Time for me to move on

_ TLDR: Disgruntled PWM solo is inspired by CFA exam and AF participants to step into Corp Finance, ends up being a CFO at a highly successful tech startup. _

Exactly 2 years ago, I joined this forum as a PWM solo practitioner. I already had my CFP and was almost done with my MST. I took on the CFA challenge. The CFA curriculum exposed to me what “real finance” is supposed to look like in terms of focus and intensity. It inspired and angered me. I was angry:

  1. That my colleagues lied to everyone (and themselves) about what was really needed to do right by clients.

  2. That I hadn’t started this years earlier.

  3. That clients/prospects (individuals, not institutions) were too stupid to understand the importance of CFA-level material.

Because of the exam and what I saw on the AF forums, I started looking for a way into corp finance or a capital markets job. CFAvsMBA and Numi were supportive, but I think they both knew the chances of me getting into an investment bank were zilch. I appreciate that they were polite without selling me false hope. (Hell, I would have even appreciated if Itera came in and flatout told me to get lost, but that never happened).

Despite all my educational pedigrees and entrepreneurial experience, there I was groveling for an entry-level job at the age of 33. I put in 12 failed apps on Linkedin, but then used a referral to land an interview at a large hospitality company (1 of the 12 companies that initially rejected me). The week before the interview, I used what I had learned in the CFA and my MS program to put together a 15-page demo. I received the highest starting salary for the job out of 150+ candidates.

The best part of the job was also the worst part of the job. I’m used to working with superstars that went to Ivy League schools, hold a CPA/CFA, or survived a few years on Wall Street. What I noticed very quickly was that everyone was a fucking JV player who spent more time making excuses and talking about getting things done, instead of actually getting things done. Not a single person held any ambitions of learning how to use Excel without the mouse, how to run a SQL query, of obtaining their CFA/CPA, or improving our mundane processes with macros.

The VP of finance was a tyrannical hypocrite. She came up to my desk after work and told me I should consider quitting. I told her flat out that she might think I’m the weakest analyst now but that I’d eventually become the strongest analyst (which I did). I built and automated a lot of dashboards that went company-wide, and started doing analysis that went out monthly to our private equity shareholders. My finance manager and the CFO suggested to the VP that I be promoted. For whatever reason, she rejected their advice. I told her that the fairest solution was to put it to test. If I failed to find a senior analyst job paying out 70K-80K, that means I overvalued myself. But if I found a senior analyst role, that’d mean she was wrong.

While my employee evaluations and this discussion was going on, my friend’s tech startup had undergone some major changes. My friend’s company was backed by Y-Combinator and was just approaching the $1M run rate. The startup had already closed deals with F500 clients and sales were growing at 30%-40% EACH MONT H. As such, we are raising money now at a 35M valuation.

He was drowning in the need for some basic accounting and finance work (cleaning the books, filing tax returns, reporting financials to investors). He invited me to the CFO starting in summer 2017, and wanted me to work the weekends for him until then to get my feet wet. I told him I’d need 2 years to get my CPA and learn enough to earn my place as a CFO.

After being denied my promotion at my day job, I asked to join the start-up full time. During my sales pitch, I prepared some numbers for one of their investor meetings and even took the train to NYC to meet with the investor. I am proud to say that my prep helped us seal the largest investor cheque the startup ever received. I joined this company as the head of the finance and accounting operations at the end of September. My official title is a VP and the contract was written in a way that would upgrade me to a CFO after we raised another 5M. Now that our Series A is underway, the founders are going to start discussing raising my compensation to an appropriate level. We’re talking 60% to 100% gain over my last job in cash PLUS the equity in the company (I’m already at 0.75%)

The CFA is a wonderful process, but I’m sure you’d agree that the CPA is more relevant for me now. As I am putting the CFA on a temporary hold, I no longer have a place in this forum. I hope to pass 3 or 4 CPA exams over the next 12 months. I just wanted to thank everyone here for helping me get through CFA L1.

