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Is joining a start-up right for you?

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 29 Mar 2021

Start-ups can be fun and exciting places to work but they are also challenging environments. A recent ICAEW panel of experts discussed the mentality accountants need to join a start-up business.

The panel session, Disruptors, innovators, start-ups - exploring roles for accountants, explored making the move from the corporate or practice worlds to the more fluid, rapid-fire environment of the start-up community.

All panellists said that moving into a start-up was the best career decision they ever made, but that you need to have the self-awareness to know whether a start-up is right for you. If a chartered accountant is considering joining a start-up business, the panellists were clear you need to have the right mentality and emphasised five key areas:

Have a passion for the business

To maintain the energy necessary to deal with the challenges that will inevitably arise, it is important to have a passion for the start-up and its product. It should be possible to find a start-up that matches your interests and excites you – but if not, it may be an opportunity to start your own business.

Be adaptable and think beyond finance

No day will be the same when working in a start-up and you need to be able to adapt and respond to the most pressing issues. These may be about raising finance, deciding where to prioritise investment, cutting costs or a multitude of other things. As possibly the only finance professional on board, you will also need to be able to move between dealing with strategic issues and accounting basics, like processing invoices. The likelihood is that you will need to cover anything that is not sales or coding, including HR, managing the office and procurement. The learning curve can be steep but also very rewarding.

Enjoy the rollercoaster ride

Even successful start-ups have their ups and downs. The exhilaration of rapid growth, seeing a product develop quickly and getting great customer feedback are some of the reasons accountants join start-ups. But you may also have to deal with the stress of funding rounds taking longer than planned leaving cash availability on a knife-edge or making people redundant if the business has to be scaled back.

Be prepared to fail

Few start-ups are successful, so you need to prepare for failure. Because stakeholders in the industry know the realities of the start-up world, working at a failed start-up should not ‘scar’ the CV, provided you can demonstrate what you learnt. Even so, failure can be disheartening if you do not have the resilience to deal with it. You should also be prepared to deal with mistakes that will likely occur when you are having to learn so much so quickly.

Relish taking responsibility

The decisions you make and advice you give will be much more visible and impactful in a start-up; this was another reason our panellists chose to work in them. In large organisations, the need for formal controls, bureaucracy and wide consensus building can lead to your ideas getting lost, delays and ambiguity in accountability. Taking on more responsibility earlier in your career provides a great opportunity for rapid career advancement.

For the webinar discussion, Rick Payne of ICAEW’s Business and Management Faculty was joined by:

  • Prakash Shah, a vastly experienced CFO and Group CFO at uMotif. He also has his own business and is co-founder of Start-Up CFO.
  • Laura Beales, co-founder of Tally Market and former Head of Finance at Florence. 
  • Joe Adams, a passion advocate for the gaming industry who is soon to announce his next venture, having been at King when Candy Crush was launched.
  • Joe Gallard, who went from FD at carwow to becoming a start-up entrepreneur, launching his own business when he founded Reducer in 2018. 

For more on the above and insights on finding a start-up role, due diligence, fundraising, mentoring and more, a recording of the panel discussion is available to Business and Management Faculty Members and subscribers to the Independent Advisers and Consultants Community.