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CFO software stacks – and how to improve yours

CFO Software Stack

CFO software stacks – and how to improve yours

Don't let the wrong tools derail your business

Whether you’re just starting out as a CFO or speaking from years of experience, you’ll know how important it is to curate the right software stack. Choose the right tools, and you can create a streamlined process that allows you to reduce costs and boost efficiency in just a few clicks. But choose wrong, and you can easily find yourself overwhelmed by data, spending hours trying to track down relevant statistics within a sea of information.

Not so long ago, the main responsibilities of a CFO would have been focused on the nitty-gritty of financial management. But as technology has allowed us to automate more and more of these administrative tasks, that role has shifted. Now, a CFO might be responsible for anything from pioneering new strategies to managing growth. In other words, it’s a big job — but one that can be made easier with the right tech.

The first step to choosing the right software stack is to figure out exactly what you need. Small start-up CFOs, for example, will have a specific set of software requirements — and they might look very different to the stack used by the CFO of a growth-stage company.

Generally speaking, start-ups don’t require much — although a decent piece of accounting software should be in every CFO’s toolkit from the very beginning. To access your data from anywhere — and ensure easy sharing at the click of a button — a cloud-based solution such as FreshBooks or Xero is probably the best choice.

Once past the start-up stage, CFOs might want to consider software that deals with payroll and HR. The goal is to streamline the process while remaining in touch with your employees, so go for an intuitive, transparent platform such as Gusto or BrightPay.

Next, we move on to another cornerstone of the CFO’s stack: Enterprise Resource Planning systems, or ERPs. This software allows companies to easily manage day-to-day activities, and can encompass anything from accounting to project management, compliance, procurement, and more. And the system you choose will depend heavily on the focus of your organisation. For many businesses, NetSuite serves as a good all-rounder, while Unit4 offers a high level of personalisation that’s popular with charities and nonprofits.

ERPs, though, can only do so much — and many CFOs like to add financial planning and analysis platforms to their stack as well. With collaborative tools such as Abacum, you can automate certain tasks and analyses, making it easier to predict the future of your business. Similarly, a spend management solution will help you keep track of corporate spending, allowing you to easily incorporate all expenses into your overviews and predictions.

In other words, there are lots of different elements that make up the perfect CFO software stack — and only you can decide what’s right for your company.

But whether you’re a small, independent business or a high-growth company on your way to the top, it’s worth taking a look at what our sister company Projected has to offer. Ideal for busy CFOs who sometimes struggle to find the data that they’re looking for amongst various complex platforms, Projected has built a tool to analyse your KPIs, delivering all the essential data direct to your inbox. So if you want to make informed decisions about your company’s future — and plan for growth in a sustainable and productive way — speak to the Projected team about the essential tool that can transform your software stack.

Find out more about Projected

All about the Accelerators

All about the Accelerators

What you need to know

You can’t move anywhere in the early-stage venture ecosystem without coming across accelerators. There is an abundance in the UK and globally – so much so that it seems every new headline in tech news is about a business getting accepted to a hot new accelerator programme.

But for founders, it may not be entirely clear what the value of an accelerator is for their business. And how to choose the right one. As startup CFOs, we often get asked our opinion on whether it makes sense to join an accelerator, so we thought we’d break it down for you in this short post.

What is an accelerator?

Let’s start with the basics, an accelerator is a programme that is run to help founders and their ventures grow at a faster pace than they would have if they had not joined the programme (hence accelerator). Not to be confused with an incubator which is typically a studio where new businesses are conceived and built.

Accelerators have traditionally been in-person, on-campus programmes though as with many other norms that changed during the pandemic many are offering fully virtual programmes or have moved to a hybrid offering.

What is it going to cost me to join one?

This will, of course, vary from accelerator to accelerator, but typically you should not expect to pay in cash for access to an accelerator programme. Instead, the accelerator will normally offer a range of services, and even some cash, in exchange for equity in your business. Whilst many of them will purport to have a fixed percentage in mind, it is always good to negotiate with them.

We would highly recommend against accelerators that ask you to pay cash to attend them as in our opinion that is quite a predatory practice targeted at first-time founders who may not have the right knowledge or advice to navigate the offer.

So what do I actually get out of attending?

This is the crux of the matter and will depend on the brand of accelerator that you attend. Broadly speaking you’ll be offered the following services which depending on your business and stage you’ll need to varying degrees.

Mentorship and Office Hours

Accelerators pride themselves on having great people, often exited founders themselves, available to new cohorts and who will provide mentorship and coaching as the business grows.

