Inside the Startup
Rami Essaid @ Finmark, Financial Modeling Platform
Jan 04, 2021
Tech Founders & Executives
Essaid provides tips on how to iteratively grow a startup by focusing on customers, growth, prioritization, and cadence
- Try to break down your steps into as small time increments as possible. A lot of people think annual and quarterly, then realize they have missed the mark. Break it down into monthly and weekly -- that’ll let you get feedback more quickly to avoid big course corrections. Nothing you dream up will hit the mark the first time; the less distance you have to go to adjust, the better.
- Make sure you have a solid team you’re working with. Early on, it’s all about the core team. It helped us accomplish things at a much faster rate.
- 01:15 – Can you provide us an overview of Finmark? Finmark is financial modeling software for startups; we want to make it really easy for companies to manage their runway, hiring cash, understanding unit economics...just like Carta moved cap tables out of Excel -- we want to do the same for financial modeling. Most people outsource financial modeling and eventually they bring it in-house by hiring someone but even though it’s very easy to make mistakes. We made a painful mistake at Distil Networks when we thought we had more money coming in -- because of that mistake, we had to lay off 57 people. After selling Distil, I realized the problem still existed, so I decided to fix it.
- 03:00 - So, how do you go about building a startup, one step a time? Essentially, you build something a small amount of people love, then iterate quickly. Start with the big picture, then boil it down to as small of a piece as you can cut off, then get going on it. Think of SpaceX, their mission is to get to Mars but they started with satellites, now they are carrying people to the space station and eventually will get to Mars. At Finmark, we spent two months building the MVP to get the product into the hands of people. Then we iterated on a monthly cadence since then, with milestones then measure and iterate.
- 04:10 - Did you interview other startups before or after building the MVP? Yes, I wanted to have conviction in my head that this was as big of a problem as I thought it was. Before the MVP, I spent two months interviewing founders and investors. I spent a lot of time talking to founders of small and growth companies, CFOs, and investors, to get their perspective on this problem, before bringing a team of people in.
- 05:05 - After raising money, how do you resist the push from investors to scale quickly? Depends on your measure of success. I set expectations with investors that early on we won’t make a lot of money since I’m focused on user growth. As a YC Alum, we’re indoctrinated with startup=growth, so you do want to create a North Star KPI/metric -- for us, that’s user adoption, not revenues, so that helps investors think of scale in a slightly different way.
- 06:08 - What should founders focus on, very early on (e.g. MVP, growth)? The nice thing about focusing on growth as the North Star, it unlocks certain behavior that ties back into the customer’s problem. If the growth isn’t there, then your product might not be meeting customer’s demands or it’s not a big market. You could build a product just for a big market or build a great product for a small set of customers but then you don’t have a great opportunity. Using growth metric as your guiding star, you optimize for that and you solve all the other issues along the way.
- 07:40 - How do you get started from ground zero? First step is to believe in the product then build a vision and thesis around it -- that’s when the customer interv