How a Founder Picks a CFO
Recently, I was able to sit down with Tipalti CEO & Co-Founder, Chen Amit, to pick his brain on the process behind finding the right CFO for your growing company. Below is Chen’s first-person account of bringing on Tipalti CFO, Sarah Spoja, and the specific qualities he was looking for when making this critical hire.
Kate Wilson: How did you decide that it was time to start the search for a CFO?
Chen Amit: First, many people felt like it was crazy to run a FinTech company without a CFO for eight years, but, until recently, I only hired out of pain. We wouldn’t hire for planning or infrastructure or because we anticipated something in the future—we would wait for the pain to develop, then we would hire. Often, Founders or CEOs hire for a position that doesn’t materialize—then you’ve just spent a lot of cycles and money on something that’s not required. When the pain exists, you know that it’s required.
With Sarah Spoja, Tipalti’s CFO, I probably was at least a year too late. The most significant pain we were facing at that time was around fundraising—we had just closed our fundraising, and I was already thinking about the next fundraising. Our fundraisings are metrics-driven—investors see growth; they see the revenue of the market, the margins, they see all kinds of metrics. We needed to forecast for the future, anticipate the metrics that would be presented two years from now to ensure that the team was executing towards those metrics. We were looking to find a consistent story in our data—that was the trigger to hire Sarah.
Kate Wilson: Before you even started the search, what was your overall hiring strategy for the CFO position?
Chen Amit: When I think about hiring, my strategy centers around hiring the best talent out there. As a Founder, you have to view your company as extremely attractive and extremely high growth regarding your position in the market. When you have that mentality, you know that your team deserves the best talent out there. Additionally, I wanted to hire an experienced CFO—someone who’s been there, a seasoned individual that has done it a couple of times and can take us to the next level.
Kate Wilson: Initially, were there certain types of CFOs that you were not interested in considering?
Chen Amit: Specifically, I wasn’t interested in hiring an Accounting CFO. We were already working with an outside accounting firm. That process wasn’t taking up that much of my time, so it was a non-problem for me—I knew that didn’t need solving. What I was looking for was a Strategic CFO. A Strategic CFO will help analyze the numbers and pinpoint new growth opportunities—they’ll move beyond basic accountant capabilities.
Kate Wilson: What did the interview process look like for finding a Strategic CFO?
Chen Amit: I used an external search firm to help find the right candidates. I began interviewing experienced CFOs who had been in the role two or three times before. But then I realized that they were probably doing the same thing over and over again because they couldn’t break out of that mold.
I met Sarah during the process. The external search firm had brought me a few candidates that were very strategic but did not have the CFO experience—Sarah was one of them. Sarah was super smart, and it was obvious to me that those experienced CFOs were not up to par with her. I started to lean towards betting on ability rather than experience. It was clear that she could catch up with experience; she was coming from a very analytical organization that knew how to dissect businesses. And she would have an efficient finance team around her that could help.
Kate Wilson: As a company that had previously never had a true CFO, what brought you to your final decision?
Chen Amit: Funding was a catalyst, but it wasn’t only that. There were areas in the company where we needed additional insights. For example, how much does it cost for Tipalti to bring on a customer? There are all kinds of dependencies with the cost of sales, acquiring the customer, how much revenue they generate, etc. We might have an idea around an average number, but we don’t have the final cost—these are levels of insights into the company that we needed. And the only person that could fully drive that, and take that on, was a CFO.
Kate Wilson: In your opinion, what are the benefits of a good CFO hire?
Chen Amit: The impact of a good CFO hire is tremendous—it’s all about making better decisions. We’re looking three, four, five years out in the future and utilizing that analysis and capacity to help make decisions that are critical for the company. You want someone with firepower that can execute productively. A good CFO will help us scale at the executive level—that’s where the impact is most important.