Sector Expertise

A number of accelerators will have deep expertise in one particular industry or technology, whilst others may offer this expertise across a number of verticals.

Office Space

One of the huge benefits of an accelerator is access to their office space which, apart from being a valuable resource in itself, also means that you can rub shoulders with other founders and teams going through similar growth journeys. Founding a company can be very lonely and this benefit is quite underappreciated.

Access to Talent

Many accelerators will have their own talent function where they can help ventures source great team members whilst others go one step further with members of the core accelerator team co-opting into your business and potentially joining full time down the track. This can be really valuable when you need high-quality individuals but don’t want to pay full-time salaries.


There is a range of events that accelerators put on, from demo days to dinners to educational seminars on specific topics. These can range from lunch and learns about how to best build a financial model to larger industry events aimed at showcasing cohort companies.


Some accelerators are attached to funds and hence can invest directly, whilst others simply have great relationships across the funding landscape. If your main aim in joining an accelerator programme is to get yourself funded then you will want to think carefully about which model suits you best.


In our opinion, the most important function of joining an accelerator programme is the halo effect you get from their brand and the access to their network. If the accelerator doesn’t have a huge Rolodex of contacts within VC funds, corporate partners, angel investors and networks, founders and talent in general then they are not likely to be providing you with any value at all.

So, should I join a programme?

As with many things in life, this ultimately depends on your situation and what your objectives are. 

Accelerators can be really valuable if you are stuck at a certain level of growth, or can’t find the right talent or even the right investors for your business. But they can also be a massive distraction from building your business as you spend so much time attending events, bootcamps and sessions that you have to ensure there are enough people left in the business to run it.

The equity cost might exceed the value the accelerator actually brings to the table so you need to weigh that up carefully but for some programmes like Y Combinator, the halo effect of having been accepted is worth the cost.

Whatever you do, you should think through the pros and cons carefully and if at all possible speak to other founders or companies that have been through the same programme in the past.

So there you have it, almost everything you need to know about accelerators, if you’re interested in learning more, I’d strongly recommend you listen to our podcast with David Hickson, one of the founding team at Founders Factory, a leading UK (and now global) accelerator or with Jenny Ervine, Co Founder of Raise Ventures a Northern Ireland based accelerator supporting the NI and UK wide ecosystem.

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Diversity in investment.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Diversity in investment

In discussion with Rupa Popat

In our most recent webinar, watch the full video here, EmergeONE’s Aarish Shah and our webinar guest Rupa Popat tackled the subject of diversity in investment. Rupa shared some stark figures with us and we felt the topics discussed were something we wanted to highlight on their own. 

You can watch the discussion below.

There is clearly a challenge in the start-up, investment ecosystem where diversity is concerned. Changes are happening but not at the pace we would perhaps like to see.

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Getting that first cheque

Getting that first cheque, webinar.

EmergeONE's Aarish Shah in conversation with founder and angel investor Rupa Popat.

The latest webinar from EmergeONE is a must watch for any founders looking to raise their first investment. Start-up CFO expert Aarish is joined by exited founder, angel investor, advisor and mentor Rupa Popat. Rupa discusses her challenges raising for her own ventures, what it’s like on the angel side of the fence and what she looks for in start-ups who approach her, and how a lack of diversity in the early stage investment space has motivated her recent work.

We're helping early stage ventures build successful pitches.

An interview with David Pattison, PHD founder, start-up mentor, and wingman.

An interview with David Pattison

Chairman, investor, mentor, wingman. David has spent 10 years helping companies achieve their goals.

We’re super excited that David will be joining us for our Fundraising Checklist webinar so as a prelude we thought we’d interview him and find out about the many projects he’s been involved with and what makes him tick.

Tell us a bit about you?

I left school at the age of 18 and went straight to work. I have spent 45+ years working. For the bulk of it working full time in marketing services, founding my own company, and for the last ten years or so helping other people start theirs in a broad range of sectors. Be it as a Chair, mentor, adviser, investor, or ‘wingman’. I am married with three sons and two grandchildren.

Tell us a bit about the businesses you’re currently working with, what stages are they at?

I currently work with five businesses. Helping a digital creative business to maximise their earn-out having been an original (and only) investor and Chairman from day one (ten years ago). Chairing a language analytics business that has had four rounds of fundraising and is flying. Two new start-ups, the first a chatbot ad product that has just gone to market and is about to raise its first round of investment and the second, a programmatic barter business that is aimed at SMEs and is about to launch. All of these I have invested in. I own a large stake in a motorsport business that has grown tenfold over the eight years I have been involved. I also mentor (and have invested in) a new second-hand fashion business and a CEO of a charity.

