Lessons from a CFO on successfully scaling a start-up

SnapScan CFO Derick Truscott shares the right mindset for scaling a company.

Derick Truscott first got a taste of the start-up environment when he was in university and has never looked back. Through Stellenbosch University’s accelerator, The LaunchLab, he teamed up with a pair of developers and won a handful of accelerator contests with their prototypes. This experience lit a fire inside him to want to build a career in the start-up world.

At the end of his chartered accountant articles, SnapScan had a financial manager position open and snagging the job was the stepping stone Derick needed.

Leading a period of major growth
SnapScan was born as a fintech start-up whose mission was to enable mobile payments to small merchants cheaply and conveniently. In 2016, Standard Bank acquired the company, kicking off an aggressive growth phase, which Derick later became part of when he joined the company in 2019.

In the early days the company was running very much like its own little entity with a headcount of around 20 people, but since the acquisition, growth and adoption, its operations have grown and become more complex.

Derick says the growth phase had various challenges, “I didn’t have many years of experience to fall back on and a lot of the themes were new and it takes time to navigate them. If your head’s not in the right space, it can be extremely daunting,” he explains.

However, this allowed him to be creative with finding solutions and being innovative, because there weren’t a lot of legacy issues to overcome.

Looking back, he says it’s been a great learning curve:

“The experience you accumulate in a year is almost the equivalent of three years’ worth of experience somewhere else, just because of the pace and the amount of exposure you get in this company. You have to consistently have a mindset of grabbing opportunities with both hands, and become comfortable with constant change.”

Preparing for the start-up world
Passionate about helping other young professionals excel as he has, he notes that these days many young finance professionals want to go and work for a start-up or a trendy tech based business. He says many may join during the company’s scaling phase, unaware of the challenges that lie ahead.

For instance, in these phases, as a finance professional, you have to wear multiple hats. “When I joined the company, I was one of the few people in the company that had exposure to contract law, so, for instance, if we had an employment contract and had to make sure it complied with the basic conditions of the Employment Equity Act, I would get pulled in until we could scale to a point where we would get a full time HR or legal person,” he explains.

He says often, if you’re new in a finance position in a start-up, you’re less worried about how you’re applying IFRS 15 as opposed to how to actually make sure that you’re budgeting correctly so that the company doesn’t run out of money.

He says there’s a big need for mentorship in growing companies, especially with young finance people coming into it and potentially getting very overwhelmed when they find that they are not just doing accounting, but have to know tax law, help with drawing assumptions for a business case and at the same time be sure they are doing payroll correctly each month – and be able to navigate a commercial contract.
“I think there's a massive need for guidance for new entrants, but also for mentorship along the way for someone who is going from a small company to one of a few hundred, and the next stages of growth beyond that. Having someone who has been on that journey gives you an idea of what’s on the horizon and how to tackle it.”

Growing into new phases
Derick says as the company has matured, his role has shifted into being much more forward looking and aligning the product and commercial strategies to ultimately draw out a roadmap that ensures product, commercial and people success.

With the emergence of a lot of other players in the market, and the evolution of the fintech space, the team has become adept at dealing with constant change. “We don't allow ourselves to get comfortable and just be happy with the status quo. We constantly need to be reinventing ourselves, asking hard questions around why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them.”

He explains that, “We’ve essentially spent the better part of almost a year and a half plotting out that next jump, figuring out what our next frontier to conquer will be. We also recognise that we are owned by a bank that has a lot of capability and a lot of firepower behind it, and with that backing and our ingenuity, we can do some great things together.”

He says his biggest achievement so far is the learning and the personal career development side of the journey. “The amount of exposure you get is amazing, but you have to be a sponge and just want to absorb everything you can to get the most from it. You have to be able to learn on the fly and push your own boundaries of what you can handle.”

Creative pursuits
“I consider myself a creative person outside of finance. I’m an extremely big petrolhead. I grew up around cars with my dad racing as a hobby and that has rubbed off on me. I enjoy socialising with like-minded people around cars,” he says.

He enjoys modern classics, cars made between 1980 and early 2000. Cars that epitomise that era for him are ’90s modern classic Japanese sports cars that he grew up seeing on the PlayStation and thinking, “One day when I’m big, I’m going to get one of those.”

Another pastime he enjoys is playing guitar and volunteering for the local church, regularly playing on Sundays. He says, “In fact, before I had the ability to start collecting cars, I was collecting guitars, adding that, “I’m no stranger to enjoying a good painting, drawing or photography. Creative things like that balance out my finance brain and keep me sane.”