Congrats bud. Hustle over credentials. Wins every time.

Hey, that’s great. Makes me want to flip my company the bird and do a startup (maybe not a good idea).

to be fair, I didn’t actually read your post. Far too long.

As I’ve always said, it’s better to be lucky than good. You are obviously firmly in the lucky camp.

Personally I’ve been slogging away with good, waiting for the lucky break.

2700 posts is a lot to have to be a troll so I’m guessing that was a genuine response. “Lucky you, I’m good, just unlucky…” is really what you’re going with? Yikes.

Should have gone with the humble pie instead of pumpkin at Thanksgiving.

consider that a compliment. congrats on the success and good luck!

you kind of skipped over the whole part about your friend starting a $35mm startup, i felt a bit blind-sided as the reader. can you give us a little more insight on how you landed the role as future CFO of the startup (besides the fact he was your friend) or is that the reason?

best of luck, I hope it all goes well for you

Congrats on this. Looks like a nice gain with a lot of upside for you.

Congrats, this is a god story. I think the take away a lot of people on here may need to see in this is that you may not end up where you initially planned, but you can be very successful by taking chances when an opportunity presents itself.

^ it also goes to prove you don’t necessarily need to be on a FO career path to make something of yourself.

Goodwork man.

well done. wish you best of luck in the future. lots of success. come back and updated us lil cubby

^ CvM will never die here, will he?

Congrats on the new position. Come back once in a while?

right place right time in life >> hard work

dont stop go straight to the top. I think it was P Diddy who once said that.

That may be, but don’t forget that the OP now be swimmin’ in women wit they own condominiums, five-plus-fives, who drive Milleniums…

Luck > Hard work > CFA > MBA ???

I didn’t want to sound like I was bragging so I tried to shorten this as much as possible but here’s how it played out:

The startup’s first year was product development and research. The second year was figuring out how to sell the product the right way going through YC. The third year was the first time there was real recurring revenue, including a huge contract in March 2015 that made up 80% of our money.

Startups don’t need a CFO until there’s revenue, and usually can’t afford to hire a CFO until hire #20 or hire #25. They were only on #7. The founder’s brother had been secretly pushing the founder to hire me for finance functions but he only relented in May 2015 after they secured a huge client contract that helped ensure the company’s survival.

When I got the call I realized the ball was being dropped because the founders were being overworked and weren’t used to finance functions:

  1. Nobody was using anything like QuickBooks, Xero, or Intacct to keep their books. The way they were doing financial “analysis” was by looking at their cash account and seeing if it went up or down. It was very hard to see whether money coming in was sales revenue or investor deposits.

  2. Tax returns weren’t even filed for the previous year.

  3. Nobody had done any formal FP&A. No budgets, no forecasts, no variance explanation, no performance stats (LTCV, CAC, Churn ETC)

  4. There were no financial statements, and when they tried to make their own for investors, they would confuse cash flow statements with income statements, so components would be “blended” willy nilly.

  5. there was no formal AR/AP function, so the company didn’t know if they forgot to pay bills, if the payroll company forgot to pay the government, if we forgot to invoice a client, or if we never collected payment for an invoice.

They also had a less than $1M in the bank, but were burning 80-90K per month, giving them only a year of runway. This is key because it played into compensation.

The reason the founders chose me were because

A) The founder thought me “honest to a fault”. I guess having a finance exec that’s trustworthy is key when you’re not looking at your own books.

B) I was smart enough to go to a prestigious college with the founder’s brother. 7 out of 8 guys went to a top 15 university so pedigree is obviously helpful. I was obviously career-oriented enough to go balls out in PWM with my credentials and advancement.

C) I’m nutty (but in an enthusiastic way), so I fit into a startup role well. I’m not a criminal, but I don’t play by other people’s rules. One of the things that surprised me was how everyone in Manhattan seemed to know me by name before I met them because of some stupid stories my boss told them. Before I got married, I was using online video games as a dating service and for some reason the big shots on Wall Street love hearing that shit.