What would you say are the critical things for a start-up to have?

A start-up needs to have a great idea that is relevant and scalable. It needs to be revenue-generating and not reliant on unreliable revenue streams. Most importantly it needs a well-balanced team with a range of skills. It must have a passion for what it does and a belief in succeeding. It must also have a level of ‘can do’ optimism and be prepared to work ridiculously hard. It needs stamina.

Tell us about raising money?

It’s very hard to raise money and really unpredictable. Most young businesses are unprepared for the fundraising process. Most are inexperienced in this arena and are up against people who know how to get the best deal. But, it’s so important to get these deals right. It will shape the future of the business and the next investment rounds. An early mistake just gets bigger and bigger as the rounds go by. There are lots of good examples of well-managed investment relationships. Start-ups need to make sure they are one of them.

What would you have done differently if you could?

I am not really a person who looks back. I try to always look forward. I am a bit of a ‘done that, what’s the next challenge?’ person. I guess I could have stopped and enjoyed a few of the achievements a little more.

Start-up culture seems to have become a bit of a roller-coaster, what’s your view?

Start-up culture is a bit of a merry-go-round. If you ask today’s twenty-somethings what they want to do, they will normally say they want to start their own business. Twenty years ago they would have said they wanted their boss’s job. The market now expects people to start their own businesses. And the market wants the preferred model to involve raising money or taking on debt. Not surprising given that the market expectations are driven by the investment community. So the pressure to have an idea, get it to work, raise funds and grow it fast feels like a real ride that goes around and around.

Do you think raising money is an indicator of business success, if not what is?

Raising money is an indicator of potential success, not business success in itself. If you are taking investment then the only measure of success is how much money your investors make. That’s all they will measure you buy. It’s not wrong just the reality. 

What do you do for fun?

In recent years I have fulfilled a lifetime ambition of becoming a racing driver. With some success. In normal times I travel to go fly fishing and watch cricket. I also love live music, particularly in small venues, and will pretty much travel anywhere to see Pearl Jam live. I also love spending time with my grandchildren.

Who was your hero in media, anyone you looked up to, followed, etc

To be honest I was always told never to meet your heroes. So my heroes were not really in media. I respected people like Frank Lowe and Chris Ingram for breaking the mould. I have been lucky enough to have John Bartle (founder of BBH) as a mentor for many years. My heroes are the unreachable film-stars and sports personalities.

And a one-liner to promote your book?

Preparing for the fundraising process is so important. It’s a proper journey with lots of bear traps. Looking /asking for help and advice is not a weakness it’s a strength. My book, The Money Train10 things young businesses need to know about investors, helps young businesses to prepare for that journey. Available on Amazon and all good book outlets.

Sign-Up for the latest webinar

Join us on February 24th at 3 pm GMT. The panel includes EmergeONE’s Aarish Shah, Helen Goldberg, Legaledge COO and of course David Pattison 

EdTech in a post-Covid world.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Guest expert - EdTech in a post-Covid world.

Rahim Hirji, UK country manager at leading online learning platform and app, Quizlet, shares his thoughts on the changing EdTech landscape.

We’re super pleased that Rahim found time to join us recently and discuss the changing landscape in EdTech and how this is being shaped by Covid and beyond.


What part is technology playing in the education sector as they try to cope with the impact of COVID-19?


COVID-19 and its impact on driving remote learning has undoubtedly sped up the education technology adoption curve. As almost overnight 2 billion students could no longer attend schools and universities, the shock of this seismic shift set in, and so education institutions had no choice but to leverage technology to help bridge the learning gap and globally rounded out on:

Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Google Classroom, Canvas and Microsoft teams to deliver Synchronous Classes and act as a conduit to:

    • Content Platforms from publishers
    • Digital Learning and Study Tools like Quizlet and Century Tech to support the learning of a student


Do you think the education sector will adopt some of the hybrid practices that have become common in the workplace?


I think we are at the cusp of a new wave of education where students benefit in different ways from the role of the teacher, depending on whether the class is live or in a remote setting. In both cases, teachers can, and should, be supported by technology to deliver outstanding education. Over the next couple of years, educational institutions need to be able to deliver learning outcomes whether students are locked down at home or within the classroom. In many cases, teachers may need to deliver schooling across both. As a result, edtech becomes the glue in the process, therefore supporting consistent learning.


