Founders: Here’s Why You Need an Interim Controller

As your startup expands, your CEO should have someone in place who can provide in-depth analyses around your finances and new product offerings. 

Let’s imagine your company recently secured a Series A round of financing. You’ve had an influx of cash and are poised for growth. Up to this point, you’ve had a third-party company paying your bills off-site. But once you pass the Series A point, you need a controller to level up your financial processes with customized specificity. 

A controller makes informed, personalized recommendations to support a startup’s fiscal health. The person in this role will ensure functional accounting systems, processes, and internal controls are in place and will hold everyone in the company to a consistent measure of financial accountability. 

In the above scenario, your first instinct may be to begin a search for a full-time, in-house controller. Not so fast. In addition to being indispensable, a controller is also one of the hardest roles to find the right fit for. 

If you’re transitioning through this stage of growth — Series A/B or pre-IPO — don’t underestimate the value of an interim controller. 

“A controller makes informed, personalized recommendations to support a startup’s fiscal health.”

What Is an Interim Controller?

An interim controller goes by many names: temporary controller, consultant controller and part-time controller. These are all valid terms to talk about the same thing — a controller whose brief tenure fills gaps, provides stabilization, and guides your organization through transition, growth or other change.Consider hiring a temporary controller when:

  • Your current early-series company controller doesn’t have the skillset for your public company or post-IPO operations.
  • You need someone to fill in gaps until you find the right person. 
  • You’re in between controllers because someone is quitting or going on extended leave.

The interim controller role is designed to be a stepping stone between phases, and provides critical insights to help you move forward. 

An Interim Controller’s (Unexpected) Value to Growing Startups

In addition to doing the valuable work of a controller, interim controllers benefit startups in many ways.

Assessing Back Office Needs

A temporary controller is an expert who can help you figure out what role you truly need, and can also advise you on future financial hires. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your financial demands, an interim controller can step in, readying you to start a permanent search.  

Some clients ask why they need an interim controller to make hiring recommendations instead of letting the CEO create positions as needed. Most CEOs don’t have an accounting or finance background, so they don’t know who should be hired next. 

For example, the CEO of a Series B startup needed a right-hand finance person, and in a panic, hired a VP of Finance. Their new hire had 25 years of experience working with high-growth software companies, and expected to have senior-level responsibilities. 

Three months later, that person quit because the position was too junior. The CEO had assumed they needed a VP of Finance, but didn’t really understand what the job entailed. The company moved too quickly on a permanent hire, wasting time and money to bring in someone they didn’t need.

Sometimes we place an interim controller with a startup, and that person realizes the role is essentially a hands-on bill-paying position. Therefore, they recommend that the company hire an accounting manager. 

Conversely, the interim controller might realize the company’s needs are more expansive than expected, requiring on-going financial planning, analysis, and financial modeling. In that case, the interim controller may suggest hiring a VP of Finance. 

In both scenarios, the interim controller serves the invaluable function of helping discern the best next hire for the company’s stage of growth. 

“A temporary controller is an expert who can help you figure out what role you truly need, and can also advise you on future financial hires.”

Bringing Order to Chaos  

Consultants enjoy diving in and solving problems. They can offer an unbiased, outside perspective, and often see holes or gaps invisible to employees who are used to the status quo. 

Think of an interim controller as a consulting Swiss Army Knife. They’re flexible, leveling up and down as needed. They’re equipped to perform both the hands-on work of containment and the strategic work of growth. They will also expect the unexpected. Conflicts or stressors that may cause someone internal to leave a company don’t faze a seasoned interim controller.    

Cultivating Long-Term Growth 

Clients often assume that hiring a full-time consultant is too expensive, even for a short period of time. However, it’s well worth the investment to avoid hiring the wrong permanent person, which is far more costly in the end. 

Consider all the costs involved in bringing on a full-time staff member. While a consultant may charge a high hourly rate, an employee would require a salary plus benefits and perks. When you’re still in a growth stage and can’t truly afford a full-time hire, bringing in a temporary controller can be the most financially responsible decision. 

Hiring an interim controller represents the next phase of your company’s growth. By working with an experienced consultant, you can strategize for how best to build your team and continue the organization’s progress.

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