By Luminari
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#FinInTech: My Strange Path to Startup–The Pilot of Luminari’s Startup Placement Program

#FinInTech is Luminari’s initiative to introduce CPAs to the start-up world.


My Strange Path

Shortly after I finished my CPA experience and got my designation, I decided to make a huge career pivot. I was going back to school to get a masters in counter-terrorism – to say my colleagues were surprised is an understatement. So I picked up, moved to Ottawa, completed my degree, and for a short while worked in that field.

During this time in Ottawa, I happened to befriend a guy named Mark. Mark is an electrical engineer who had developed some really cutting edge tech and decided to start a business. We talked at length about what he was doing, and eventually he decided to show me his ‘financials’. The quotes indicate quite clearly what these documents looked like. Horrendous.

Mark is an absolutely brilliant person. He’s fantastic at motivating a team to execute, and he has a knack for solving problems across a range of technical areas (even ones he’s never touched before). I ended up working with him (and living with him) for 2.5 years, and he’s now one of my closest friends.

But when he started that company, the guy knew squat about finance or accounting. Something he readily admitted. He didn’t even really want to deal with the financials. He just wanted to build really cool tech, the thing he’s best at. But of course, he couldn’t afford hiring a firm. So being the scrappy entrepreneur he is, he found a solution. That solution ended up being me.

Mark and Michael Doing a Demo circa 2014

I started helping him develop real financials, including the set of defensible projections that he needed before he could even think about raising money. Naturally, our discussions didn’t just cover financials. I had to understand the business and the technology; so the jump to general strategic discussions didn’t take long.

For a few months, I continued to volunteer my expertise to help him get his business off the ground. Thanks to a few government grants (which also needed those financials!) he could scrape together enough to pay me a salary (as paltry as it was…) and I joined the team full time. We ended up raising $1.9M, grew to 15 people, and had many more fun/challenging/crazy experiences. The time I spent volunteering part-time helped me get my feet wet in what I like to call ‘startup-land’, and sucked me into the full time role that took my career in a whole new (and much more fulfilling) direction.

Looking Back

5 years later when I look back on it, some of the advice I gave Mark was really bad. The financials I built were certainly an improvement, but knowing what I know now… they sucked. They were what I learned in business school and during my time working in real operating businesses. Startups are an entirely different species, and I really didn’t know what I was doing.

The Luminari team, March 2018

After 2.5 years at Mark’s company, and 2 more at Luminari, I’m still learning how to do this stuff (and will be for much longer). But, this grueling learning curve could easily have been significantly less painful. It’s all the same concepts I knew as a CPA, just applied a little differently. I really just needed to learn these new rules and the new lexicon. Eventually, I was lucky enough to find a few people who really knew what they were doing to help me along the way.

The Startup Placement Program

Now I’ll get to the point of my somewhat winding story. The idea for our Startup Placement Program came from my own experience. You might call me the very early beta test. With just a few hours a week, my skill set really did help Mark bring his vision to fruition. The idea for our educational venture training modules came from my failures.

In retrospect, it’s easy for me to recognize the massive knowledge gap I was working with. In essence, our training modules are an accumulation of what I wish I knew 5 years ago. And the best part is that our #FinInTech community of tech finance leaders will add countless years of experience and knowledge to every area we cover. I’m excited to learn from them myself! We want to turn more CPAs into ‘venture CPAs’ who can apply their skills to maximum effect in a startup environment.

 

It doesn’t matter whether or not someone chooses to pivot his or her own career as I did. I truly believe these experiences we’re creating through #FinInTech will leave everyone richer for having them. And ultimately, it’s just really fun to help build something new.

Our future is being driven by innovative people like Mark, who just want to build things. Our job as CPAs is to ensure they have the resources they need to change the world. Even if sometimes that’s as simple as a cash flow projection.

I know there are a lot of CPAs like me who are enamoured by the tech startup ecosystem. If you’ve ever wondered whether you’d actually like working in it, there’s no better way to tell than dipping your toes in the water like I did.

You can apply to our Startup Placement Program through the Luminari platform.


PS: A side effect I never imagined was learning a heck of a lot about how these technologies actually work. I had a unique opportunity to become close colleagues, and now friends, with a team of brilliant engineers and scientists across the entire ‘tech stack’. And they were always kind and patient enough to actually teach me about their field. I got a tech 101 education first hand, one-on-one, by people who really know what they’re talking about. And now Luminari has its own group of brilliant developers teaching me more and more everyday. You really can’t learn this stuff in school!

 


PPS: I use the word brilliant a lot, sorry, but these people really are some of the smartest folks I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know.


 

2 Comments

  1. Kazim Rashid

    Interesting story Michael..wishing you and Luminari the best!

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