The point of being nutty is that I roll up my sleeves and take ownership of a new project even if I don’t know what I’m doing at the start. I had never filled out a corporate tax return in my life but somehow I managed to clean out 2014’s books and file the return a week ahead of our deadline with only 5 weeks notice. I had never even touched Quickbooks in my life. The other founder had some challenges and I could create and Excel model for him in 15 minutes. I don’t think I’m smarter than you guys, but I’m good at grabbing the bull by the horns.

D) Lastly, I was the only person both able and willing to sacrifice a steady income. A CFO typically costs 130K+ cash. A good one might cost 180K. But that’s someone with 8-10 years corporate finance experience, a CPA, and a rolodex of professional investor contacts. I’m nowhere near that level of value, but I deserved 70K-80K plus some equity right? Founders couldn’t pay salary and benefits to hire a FTE and they were deluded into thinking I could just do this job on the side 2 hours a weekend for nothing.

I asked for a minimum wage level salary with a contract to upgrade me upwards to something in the 80-110K range in 6 months (after we’d raise 5M from a series A). In exchange for my sacrifice, I wanted more equity. Quite frankly, I didn’t care what the salary was. The payout was in the

  • the buyout, the potential to own 1% of something that could be sold for 100M or even 1B
  • the unique experience of being surrounded by well-rounded Ivy Leaguers and the chance to learn from big-shot angel investors. I won’t name names but I’ve met with or spoken to on the phone with a lot of people I’d never have access to.
  • being able to finally prove on paper that I had a real job that showed tremendous initiative and wide range of technical and soft skills. That was a huge problem for me in the past and knowing what I know now, I should have volunteered for this position _ even if it meant working for free the first 12 months _.

There’s 100 people that beat me on (B). And there’s going to be some people that match me on © and (D). The reason I got this job was because I was the only person who met all 4 criteria at the same time. The founder told me he didn’t even bother looking at anyone else.

i read both your posts in full. first of all congrats on a move that seems impossible.

but my only question is what do you mean by using online video games as a dating service. my impression when u say that is that ur basically targeting gamer girls which are like 5% of the population and probably in a sketchy way online lol.

i’m thinking the conversation and thought process would be like this.

where can i find the most girls? the sims online.

meets with some random girl playing the sims online

heyyy baby we’re married and have a kid online. wanna do this irl???

Well I didn’t want to get off topic with too many details, but to answer your post - it wasn’t quite like that. First off, the number of female players in World of Warcraft is 10-15% so if you’re managing a 25-person guild, there’s probably 50 bodies in there and 6 chicks. Statistically, 50% of females on WoW will admit they’re attracted to one of the male players.

Second of all, the strategy of " OMGZ you’re a girl - show me your tits!" is immature, douchey, and ineffective. Ironically, the female players are put off by the air of desparation more than they are the element of harassment.

You can learn a lot about someone’s intelligence, accountability, and personality by playing games with them for a few months. It’s the same as meeting someone in kickball league or at work or your classroom. They’d eventually ask to swap phone numbers or Facebook accounts if they could tell you weren’t pussy-whipped.

*I should clarify that I have not used any tactics to bang one of the AF members here, but the once-in-a-lifetime experience crossed my mind.

I used to play WOW alot too and there are actually alot of professional women playing the game as an outlet from their working lives. We still have get togethers quite often when alot of us are in the same area. In fact, I’ve known a few couples who later got married and they knew each other from playing the game lol.

One woman from my old guild was an associate at a prestigious law firm, a few bankers, you’d be surprised at the diversity of people you meet in a game like WOW hehe.

It’s pretty easy for people who haven’t experienced an MMORPG like wow to make fun of it, but you can actually learn valuable skills that are transferrable to real life such as leadership skills (if you are a guild leader managing 50-60 people), communication skills (working together to defeat a boss or to get realm or world firsts) and multi-tasking skills. Many of the professional WOW players I’ve come across are probably some of the smartest people in the world.