Accounting for startups - All you need to know
Why should you bother with all the work good accounting will entail? For high-growth startups, especially ones that expect to raise venture capital, management needs access to high quality financial statements. Not only are these necessary for running a highly functioning business, but companies that have a good accounting system, process and data de-risk VC due diligence (and improve the odds of surviving an audit by the IRS).
Now you can either do your own accounting, or you can bring in an outsourced startup CPA accounting firm to help you out and take this burden of bookkeeping off your shoulders.
We typically recommend that bootstrapped companies, or ones that have raised less than a quarter of a million dollars in funding, DIY their basic financial work until it becomes too burdensome for the founder to handle. Of course, having the right systems set up can dramatically lower the amount of effort required; we’ll get to those systems in a moment.
If you decide that you don’t have time for the minutiae of doing your own accounting, and know that you should focus your efforts on what matters — strategy, growth and, scaling — Kruze Consulting and our team of financial experts are here to help you every step of the way. Just leave your bookkeeping to us.
However, if you want to take a stab at your accounting, here are a few startup accounting tips that you can follow. We’ve got you covered; we’ve included everything from why and how to budget, to free financial model templates, to recordkeeping, to taxes and more … We like to call it accounting 101 for startups.
We talk to hundreds of startups a month - and about 10% of them don’t need a monthly accountant. Instead, they are small enough to DIY their accounting, with the exception of filing a tax return - using a legit CPA for a startup tax return is a very, very good idea.
Even for startups that do need accounting help, they don’t typically need a full-time accounting department, and most of their needs can be handled by a part-time bookkeeper who records transactions and closes the books each month and an experienced startup tax accountant.
But at a certain point, your startup is going to need a greater degree of professional expertise. With that in mind, let’s look at what makes an accountant so valuable?
A bookkeeper typically focuses on processing and recording transactions, including things like invoices, receivables, payments, and other essential functions. As your startup grows, however, you’re going to need a greater degree of accounting proficiency to create budgets, handle your financial statements, develop forecasts, and provide reports to your board. Raising capital or considering an acquisition means you’ll need skilled accounting practitioners to help you. Other ways an accountant contributes to your success include:
Organization. Your accountant monitors your financials and ensures your compliance documents are in place and accurate. Your accountant should also be available to answer your questions and help you address any issues before they become larger problems.
Due diligence. When venture capital funds are investing in your company, or you’ve attracted the interest of an M&A acquirer, they are going to conduct very in-depth due diligence, typically using their own team of experts. An accounting professional that’s on your side, available to answer questions and explain your financials, is invaluable in those negotiations.
Compliance. Tax compliance is a subset of due diligence, and your accountant can help you explain to the VC fund or the acquirer that you have followed all federal and local rules and regulations. Federal, state and local tax laws are increasingly complex, and before you sign a funding round agreement or stock purchase agreement, the other parties will want to be completely sure you don’t have any compliance exposures that they should know about. This is becoming an increasingly important part of later-stage due diligence and M&A diligence, so make sure you have an experienced startup accounting firm if you are raising big VC $$.
Responsiveness. During diligence your company will probably face a lot of short turnarounds, and having an accountant supporting you during these urgent requests for financial information can be invaluable. In addition, other emergencies can require assistance from accounting. For example, human resource situations that involve terminating employees can require calculating severance and running payroll, and your accountant can help during these difficult circumstances.
Taxes. Beyond just completing your regular tax returns, you will want to look at available tax credits, like the research & development tax credit. The IRS has recently increased the documentation requirements for this credit, and you’ll need to be able to identify the business components you’ve researched, the actual research, the individuals involved, and all the related expenses. You need a startup accounting expert to support you through processes like this.
Financial modeling. Financial modeling, burn rate, cash out dates, and other critical information are an essential part of running your startup. And while it’s pretty easy to download and complete a free financial model, you also need to make sure that information is interpreted correctly. Beyond just creating budgets, your accountant can help you with forecasting, analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs), and developing a financing strategy. Your accountant can help look at the “big picture,” examining how all your financials are interrelated and affect your company.
The value of having someone who understands your complete financial situation really can’t be overstated. Firms that rely on automated accounting systems or who provide limited services can easily miss potential problems, like invoicing issues, double payments, and missed collections. Your accountant should function as a partner, who supports the success of your startup and helps your company achieve its goals. For more information about the value of accounting services for your startup, contact us.
Budgeting will help you:
All early-stage companies should budget as part of their initial accounting work!
Here are a few basic startup budgeting tips for you as you’re building a budget for your startup:
Here are a few basic startup budgeting tips for you as you’re building a budget for your startup:
Here are a few basic startup budgeting tips for you as you’re building a budget for your startup:
We recommend doing budget versus actuals. This is when you take your financial model or projections and compare them every month to your actual results. For example, you compare your accounting numbers versus your projection numbers. The reason why this is so powerful is it brings a lot of scrutiny and discipline to the company. It ensures financial health. Especially as a founder, you need to know what your expectations are and how you’re doing against your expectations.
