Scaling the business is a top goal for many startups at a certain point. To get to the next level, it’s time to invest in the skills your company is missing, at a pace that isn’t too much, too soon. Since the people aspect of the business is both your most valuable and priciest resource, you’ll want to put attention on scaling your people as you scale your business.

What Do We Mean by Scaling?

Scaling puts the focus on growing the business with intention, in a cost-effective, efficient way. It requires laying down a foundation for supporting and enabling this growth, with streamlined, consistent processes; order in the financial operations; with the right people, systems, and partners in place. For emerging growth companies, shifting gears from survival mode to scaling requires big changes, including new faces—but that doesn’t mean you need to fully load up on payroll right away.

Scaling for Skills: What Do You Have, What Do You Need?

Take a look at your current employees and leadership team, and consider what skillsets you may need to bring in now and over time:

Evaluate everyone. Some of the people who were once a good fit for getting the company off the ground may not be right for the new version of the company. Look at the strengths and weaknesses within your staff. You may need to rethink some roles, add new ones, and consider how outsourcing can fill in some gaps, on a flexible basis. These evaluations may lead to tough calls if some employees are not able, or unwilling, to scale with the company.

Understand current and future gaps. What skills will make the company stronger starting today? What about the significant changes you’ll be pursuing? If an IPO is on the horizon, for example, does anyone on staff have experience working at a publicly traded company? The expectations and scrutiny are higher, and experience with all that entails will be needed.

Don’t underestimate the need for flexibility. For the immediate future, as the company adopts new processes and systems, you’ll want to know whether the people you have on board are adaptable and open to change. Changes are never easy, but some people are roadblocks. You want people who are excited to—or at least willing to—learn and adapt to new technologies and new ways of working (smarter, not harder).

Be forthcoming about the changes. Some employees will discover that the future version of the company is not for them. They simply may prefer working in a startup environment and are averse to adjusting to a more structured environment.

People Principles for Scaling

Follow these principles as you become aware of the people who want to grow with the company, and the fluctuating skills you will need to bring in:

Make a plan. How will you take the company from point A to point B? How will you fund any expansions without burning through too much cash? What skills are missing and need to be filled now, and what skills could be filled later? And which skills could be outsourced for a time before hiring someone full-time? 

Build a great team and help them shine. Put effort into bringing out the best of those who are staying on board. The culture will shift as the company evolves but you can shape it into the kind of environment where people feel welcome, where they want to be their best selves and do their best work. Think about how the company can nurture the talents you have and keep everyone engaged. Let your star performers do what they do, and move out of the way so that they can shine.

Be creative with the skills you need. Outsourcing skills that are not core to the business (i.e., finance and accounting, marketing, IT) can help you supplement any missing skillsets that will help the company advance, build in cost control to your growth plans, and free up those star performers and other employees to focus on core functions.

Outsourcing provides optimum flexibility by reducing the risk of taking on full-time staffers for what could end up being a temporary need. When you find an outsourcing partner that can provide you with a range of talents and knowledge, you can access the level of expertise you need, when you need it.

Gaining Expertise, at the Right Level

For nearly 30 years, RoseRyan has helped hundreds of fast-moving companies achieve their growth goals, by helping them build practical plans; develop solid financial foundations; and supplement their skillsets with flexible, cost-efficient solutions. Access to expertise, at a part-time level in the beginning of the scaling effort, can help the company control costs and move at a sustainable pace. Then, as the company successfully advances with its plan, RoseRyan will train and transition incoming full-timers at the appropriate time. It’s one of the many ways we guide companies to greatness.

Ready to make a strategic move with your emerging growth company? Contact RoseRyan today to find out how we can help.

As Chair of RoseRyan, which she founded in 1993, Kathy Ryan guides our finance and accounting consulting firm’s overall mission, strategy, direction and investment decisions. She guided the firm for 26 years under an innovative business model, with flexible work arrangements coupled with a highly supportive, values-based culture, before naming David Roberson as chief executive in 2020. Kathy has been recognized as a thought leader, innovator and strategist, building upon her extensive CEO and CFO experience working with more than 50 Silicon Valley startups. Before RoseRyan, Kathy was director of finance at Quantum and tax manager at Price Waterhouse.

Does your fast-moving company have what’s needed to keep its current pace in a sustainable way? Or are you losing sleep at night worrying about all the aspects of the business you simply do not know enough about or have time to deal with? In between starting up and scaling up quickly (or flaming out), emerging growth companies realize they are missing a level of guidance and perspective that only an experienced CFO can provide. Here are some of the many reasons your company could benefit from CFO input, which could occur on a part-time, interim or occasional basis.

CFOs shift the focus of finance from looking at history to looking toward the future. The accounting record of how the company has performed so far may be in good shape, but what do the numbers tell you? As a member of the team, a seasoned CFO will ask the questions no one else is asking: What are the areas that can most impact our profitability—how can we optimize our profit and minimize our risk? What resources do we need to turn our plans into reality, and what is the best way to obtain those resources? How can we create more value without expenses getting out of control? Are we charging a fair and competitive value for our product or service or is Sales giving away the store (or asking for the moon)?

