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Amy Garefis on Scaling Accounting from Startup to Wall Street

Amy Garefis, Chief Accounting Officer at ZipRecruiter, discusses the stages of scale for accounting teams from Series A to a public listing and explains how to build business partnerships that increase accounting's strategic value.

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Episode Summary

It is common for accounting and finance teams to work together. However, for a business to grow, it is important for executives to create a culture encouraging partnership between all the departments.

Although accountants are not perceived as the most creative people in an organization, their expertise and unique perspective can help other teams, including marketing, to build sustainable business models.

In this episode of The Role Forward, our host Joe Michalowski chats with Amy Garefis, the Chief Accounting Officer at ZipRecruiter. Amy discusses the stages of scale for accounting teams from Series A to a public listing and explains how to build business partnerships that increase accounting’s strategic value.

Featured Guest

Amy Garefis

Chief Accounting Officer, ZipRecruiter

Amy was the first accounting hire at ZipRecruiter, scaling the team over the course of 9 years from Series A to the company’s 2021 public listing. She now oversees a team of about 40 in accounting. Prior to joining ZipRecruiter, Amy was an accounting manager at Sony Pictures and Controller at Wedbush Securities.

Key Themes from the Episode
  • Startups need people who are willing to adapt quickly to changes — even in accounting.
  • Finding the right people takes time and is a skill unto itself.
  • Partnerships between accounting and other departments are critical for business growth.

Episode Highlights from Amy Garefis

2:40 — Stages of Growing an Accounting Team

When I came in 2013, I was the first accounting hire. We had a finance team, which was my boss, the VP of finance, and one other analyst. The accounting functions at that time were operational. It was payroll, making sure bills got paid, working with our tax coordinators, and making sure clients were paying us.

Since I was the first one, there were no direct reports. So it was an interesting job because I had been a controller at a broker-dealer before, which had a ton of direct reports and a bigger scope in terms of volume. 

So it was satisfying to work, pay bills, run the payroll, and all that. And the scope grew at the same pace that the company was growing. So, as we had more revenue come in and there were more responsibilities — I was able to absorb those. 

And then, as I needed to make my first hire, [I had to] figure out what they were gonna do. And then, when I make my second hire, figure out what they’re gonna do. And so, over nine years, it’s scaled — as I said, we’ve been a public company for over a year now — and we have a real accounting department, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of that growth story.

14:25 — When Choosing Tools and Creating Processes, Focus on Mitigating Risks 

[When] working in tech, revenue is the most important thing in terms of scaling, but what investors look at also tells a big part of your growth story. And we’ve all heard from an accounting perspective that there have been horror stories about companies having to restate financials late in their S-1 process because their revenue was wrong.

The way I approached it, coming in pre-series A, we had homegrown systems to calculate billing. We had Excel spreadsheets to calculate revenue, and it’s too risky to be able to scale. And we’re small. Our transaction size is small. We’re not doing huge transactions. So the margin of error is small per transaction, but it can blow up into something awful. So I looked at the highest risk and made sure that those processes were automated so that they are the most bulletproof.

And then also, what are the biggest time sucks? When we got to a mid-stage startup, where we wanted to formalize our month-end or quarter-end close process more, doing even simple things like moving from an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Calendar checklist to a Flowcast-type thing to automate your checklist.

It sounds so simple when you say it, but it saves hundreds of hours in stress and organization. So looking at where your biggest risk is and where your biggest pain points are and tackling those first.”

22:15 — Accounting Should Partner With Other Departments

A lot of us have been at companies where accounting was an obstacle that different departments needed to get around to complete their objectives. So going into this role, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t seen as an obstacle and that I was a strategic partner.

I love accounting. I’m an accounting nerd, but I like to be involved in the business beyond just accounting. So, making meaningful relationships with the legal, product, and HR teams was beyond me wanting to have somebody to hang out with in the break room.

It was knowing what they’re working on and what their strategies are. What’s important to them helps me, as a leader of the accounting team, drive strategy and my team and guide what initiatives we might wanna push that might impact other departments.

Full Transcript