A Failed Search for a Way to Present Financial Information Well
AutoCFO was founded in Austin, Texas out of an aspiration to reinvent the communication between companies, their finance teams and their investors. Blair Morrison (that’s me!) and Lindsey Morrison (absolutely zero relation) had both struck out on our own entrepreneurial careers, Blair as a fractional CFO and Lindsey providing tech consulting for digital marketing companies.
We would often get together to chat about life and entrepreneurship. One fateful day, I brought up my frustration with a failed search for a better way to present financial information.
I was disheartened by my clients’ frequent avoidance of my carefully constructed spreadsheets, and thus their business’ finances. As a fractional CFO, my job has always been to demystify the pieces of my clients’ finances that impact whether they’re going to turn a profit or see red.
Gaining Financial Clarity With Real-Time Access to Numbers
I noticed that often when I was speaking with clients about their businesses and numbers, things seemed completely clear to them. But when I sent my follow-up spreadsheet, their eyes would glaze or files would remain unopened. I wanted to empower my clients with financial clarity, even when I wasn’t actively walking them through spreadsheets.
And honestly a lot of the work that I did, like updating the charts and spreadsheets that I walked my clients through, didn’t need to be done by a human. And in fact, they shouldn’t be. Quite frankly, humans are too slow, especially when spreadsheets require significant manual work and are prone to breakage. I knew that through automation I could create a better experience for myself and the client, provide real-time access to information, and make my services more accessible.
I told Lindsey I was tempted to learn to code just so I could build something better than a stagnant spreadsheet.
So we asked ourselves, are we sure this hasn’t been automated yet?
Aka, let’s not reinvent the wheel…
I began my research in earnest, with a must-have list in mind. I didn’t think my requirements were too outlandish:
- Easy for the business owner to use
- Simple integration and setup (under an hour)
- Adaptable, allowing operational finance to diverge from tax finance without breaking either
- Not just historic reporting, but forward-looking cash flows
- Multiple scenarios and growth drivers
- Easy (one click) updating of historic information
- Doesn’t break the bank in cost
Spoiler: My “simple” list was too outlandish–no one had built it yet.
I found most financial software, especially forecasting and financial analysis software, wasn’t built for entrepreneurs or business operators, it was built for CFOs with finance teams at large businesses. So we decided to put together a plan, chat with a developer friend (soon to be our third co-founder), and see what it would take to build it…
That’s when AutoCFO was born.
Building an Easy-To-Use Software for Entrepreneurs and Startups
As we built out the software and released our beta version, I brought my existing clients on as beta users. These clients were mostly high-growth startups with multiple growth opportunities, fundraises on the horizon, active boards of investors, and complicated reporting. I was thrilled to witness an immediate shift in what I was able to offer these clients, and, more importantly, a shift in their relationship with their financials.
My clients suddenly had access to real-time financial information throughout the month, something previously so far from practical that they knew it’d be silly to even request.
We gave them direct access to live models utilizing that real-time financial data, so they could make decisions based on timely information.
Side note: This is a big no-no in the accounting world… which I have never really agreed with. My philosophy is that, if you are clear on the timing of financial updates—called reconciliations—business owners are fine with incomplete data as long as it means better knowledge of their business.
Our beautiful new software (I’m still really proud!) gave my clients a much more visual, easy-to-read representation of their finances.
They now had a forecast with a comparison to real-time historical actuals, which allowed them to log in and check their progress toward goals and budgets during the month.
Custom KPI dashboards gave them an at-a-glance update on how important areas of their business were doing, again, in real-time.
And to access all of that real-time data, all they had to do was click ‘sync’—not reach out to me for an updated spreadsheet and wait 7-10 business days. This was truly a game changer.
On my end, the certainty that there were no broken links (what CFO nightmares are made of) and the data was completely up-to-date felt amazing and freed me to spend more time on value-added work for my clients.
One client described the software as a game-changer and checked revenue progress almost daily. It gave him a pulse on the business and allowed him to redirect efforts quickly. I noticed a marked difference in board meeting preparation and presentation, it was now smooth and scramble-free.
