Hiring a VP of Finance for Early-Stage Startups

Ken Stakis has been in Executive Search since 2014, specializing in finance and operations roles. He has comprehensive knowledge of the skills and traits needed for success in these crucial functions. From financial planning and analysis to supply chain management and operational optimization. He has successfully filled executive-level positions that have had a significant impact on driving growth and profitability.

Why does a company need to hire a VP of Finance and when is the right time to make that hire?

Startups reach a point in their growth, usually after Series A, when they need a subject matter expert. The CEO is, more than likely, piecemealing that function together. They may receive CFO advisory help or assistance from their board of directors and investors. But, The CEO realizes that they need someone in the finance seat full-time. 

At this point, the CEO will tap a firm like Guild Talent to go out and find the best and brightest talent. 

What are the top qualities of a VP of Finance?

Generally, we look for the right experience. We need a person who has scaled a company quite recently. For example, they came in when a company had 10 million in revenue and helped scale it to 30 million in revenue.

Secondly, we want to make sure that their career makes sense. Do they have an undergraduate degree in finance? Do they have an MBA? Did their degrees come from an Ivy League? And once they have completed school, they probably worked in investment banking for a few years and then parlayed that into their corporate finance career. From there, they worked their way up the ladder. We want to make sure that their career progression makes sense. In addition to career progression, we are looking for tenure. Have they stayed in their previous roles for a reasonable amount of time? 

What is the advantage for a company to hire a VP of Finance over a Chief Financial Officer? 

One of the more obvious answers is that a CFO is more expensive, and they will generally want more equity. Hiring a VP of Finance stays within the budget, but the company still gets a highly qualified candidate. In many instances, the VP of Finance will grow into a CFO. After a few years, they know all of the intricacies of the company and are ready to be promoted to a CFO position. 

What are some of the challenges that startups face when they want to hire a VP of Finance?

We face a lot of challenges when representing a client. We want the candidates to be excited about the opportunity. But obviously, some companies are shinier than others. If a company has exciting technology or top-tier venture capitalists backing them, they have a candidate’s attention. If a company is a little less shiny, we get creative. One of the ways we do that is to look for candidates who are ready to move into the VP of Finance role but currently hold a junior position. 

Do you think that a VP of Finance can make or break a company? 

It can make a company more than break a company. If a company hires an absolute rockstar, who understands the business and has cycles underneath their belt, it can catapult the company into the next arena.  

What is the current size of the VP of Finance candidate pool? How does that impact hiring? 

The pool is very small. When a client has a long wishlist for their VP of Finance, we have to rein them in and educate them about the market’s trickiness. In a down market, like now, the misconception is that qualified candidates are standing out on street corners and handing out their resumes. Right now, candidates are more apt to dance with the devil they know, than the devil they don’t know. 

Are there situations where you have to manage a client’s expectations?

Yes. We try to reach perfection but in a down market, it is not always possible. Clients all want the bright and shiny rockstar, which makes sense, but we work with them to manage expectations. We have the client choose three must-haves and then a few nice-to-haves. This process helps identify the client’s needs. Guild Talent is not a resume shop. We do not throw resumes at clients and hope for the best. We take a very consultative approach to searches and a tremendous amount of effort goes into them. 


We have talked about the top qualities of a VP of Finance, but can you tell me about the top qualities of a client? 

The best type of client is an engaged client. When we present candidates, they will provide swift feedback. If the client passes on a candidate, they will give reasons to help us course-correct the search. A good client creates a positive experience for candidates and moves the hiring process along. We have seen clients express interest in a candidate but sit in a holding pattern for two weeks. We want to expedite the process to create a positive experience for the candidate. 

How often do candidates have an unfavorable experience? 

It can happen quite often. Candidates have expressed that the process is too long. They will say, “I am getting an offer from another company tomorrow, but I am still in phase two of the interview process with your client and it has been three weeks.” This does not create a positive experience and the client will often lose the candidate to another company. 

Do you have any advice for clients? 

Clients should be engaged and open-minded. The market is tricky and we have to work within its confines. Allow yourself to recalibrate expectations.

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