When the accounting/finance team is running a million miles a minute to keep the financial operations running smoothly, there is no time left to get at these important, big-picture questions that are critical for setting a successful path for the company. This is where CFO guidance can be invaluable: When they become a part of the team, CFOs introduce a future mindset. The CFO will bridge what the historical data tells us today with what is needed for the future through analysis and the buildout of likely scenarios to demonstrate their implications for strategic decisions that senior leadership is considering.

CFOs have a knack for uncovering cost efficiencies and missed opportunities. As an experienced CFO, I always review contracts when putting together a budget, and recently this habit led to the discovery of a significant underbilling situation. The client company was entitled to higher management fees. The fact is, it’s in a CFO’s nature to pay attention to the details that others have forgotten or lack the time or skills to properly review.

CFOs will help you realize the true value of your product, company or idea. When companies are starting out, there’s a tendency to do whatever’s necessary to secure those initial sales and allay that fear of not being able to get enough business to survive, let alone thrive. However, a company may fall into the trap of undervaluing what it’s selling—in order to score those initial sales wins or reach a top line goal.

But what’s the result of those actions? Not charging what your product or service is worth not only devalues your company but leads your team to think that cost is the way to compete instead of creating value. CFOs can help your team to stay on the right track by focusing on the value you bring to the market and helping you set the pricing and terms for your services appropriately. It may not help the company to make a sale if you have to tie up your working capital for six months before you get paid or engage with a client that will not pay you. A good CFO will help you gauge those additional factors before the contract is signed.

You may occasionally have strategic reasons for wanting to do business with a customer for less than your normal pricing. Your CFO should ensure that you articulate those reasons so that the company discounts appropriately and not excessively. A good CFO should also help the executive team recognize when it is time to walk away from an unprofitable business or an unprofitable product line, or define the criteria necessary to make that business worthwhile. Understanding the value of your product or service and charging for it properly will ensure your survival.

When It’s Time to Seek a Senior Level CFO

We work with a lot of entrepreneurs who have amazing ideas and promising businesses. A common issue as they make progress on scaling their companies is knowing when or how to offload some of their oversight responsibilities and worries. For example, a technologist-turned-CEO who has a brilliant product that could be life-saving needs to keep most of his focus on getting out in the field to sell his product and drum up interest with investors. But there are so many other responsibilities that need attention, including HR, legal, compliance and risk management. With wide-ranging skill sets and experience, an interim or fractional CFO can take on oversight of these areas and help the company run more smoothly.

What’s one of the biggest benefits of having access to a CFO, whether it’s for a certain number of hours a week or on an as-needed basis? It’s their ability to help you sleep at night. They can let you know, “these are the things we need to worry about and these are things we do not need to worry about.” They can narrow down the key risks facing the company while also helping you manage them.

Learn all about our tailored finance and accounting solutions for emerging growth companies, and reach out to RoseRyan to inquire how interim CFO expertise can help your company’s quest toward greatness.

Andrew Katcher, a consulting CFO for RoseRyan, blends financial, supply chain and systems skills with vast international experience, having held Fortune 500 division-level controller positions in Japan, Korea, Australia, Europe, Israel and Singapore, in addition to serving as an interim CFO for U.S.-based companies. Past consulting clients include Facebook (Oculus division), SanDisk, Logitech, Amazon/Lab126, SunPower, NYK Logistics and Core-Mark. He recently led a company through an acquisition while guiding two other companies through successful Series A financing rounds.


The sound of a large public company hitting the wall can be deafening—i.e., a front-page news story or a radical stock drop. Or it may occur slowly, almost silently over time, perhaps from stealthy competitor moves, a slower pace of innovation or hundreds or thousands of employees trying to adjust to strategy shifts and confusing directives. No matter what the reason for the disruption, the finance team, sometimes with the help of outside experts, plays a major role in the enterprise’s ability to dust itself off and reinvent itself for the future.

Big changes at a mature enterprise—growth spurts and turnarounds or spinoffs and restatements—definitely put a strain on finance teams. It’s a time when what’s needed most is tenacity and the ability to shift gears, to help guide the company through the trouble spots and keep it on course.

After all, the finance team plays a critical role in crafting the company’s future. They intimately know the ins and outs of running the company, along with the history. If they are fully staffed with the right mix of talents and skills, they can pave the way for the true business strategists to make sound decisions based on thoughtful, practical analysis of the team’s robust data and intelligence. The team’s wisdom can really influence the decision making.

Coping with growth and complexity

Mature companies need to continually evolve their product lines to survive. It may be time to reach out to new markets—or risk losing market share. The competitive atmosphere changes rapidly, and they must be nimble to adjust to new realities.

One major issue for companies during times of fast growth is finding the talent they need. Companies can bridge the gap by bringing in sharp consultants to help them get through a growth spurt. One-time transactions can knock the wind out of a team and the workload can be daunting. That’s when experienced consultants can be extremely useful to pick up the extra load, manage velocity and augment the staff with specialized expertise.

