Kicking off my next series of Scaling Up Finance, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Senthooran Ramachandran, Finance Director at Pigzbe, to discuss his journey into the startup space and his thoughts and top tips for when and how to scale a finance function. Let’s hear his thoughts…
What stage was Pigzbe at when you joined the business?
I joined Pigzbe in May last year. We are a FinTech startup that was incorporated in January 2018. Initially, like any startup we were based at a WeWork in Liverpool Street; it was a relatively small set-up. It was myself, the CEO, COO and commercial director in the office with developers and designers popping in and out and we had an off site marketing team. When I joined, we had just closed the seed round. At this very early stage, it was a nimble dynamic team, and there was a great community spirit. 18 months later we have a growing team of 20+ based in a fantastic location in Old Street.
What were your immediate priorities when you joined Pigzbe?
My main focus when I joined Pigzbe was firming up the commercial model. There was one in place, that the COO had developed; my priority was to refine that work and look at the longer term growth plans and build out the commercial elements of the business. We have a hybrid model which combines revenue from device sales and digital revenue from app subscriptions alongside margin revenue from spend in the Pigzbe ecosystem.
My other focus was setting up finance processes, ensuring that we’re following good governance and financial control processes. Operational activities which include payment cycles, supplier engagement as well as our stakeholder management with external accountants were also part of my day to day.
We are a fintech business working in the blockchain space so a big part of my role has been to understand business impacts as a result of regulation and legislation. I have been involved in HMRC and tax evaluations as well as conducting industry leading evaluations of how crypto and finance are coming together under UK legislation.
What are the challenges of being the first person in finance in this type of business?
Being the first person in finance! It’s a big responsibility making sure you implement processes that are going to be right for the organisation. In addition you have to ensure those processes are focusing on the long term growth of the business. Working closely with the Pigzbe leadership to make sure the business has controls to keep us complaint with regulation. Aligning and engaging with the relevant stakeholders who will support financial operations of the business is always a key challenge in this type of role.
My background has been within the Financial Services sector with American Express and Mastercard. Pigzbe is my first experience of the start up environment. I’ve really embraced that start-up mentality! We’re a small organisation so building close relationships with the various business functional areas is vital. I pride myself on providing a business partnering approach which ensures the smooth running of a business. That was a key challenge and also a key focus of my time at Pigzbe.
When is the right time to start building a finance team in a growing business and how would you go about it?
When you join a startup, especially as a finance professional, your focus is very stretched. On one hand there is the strategic direction of the company, and then there is also the tactical and operational side
My role is to support the leadership team in driving the direction of the organisation with commercials, sizing new business opportunities and investor relations. Making sure the payments go out, ensuring you close the books, making sure contracts are signed.
These are essential operational activities that will stretch the bandwidth of a single finance person. When that stretch exceeds the capacity and resources available that’s when I look to grow my team. I have just recently hired a Finance Manager and they will take ownership of the financial operations for Pigzbe. Leaving me with more capacity to help shape the business as we grow.
What advice would you give to anyone joining a startup, as the first finance hire?
You have to be passionate about the business you join. You have to believe in the product, the brand and the proposition. You need to be able to embrace the culture you’ll be moving into. It is a big change especially if you are moving from a corporate finance role.
You have to be nimble with an ability to work in a fast-paced environment because the demands on you in a startup will change on a day to day basis. You have to be flexible to cope with that change while staying focused on your key deliverables. You also need to be ready to be involved in areas you may not have experience in; the phrase roll your sleeves up doesn’t hold truer than when working in a start-up.
You also have to have a strong personal presence in this type of role as you’ll be working with various senior stakeholders. In addition, you are often providing finance input and support across all the business functions. Having the ability to build strong relationships, understand the challenges of your colleagues and partner with them to meet shared goals is truly a key asset of any finance professional.
“Senthooran Ramachandran leads the finance function for Pigzbe Group. He is a FCCA qualified accountant with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance. He has 10+ years finance professional experience with global payment institutions including American Express and MasterCard. He was the winner of the New Accountant of the Year award in the 2014 Business Finance Awards and also holds a patent for an innovative payment method.”