For February’s installment of the Tech Startup Accountant, Alex Baxter Smith sat down with Amanda Green of Filtered. Amanda has had a hugely varied involvement within the London tech scene since leaving the Big-4 and we’re delighted to be able to share some of her insights...
Over to you Amanda, could you start by telling us a bit about yourself, background and your current role?
I'm currently the Finance & Operations Manager at Filtered where I work on three different functions of Finance, People, and Operations. I’m responsible for producing our monthly management accounts, setting and monitoring budgets, developing our recruitment and HR processes, helping hiring managers recruit into their teams, developing our operational goals and KPIs for the business, and creating and maintaining all company policies - so lots going on!
I was hired to work on the financials and wider operational tasks; the company saw it as a benefit for me to be able to take over much of the outsourced work our accountants were doing, but also be able to help with a wider remit beyond finance. This was ideal for me as I was looking for a finance role but knew I was interested in the wider variety than a typical FC role. This variety has only increased since I’ve joined; unfortunately our Head of People left a few months after I joined so therefore I’ve taken over part of her role on the recruitment and HR side of things.
Before joining Filtered, I’d spent the best part of my 18 months post-qualification in the startup world, firstly as part of the Entrepreneur First accelerator trying to build my own business and subsequently consulting with an EF-funded startup, Plural AI. These experiences confirmed my interest in small businesses and building new things with technology to solve individuals’ or companies’ problems. It took me a while to find my place in the startup world because I knew I didn’t enjoy the ACA or finance to the extent that I wanted to work solely in that area long-term. The wider operations remit that’s often necessary to take on by the Operations team in a small growing company seemed like the perfect fit. I could use my experience and what I already knew but also broaden my skillset to move towards the COO-type role in the future.
At what point did you join Filtered in their growth plans? Why was now the right time to bring you on board?
I joined Filtered at the Post-Series A investment in 2019 and was hired as an FC. The aim for bringing me on board then was to move much of the outsourced accountants’ work in-house and to start to build up the finance function.
What are the most important things to consider when managing the finances of a startup? How do these differ from a larger company? Characteristics, skills, values etc.
Compared to larger companies, reporting isn’t as restrictive and regulated - investors are often more interested in additional metrics eg. ARR/MRR metrics for Saas-type businesses. It’s interesting to learn what different stakeholders care about, what they want to see in board meetings, and learn how to present info in the best way for all parties to be on the same page.
These are only my first impressions - I’ve so far only done 2-3 months of this so will definitely need to improve/will be learning more!
You’ve moved into a very broad role at Filtered, what attracted you to this type of opportunity as opposed to a narrower finance position?
I was interested in a COO track or combined COO/CFO (some companies call COFO?) so this type of role seemed like a good base to move towards that aim. I’d also studied languages, international studies & diplomacy and, although the ACA was a fantastic education in the fundamentals of business, the really technical accounting/financial side never interested me as much as the commercial business principles - which there’s more scope for in a wider role. This is with the exception of the IFRS work around crypto-assets I did at EY - because it was a new/developing area and it’s not every day that a new asset class comes along for which the accounting needs to be worked out!
How do you build and develop talent and elevate people to be at their very best?
Coaching: I’m biased because I work as a career and business coach on the side but think it’s one of the most important skills and attributes to promote in companies and amongst managers and leaders. Coaching builds responsibility and awareness in people and helps them take ownership of their roles and careers. In addition to coaching is clarity. The communication of expectations and needs of the employees vs. managers and leaders is crucial.
What are the biggest differences in your current role compared to your corporate, Big-4 experiences?
A big difference is the variety in different functions and tasks. At EY, I managed to achieve this more than the average employee but, realistically, my core audit role was very repetitive - the same regulatory docs/standard forms to fill in for each client, the same audit procedures usually performed, etc. Now pretty much everything I’m doing is 1) new to me and 2) building something from scratch for the company. It’s very exciting but also very difficult. It’ll be good to move from everything being new and scrappy getting stuff done to being able to iterate and improve on processes.
Another difference is the lack of structure. It’s good because it gives others and me the ability to create. But bad because it’s harder than when someone or something just tells you how things are supposed to be done.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve found so far working within a high-growth startup?
If you could change anything about your career path up until now, what would you change?
I would have made the switch from international relations to business sooner. This is mainly because I’m in a massive hurry with my career and life in general, all the time. This wasn’t wholly in my control and realistically I did try to do this but wasn’t successful until I got a place at EY. I hadn’t fit the mold of having done a finance/maths/sciences degree, or an internship in business, or whatever other baseline criteria most companies were using at the time to accept graduates. But it would have been good to be where I am now a few years earlier in life. On the other hand, I would have had to remove some experiences I’ve had in order to fit it all in, which I wouldn’t want to do because I’ve learnt a lot from everything I’ve studied and done in the past. So, maybe with that in mind, I wouldn’t change anything.
Can you tell us how your usual day looks, and potentially share any productivity/efficiency advice?
We’re big fans of timeboxing at Filtered and I’d definitely recommend that - along with trying to make time for the important but not urgent tasks that will really move your projects and work along, and not getting stuck in the weeds!
Could you recommend to our readers one or two books that helped you during your entrepreneurial endeavours?
What advice can you share with other finance professionals who are considering a move to working within a startup?
Get as much experience with the commercial side of finance as well as technical accounting. It’s much more helpful in smaller businesses to know about general FP&A concepts and budgeting processes rather than the requirements of a particular IFRS standard.
Think about what type of company and/or industry you want to join. If you have a particular personal interest in an area or experience working with certain clients or companies, it’ll be easier and more enjoyable learning about the industry and competitive dynamics.
Finance roles are often one of the first that startups will use recruiters for, especially if you are the first person with that background coming in. So, it’s worth finding the good recruiters for startup finance roles and keeping in touch with them.
Amanda, thanks so much for your time and for sharing your valuable experiences with us and the wider accounting/startup community. Hopefully something to take away for everyone reading this today! We wish you well through your next period of growth at Filtered and beyond.
Alex Baxter Smith is a Senior Consultant in the Accountancy Division at Harvey John.
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