Coping with a downturn

At some point, a deceleration typically happens. The natural nimbleness of the startup phase is long gone, rapid growth is no longer a given, and the hard-fought battle for the IPO or an acquisition has already played out. A bunch of employees might be heading for the door. A shift in strategy is causing chaos among hundreds or thousands of employees, and there are complex global product lines to manage. Companies trying to stem the tide of departing employees can fill the gaps using interim consultants, such as an outsourced controller, accounting manager, SEC reporting maverick or other savvy finance pro, who can help the business move forward.

This is the mature enterprise stage in the business lifecycle where the ups and downs of staying relevant and gaining ground are challenging. The challenges have grown along with the company’s maturity and complexity. The reporting, compliance and regulatory issues are piling up, along with the ever-increasing demands from the board and investors. The finance team feels the pain firsthand and leads the way by rebalancing the business plan, cutting expenses and extracting efficiencies from every process. The team has years of transactions and data to mine, and sharp analysis and insights are critical to help the company stay afloat and turn itself around.

Consider some of the big ways that the enterprise can fall off course:

  • Shifting regulatory environment: Companies must stay on top of changing compliance and regulations in their space. For instance, implementing a huge new accounting standard (like the new revenue recognition rules or leasing rules) usually is a multi-year effort involving various systems and teams from different departments.
  • A spin out: A divestiture can pack a wallop to internal finance teams as well. “When a large company takes on a complex transaction, like we did with the divestiture of our information management business, it requires a lot of support,” Maddy Gatto, corporate controller of Symantec, a RoseRyan client, told us. Indeed, the finance team of an evolving company often commissions the services of multiple consulting firms and advisors at the same time. It can be a complex challenge to manage those partnerships and make the most of their assistance.
  • A messy restatement: If internal controls aren’t tight and financial reports can’t be trusted, a restatement may result. Yikes! Frankly, this would be a disaster for any company, and a PR nightmare. Maverick corporate controllers can ensure reliable reporting, and SOX experts can get the company through the compliance needs.

Onward and upward

Keeping to the status quo is not an option for companies at any stage. Massive change is inevitable. When it’s time to pivot, the finance team has a chance to shine. By adding in specialized finance experts as needed to help them navigate the tough spots, a company’s finance team can breathe easier. They can together discover the path forward, make the company more efficient and hopefully raise the valuation of the company.

Whether it’s coping with a wild upswing or a dramatic downturn, the finest finance teams move into swift action to get through it.

Not yet at the mature-enterprise stage? See our blog posts on handling the balancing act of the startup, managing through rapid growth and accelerating through on an IPO or M&A deal.

Maureen Ryan, vice president at RoseRyan, heads up business development and helps companies calm the chaos. From meeting with hundreds of companies of all sizes and types, she has seen the emotional rollercoaster of the business lifecycle first hand. Maureen has seen the ups and downs during her early career in various engineering, sales and marketing roles. She’s held positions at Nortel Networks, Bay Networks, Quantum Corp and General Dynamics.

Job interviews with controllers—whether you’re in the hot seat or the one asking the questions—are getting broader these days, as the role of the controller and expectations around it have escalated. Just as today’s CFOs are expected to be more strategic than the bean-counting finance chiefs of yesteryear, so too are controllers getting called upon for their operational skills and are expected to have broader, forward-looking views. Today’s controllers are not all about past figures. They contribute to strategy to guide it into the future.

We see this transformation firsthand whenever we’re embedded in teams at companies around the San Francisco Bay Area, and we’ve frequently taken on controller roles on an interim basis. RoseRyan consultant Cheri Koehler—a superstar controller in her own right—has gathered up some practical tips and advice for controllers at companies of all sizes:

RoseRyan_Report_SuperstarControllerLook beyond the numbers: Controllers who have mastered their role have a firm grasp of their company’s latest facts and figures, and they also need to be able to tell the story to everyone else. They are one of the few who can provide context behind the numbers and use their knowledge to ensure the company stays healthy. That knowledge can power smart decision-making throughout the business.

Be a bridge builder: Controllers have typically been buddies with HR and customer service folks as many of their transactions and activities overlap. Extend similar connections around the company, making links between finance and IT, procurement, distribution, manufacturing and others. In this way, controllers can set up collaborative partnerships and give themselves a voice when choices are about to made. As proactive business partners, they keep finance in the loop and provide valuable support, advice and analysis whenever it’s needed.

Find and keep talent: This requires a continuous effort—even when the finance team seems well stocked. Things can change and specialized skills may be needed for a complex transaction or someone could have to leave without much notice. Superstar controllers regularly tend to the talent pool by always keeping their connections open and paying attention to develop and retain the people they have on hand. They look for opportunities to empower the team and keep them enthused.

Stellar controllers know how to bring the information they gather to life. They’re excellent communicators by making sure they can influence and persuade, they help with strategic decisions and activities throughout the company, and evangelize potential improvements and efficiencies. What makes this possible? They are up to date on the latest technologies and can keep their eyes and ears to the ground to learn best practices in their field. Ensuring they have a talented team in place makes all the difference.

Are you a controller striving for greatness? Or a CFO who needs to strengthen the finance bench? To understand the controller role today and what skills are needed for superstar status, check out 5 ways to become a superstar controller.