The overall impact was huge for everyone…
- Not having to scramble and triple-check spreadsheets meant a quicker turnaround on reports and a more prepared management team
- My clients had clear data in a format their teams could understand and react to, allowing them to align on goals with greater clarity
- They had transparency on where revenue was coming from, how money was being spent, and how future decisions could impact their cash
- It was now clear when the time was right for conversations about fundraising, well in advance of concerns about cash
As a CFO, I was able to provide more complete reporting, with more charts, graphs, and KPIs than ever before, in real-time at a consistent, predictable cost to my clients.
Board questions like, “Where does revenue stand today in this business line?” could be answered in seconds. The ability to answer complex financial questions immediately builds investor, board, and team confidence in your business. Win-Win-Win.
The Right Balance Between Human and Machine
We first created AutoCFO as a software-only solution, but quickly realized we could make a bigger difference for so many businesses.
We crafted a plan to…
- Provide top CFO support to more clients without compromising quality—and without hiring a team of data-entry analysts to update complex, inherently breakable, spreadsheets
- Provide quality time with a highly-talented, real human CFO to talk about financial and business model challenges.
- Offer all of this at a predictable price that fits within even an early-stage startup’s budget
Finally, both of my dreams had come true:
- We created software to do what software is good at
- We made expert CFO advice more accessible and affordable
The Financial Partner Your Business Needs
Our goal is for startup founders to have access to quality financial advice, customized to their business and situation early. Before they raise another round of capital, we want them to feel comfortable and confident in the financial data they present to investors. This means having access to a financial expert to support them in building a forecast and KPIs their investors are blown away by. A perfect situation for me is one where, when asked for a financial plan, the company simply opens their forecast in our AutoCFO software, and walks their investors through their plan with confidence.
Today we are a team of fractional CFOs that love working with entrepreneurs and business managers. We believe in not just working on your accounting and reporting, but working together to build a strong financial foundation for your business and financial acumen for your team.
We start building that foundation by working with you and your accounting team to set up financial data that makes it easier to make financial decisions for the future of your business. In fact, as part of our setup process, we complete an accounting review to help you organize your accounting data to work for you.
The next step in building a strong financial foundation is working together to build a budget that is not only board-ready, but goal-oriented and actionable. Our bottoms-up forecasts, powered by our cloud-based automation technology, can be ready in weeks with only the necessary information gathering and review time required from your team.
To round out our financial foundation work, we work with your business to identify and track Key Performance Indicators (basically the numbers that help you quickly see if things are going well or not so well). KPIs help you identify if things are not going according to plan and flag that a deeper conversation is needed to determine the ‘why’.
If financial transparency within your organization is a goal you seek, we can even create department-level dashboards for non-financial managers to better understand how their decisions impact their overall budget.
Next, we build on that foundation through monthly conversations, including the following goals:
- Keep a strong accounting and operational spending foundation through regular review of numbers against your forecast and goals
- Keep your bank account on track through re-forecasts of cash flow projections, evolving them as your business evolves
- Build and track new KPIs at investor request
- Recommend cash-saving strategies to improve cash flow
Our reports are always board meeting ready, including a bottom-up forecast, and make every board meeting a breeze. Good, clean, consistent data is key to any business decision, and we are here to help you make that a reality.
Not Just Automation, But an Entirely New Experience
We believe in empowering entrepreneurial leaders with dynamic data and advice to make proactive decisions about their business. Providing a spreadsheet once a month that is stale the moment you open it simply isn’t adequate in a world driven by data intelligence.
We understand working with a CFO and really digging into the numbers may feel like it will be a frustrating and time-consuming experience, and that’s why we are here to make that experience as quick, painless, and seamless as possible. Most of our companies have financial clarity, a working budget, and a dashboard of KPIs in under four hours of their time.
Your data is always in your hands, no request for information from our team is required. As soon as the data is in your accounting system (QuickBooks Online), a one-click sync pulls that information into your custom charts comparing current progress against forecasts, prior months, and other goals. Sound too good to be true? But wait… there is more!
We know that your business is changing every day and that a stagnant once-a-year budget isn’t going to cut it. Monthly or quarterly meetings with your CFO to make tweaks to your forecast, go over financial results, and review KPIs, allow your financial data to move at the speed of your business. Your team can build the kind of financial acumen that leaves investors feeling calm and confident about investing in your team.