Has the pandemic put a spotlight on education’s sometimes ineffective use of technology? What’s the solution?


The pandemic has highlighted the real benefit of technology within education in the following ways:

  • Technology can be helpful in scaling up quality instruction using prerecorded lessons and videos.
  • Technology can facilitate differentiated instruction and create personalised learning paths for educators.
  • Technology creates expanded opportunities for students to practice with questions.
  • Technology can help student engagement with interactive tools more akin to gaming and fun – which also supports learning.

With this forced period of disruption due to remote learning, the education system has definitely had to make the quick decision to more closely align with technology solutions, and it’s likely just the beginning as we witness the needs of teachers and students over the coming year.


Increasing use of digital technologies brings inevitable security issues, which are the key ones that should be monitored?


One of the key areas that must be addressed and paid attention to is the security of data. Both student data and their learning data can be at risk if not thoughtfully considered, and institutions, educators and parents need to be mindful that the technology they choose for their students have strong privacy rules that meet and exceed GDPR.


Tell us about some of the big developments in EdTech at the moment?


The use of machine learning within education is how Quizlet Plus is built, creating personalised learning journeys for students by adapting revision activities based on what the student needs to learn. This allows students to learn more effectively – akin to having a personal tutor – but at a fraction of the cost. This kind of scaled approach to education, that is personalised, is happening elsewhere whether you’re learning on a MOOC like Futurelearn or through a platform like BYJU’s.

Other areas of importance are the application of technology like AR and VR within the context of education, but I think we will start to see different content areas start to gain more prominence and get delivered in different ways. One example is mixed delivery platforms, such as EtonX, to teach soft skills but also offer live tutoring in coding. As in other digitised businesses, the concept of “live” will become premium and technologies such as WebRTC will play a key role in synchronous delivery, but other tools will fulfil other goals.


Considering educations use of technology , what do you see as the main challenges?


Some of the structural issues associated with technology in education are the perception that the adoption of technology is to forsake other areas, such as instruction. As we have seen over this unique year, that doesn’t have to be the case – but globally, the use of technology in education is going to be governed by affordability and by the governments’ willingness to invest in technology, as well as the ease of use for teachers and their students.


Many students don’t have access to digital technology, how do you see them being supported?


There is an obvious gap in education, which is divided between those who have regular and consistent access to technology and materials and those who do not. For some, there may only be one laptop or mobile device within the household with multiple children who need to be homeschooled or don’t have any regular access to technology for schoolwork and revision. As the cost of devices continues to fall, and real strides are made into making the internet accessible to virtually everyone, whether it’s through 4G and 5G or via public wifi networks, I think we are starting to bridge some of these gaps in education.


Anything else you’d like to share with EmergeONE’s audience?


Technology and content work really well together. For example, Quizlet recently launched a full curriculum aligned section with 10,000 resources for GCSEs across 24 subjects. These are completely free to use and can support teachers and students in class or remotely, so completely COVID-proof. Add Quizlet’s Learning Assistant to this content and the learning process can be enhanced even further. Building and aligning content to be delivered live or asynchronously will be a defining trait of education over the coming years and heralds a new era for education.

Find out more about Quizlet, here

Rahim on Linkedin.

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Riding solo as an accountant in tech

Guest Expert - Riding solo as an accountant in tech

Rob Collings tells us what it's like to be the only accountant in a start-up

Being the only accountant in a company can be an amazing experience. It can be an incredible learning curve with the opportunity to really broaden your skill set. Anything finance related comes across your desk which means you get the opportunity to deal with such a wide range of things.

But, it can also be daunting. What if you don’t know the answer? What if you make a mistake? Does it mean you have to do everything?

In this article I will attempt to explain some of these questions and help you understand what it’s like to ride solo as an accountant in a tech company.

Setting the scene

Generally speaking, if you’re the only accountant in the company it probably means you’re at a relatively early stage startup. We’re talking about tens of employees, perhaps between seed and Series A/B and still feeling very ‘startup’ culturally.

Other business departments, such as legal, HR and compliance are probably in a similar boat as finance – one person running the show in each area. A very flat structure.

The job role

Being the only person in the finance team, you’ll get to see a wide range of things. From strategic decisions that impact the overall direction of the business to BAU (business as usual) tasks which help keep the cogs turning.

It’s an exciting space to be as you naturally build up a great understanding of the organisation simply by virtue of everything you see. You learn what moves the needle and what doesn’t, and that’s important because, as a finance person, you need to understand what’s going on across the whole business so you can help glue the business together financially.

