As part of our Founders in FinTech series, I sat down with Ali Celiker, founding partner and CEO of BritishPearl to discuss the importance of his finance team and how they’ve contributed to the growth and success of the business.
In the early days at British Pearl, how did you manage the financial needs of the business?
Back at the start, I managed all of the accounting myself. I approached it the same way as I do my personal finances: only spend what I can afford. There were four of us all working without a salary as all of the money we had went towards services for the business, such as specialist financial services lawyers. All the essential things you need for an early stage FinTech company. Once we had something to sell, then we started marketing the opportunity to Angel Investors to get further capital into the company. In other words, we were prudent with our cash, bootstrapping as much as possible to get as far as we could with a small budget.
When did you decide it was time to make your first hire in finance and why?
Relatively early on. I knew managing the accounts myself wouldn’t be sustainable as we grew, but I wanted to save as much money as possible. We worked with an external agency to help prepare statutory accounts when we were still quite small, so the costs weren’t too high. I decided to bring someone in once we grew enough for the accounts to become a full time job for me, on top of my CEO responsibilities.
What were the key skills and characteristics you were looking for?
I try to identify people that had both the training and discipline of a larger company, but also an entrepreneurial aspect to their character. A balance of structure and discipline with an agile approach to solving unique problems. They’ve got to have the hard skills, but also understand the pressures of being a young business. These hires can be difficult to find, which is why we have the interview process we do.
How has having a finance team benefited you directly and the wider business?
It’s taken a lot of weight of my shoulders, and freed me up to focus on other things to help our business grow. We have two great people looking after our day to day finances and one finance director, and they’re producing excellent work. So it’s peace of mind, knowing I can trust that area to them. For the business, it’s another level of oversight, plus we all benefit from their expertise. In a financial services business, it’s obviously very important to make sure your numbers are flawless, otherwise you lose trust with your customers. So the finance team’s involvement is important in all aspects.
Could you have grown the business at the same pace without your finance team?
No. Like all of the specialist teams we have in place, the finance team brings expertise that allows us to be more efficient and grow faster.
What advice would you give to another Founder when building a finance division?
As when you’re looking to hire in any position, you have to ask yourself two questions: can they do the job, and are they right fit for the company? Our finance team are a big part of our culture, in both the day-to-day of office life and also contributing to our regular socials. So look for the all-important qualifications, but ask the softer questions too so you can foster a good atmosphere for people to work in.
Ali Celiker is the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of British Pearl. He is an experienced financial professional and entrepreneur and has spent the last 20 years in financial services. Prior to establishing British Pearl Ali worked within the global capital markets as a trader and sales person. He holds a BA (Hons) in Economics and Econometrics from Kent University and other banking related professional qualifications.