Accurate recordkeeping - known as “bookkeeping”” in the accounting world, is important to ensure you are keeping track of how the company is growing revenue and spending it’s cash. It will be very important if a major corporation asks to acquire you for hundreds of millions of dollars, or if you are raising outside funding from a professional investor.
In the technology and biotech industries, early-stage companies that are playing for the big outcomes need to use GAAP accounting. Many inexpensive, non-CPA bookkeepers will simply do cash based accounting - which is likely fine for a small coffee shop or ad agency. But that’s not what the tech industry expects if you are “going big.
Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) stands for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; it’s the accounting “playbook” in the US that ensures that we’re all applying the same thought process.
Do you need GAAP? Yes, venture-backed high-growth businesses should have as close to GAAP financials as possible.
GAAP is better for running your business, as it helps you match your expenses and revenues with the timing of those activities. It also makes forecasting and trend analysis easier. Finally, and very importantly for early-stage, VC-backed companies is that acquirers and investors will want to see GAAP financials. GAAP will make your due diligence process much easier, and reduce the chances that your exit or investment falls apart from financial statement issues.
All startup projections should have an income statement and a running cash balance. You can also have the three, traditional financial statements in your model if you’d like; those are:
Having all three does increase the complexity of your projection work - remember, the balance sheet should balance, the cash flow’s ending cash amount should equal the cash position on the balance sheet, and the cash flow statement and the income statement are intricately linked! So we don’t recommend that level of complexity for your seed stage model - just the IS and the cash position (maybe working capital or inventory).
There are a few important metrics that entrepreneurs should know about accounting for early-stage businesses.
The burn rate is how much money you are spending every month. The cash-out date is the estimated date you’ll be in business until given your monthly spend and the remainder of the investment you have sitting in your bank account.
Are your customers paying you ahead of time? Deferred Revenue is when a client pays you ahead of you delivering a service. For example, if you charge a client’s credit card for a 12-month subscription, contracts - you just got 12 months of cash from that client! But you owe them the subscription, so Deferred Revenue gets added to your balance sheet as a liability. The offset to this on your balance sheet is cash - so you’ll have more cash flow than your income statement would “predict.” Not a bad problem to have… Watch our deferred revenue video here.
Accounts receivable (AR) refers to the amount that your customers owe to you for the goods or services sold to them on credit. This lives on your balance sheet under liability because you haven’t yet received the cash for the item or service provided.
Accounts payable (AP) is the money your business owes to its vendors for providing goods or services to you on credit. These are bills that you haven’t yet paid. Different vendors have different payment terms, so you should use this to your advantage. But remember, in accrual accounting, if you use a service/get invoiced by a vendor, you’ll see it on your income statement even if you haven’t paid them yet - thus, making your operating loss different from your cash burn.
We recommend QuickBooks Online (“QBO”) as the right bookkeeping software for startups and high-growth small businesses. It’s the leading small business accounting software in the US for small businesses, and interfaces nicely with other automated systems like payroll.
Read our explanation of how to pick the best accounting software for startups. Remember, VC-backed companies have different needs than traditional small businesses or solo entrepreneurs. Experienced startup accountants who work closely with VC-backed businesses should always recommend an off-the-shelf option, so that your company isn’t stuck working with a system that is only usable by few accountants.
Our founder, Vanessa Kruze, CPA, recommends that founders pick a set of financial technology tools that all integrate cleanly into QBO, provide best-in-class automation and controls, are affordable, and can scale with high-growth companies. These tools include expense management/credit card solutions that work for funded companies, banks that know how to help founders manage venture capital dollars, high-growth payroll systems and international payroll systems.
Kruze Consulting clients have raised over $10 billion in venture capital funding, and on average one of our clients is acquired a month. We know how quickly investments and acquisitions can come together, and recommend that companies are ready for due diligence ahead of time. Startups with VC funding must have good startup accounting processes and systems to regularly report on the company’s financial position
We’ve put together the ultimate finance and HR due diligence checklist for startups. Read our downloadable VC checklist here.
VCs and Angels do want to be assured that their financials are presented in compliance with GAAP. So, again, you must have as close to GAAP financials as possible.
If you are going to be acquired by a publicly-traded company for hundreds of millions or billions, GAAP will be important. It is what M&A acquirers want. It also makes running your business a lot easier because you are going to see what is going on all the time.
Tax season, two dreaded words for anyone, nevermind for a founder. You already have so much on your plate. It can be stressful. It can be a lot of work. However, if you are organized from the start, know what documents to have and keep good records, it may not be that bad. You could always hand it off to the professional certified public accountants (CPAs) if you just don’t want to deal with it.
Even unprofitable startups must file annual federal and state taxes every year.
You will need the following documents to complete your startup’s return:
Our web application makes it easy for you to share these files with us; simply login and upload the documents as you go through our tax software onboarding flow.
