- Early-stage workloads compared to public accounting
- Learning opportunities at early-stage companies
- The risk profile of early-stage companies
- Career best practices
Brian Simpson started his career at PwC and recently joined an early-stage SaaS business. Brian shares great perspective on growth opportunities provided by small, fast-growing companies. Enjoy!
Sure, so I got my start at the University of Kansas, where I was a finance and accounting double major and also got my Master’s in accounting. The summer before my Master’s year, I did an internship in PwC’s audit practice, after which I received a full-time offer. Before starting full-time, I completed the CPA exam. I was then with PwC for a little over four years.
After that, I took an opportunity with Ferrellgas in their financial reporting group. The first nine months there, I was mostly focused on SEC reporting, then moved into more of a general financial reporting role and did that for two years. After that, I joined LaborChart, where I currently am. My title is Finance Manager, but I’m really wearing a number of different hats. The first six months have flown by. It’s crazy how quickly it’s gone and how much I’ve learned in that time.
I felt that people working outside of public accounting were doing something where the end product was easier to identify with than it was in the accounting world. In public accounting auditing, the end product is the opinion, which is obviously immensely important and serves a purpose, but it was tougher to feel connected to that an associate more down in the details. At a small, growing company, with wider reaching responsibilities, things are changing every day and you can really see the product of your work more clearly than you might in in a straight forward public accounting, auditing capacity. I also thought that getting outside of the big four world would allow me to get exposure to things (i.e.,finance and operations) that I wouldn't have experienced if I’d stuck to that route.
Sure, so LaborChart is a subscription-based software company. It's a workforce management platform tailored to large construction companies. We’re small but growing pretty fast. When I started we had around 25 employees and there were 6 or 7 in my start class. Six months before I started there were only 8 employees and now, six months after I started, we have 40. Generally, we’d like to double headcount and revenue on an annual basis. We’re currently hiring in almost every department. Even in this fast-paced environment, everyone here has a positive attitude and stays committed to our goals. I think that speaks to the quality of the people we have.
My role is Finance Manager, but like I said earlier, I'm wearing a lot of different hats. I do finance, accounting, tax, payroll, AR/AP, some HR stuff. That comes along with working for a smaller company. I would say, to date, it has been more accounting-focused. Being that LaborChart is smaller but growing fast, setting the foundation with the company’s accounting is incredibly important.
I feel like I’m doing a hundred different things some days, which can be challenging at times. But the benefits definitely outweigh the challenges. I’m learning something new everyday. It's led me to get outside of my comfort zone and learn so much more than I might have in a lot of other situations. The learning curve was a little tougher here being that I was thrust into something where it was accounting, but then all these other things, and with a product/industry that I was not familiar with. That was challenging at first, but something that I've come to enjoy and feel more comfortable with now.
The pace is definitely ramped up from my previous role. Again, I think that’s just what you have to expect with working at a smaller, growing company. Getting used to that pace took a couple months. It's helpful for your professional growth. It gives me that sense that I'm continuing to grow and continuing to learn. I feel like I’m getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
It's definitely different. With public accounting, the straight up hours and volume of work are probably higher. At LaborChart, that part is probably not quite as crazy, but there's a more varied array of different tasks going on and more to keep track of. There's a sense with a lot of those tasks that if something doesn't happen quickly, some specific opportunity might evaporate. The pressure of ensuring that you’re not missing out on these opportunities for continued accelerated growth lends itself to the quicker pace. That's not really the case with public accounting since you're often working with larger companies that are more established.
I was a little bit hesitant about it when I was looking into the opportunity. Having solid financial backing, which we do, helped a lot and was something that really jumped out to me about the company. Also, the more I thought about it, I realized that even if, for whatever reason, the company doesn’t reach its goals or takes on a different form, it's not like the experience you’ve gained is just completely wiped clean. You take that with you. I think the experience and professional growth I’ll gain here will far outpace anything I’d get at a larger, publicly traded company. I’ll have that to fall back on regardless of the company’s level of success. So I've come around on the risk profile of joining an early-stage business and perceive that much differently than I used to.
At larger companies you can often be in a role that’s more specialized and forget about everything else that’s going on. At LaborChart there’s a lot of interaction between the different departments, whether that’s marketing, customer experience, engineering, sales, etc. In previous roles there was no reason for me to be doing that. I’ve learned so much just being a fly on the wall for some of these exchanges. It really changes the way you think about things
Also, having a lot of different responsibilities has forced me to get a better understanding of what fires are burning the hottest and what needs the most attention. I think that drives better project management skills.
As the company continues to grow, we're going to be building out the finance, accounting and ops departments. So a lot of the day to day work will fall to somebody else and I’ll continue to progress into a leadership role. But it’s helpful to have that foundational knowledge of how things are working, in the weeds, on the ground floor. That will definitely pay dividends down the road. Both for me and for the company.
I think just bringing other departments up to speed on finance and accounting matters that are tied to their work. For example, I meet twice a week with our customer experience team. There’s a lot of back and forth between me and those account managers on the financial status of our customers. That’s helping both departments get a deeper understanding of the customer relationship, billing and collections, etc. in a way that might not have been possible previously. It eliminates a lot of blind spots and creates for a healthier relationship with the customer.
Also, we’re working through our first audit. I think my background there has been helpful in terms of understanding what the auditors are looking for and what questions might come up.
Be prepared to work hard and keep a positive attitude. I think that approach always pays dividends. You’ll be learning a lot of skills that you don’t even realize are being developed until you’re using them further down the line.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or admit when you’re wrong. There’s a natural tendency to not want to reveal that you don’t know something. But there’s always something that somebody doesn’t know or didn’t know at some point in time.
Ask for what you’re looking to get out of an experience. I think people up the chain admire this because it shows forethought and taking initiative.
Build relationships and talk to as many people in different industries and roles as you can. This builds up your knowledge of how the business world works. It also gets you more comfortable with the interpersonal side of business, which is incredibly important.
Being an important part of a team that is doing something that I care about and is making an impact on its customers and environment. And doing that in a way that I'm consistently growing and learning and being pushed out of my comfort zone. I want to continue my professional growth and do that in a way that still enables me to grow in my life outside of work.
It's tough to say because things have changed so much since I started my career. LaborChart wasn't even a company then and I was not at all thinking about the type of role that I have now. But I see myself continuing to do something that feels very tangibly impactful. I want to keep progressing within LaborChart in a leadership capacity and get to drive business decisions that really move the company forward.