Comment: Flexible finance advice can steer tech start-ups

Find a CFO figure who can work with you when you're small, but is flexible enough to stay with you as you grow, says Marshall. Picture: Roddy Scott
Find a CFO figure who can work with you when you're small, but is flexible enough to stay with you as you grow, says Marshall. Picture: Roddy Scott
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When Edinburgh’s CodeBase opened its doors in 2014 it brought a new manner of thinking to the way in which start-ups incubate. The idea was simple: provide affordable space and resources for tech start-ups to grow.

CodeBase now has more than 100 firms at its site in the former DHSS offices at the foot of Edinburgh Castle. Professional services firm PwC is one of them. In what is quite possibly the smallest PwC office in the world, I work with a number of tenants on the financial aspects of their business.

This relationship is based on a strategic partnership between the two firms launched in 2017 on the premise that PwC’s offering can benefit the smallest private businesses, as well as global corporations, for which we are perhaps best known.

CodeBase inspires me like no other workplace environment. The energy and optimism coursing through the place provides all the evidence needed that the vision of its founders, Jamie and Stephen Coleman, has truly been realised. Scotland has a great track record in producing tech companies. FanDuel and Skyscanner, now known throughout the world, both began life in Edinburgh before being heralded as Scotland’s first unicorns – start-ups with a value north of $1 billion.

In fact, Fanduel co-founders Nigel Eccles and Rob Jones have taken space at CodeBase for their current venture, Flick, which sees them move from fantasy sports to e-sports. Nigel has been quoted as saying there is a “better than evens” chance that the next tech unicorn will come from CodeBase, so from the freshest-faced tenants with an idea and a laptop to the biggest residents like Administrate or Care Sourcer, there is a belief that what is happening here will make a difference not just within Scotland, but on a global scale.

There is a host of innovative solutions in development with the ability to permeate everyday life. With its adaptive learning technologies, CogBooks is aiming to change how secondary and further education students learn; Money Dashboard is using open banking technology to give consumers more control of their finances.

Of course, for businesses to get to this position they need more than an idea and the skills to execute it, they need to manage back office issues like any other business. Through our My Financepartner offering, PwC aims to supports small businesses like those resident in CodeBase.

Fundamentally, annual statutory accounts are critical as they form the basis of any due diligence an existing or potential investor will perform on your business. Your annual tax return is important, too, as it will form the basis for research and development reimbursements from HMRC. If you are not experienced in applying for these, ask your advisor to find someone who is.

Behind these returns is the essential task of day-to-day bookkeeping. Many companies in this space use an online accounting software such as Xero or Sage. If you are not comfortable using such software, find an expert who can help, as having a set of accurate monthly management accounts can track performance and be shared with stakeholders when you decide to start having board meetings, or engage with investors. I also recommend having someone experienced at chief financial officer level to meet with every month, review your management accounts and to challenge or support you, where appropriate.

You might not need a full-time or even part-time CFO, but most companies beginning to grow can afford to meet with someone for a couple of hours every month to keep on the right track. Find someone who wants to work with you when you’re small, but has the ability to stay with you as you grow.

Reaching that scale-up stage is the next major milestone, and each morning as I make my way along the corridor to the PwC office in CodeBase, I wonder who’ll be next to get there.

- Ian Marshall, My Financepartner, PwC Scotland