We’ve put together a calculator to help you estimate the cost of preparing your business’ return. Remember, your early-stage company is unique and this tool is intended to be a guide. You can always contact us for a free consultation. Let the professional certified public accountants do the heavy lifting for you.
Do you know that you could potentially save up to $250,000 per year on your payroll taxes?
Yes, up to $250k! Payroll taxes are taxes that ALL companies with payroll pay - even money losing, early-stage companies. This is a massive tax credit that your company should take advantage of.
The research and development, or R&D tax credit, is a US government-sponsored incentive that rewards companies for conducting research and development activities within the United States. Even unprofitable technology companies can use this incentive to reduce their burn rate. Kruze has helped clients reduce their burn rates by over $30 million through our work on this government incentive program.
We’ll explain how this program works, and how your startup can offset your expenses up to $250,000 a year. Visit our R&D Tax Credit Calculator to estimate how much your company can save. And if you are interested, contact us now to see how we can help your early-stage business!
Accountants who are not specialized in newly formed companies may be missing a new tax credit that can reduce payroll taxes up to $100,000.
If your company was founded after February 15, 2020, it is likely eligible for the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC or ERTC).
This credit was authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and provides payroll tax credits for startups founded during COVID.
Read here for more detail on recovery startups and the Employee Retention Tax Credit.
Handling your company’s accounting is a very important duty and a full-time responsibility. It is critical for your startup’s financial health and ultimate success. As mentioned before, as a startup founder, you may not have the time or knowledge to handle it properly. Many founders decide to hand-off the startup accounting responsibility to the CPA accounting experts. If you are looking for a startup accountant, look for a provider who knows your particular business model, as different types of early-stage companies have accounting particularities.
At Kruze, we would argue that a VC-backed startup should have an accountant/CPA (and not just a bookkeeper). Businesses with over six months of runway should consider hiring a real accountant. This is because companies that have raised VC funding need more than just a set of financials - the best founders ask for help understanding their metrics, outsource tax and compliance work to a CPA, and want experienced advice on how to interact with their investors and board.
Startups need more than a robot to reconcile the accounts, they need a trusted advisor who is in tune with their unique growth path. The best accountant for a startup will be available. Available to answer questions, available to update numbers as new data is produced, available to set up the right systems for a high growth company.
When choosing a startup accountant, keep this in mind:
Startup accountants and CPAs are a special breed of advisors. Whereas a traditional small business focuses on their bank account balance, startups focus on the KPIs that help them raise their next round of funding. Choose an advisor who “gets” early-stage, Silicon Valley-style businesses.
We know that as an early-stage business founder, you are busy. You need to get the information you need to make decisions and to ensure the utmost of financial health. Kruze’s team of professional bookkeepers will work with you to find the financial delivery date that meets your needs.
Startup CEOs and founders don’t have time to proof their books, nor should they have to. This tedious job should be left up to the experts. Our CPA team is meticulous. You can rest easy knowing that it will be done right. We are familiar with early-stage companies’ business models, we understand the complexities (and importance) of issues like revenue recognition, ARR, capitalized vs. non-capitalized development costs and, more.
CEOs of early-stage companies have a tremendous number of things to accomplish. You juggle many hats and managing the books shouldn’t be one of them! Kruze’s CPA accounting team strives to handle all the minutia so you can focus on what matters when growing your business like, strategy, networking, achieving product-market fit, advancing your R&D, hiring, etc.
Early-stage companies raising venture capital require professional, accurate books and specialized financial advice. Because Kruze Consulting only works with funded startups, we understand the nuances required to get the numbers right and know what advice you and your investors need. And because we are one of the leaders in accounting automation, we’ve seen the mistakes the automated systems make. We are different “from the other guy” in that we go beyond automation and also provide you with white-glove service as well. If you are aiming for your early-stage company to become a unicorn, you need accurate books!
Our team loves working with startup companies, not only that, but Kruze cares more! We’ve got the experience to help you make critical financial decisions. We have former VCs on staff to help prepare you for your next funding round, and former IRS agents on hand to assist you as you think through the tax ramifications of selling your company. And our advice can grow with your company, from simple startup CPA accounting to part-time CFOs.
When making a decision to go with a vendor or service partner, fitting into your budget matters. Kruze Consulting offers a variety of pricing plans to help early-stage companies afford accurate startup accounting services. Check out our pricing page to learn more.
Founders who try to skimp on accounting can find that poorly kept books can end up being super-costly for several reasons. Here are some of the reasons why good startup accounting matters to early-stage companies:
We know you are busy. So, we have developed highly automated systems that we use to quickly get the job done for you. However, we don’t just stop there. We go above and beyond automation and always have a team of certified public accountants (CPA) experts ready to provide you with white-glove service. This is the Kruze way!
Don’t take our word for it. Check out our client reviews and testimonials.
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