In the electric buzz of startup culture, the role of a CFO can often resemble a stalwart captain steering a ship through uncharted financial waters. 

For entrepreneurs whose expertise lights up product innovation and market disruption, understanding what a CFO does in a startup can be the keystone that ensures not just survival, but triumph in the entrepreneurial odyssey.

This explorative dive offers a treasure map to the pivotal responsibilities of a Chief Financial Officer: from sculpting strategic financial plans to navigating the complex seas of venture capital.

Soak up insights that demystify capital allocation, the nuances of cash flow management, and the fine art of maintaining investor relations.

By the final punctuation, you’ll grasp the CFO’s impact on a startup’s voyage—from initial budgeting to possible IPO glories.

Fasten your seatbelt; whether a seasoned business owner or a fresh startup sailor, prepare for a helicopter view of the financial command center that could pilot your enterprise to its zenith.

Who is a Chief Financial Officer in a startup?

In most companies, the CFO is the third most crucial officer below only the CEO and COO. They are tasked with handling the company’s cash flow and financial data.

But like every officer, a startup’s CFO job description is more varied.

While the startup CEO is usually also the founder, the CFO rarely enters the stage in the first few years. In the early stages, startups rely mostly on skills related to product development and technology. Due to their limited resources, they don’t need much help with managing their finances.

However, a startup CFO must be ready to handle more than just the finances. They’ll have several additional responsibilities such as networking and driving measurable value.

Early on, startups can’t afford an in-house accountant. They often don’t even need to do so. An external accountant can handle the math just fine during these infant stages.

The founders often skim through the monthly profits and losses report to see if the company’s doing well.

When the CFO enters the scene, they must be willing to take on more responsibilities than just finances. They need to be ready to assess the present situation and predict how things may change in the future. To reach this desired future, they must have strong financial planning skills.

What does a CFO do in a startup? – 10 major responsibilities

In the beginning, the CFO’s responsibilities will cover multiple areas. Before your company raises enough capital to hire a finance team, these tasks will all fall into your hands.

Developing strategies for different scenarios

Startup leaders usually deal with the here and now. While this approach has multiple advantages, it can lead to some issues too. They often overlook areas like debt management and proceeds investment.

As the CFO, it will be your task to cover these areas. You’ll have to devise the best financial strategy using your strong analytical and prediction skills. No matter what the future brings, it must see the company through it.

Handling the accounting

Very few startups can afford a full-time accountant. They often don’t need one because early sales tend to be low.

But as the company grows, the demand for financial skills will increase. As a CFO, you must understand how accounting looks in different companies.

SaaS companies witness few large payments over time. These are often stable and easy to work with. On the other hand, direct-to-consumer startups must tackle countless small payments at one time.

Handling the profits and expenses

Raising enough capital is one of the biggest challenges a startup must face. Without it, it won’t be able to reach the next level.

Low profits and high expenses can seriously cut into the company’s funds. As the CFO, you must direct this cash flow so the company can keep going despite the limited resources.

Offering financial advice

Every business to raise capital to function. To get this capital, a startup must apply for grants or loans. This process is very taxing, especially for an unskilled CEO.

That’s why having a CFO can be a huge boon. They can tackle these processes without much effort. This will lead to greater financial resources.

Developing financial strategies

Examining financial data can help the startup better adapt to the market. It provides vital information about consumer behavior and cost accounting, among other things.

As data processing technology grows, CFO often participates in business strategy development directly. Thanks to their expertise, they can better process financial data and use it to improve the startup’s business strategy.

Building and improving the financial framework

Anthony Noto, former CFO at Twitter, currently CEO at SoFi

Since startups grow rapidly, so must their financial system. When the demand for the product finally rises, this system must be able to match it.

As a CFO, you must build a solid framework for such a system. And as the company grows, you must keep improving it along the way.

Handling legal issues

Finances and legal compliance often go hand in hand. A good CFO must be familiar with these laws to avoid endangering the company.

This knowledge often includes not only local laws but also foreign ones.

Overseeing human resources

An experienced financial leader must be ready to deal with the employees too. It only makes sense, since their paychecks are one of the major expenses.

This can come across as a surprise to some CFOs. Many are used to handling little more than accounting. Luckily, most startups have systems in place that makes tackling this task much easier.

Grooming the startups for the next stage

Startups exist to scale up as fast as possible. Their journey culminates in one of the following three ways: It either matures as a private company, decides to go public, or gets bought out.

Much of its infrastructure changes according to these transitions. The inner workings of a public company differ from those of a private one. Merging with another business can also shake things up a little.

The CFO must pave the way for these possible transitions and ensure that they will be successful.

Acting as the Chief Operating Officer

In startups, the roles of different officers are often fluid. While you will be a financial leader first, you might also have to handle business operations later down the line.

This includes managing multiple operation budgets so that they adhere to the general financial plan.

How can a startup CFO help a company? 6 essential qualities

In startups, the CFO isn’t just an accountant. They must also foster new relationships, help the company grow, and develop innovative financial plans. In short, they must help the company scale as fast as possible.

Here are 6 essential qualities of every good CFO:

Have good communication skills

Having solid financial skills isn’t enough, You must also know how to relay this information to your employees and executives.

Whether you can do this or not sets apart a great CFO from a decent one.

Know how to lead

While degrees and diplomas are always handy, they don’t mean much without good leadership skills. Since you’ll be high up in the hierarchy, you’ll need to know how to motivate and direct your employees.