Riding solo doesn’t mean you can’t delegate

Whilst you may be the only accountant, that doesn’t mean you’re on your own. I would highly recommend using an external accountant for the BAU activities (bookkeeping) whilst it’s economically viable. BAU tasks are the things that keep the cogs moving, so it’s not necessarily the most valuable use of your time.

Your company may also have someone who is happy to get stuck into anything and everything. You can leverage their availability by asking them to take care of the more mechanical tasks such as invoicing, loading bank payments and dealing with supplier/customer queries.

You’ll still need to have good control over this side of things though, so it’s often impossible to completely delegate the BAU activities. I like to watch out for errors or bottlenecks because they indicate a breakdown in a process somewhere, then fix it.

Moving the needle

The strategic tasks are where you’ll probably find that you spend more of your time. Strategic work covers a wide range of things which typically vary day to day, but in my opinion include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Build or review financial models that help map out the journey from here to there
  • Projecting cash runway and putting in plans to raise finance
  • Building relationships with key stakeholders
  • Process improvements to make things effective and scalable
  • Assessing the ROI / financial impact of strategic investments

For this type of thing, it’s helpful to know a few other CFO’s / Head of Finance’s to bounce ideas off. You’ll probably find that at least one of your founders has a good understanding of the financial strategy side so they can be useful to brainstorm with – and if not, I always find it’s useful to run ideas past non-accountants as they often have a different viewpoint. The key is to be open minded!

What if you don’t know the answer?

Surprisingly (or not!), lots of questions can be answered by a quick google search. It might not throw up the perfect answer, but could give you some ideas that send you in the right direction.

Think about pricing strategy for example – a quick google search will throw up lots of information on how other companies price their products, different structures and why things are priced in certain ways. It won’t tell you how to price your product, but it’ll give you ideas!

You can then refine those ideas by speaking with other people in the company. If you’re working at a startup, there’s a fair chance that many of your colleagues are incredibly smart, so use them well!

It’s also a good idea to build up your network to include other finance professionals who can help with the more generic questions. Don’t forget you’ll also have access to your external accountants.

And if something goes wrong?

If you get something wrong, the key skill is being able to fix it. Most decisions aren’t irreversible. They might be hard to fix, but not impossible. Everyone is human so making mistakes is a natural trait, but managing the mistakes properly is what differentiates you from others.

Overall, working as the only accountant in a company is an excellent way to progress your career and gain a unique skill set that makes you a more all-rounded professional. It can be scary at first, but turn that fear into excitement and you’ll have a great time!

Follow Rob on social 



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An interview with Nick Telson, Design My Night founder.

Guest expert - An interview with Nick Telson, founder Design My Night.

Nick talks us through his journey to exit and beyond.

We’re delighted that Nick agreed to be interviewed for our blog series where we speak with successful founders as part of our regular guest expert series. 


When did you start Design my Night?


We started Design My Night in November 2010 based on idea we’d come up with in 2008/2009. My co-founder Andrew and I had always had our heart set on on starting our own business. The big driver for me was looking at what my GM was doing at L’Oreal, which was the step above my marketing manager role. She was just doing lots of charts and graphs and reports to Paris head office and that’s just not what I wanted to do. I liked the hustle and bustle of marketing and advertising at that time and to put it frankly I didn’t want to become a chart monkey. So if that was my next step up, then I thought, Okay, I’m gonna go and do something myself.


Tell us about raising money, the good, the bad and the ugly?


We always wanted to be bootstrapped, we didn’t want to raise huge VC money because we wanted to keep as much equity to ourselves as we could. We also didn’t want a VC behind us driving the business forward. It was important for us to do it at our own pace in our own vision. So in our case, we were very lucky, the actual raising money bit was very easy. We met the head of entrepreneurship of the London Business School at a chance dinner party. He was a friend of a friend’s dad, who happened to be in the kitchen at that time and started speaking to Andrew about Design My Night and he offered to be our mentor. He mentored us for three months and it really helped. He suggested we look at raising some some Angel money, and he helped us put our pitch and business plan together. When he saw the business plan, he told us he wanted to invest himself and that he knew six other angels that would be able to complete the round.


We went and met each of them individually, and pitched Design My Night, and luckily, they were all in. So we managed to close that round quite easily. It was £250k raise and within the agreement there was a follow-on follow in the second year for another £250k and that was the total money that we ever raised.


How’s your finance team structured?


We don’t really have a finance team. Andrew is the more analytical side of our partnership, he was at Accenture, he was really the money man. We had a finance manager, who actually started as office assistant and finance manager, and then just became our finance manager. So it was again, a very bootstrapped financial operation as we did everything on zero budget.


