How to build a high-performing finance team from scratch

Plus tech tips and scaling strategies with Julie Oey, VP FP&A at Gelato

Kate Wilson | JUN 05, 2024

4 min read

Key takeaways

1. Building a high-performing finance team requires recruiting people with curiosity, adaptability, and resilience
2. When building a finance team in early-stage businesses, be practical with recruiting and use networks to find motivated candidates
3. Make sure new technology works well with your existing systems and decision-making
4. Open communication and collaboration between finance and engineering teams is crucial for managing SaaS & cloud costs
5. When scaling an early-stage company, always think 12 months ahead

Welcome back to For the Love of Finance, the series where we decode insights from finance leaders and turn them into practical insights for your career.

In this episode, we delve into financial strategy, operational excellence, and creating high-performing finance teams from scratch. Our guest for this episode is Julie Oey, the new VP of FP&A at Gelato. Her former roles include Director of FP&A at PENSCO Trust Company (a subsidiary of Opus Bank), Head of FP&A at Monzo where she built a finance team from scratch and, more recently, VP of Finance at Runa.

Read on (or watch the video above) to learn more about building high-performing finance teams, using tech for growth, and top scaling tips.

You can connect with Julie on LinkedIn here.

Building a high performing finance team requires recruiting people with curiosity, adaptability, and resilience

Experience is valuable, but it’s not the only ingredient for high-performing finance teams. The top three characteristics Julie looks out for when hiring and cultivates in her teams are curiosity, adaptability, and resilience.

The best finance teams are those that don’t work in silos – they’re interested in other departments and are eager to learn. Similarly, they need to be able to adapt to new products or markets quickly while keeping core financial systems running smoothly. Being able to bounce back from challenges that arise (and they will!) is a must.

When building a finance team in early-stage businesses, be practical with recruiting and leverage networks to find motivated candidates

So, you know what you’re looking for in your finance team. Now how do you actually find them? Here’s Julie’s top 3 tips for finding amazing candidates (without hefty recruitment fees):

  • Tap into your network: Skip expensive recruiters and use your network to identify passionate individuals who are highly motivated by the startup world.
  • Workshop their skills: Instead of traditional interviews, create workshops where candidates collaborate with your team on real-world scenarios. Assess how they learn, adapt, and work together – those are the key skills for a fast-paced startup.
  • Embrace cross-functionality: Include team members from other departments (product, marketing) in the workshops. This not only assesses the candidate’s learning agility, but also emphasizes the importance of collaboration within your organization.

Use tech and automation to help you scale

Early-stage companies have limited resources. Julie’s advice – think about what finance systems are worth building in-house, and what you should outsource.

Don’t waste time building custom finance systems for everything at this stage – your product and engineering teams should be focusing on developing features that impact customers and generate revenue. Look into existing solutions for expense management, reporting and payroll, for example.

You can also identify areas where automation can streamline your specific workflows. You could integrate existing tools (such as connecting payroll with project management) or create custom scripts to automate repetitive tasks within your finance processes.

Julie also advises investing in a dedicated person to manage your fintech solutions. This person would oversee the entire finance tech stack, ensure smooth integration, automate tasks and generate reports for informed decision-making.

Open communication and collaboration between finance and engineering teams is crucial for managing SaaS & cloud costs

Finance can’t understand everything, but by asking questions about cloud cost statements and usage patterns they can trigger conversations with engineering teams.

These conversations can uncover forgotten subscriptions, underutilized services, or opportunities to optimize pricing. By working together, finance and engineering can keep cloud costs under control.

When scaling an early-stage company, always think 12 months ahead

While the future is always uncertain (especially in the start-up world), planning for the next year is crucial. This allows you to make informed decisions about hiring, especially in finance, and implement governance structures before they become critical.

It’s all about striking the balance between proactive planning and adapting to unforeseen circumstances.

By taking a 12-month view, you can ensure your financial strategy supports your startup’s rapid growth without getting bogged down in overly distant forecasts.

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