What it’s like to be the CFO in a Startup

A startup needs a team with a wide range of skills to ultimately be successful: Product development – Sure, the product or service needs to be developed. Procurement, networking, sales, marketing, all this gets a certain dynamic. But as soon as the company makes good use of all rights, duties come along. Certain duties require more experience – not something you can get into within a few days: finance. Elisabeth Sienčnik, CFO of reha buddy, has found a vocation in her passion for numbers and now gives an insight into her colorful world as mentor, business angel and CFO in the startup ecosystem. 

  1. Why don’t you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Elisabeth Sienčnik, besides working in startups I am a management consultant with a focus on finance and project management, as well as a solution-focused coach.

  1. At reha buddy you are a shareholder and CFO – how did that come about?

I got to know reha buddy 2 years ago and was so convinced by the product on the one hand and the team on the other hand that I thought I would like to join and participate proactively. In 2020, I became a shareholder and CFO. I really enjoy the finance area, and it was relatively clear that I could be a good addition to the team.

  1. An affinity for numbers is clearly a must have – but what exactly are your responsibilities as CFO and what do you like about your job?

Indeed, I’m a numbers person. Mathematics was always my favorite subject at school. Modeling numbers, that’s what I enjoy. In addition, as a CFO in a small company, you can be involved in all areas. At the end of the day, every transaction is reflected in numbers.  For me, being a CFO is less about accounting and more about being a kind of finance business partner; I’m even involved in sales or product development in some way, because I want to understand what’s needed so that I can provide optimal support. The tasks are very diverse: from liquidity management, to interface with tax advisors, banks and funding agencies, to planning and reporting, key figures and much more. And as part of the management team, I deal with strategy, risk management, or organizational development.

  1. Are there any disadvantages or negative points that you have noticed about working in finance so far?

Some people underestimate finance. That’s when you’re seen as a bean counter. As with many internal functions or supporting processes, no one notices finance when everything is working well. Only when processes don’t work, liquidity is not given or the like, one does get (negative) attention. To put it bluntly, you rarely get praise, but more often blame. You have to cope with that, and to a certain extent you have to like it, i.e., not being the center of attention. That’s why I always say: you don’t notice a CFO – because if you do notice him or her, something has usually gone wrong.

  1. How did your journey as an investor begin?

I studied business administration at WU Vienna and ESSCA Angers. When I heard about stock corporations and general meetings, it was important to me to participate in something like that. As a result, I asked my mother for a share of Verbund. Later, I worked for corporations, got employee shares and started investing in other securities as well. A few years ago, I got to know oikocredit, where you can support very small businesses with microfinancing, more or less as help for self-help. In 2017, I advised a startup on financial topics as a consultant – I was finally so convinced of this that I invested in this exact startup. I simply love this feeling of being close to the action.

  1. In which startups are you currently involved?

Besides reha buddy, I’m also active as CFO in another one: SteadySteps. We are developing an app that provides motivation and information for a more sustainable life. Step by step, new routines are to be created and the environment is to be inspired to join in. Apart from that, I am involved as a mentor and expert in the Greenstart Programm, at RedPreneur and the Future Wings Challenge.  The important thing for me in all my engagements is the impact; be it Life Science, GreenTech, Social, Education… I feel here I am helping others to make the world a little bit better, and that’s essentially my own endeavour as well.

  1. We’ve already touched on this topic, but tell us briefly how you met reha buddy!

I am a mentor at INiTS and there is a kind of speed dating where all mentors and startups get to know each other. Andrés Tkachenko and Harald Jagoš sat there, we talked – and there was a lot of sympathy right from the start. Although the product today has only a rudimentary connection to the implementation at that time, I was positively taken with the idea of supporting people to remain mobile and independent for as long as possible. After the mentoring as part of the program was over, I became an advisor, and later eventually I came on board as a partner and CFO. 

  1. What are criteria for you when working with startups?

There has been a certain basic requirement with all startups: idea, sympathy, and the competencies of the team. Very important for me, as already mentioned, is also the positive impact. In return, of course, I also have to know whether I can support the startup in the medium to long term. If I notice that I don’t have the necessary resources or competencies, then I communicate that clearly and refer to colleagues if necessary.

  1. What do you expect from the founders you work with?

Clarity on the one hand, and honesty on the other. You have to clearly define the expectations on both sides, be honest, and also give very honest feedback, whether positive or negative. Of course, I also expect a professional demeanor – that each and every individual takes the project seriously and is fully committed and knows how to use their individual strengths well. 

  1. Finally, give us a brief outlook: Where will you go? What are your plans?

I have lived in many places in my life: Slovenia, England, France, Romania, and apart from that I have also traveled a lot in my private and professional life. I’ve always loved working in cafes, hotel lobbies, or co-working offices, and in the last year I missed this a lot. As much as I like working together as a team, physically – I also need days in between where I just do my work alone, at best in different inspiring places. In addition to finance, community building is also very important to me. I now also like to bring startups and people together, often from a completely different environment – yet, they can learn from each other. I notice that a lot is happening here. Instead of competition, a kind of collaboration is emerging that is developing a good momentum of its own. I think there’s still a lot to be made of this in order to achieve more impact with large companies and institutions.

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