- Hi, I’m Jatin Mazalcar. Inspired by my dad who was an aspiring CA, I pursued Chartered Accountancy.
- Born in a middle-class family in Goa my only pathway to a comfortable life was to succeed in a corporate career.
- I never envisioned myself becoming a CFO, let alone holding that position at 6 fast-growing startups, such as Meesho and Goibibo.
- Here are my journey and learnings.
14 years with renowned MNCs
After qualifying as a CA in 2000, I worked with a family business in Goa for about 2 years until an opportunity with Nestlé emerged.
Working at Nestlé a renowned MNC was a dream come true. What more could I ask for? I did not even blink twice and grabbed it with both my hands.
I started off at the Nestlé chocolate factory in Goa and eventually relocated to Gurgaon, Nestlé India’s headquarters.
Gurgaon proved to bring on a string of opportunities.
Fast forward, in 2010 I joined the consumer giant GSK. Over the next 5 years, I climbed the corporate ladder and earned 3 promotions.
I was ambitious, and hardworking and thought that my career couldn’t get any better. Life seemed to be on track.
From corporate giants to startups
In 2016 I was the Head of Financial Planning and Business Partnering at GSK when an Executive Search Firm reached out to me with a job opportunity at Goibibo, India’s leading online travel booking brand.
Today startups are mainstream and many senior folks from MNCs have moved to startups. However about a decade ago tech-driven startups, especially consumer tech and SaaS startups were not very lucrative.
It was not an easy decision for me as I had been in my comfort zone for the first 13 years of my career, working with very large established companies.
Should I take it up or not? I thought.
I consulted my friends who had taken the plunge into the startup ecosystem. They informed me that in a startup environment, finance professionals can work very closely with the founder and can create a significant impact on the business.
I too did a lot of research and studied startups that were thriving for instance Flipkart.
I knew in my gut that I had to explore this uncharted territory and I did… In May 2016 I joined Goibibo as their CFO.
From day one itself I began enjoying the journey and all the feedback I got as to why startups are exciting was validated.
When I joined Goibibo, the company was generating a GMV of nearly 5,000 CR. I believed that, in a favourable market cycle, the company would have the potential to be considered for an IPO.
But something unlikely happened and they merged with MakeMyTrip, an Indian online travel company.
The entire purpose of moving to a startup was to be a part of the fast growth and building from scratch. I did not want to go back to a typical corporate environment.
After spending a year at Goibibo, I was ready for my next adventure.
Opportunity to work at a growth stage startup… Meesho
I Tthen came across an opportunity for the role of CFO with Meesho, a 3-year-old startup at that time.
The moment I met the founders of Meesho, it was clear that they were onto something big.
The significant involvement of successful venture capitalists like Prosus, SoftBank, and public market investors like Fidelity speaks volumes about the quality of Meesho.
I was determined to work with them.
I went in for the interview and had to engage in a series of interviews with nearly 12 individuals, including the entire leadership team, multiple investors, and Board members.
The board members and investors sought a professional who could seamlessly run the finance function, build a team from the ground up, act as a support system for the founders, and understand the nuances of a tech-enabled company.
It was not just about technical skills but more about being a culture fit that blends well with a team notably a decade younger than me.
All went well and in November 2018, I joined Meesho as the CFO.
A steep learning curve at Meesho
I joined Meesho at Series C, was CFO till Series F, scaled up the finance and legal team from 5 to 60 managed 100X scale in business, and fundraised USD 1 Billion from marquee investors.
Here is the breakdown:
Building the team from the ground up
Today, Meesho stands as a prominent e-commerce platform in India, possibly the largest in terms of orders delivered.
However, five years ago, it wasn’t a household name, making it challenging for me to attract top talent.
When I joined Meesho their finance team consisted of only 3 people.
I had to spend a disproportionate amount of time acting as an ambassador for the company, explaining why it presents a significant career opportunity.
First I hired two people, and then through word of mouth, we attracted more individuals, building a larger team.
Having a corporate background, I had zero first-hand experience raising funds. The closest I had ever gotten to raising funds was speaking to a bank to raise debt.
Fortunately, I had someone like the founder of Meesho to learn from. He took me along to quite a few fundraising events, and I understood the aspects that investors look at and how to articulate the company’s narrative effectively.
He then allowed me to pitch Meesho to very large investors like Fidelity in Hong Kong. It’s been a great learning for me.
The number one rule of joining a startup is that you have to keep reinventing yourself.
Growing at an exponential pace brings challenges; one needs to collaborate with business teams, founders, and the board to ensure that critical elements are not compromised.
I need to be able to anticipate how the company is growing, how the business is evolving, and what kind of positions will be required, and at the same time influence the Founders and other stakeholders.
The balance between Growth and Governance
If you look at the CFO’s role he or she is like the moral compass of the company, he’s a strong kind of proponent of Controls and Compliance.
However, when dealing with an early-stage startup experiencing rapid growth in size, orders, and overall scale, if you approach everything in a manner relevant to a very large public company, then you’re not the right CFO for that company.
You have to contextualize, you have to see how you can kind of Drive governance without interrupting the growth.
CFO at a fast-growing startup: Skills you need to master
Meesho has, by far, been the most enriching experience for me, and I’m incredibly grateful for that opportunity.
It has had a significant impact on my career and professional life. However, after dedicating three years to Meesho, I decided to chart a new path and in June 2022, joined Fashinza, a B2B startup valued at USD 300 million.
Being a CFO of a fast-growing startup is not at all similar to that of a well-established MNC.
Here are the skill sets one needs to master.
Problem-solving and tailored solutions
The company requires processes relevant to its current stage, and scale. This is what I would call being culturally fit. Coming with a strict length of controllership, which most chartered accountants are trained in, may not align with the company’s dynamics.
Understanding Technology and Key Metrics:
The other quality a CFO of a startup should have is an understanding of technology, consumer technology in particular.
You need to understand P&L and how these metrics are important to drive profitability and measure the success of a product for market fit.
Key finance aspects
A CFO has to understand the key aspects of finance the business requires.
For example, in a B2B business, it would be important to have very strong controls, compliance, and underwriting processes, unlike consumer platform businesses.
As a startup continues to grow, the hiring preferences also change with it. If a startup aims for an IPO, who the company may hire would be a lot different than if it was in the early stage. So one has to be prepared for that.
This entire startup journey has made me more resilient, because of its unpredictable nature.
I have seen many ups and downs in the startup space, unlike very large MNCs that witness steady growth. So I can confidently say that working at a startup is not for the faint of heart.
That being said, this space holds immense opportunities.
Make sure that you are joining the right startup. Try to understand their business model and economics. Get the conviction that the startup will turn profitable eventually because you can’t survive on Venture Capital all your life.
Engage with those who have spent five, or ten years in startup finance functions. It can be highly valuable.
These mentors might not be within your immediate company but could potentially introduce you to others within their network.