Budgeting Archive



April 2013



What to do with all this liquidity…?

Written by , Posted in Strategie

Encouraged by Alexander Graf and his critical analysis of the current digital environment I asked myself why so many irrational business seem to get an almost unlimited amount of funding. In Germany there is always Zalando as a great example of this trend. The business is so far not profitable and investments that by now are topping over a billion Euros will never be recovered but international money is being thrown at Rocket Internet with an ever increasing speed. Its business model is not closely examined and investors push new capital into the firm without even asking some of the most basic due diligence questions. Is it really a plan to buy up the fashion market and pray that your proprietary brands and size will eventually lead you to break even? How are logistics organized behind the shiny technology and TV commercials?  Why is there such an irrational rush to throw more money at these kind of businesses? Since we are now starting to talk about investments going into the billions I am going to take a macro economic perspective to create a possible explanation.

Due to the current monetary crisis money has been pumped into our economic environment – if printing presses would still be responsible for monetary supply we would be running out of ink.

Eurozone M3


As you can see from the graph above monetary supply has increased substantially. In Europe it is a fairly even growth story but it becomes even more drastic if you look at monetary supply expansion in the United States.



What are investor to do with all this capital that has been pumped into our economy? There is no substantial growth in the „real“ economic output within the developed word – in fact there is a decline based on the recession the European Economic Area and the United States are currently going through. In addition there is only so much capital that can be invested in „traditional“ economies in rapidly growing markets e.g. BRICS countries. On top of these factors investors are also scarred – the ongoing EURO crisis, horribel US economic data, emerging conflicts in the Middle East and Asia … all this has impacted the ability to invest large amounts of capital. Investors now have less opportunities and more importantly have come to terms with lower return expectations, while taking higher risks.

What does this mean for digital investments?

Based on the above described trends we will continue to see irrational capital allocation in digital growth projects such as Zalando. Investors will increasingly accept long-term returns that are barely above inflation just for a chance to allocate some of their access capital. It does not mean that it will become any easier to raise growth capital below EUR50 million but it is becoming easier to collect amounts above EUR250 millions for growth projects.

Entrepreneurs THINK BIG!

So in conclusion tech-savvy entrepreneurs: stop thinking about running a business on EUR10 million start to think how you could allocate EUR500 million!



August 2012



Strategy – why do we even bother with all of this? (b)

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Balance sheet

Your balance sheet – yes, you have seen it when the yearly accounts were prepared but it really did not matter to your start-up. For you the one and only key was liquidity in the beginning, followed by profitability but what now? Yes, those accounts become important eventually. What do I mean by that – well, once you have established your strategic goals you will need to optimize your balance sheet accordingly. If you are preparing for a sale, potential investors (and their highly-skilled forensic accountants) will look at your accounts. Are you planning to change your debt to equity ratio and work with more capital? Will a bank lend you money? Are you going to build / buy your next office or remain a humble tenant?

There are a lot more questions to ask and you are now playing with the big boys. A Fortune 500 CFO will be very concerned with her balance sheet and watch movements in these accounts closely. As an eCFO of a start-up this is a new area for you and you should slowly get into it as your business develops.

In summary a balance sheet can also teach you lots of interesting things about your business and serve as an important stepping stone to your business’s next growth / development stage.

eCFO Tips: Do not be afraid to think about new things. If you are working in an innovative start-up there might be lots of balance sheet optimization questions that nobody has really thought about. Are facebook fans in generic groups that are rented out for advertising assets? Should the initial investment into these groups be on your balance sheet and depreciated over time? How do you value your investments in other start-ups? What happens with your old, cancelled projects? Make sure you have good advisors and get lots of support when tackling these questions.

Strategy can mean a lot of different things depending on your situation but as a general rule of thumb I would suggest that you consider anything that is not based around daily operational tasks as “strategic”.  Given your unique position in the business and access to information, you have the opportunity to support the other management team members in occasionally taking a look around and consider the bigger picture, away from the grind of daily demands. This is were you can add a lot of value and a sound strategy will help the business to develop faster and to reach goals that you did not think possible only a short while ago.



August 2012



Strategy – why do we even bother with all of this? (a)

Written by , Posted in Strategie

So, why do we even bother with all of this? Initially, you need to make sure that your business performs well, does not run out of money and that financials analysis and data points support operational decisions. All of that you can do but if you are a serious eCFO this is probably not the stuff that makes you get out of bed every morning.

What really should get you excited is building a healthy, growing and extremely successful venture.  Your operational measures will support that but more importantly you should be influencing the strategic development of your company – if you are not doing that you chances are you will never be more than a glorified accountant.

