oversee legal matters, ensuring compliance and mitigating risks. This involves creating legally compliant processes and guidelines.
  • Operations: In smaller companies, CFOs may also handle operational tasks, including selecting and implementing essential software, designing performance review processes, and establishing efficient team planning.

The Evolution of the CFO Role

The role of CFOs has evolved significantly, transitioning from being financial gatekeepers to strategic partners. They are expected to be proactive in driving growth and collaborating with other departments, offering financial perspectives on various initiatives. Startups seek CFOs who are entrepreneurial, capable of understanding the company’s vision, and contributing to its advancement.

Key Traits of Successful Startup CFOs

Successful startup CFOs possess a blend of technical expertise and soft skills. Strong communication skills, leadership acumen, cultural fit within the company, and the ability to act as true business partners are essential qualities. They focus on maximizing impact, prioritize opportunities over risks, and excel in outward-facing roles, presenting themselves as strategic assets to investors and founders.

Determining When a Startup Needs a CFO

The timing of hiring a CFO varies depending on the startup’s growth trajectory and financial requirements. While some companies bring in CFOs before major fundraising rounds to ensure financial stability and scalability, others may do so when administrative and financial demands become significant. Regardless, having a CFO early on can benefit startups by establishing smart processes and strategic financial planning.


Startup CFOs play a pivotal role in steering companies towards success and value creation. With diverse responsibilities spanning finance, legal, HR, and operations, they are integral members of the senior leadership team. Their ability to understand the business at a fundamental level and influence its direction makes the role of a startup CFO both challenging and exciting, promising ample opportunities for impact and growth.