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A CFO’s Lament: ‘The 5 Mistakes I Would Not Repeat’

  • By Laurent Descout
  • Published: 12/2/2015
descoutThe companies that are revolutionizing the world with their form of internal organization reward employees who share their mistakes, so that others don’t commit the same errors. You first need to make mistakes to learn from them, as the saying goes.

If I had to start from scratch…

1. I would contract an auditor from day one.  

When you are a small company, you control expenditure and that includes contracting an auditor. It seems that you have everything under control, so then why take on this cost? Now I know—building a record from the moment you start the company is invaluable. It is something you won’t value until, for example, you find yourself looking at possible investment and you have to organize retroactive auditing in record time. Looking ahead in advance will help you to save time and money.

2. I would bring a treasurer on board to establish internal administrative procedures.

Establishing clear administrative procedures and ensuring that they are followed isn’t easy even when a company only has four staff members, and the presence of a treasurer can help. This discipline will assist you in the growth phase of the company and it is very easy to formulate it in the right way initially. Difficulty increases proportionally with the growth of the company, so be ready and invest in setting up these procedures before they slip through your hands.

3. Design the company as the company you know it will become, not how it is initially.

If you think that the project will take off and you are sure of it, as we were when we started Kantox, think big from the start. It is not a philosophy, but something pragmatic. Will you have subsidiaries? Set up a holding group from the start to be able to jointly coordinate your subsidiaries when you begin to expand internationally. Creating a holding group at the start is easier and also is attractive to possible investors who will see that you have a solid growth plan and that you don’t improvise your corporate decisions.

4. At no time would I forget that investors are not your friends.

They love your idea. They will bring in capital. But they won’t do it because they like you; they’ll do it because they see a good opportunity in your business. Have a fantastic relationship with your investors, but don’t think for one minute that they are invested in your business in the same way as you. They won’t help in lean times, they won’t bring you customers, and they won’t build your marketing campaign. Be aware of the role that each plays from the onset and don’t generate false expectations, much less any that might directly affect your forecasts or budgets.

5. Don’t try to fix what won’t work.

There are certain things that, no matter how many resources you might dedicate to them—effort, cash, time—are simply not going to work. It may be a market you can’t manage to open, an employee in a key position that doesn’t work out, or a product or service that doesn’t bring in what you expected. Don’t be scared to start again, because the sooner you evaluate the problem and switch your strategy, the less resources will be wasted and the greater the possibility that plan B will be the best option for your business.

Laurent Descout is CFO and co-founder of Kantox, a provider of foreign exchange risk management services.

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