How to Make an Impact as Your Company’s First Controller
Rho's controller, Vincent Guido, shares how you can identify challenges early and put your initiatives in motion as you set up accounting functions for your new company.
You’ve been named the first controller of a fast-growing startup. Congratulations—that’s an exciting milestone for your career and the company. You undoubtedly have ambitious goals and are eager to learn how to best implement your ideas.
From my experience as Rho’s controller, you can expect unique challenges when building an accounting function from the ground up. Whether you’re an experienced controller or this is your first time in the role, the following is my advice on how you can make a meaningful impact in your new position.
Rome wasn’t built in a day—and neither is an accounting department. While it’s completely understandable that you want to hit the ground running and make an immediate impact, I encourage you to be patient.
In your first quarter, you should take the time to learn about your company’s business model, understand company culture, assess operations, and (most importantly) build relationships. You can also begin prioritizing objectives, laying the groundwork for your team and policies, and setting long-term goals.
No matter what type of situation you’re walking into, it’s best to look forward, not back. High-growth companies move swiftly, and accounting processes are rarely fully developed. You may have to untangle some processes or fix mistakes before implementing your own ideas. These are temporary setbacks, so be judicious with how much time you spend addressing past errors.
One of the first and most important initiatives you’ll take on is building out your team. Initially, you will likely wear many hats while evaluating the existing department and identifying any weaknesses to be addressed.
The first few people you add will be critical. These are the core members who will grow with you, understand the nuances of the business, and develop the foundational knowledge that future team members will draw from. While you may feel an urgency to round out the team, prioritize getting the right people instead of filling positions as quickly as possible.
While a candidate’s credentials are important, at Rho we place even greater emphasis on their values and personality traits. I believe that many technical aspects of accounting can be taught, so we want to ensure the person is enjoyable to work with and will be a good fit for our team.
When setting up company accounts, I recommend starting small and growing over time. Having a simplified chart of accounts makes things easier on the team (especially while you’re onboarding new members) and streamlines reporting. Once you have a solid foundation and consistent performance, you can expand accounts to incorporate more sophisticated strategies.
At Rho, we’ve observed that some of our most successful customers leverage Rho’s accounting integration to seamlessly map Rho transactions directly into their chart of accounts. Not only does this increases efficiency by syncing transactions automatically but it also reduces human error.
As controller, you’ll be charged with developing and overseeing the company’s accounting policies. However, your first few months will be so busy that you may not have the time to write out formal policies and procedures. In the interim, you’ll need to communicate informal expectations to your team to maintain productivity and be as efficient as possible.
When you have the bandwidth to formalize policies, consider the fundamentals of the business, including revenue models and spending channels. Be sure to stay organized and delegate related tasks to optimize the time and skills of your team. You’ll also want to revisit these policies as your company grows.
Here are a few topic areas to consider when developing your policies:
Accounts payable controls and payment schedules
How you want the books closed
Reporting to leadership is both an art and a science. CEOs, CFOs, and investors are often interested in different things, so it’s vital that you understand which metrics are relevant and have a firm grasp of the key business drivers. You also need to be attuned to things like the schedule of board meetings, so you know when reporting is required.
In general, leadership is less concerned with day-to-day accounting issues and more interested in the big picture. By providing insight and transparency into how the company is performing and identifying areas of improvement, your reporting efforts can influence the company's strategic direction.
Spend and cash management may not be at the top of your initial priority list, but having the right platform and partner can be a foundational piece of your accounting department—and make your life as a controller much easier.
Before I joined the company, I was a Rho customer. As controller at another tech company, I moved our banking over to Rho to simplify our daily accounting operations. Using the Rho Card, I assigned unique corporate cards to each department, allowing us to streamline expense tracking, minimize risk, and essentially automate our data entry process.
Another thing I appreciated about Rho as a customer was that all the transactions fed into our accounting system in real time. I knew that all entries were accurate, and it made closing out the month and reconciling significantly faster and easier.
Joining a growing company and setting up accounting functions as the first controller is a thrilling opportunity. Be ready for challenges, because they will surely arise. Have a plan, keep an open mind, and be willing to adapt as you learn more about the business. If this is your first time as a controller, explore resources for developing management skills, because the job is as much about people as it is about numbers.
Finally, the first year can be a whirlwind. Once you hit the one-year mark, be sure to reflect back on all the progress you’ve made but may not have recognized in the moment.
Want to learn more about how Rho’s unified financial platform can streamline tasks, provide robust reporting, and be a valuable addition to your growing accounting team?
Reach out to our Rho specialists—or better yet, complete the easy application process in a matter of minutes.