Strategic decisions

In order to make a strategic decision you will need a strategy. This may sound a little too simple, but ask some start-ups about their strategy and often you will find that they either do not have one or are unclear in what it is they are trying to achieve. How much time do you think an operationally involved management team has for strategic discussion, decisions and evaluations? From my personal experience: very, very little. Daily business and the demands of a growing venture will eat up all available time.

This in turn means that your role becomes more important. As an eCFO you can provide plenty of data and input for creating a strategy. Often you will also be more shielded from client demands and product needs than the other members of the management team. Make sure you  that you add a discussion about strategy every now and then to the weekly/monthly meeting agenda.

Formulating a strategy will require a highly customized approach as your business will have individual needs, goals and problems. Nevertheless, I can assure you that if you have implemented the measures discussed on this blog, than you have all the necessary tools, processes and data to support and drive a successful strategy formulation and implementation process. This in turn will help the entire management team to make better business decisions. I have chosen a couple of strategic measures that can be undertaken to provide examples of what I consider to be strategic decision for an eCFO. As I said these are just examples and you should think long and hard about strategic elements for your specific business situation.

Profit distribution

So let’s assume that business is going well and money is flowing in. Operationally, you have fixed most major issues and business is good. With the money comes a totally new perspective for a start-up. You have to decide what to do with a refilling pool of cash – should you distribute to hardworking employees, enrich your shareholders, reduce prices for your valuable clients or invest like crazy? Again there is no perfect answer to this but a sound financial analysis will help you to make a better decision. You should start to think about concept such as ROI calculations to evaluate which return perspective each of your investment/payment decisions has. Furthermore, you need to open a dialogue with all of potential stakeholders to find out what exactly there demand and needs are. Often you will be surprised by stakeholder expectations. Note: it might be dangerous to communicate too much to each stakeholder on, as this may raise unrealistic expectations which then lead to disappointment.

eCFO Tips: Communication, communication, communication… when it comes to strategic decisions never assume that you know what each stakeholder wants. You will most likely approach a decision from a financial analysis perspective – most other (normal) people will not think that way – so make sure you talk to everyone and do not assume anything. Often you will be surprised – sometimes pleasantly and sometimes not so J.



Juni 2012



Budgeting & Planning or how to explain the world with financials (b)

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Top-down: This approach is based more on market growth rates and assumptions that initially tend to be very broad. In this case do not provide cost data right from the beginning. Instead, obtain some general market information that will allow for a good ‘guestimate’ of market size and volume growth patterns. Then discuss a growth rate with your CEO/department heads and apply it to your last actual financials. Once you have determined the growth rate compare your resulting revenue to the absolute size of your market and the monthly/yearly growth forecasted for your business. If there is no obvious problem (your total revenue in Year 2 is larger than total market size etc.) you can now add the cost data to your revenue assumptions. As with the bottoms-up method, discuss the relation between revenue growth/decline and cost increase/decrease with management.

eCFO Tips: This is a good exercise for start-ups in very fast growing markets. It will help to illustrate that if your market is growing by 30% per year and your company has top-line growth of 25% you are underperforming. If your company is not even growing in line with your target market something is wrong. Often your CEO and employees will be surprised by this analysis. A relatively high absolute growth rate is often mistaken as exceptionally good but this is not always the case. This analysis will give you credible arguments for operational improvements and structural changes.

In conclusion, both methods will be valuable. As you can see from my description, the actual goal is not to have the most accurate numbers in the world. Instead, it is important to educate your team how operational decisions will influence your financials. Budgets/planning/ and other annoying torture methods that eCFOs will come up with, can actually help instead of distract from operational issues.

eCFO Tips: Liquidity, controlling, budgets & planning will keep you very busy as eCFO. Once these measures have been implemented and accepted by your team, you can move on to other subjects. In my experience, this will need

a) a great team that supports you

b) at least a year of very closely monitored controlling

c) constant checks if you are still in line with operational reality

Make sure that you never implement a task that will keep you permanently operationally involved. Your team, technology and tools should be doing this work and if you find yourself constantly involved with these tasks RESTRUCTURE and make these tasks completely independent of you.

Often this will create some problems within your department, since it looks like you are designing tasks that are distributing lots of work away from you. Therefore, ALWAYS explain why certain tasks are very important. Make sure to also explain that you will be focusing on other tasks that will help to push the business forward. It also means that if you find assignments (as explained above in point c) that are no longer relevant you should immediately terminate them! On the other hand, if certain measures lead to an operational improvement or cost savings, you should make sure that this is communicated to the employee who actually prepares the data.

This post also concludes what I would consider to be the key operational tools an eCFO needs to have. Having covered the basic checks, controls and planning measures, we can now move to much more interesting areas. Stay tuned for more info on this blog.