Have a knack for strategic thinking

The CFO position calls for an innovative and visionary outlook. The path forward may often seem murky, but you can’t let this deter you. Instead, you must be willing to work with next to nothing even when all hope seems lost.

Think outside the box

Modern problems require modern solutions. You must be willing to leave the conventional behind and adopt a more innovative attitude.

Remember, startups don’t do things the traditional way. Instead, they try to find unique solutions to age-old problems. If you understand this, you’ll fit right in.

Have solid tech-related skills

Almost every modern business relies on technology. As the CFO, you should keep up with current technology trends and seek to automate as many processes as you can. This can earn you more time and free up some financial resources.

On the other hand, using digital services can expand your market presence and secure a loyal customer base.

Be well-versed in financial matters

Last but not least, an experienced CFO should come from a strong financial background. Since this is their primary role, companies will pay extra attention to your financial skills before they hire you.

When does a startup need a CFO?

Unlike other officers, filling the position of CFO isn’t necessary early on. Many startups can handle their early accounting with just the help of part-timers. They often can’t afford a CFO anyway.

During the seed stage, startups can often make do with a part-time CFO for the first three months.

Raising enough capital requires a lot of effort. Apart from reaching out to investors, startups must also assess their finance management. Having an experienced finance leader on your team can make this much easier. They can help you build a solid financial model and handle the reports.

But some startups don’t rely on venture capital. In this case, young companies often don’t need a CFO until the financial tasks become too overwhelming to handle.

As the startups grow, they must soon seek strong financial leaders that can tackle the piling-up work.

FAQ On What Does A CFO Do In A Startup

Is the CFO just a glorified accountant in a startup?

Absolutely not. Imagine your CFO as the financial navigator: way more than number-crunching. They’re strategizing growth, forecasting the unpredictable, and preparing for the long haul.

Think big picture – they make sure every financial move syncs with your endgame: sustainable growth and scalability.

What does a CFO actually do in the day-to-day operations of a startup?

The sun rises and sets, and in between, your CFO’s spinning multiple plates: adjusting financial strategies, hammering out budget plans, and ensuring the startup’s cash flow is breathing.

They’re the financial health docs, constantly checking the pulse of your startup’s economic vitality.

How does the CFO contribute to fundraising for a startup?

In the world of startups, money is the fuel, right?

The CFO is both the broker and the advisor, meticulously crafting the pitch for venture capital, showing potential investors the treasure map, and convincing them X marks the spot on this investment.

When does a startup know it’s time to hire a CFO?

Listen for this cue: complexity. When financial matters start resembling spaghetti junction, it’s time. When fundraising isn’t just a wish list but a planned expedition, it’s time.

Hiring a CFO is less about the size of your team, more about the weight of your financial needs.

Can a startup survive without a CFO?

Survive? Sure. Thrive? That’s a different story. Without a CFO’s strategic guidance, a startup might keep its head above water but miss out on opportunities for profit maximization or fall prey to mismanaged risk analysis.

It’s like sailing without a compass; you could reach land, but where?

What unique challenges does a CFO face in a startup environment?

Startup world – where volatility is as common as coffee. CFOs here juggle the uncertain with the planned.

They tackle limited resources, high expectations, and the need to shift gears faster than a racing driver, all while maintaining a growth trajectory and managing investor relations.

Is a CFO necessary for a startup aiming for an IPO?

For those eyeing the IPO horizon, think of your CFO as your first mate.

They handle the rugged prep work – getting financial compliance and reports shipshape and ensuring that when the public looks under the hood, they see a well-oiled, IPO-ready machine.

How does a CFO work with other departments within a startup?

Think of the CFO as a maestro, orchestrating a symphony where every department’s tune harmonizes with the financial score of the company.

Together with marketing, they calculate the ROI of campaigns. With HR, they strategize on talent investments that align with long-term economic forecasting.

In what ways does a CFO’s role in a startup differ from that in a large established company?

Startups are agility and innovation on overdrive; the CFO’s role reflects that. Predictable becomes flexible. Set structures give way to innovation in financial

modeling and strategic planning. In a startup, the CFO is less of a historian and more of a trailblazing explorer in the financial frontier.

Can the role of a CFO evolve as the startup grows?

It’s inevitable as the sunrise. As a startup morphs, so does the CFO’s helm. Early days – it’s hands-on deck with budgeting and investment decisions.

Grow bigger, and their gaze shifts higher: strategy, stakeholder relations, the road to mergers and acquisitions. It’s an evolution, a constant climb.


So, we’ve sliced through the financial fog to reveal the heart and soul of what a CFO does in a startup. Far beyond mere number crunching, they’re financial visionaries that shape the destiny of tomorrow’s industry leaders. Chief Financial Officers are the masterminds of economic strategy, the guardians of liquidity, and the daredevils of risk management.

  • They steer through the tumultuous waters of startup finance.
  • They craft a fortress of fiscal oversight and compliance.
  • They are the champions of insightful financial reporting.
  • They navigate the nebulous nexus between innovative ideas and the gritty reality of budgets and forecasts.

We’ve delved into the depths, underlined the urgencies, and spotlighted the shine of a CFO’s contributions. As the sun sets on this conversation, carry forward this insight: a startup’s financial narrators – its CFOs – are quintessential to translating entrepreneurial ambition into sustainable success.

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I'm the manager behind the Upcut Studio team. I've been involved in content marketing for quite a few years helping startups grow.