Introducing our new interview series focusing on Chief Financial Officers and other finance MVPs, serving you their stories and a heaping pile of best practices.
Why? Well, the business world hears a lot from CEOs and founders, not so much from the crucial finance arm of the business. This interview series will both illuminate the role of finance executives and also showcase the diversity of their stories.
Plus, you can count on plenty of actionable advice on financial management, accounting, and tax compliance. Take what you learn back to your day-to-day and run your business with more confidence.
Let’s get to it!
Martin Raißle didn’t take the conventional finance path. At university he studied a program at the intersection of Industrial Engineering and Economics. With most of his academic experience in manufacturing, production planning, and process design, he wanted to venture into the business side of things.
So then came Martin’s pivot into finance and operations (and a jump to another continent!), with an internship at Lexmark in Dubai. The global corporation selling laser printers and other imaging technology presented a great learning opportunity for him. Because his studies weren’t focused in accounting, much of that he learned on the job. And at a global corporation that’s invoicing and purchasing all over the world, there was a lot to learn! Though accounting principles are generally harmonized around the world, each country also has its nuances.
Over his three years at Lexmark, Martin discovered his interest and honed his skills in finance. He enjoyed crunching the numbers, plus following precise, disciplined processes to deliver crucial reports for the company.
When he eventually decided to move closer to home, he pivoted again. Martin went from global corporation selling physical products to a small startup selling Software-as-a-Service. He landed at ChartMogul in Berlin in 2016. Since then he’s helped the company double in headcount, prepare for funding rounds, and contemplate the implications of Brexit.
The finance role: so much more than numbers
The finance role often encompasses much more than just bookkeeping and accounting, especially in a startup. Indeed, Martin actually has “Operations” in his job title, so his duties exceed the norm. He sees his role as having two general objectives.
1. Compliance: across the board, not just financial.
In Martin’s view, “compliance” is maintaining a general overview of business practices and any liabilities — and of course making sure every aspect complies with the law. A big part of the job involves managing third parties, such as tax advisors, an accountant, and other legal professionals. He said he’s been especially busy in the last year with European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR).
2. Don’t run out of money!
Cashflow management comes down to expenses and revenue. He makes sure the company can afford all of its expenses and pays its bills. “You need to be able to pay employees on time,” said Martin. It’s as simple as that! On the other hand, he also manages revenue, making sure the company can allocate enough revenue to continuing to grow the business.
This can involve nitty-gritty details as well as sweeping overviews. On the nitty-gritty side, Martin has created regular service orders to enterprise customers who have particular pricing, basically manually producing customized invoices.
Reporting can be both, and it’s a primary part of Martin’s work. He picked up some planning and reporting habits from Lexmark, which he adapted to the flexibility and changing-nature of a startup. He produces three main reports:
- A 12-18 month “grand plan”, updated monthly with a current outlook for the company.
- High-level banking reports to understand where the money is and how much there is.
- Sales performance reports, to understand revenue rates and patterns, which helps with revenue projections.
From this explanation, we can see how finance is equal parts retrospective review and forward-thinking proposals, equal parts macro-overview and micro-management.
Finance challenges before scaling
As ChartMogul continues to grow, Martin (like other leaders in the company) is focused on getting things in order before scaling.
Accrual accounting, month-to-month
The main goal is to instate accrual accounting on a month-to-month basis. This method is part of accounting compliance, and also just makes it easier to review the inputs and outputs. Martin said it’s important to build out this infrastructure while ChartMogul still has a manageable number of transactions per month, though the 1000+ right now is already pushing it!
What to do about Brexit?
ChartMogul is a British Limited company, so there’s much to figure out about Brexit. Many organizations are struggling to understand the implications of staying as a British Ltd. or transitioning into another business entity in a new EU member state. For ChartMogul that option would be transforming the business to a German GmbH model.
Financial due diligence for fundraising
Martin said that preparing all the documentation for fundraising rounds can be arduous. Sometimes the final report is nearly 50 pages long! Luckily Martin now has an assistant who can help him compile and proofread all the due diligence documents.
ChartMogul files VAT in Germany each quarter. Because ChartMogul is entirely B2B, they almost always invoice with reverse-charge on VAT. They do collect VAT from their domestic German customers, but that’s a small portion of their sales. Because they collect less VAT from customers than they pay on business expenses, it just so happens they get a tax refund every quarter. Regular tax refunds to a private company look suspicious to the ever-thorough Finanzamt, the German finance ministry. Inevitably, every so often, the Finanzamt inspects the company’s finances and accounting to make sure nothing fishy is going on. Good thing Martin is keeping the records in tip-top shape, so these inspections always go smoothly.
As for sales taxes outside of the EU, ChartMogul doesn’t have to comply with any so far, since annual sales are below tax registration thresholds in the foreign countries.
A process for financial management
Martin sees at least one parallel between manufacturing and financial management. Both are process based, focused on a desired outcome.
In manufacturing that desired outcome is defined by users or buyers, what the customer wants. In finance, the desired outcome is defined by one of the many third parties a business must answer to, the legal entities or tax agencies.
Here’s how to think about an accounting process for your business:
- What goes in? How much money
- Where does it come from? From which transactions, which buyers, which countries
- What are the limitations of this money/these payments? When can it be recognized as revenue; what strings are attached to it?
- What tools can help us understand, analyze, and present the numbers?
- THEN desired outcome: a particular report or filing
Advice for entrepreneurs or other finance people figuring it out
Here’s a quick list of Martin’s best practices that he encourages all business owners to consider as they run their business, whether you’re a freelancer or a CEO.
Best practices for handling Revenue
- Streamline how you invoice your customers so that invoice sequencing is automatic! Otherwise it gets messy, fast.
- Choose a billing system once you’re past 10 invoices a month. This won’t just help you on a day-to-day level, it’ll also be a huge relief whenever you’re audited by a tax authority (which, Martin says, is inevitable!). A billing system automates payments, ensures all your invoices are compliant, and keeps clear records.
- If you’re a subscription business, implement revenue recognition ASAP.
Best practices for handling Expenses
- Have backup documentation and reports.
- Pay by card as much as possible, because then you always have a line item for what you bought.
Best practices across the board
- Have a separate bank account for your business! Use tools that make it super clear where your money is coming from, and where it’s going. PayPal can be just another level of obfuscation.
- Be very strict about invoice requirements. Buyers can refuse payment if your invoices aren’t 100% compliant. Follow Martin’s advice and learn about the invoice requirements that are tax-compliant worldwide.
Finance remotely: is it possible?
Much of German bureaucracy still operates in the physical world. There’s a lot of paperwork involved in tax and legal compliance. According to Martin, you need to have someone “on the ground” to receive packages, sign and mail documents. To some extent, mobile scanning apps can help, but they won’t get the job done completely, especially if you’re working in Germany. He offered that there is room for flexibility, as long as someone can reliably be in one place at certain times.
Ways to level up your financial management
Next on Martin’s list, when he can devote the time, are two things that will help him take ChartMogul’s compliance and cashflow management to the next level.
- Learn the finer details of accounting and German tax implications.
- Understand B2B SaaS sales analytics, and find a better way to forecast sales and the customer landscape. Currently, sales goals are mostly aspirational, not necessarily data-driven. Martin wants to know, “Why do some sales work and others not?”
ChartMogul in numbers
Founded in 2014
100,000,000+ Subscriptions analyzed
Notable clients: Typeform, Hotjar, Drift, WikiTribune