The startup for startups – South Africa’s Creative CFO

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Cape Town-based financial services firm Creative CFO plans to establish itself across Africa and Europe having built a profitable business primarily from assisting local startups and SMEs.

Launched by Ian Meaker in 2012, Creative CFO aims to provide business owners and investors with strategic financial tools and services to plan, structure, invest and grow.

The company provides financial systems and services for business owners within three key areas. Firstly, it picks and implements the right financial systems after an initial business and technology analysis.

Once systems are implemented, Creative CFO provides support to run those systems and keep financial records up to date and accurate. An account manager performs routine accounting and tax compliance functions, while the company can support businesses with management reporting dashboards and information packs.

The final step is longer term financial planning and investment, with Creative CFO’s Creative Invest service providing a range of valuation, budgeting, gap analysis and investment readiness services to assist a business with raising additional financing.

The multiple offerings have worked, with director Jacobus de Nysschen telling Disrupt Africa the business was profitable from day one, with no need for external funding.

“Clients needed more than a once-a-year consultation with their accountant and the types of management and financial reporting that is possible from such an interaction,” he said.

“To improve the relationship between us and our clients we have utilised software that makes our interactions more efficient, lowers the cost and simultaneously improves the quality of the accounting service and availability of financial data.”

Creative CFO was born from the realisation of a tangible need for a complete financial picture in an easy to understand format.

“This need fuelled our search for intuitive financial software that could process accounts in the most efficient way whilst allowing a flexibility in the structure of the package to present clear management and financial reports,” said de Nysschen.

“Utilising cloud-based packages, which had finally come of age, we were able to deliver a highly responsive, yet affordable, financial management, accounting and reporting service. By combining IT and financial accounting experience we were able to bridge the gap between the system, the accounting and the owner and provide the clarity that has previously eluded our clients.”

Though other accounting firms have started to utilise the same software and benefit from its efficiencies, de Nysschen says the team at Creative CFO possesses the skills to accurately build systems around the business and then run them in a responsive way.

The company has spent the last few years building up a client base, with de Nysschen saying pursuing a retainer approach has made a world of difference.

“This provided stability, both for clients and for ourselves, and then we just had to deliver exceptional value to maintain the relationship,” he said.

After hiring its first staff in late 2013, Creative CFO has moved through three offices as it has grown. Though active currently only in South Africa – in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban – there are plans afoot to expand to the United Kingdom (UK) given what de Nysschen says is a “big overlap” of Xero accounting software and tax law.

The company charges clients per hour at three different rates, depending on the level of expertise required.

“This is appropriate because we are a service business, and also because we want to maintain transparency about our billing process,” de Nysschen said.

We use our experience to create accurate retainers for clients to offer a stability in billing that is often missing in professional services. We then use a budget concept for additional time incurred on requests which gives us the ability to scale up within a set amount of hours to meet those ad-hoc requirements without having to re-negotiate on price and proposals. It comes down to balancing stability and scalability.”

Creative CFO also aims to ensure it has a cash margin to support any delays in client collections and the necessary expansion of infrastructure to do its job.

“We are largely driven by the mantra of “optimise for growth, not profit”,and it’s about helping as many businesses as we can without losing quality of service,” he said.

All that said, Creative CFO did at first face a serious question in terms of whether to even launch.

“Identifying a need is one thing, understanding the scalability and market is another. We are a service business so it’s about being able to add real tangible value with the hours we have every day,” said de Nysschen.

“We have the belief that innovative solutions are an interconnected web of small problems solved brilliantly. By walking through all aspects of the financial processes in a company, and solving problems along the way, we developed a full service solution that business owners really appreciate.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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