Beyond the operational, what role did finance play in your organisation?


Toni our finance manager played the level headed role in the organisation. Beyond the operational side of things, we also used finance as a yardstick. All of our ideas and growth ideas were driven by the money we had in the bank. We’d measure whether something was a good idea based on the money we had and the return we’d make. Whether that be employee happiness or revenue on our bottom line, we ran in very tight ship. It always however came down to what we could afford.


Finance is seen as a necessary evil by some what’s your take?


I’m not a finance person at all I can barely add up past my fingers. So for me, it was a steep learning curve, but something I actually loved learning, learning how to do a P&L, learning how to do these monster spreadsheets. We had a huge five year budget plan for Design My Night where you could change certain parameters to flex the model. I ended up being the one messing around with that a lot of the time, seeing how spend would impact revenue, how would that affect our EBITDA. For me personally it was a steep but very rewarding learning curve, it really helped me get under the skin of the business.

if you don’t have a grip on your finances that’s probably the number one reason why a company is eventually going to fail.


Talk us through the exit. How did it come about? What were the challenges? Why did you think it was the right time?


We were very structured in our route to exit. When we took on the second tranche of angel investment we put in a five year plan with the angel investors and that five year plan was for exit. We worked back from that point and luckily Andrew and I agreed on the ballpark figure on what we wanted to sell Design My Night for. We were always very open about this and this was crucial so we were aligned. Neither of us saw DMN as long term and we didn’t want to take it global. It was our first go at starting our own business, we wanted to enjoy the ride. At the end we wanted financial freedom personally, to allow us to go and pursue personal and professional projects. In that sense it was a bit mechanical, a means to an end. Once we agreed on the ballpark figure that we both were happy with and factoring in the figures software in hospitality was selling for we just worked back from there to work out what we needed to do.

From then on we tracked and tweaked the business to ensure we kept on track for our EBITDA figure.

The year before we sold we engaged a broker as we were confident of hitting our target the following year. The process with the broker took about 4 months preparing our sale pitch. There was a lot of back and forth but we arrived at the right result. we drew up a list of potential buyers and the broker said to us it would unlikely be anyone on that list. He was right.

He focussed in on a company called Access Group who are huge UK software provider, they’d just set up a hospitality division and were buying up the best in breed hospitality solutions. We said yes to them quite quickly.


Any lessons you’ve learned along the way you wish you’d known sooner?


I think for us lesson the main lesson is focus. In the early years you can get easily distracted, different business opportunities, different partnerships, different parts where you can take the business. We lost quite a bit of time getting distracted and it was one of our investors who got us back on track. Focussing us on what we knew.


Any touch and go moments you’d like to share business wise?


We had a few moments especially in the early days. SEO was our main strategy to get traffic to Design My Night. It’s fair to say we weren’t really experts at the start. So we hired an agency who we thought were doing great stuff because we were jumping up the rankings and getting big traffic increases. It was about 80% of our traffic. But the agency was employing a bunch of black-hat tactics. Unfortunately for us Google were getting wise to these and when they rolled out their Penguin update it had a major impact. Overnight our traffic fell off a cliff. We obviously fired the agency and resolved to learn SEO ourselves and did it the right way going forward. 


Any advice for younger startups?


So apart from keeping focused don’t try and do everything? Try and find the niche within a market that you can just become the expert at? I think that’s the most important thing. On an emotional level try and keep on an even keel. I think that’s something we did very well as founders, the highs were never too high and the lows were never too low. We never overly celebrated success. We would High Five each other and then get back straight to business even once we closed funding.


What’s next for you?


Andrew and I miss the real startup race. When you become big and you have big clients and a big team  it becomes a lot more run of the mill. But you actually get into a startup because you love making decisions and coming up with new strategy and product. So we’ve thrown ourselves into angel investing.

We want to make sure that we’re investing in companies that we can really help not just give passive money. We’re in about 25, UK and US startups at the moment. So we’ve moved pretty quickly and across many verticals.

For us, as long as we understand the business, the vision, and it’s something that we can help with and it’s a realistic business to revenue and profit. It also important the founder or founding team are the right caliber of founder and we think they can hack it. We’ve formalised that now into something we’re calling a startup playground. We’ve called it Horseplay Ventures. Check it out here. We want it to become a hub for startups to be able to get tools and grow and improve whether they work with us or not. Alongside this we also launched a podcast called Pitch Deck. We’re super pleased with how that’s gone so far, we got into top 10 Global and top five UK business podcasts.


