Founder’s Edition, by Joseph Neu
When venture capital isn’t enough, you need a treasurer.
Growth companies looking to disrupt industries outside software and pure internet plays (which are already mostly disrupted) can have significant capital needs. This is why traditional venture capital needs to be supplemented with new types of investors and innovative ways to access capital markets. Given the cost of equity, pre-IPO, non-investment grade, un-rated companies needing capital have to be creative about debt financing.
This puts a new spin on the need for a treasurer with solid capital markets experience to serve as head of corporate finance for a growth-company CFO wearing multiple strategic hats. Growth companies that can’t afford to bring one in-house should have access to one on an on-demand basis.
That capital markets experience should include:
- Wide-spectrum asset-linked securitization. Disruptive companies often have unique assets and monetization strategies to spin off cash flows that require a visionary mind that can bundle them into financial securities. They need finance talent with experience working on such problems, identifying opportunities and packaging them properly. These asset-linked financings may start with AR factoring, but quickly move to contracted revenue securitization, for example, and even rights to cash-flow streams from future data monetizations.
- Relationships with debt financing innovators. Treasury’s role as chief bank relationship officer can also be useful, to the extent it includes meaningful connections with incumbent banks and bankers who go against trend to be innovative. Yet it also must include relationships with creative finance minds who’ve left the incumbents to join fintechs, capital advisory firms and investor groups. These relationships often are critical to getting needed funding or funding with a sub-10% cost of capital versus a 40%+ dilutive equity round.
- A contingency/opportunistic financing mindset. While most treasury professionals understand that the best time to arrange for financing is when you don’t need it, growth companies need to take this thinking to the extreme. They continually need to look to expand the number of current and contingency funding sources for the capital plan to keep growing as well as funding and liquidity options to tap to survive in a stress scenario or crisis event.
But the treasurer also needs to be capable of executing the basics:
- Expand the funding toolkit. “From the earliest stages of a startup, the finance team needs to think about expanding their financing toolkit so that the number of funding sources keeps growing, from 2-3, to 5-6, 6-10, to 16 or more,” says Kurt Zumwalt, former treasurer of Amazon.com and NeuGroup member who’s more recently been advising growth companies.
- Build a bank group. Start early to build what will become long-term relationships. “As soon as you can build a traditional bank group, so much the better, as bank credit opens avenues to more sources of funding,” notes Neil Schloss, former treasurer of The Ford Motor Company and CFO of Ford Mobility (and NeuGroup member). Plus, more banks are thinking creatively about lending opportunities; so why not target those banks for your facility?
- Instill a cash culture. Finally, a professional with treasury experience, especially in a high-leverage environment will appreciate the importance of free cash flow and instilling a cash culture throughout the business and finance operations.
NeuGroup can help connect you with one if needed.
Perennial value of free cash flow. Any form of debt financing requires cash flow generation to service it—and it helps if it is cash available after capex and other critical outlays. Equally important, as mindsets shift from revenue and user growth to profitability as drivers of enterprise value, the ability to generate free cash flow does more than improve firm borrowing capacity, it creates a better overall valuation, too.
This renewed focus on cash flow for funding a firm to reach its private value potential with debt and realize its full initial public market value should put treasury finance expertise in demand earlier at growth companies.