What’s your take on the current landscape, impact of lockdown and the way out?


I think the current landscape is still very ripe for angel investing. I’m seeing that in my angel investing networks, there’s still money out there, people are still investing. Out of adversity come great opportunities. We launched design my night around the time of the big financial crash. It’s been a horrible personal period in people’s lives and of course professional with businesses having to tighten their belts or closed down through no fault of their own.

But I really now look to the startup world to take us through this and on to the next level. I think it’s going to come from startups, not governments, not big conglomerates. And so whether that be the future of work and remote work, or environmental issues, and equality issues, I see all of that as great opportunities for the startup world.

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Meet the finance pro – Joe Newbold

Meet the finance pro - Joe Newbold

Financial controller Joe has been a key member of the EmergeONE team of finance pro's over the last year.

EmergeONE is built on a roster of amazing finance pro’s. People are the cornerstone of the finance stacks we build for growth companies so we thought it only fitting that we’d introduce that team. First up is Joe Newbold, Joe’s been working with some amazing growth companies over the last year and this week we interviewed him.




Hi Joe, tell us about you?


I started out as an accountant pretty young in practice, as most do. Then went through to my first role in industry which was with a tech firm of only 20 to 25 people in size, it was VC backed and that position excited me at the time because coming out of practice, it felt like I could add value and really do something that an external adviser can’t do for a business and then it went on from there really. I went through a number of companies that were high growth, some of them often doubling in turnover every year. But I had a distinct gap in my CV for larger company experience when it comes to technical reporting and IFRS so I took the plunge to go back into practice for a couple of years, and then came out and ventured into a few FTSE 100s for about 18 months or so. 


All of those roles were only ever contract positions and that space is what interested me rather than trying to stay on as a permanent employee, where you often feel trapped in a position if you’re on three months notice or you’re not able to make the impact that you feel you can make because you need to go through a very large decision making tree. 


It was at this point that I was presented with the opportunity to be a portfolio financial controller with EmergeONE, I jumped at the chance. It was new for me and it was new for the people I was working with. And one of the things that really excites me about this is you are in a position both as a contractor, as a financial controller, and as a portfolio FC, to make quick decisions that impact a business almost immediately. You often have that level of authority and say, whether it comes to bid processes, whether it comes to forecasting, cash flow, what to spend money on, know what customers to sell to or whether to turn down sales because of margin. 


When you’re looking at systems and automation, you can get involved in absolutely every single part of the business. And that’s basically why I do it, it’s much more rewarding than having that full time position, or the position in a larger business where you’re not able to make the changes that you really feel you should be able to make.


So it’s not just about your personal freedom it’s about the impact you have?


Yeah, absolutely. But it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. FM or FC level is very different to being a portfolio FD. An FD is in the position where they’re not always expected to get their hands dirty, and they’re often there for specific strategic advice. 


Whether or not to raise capital or taking the company through a growth period, or being an ear to the CEO or the MD or whatever. In those positions you can do one or two days a week and potentially switch off. With the FC and FM positions, even if you’re not there, you’re still there. Because there’s questions around invoices. There’s questions why a new system launches and isn’t working. There’s questions why an API link has suddenly broken. So it’s not just as easy as saying I will do two days a week for two clients. It is five days a week for every client. And that’s the only thing I would say as my word of advice or caution for anyone wanting to be a portfolio FC, in that there’s always something to do for every client every day of the week.


Does that put pressure on you to manage those expectations?


You can have back to back conference calls all day for four or five hours. And you’ll switch from client A to client B to client C, back to client A and then again to client B, and it is literally being able to turn it on and off immediately. And then at 5 or 6pm do work for all three clients ready for the next couple of days. So don’t get me wrong, every day can be a 16 hour day and when it’s busy, it’s really busy.


How do you ensure successful outcomes for the companies you work with?


Ensuring success is massively about stakeholder management. Every time somebody asks for something, ask them when they want it back. In a permanent position, people who work for a big company, people ask for something, they think they want it there and then. Often they don’t need it though. Smaller companies, unless it’s really critical, because founders and MD’s are normally aware that they’re so busy, the timelines are often more realistic. 


So it’s very much about asking what people want and when they want it. And if people ask for something don’t just assume that’s what they want. Often, business founders and entrepreneurs they’re not necessarily financial and they’re not operational or systems experts. So when somebody asks for something, make sure you ask the right questions to elicit that the information they’re asking for is representative of the task or the solution that they are after.


That’s a hard balance, giving people what they need and want aren’t always the same?


Sometimes I’ve been asked questions where the CEO might think it’s three hours work. And after a telephone conversation, a 10 minute chat, that was it, it was over. I didn’t even have to do anything. So you don’t necessarily need the detail, all the way through the chain, if D is always fixed as point D, then actually, you know, by virtue A, B and C are going to be roughly right. So rather than checking the whole value chain, or whatever it may be, so often it’s about just managing those things. I always say also being in a portfolio position, it’s very easy to get used to emails as everybody does now, or IMs. It’s far more efficient to pick up the phone and ring all three or four clients every day for 10 minutes and ask them if they need anything. So you can then start to plan two or three days ahead. Often, if I ring somebody on a Monday or Tuesday, ask them if they’re okay. See if they want anything. They say no, I’m left alone till Friday.



Beyond the founders how do you integrate with the in-house team, especially in the current working environment?


So some of the companies I’m working with are completely remote. And those that are completely remote, I make sure that I place far more emphasis on calling people and arranging more frequent video calls than I would normally. Those clients where I am now remote but I used to work with a team in the office I still make the effort to ring people rather than just emailing them. For me ringing people is a far more efficient working pattern than solely relying on responses to emails and trying to manage things that way.


Tell us a bit more about the timing, when are you typically brought into a business?



It’s been a real mixture and the roles are varied. There are proactive, firefighting or hold the fort roils. Where somebody realises that the company is going to grow bigger and they want finance to come in and make sure things don’t break. That’s rare. I would say, particularly in the SME or high growth sector, finance is seen as a cost, it’s not a revenue generator. 


If you’re small, and the business is only five or six people, often the CEO knows where they’re spending money. So you can’t really save any money. The only thing you could do is improve efficiencies where there is a massive opportunity cost for everybody else in the business to do what they’re specialists at. 


But generally speaking, that’s rare within a startup or high growth business. The firefighting is more common. In my experience, businesses finances tend to creek around 2.5million to 10million. And then somewhere between 15 and 20 because the previous set of processes isn’t able to scale with the current operations, and the volume the business is churning. 


Don’t get me wrong if it’s one massive contract win at 10 million pounds, that’s different. But if you’re looking at, generally speaking the same business model, there are rough points when you may get bought in either to aid what was an FM in there in the first place or an FC who has been with a business for a number of years. 


Or you’ve been bought in and previously they’ve had a part time bookkeeper or something like that. That’s more common. And then there’s a whole before position where an incumbent has left and you may just be asked to come in for three or four months, change a few things but not change very much until they find the next person. 


Sometimes they don’t find somebody and sometimes you’re able to make changes so quickly that they’ve decided, in fact, the contract or portfolio FC works quite well for them and they keep you on. But there is always a risk that if you’re only doing two or three days a week, then as the company grows, they can outgrow you. And they will need someone full time. And unless you’re willing to be that person, then effectively you lose that revenue stream and you have to go and backfill it with another client.



What would you say the difference is between contracting and portfolio? What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about going into or starting a portfolio career?


For both portfolio and contracting you have the same very small length of time to become familiar with the business, but contracting is typically for a fixed term whereas portfolio can be very open ended. As a permanent employee you may get given grace for two or three months to learn the ins and outs. If you’re going to be a good contract or good portfolio, I reckon you’ve got about 14 days. Prove that you can learn the business inside out and show that you can make a difference. I think you’ve only got that length of time, because by then somebody could have paid you what can seem like a steep day rate. And if you’re not on the scale, and there’s somebody else out in the market then it’s very easy to to replace you with only a week’s notice. Being a portfolio FC, sometimes you might only have a matter of days to get used to a business and start making changes because they expect immediate impacts in in that kind of position and you know there’s always a heavier workload towards the start of any assignment whether it be contracting or portfolio and once you’ve put the graft in your job can be as easy or as hard as as you’ve made it really.


In my mind the most important aspect is ensuring I have what I need to drive success? When you go in to a business what do I need from from those around me to make sure I can deliver. IT’s the exact opposite to what you get in a large business and that you can make decisions in a large business within a very small set of parameters. I think within a smaller company, you need the authority to be able to tell people whether they can or can’t do something. And also, how much money you have in order to make the changes you need to make. And then you’re allowed to go away and do it within a certain remit. 

The majority of the instances that I’ve had, as long as you don’t break anything that currently works well, then everything else you can do what you need to do to make sure that the finances and the operations and the business doesn’t fail.

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