Any startup founder will tell you that cash is always a foremost concern. Every idea and every plan hinges upon having the resources to make it a reality, any help in managing your money is a welcome relief for those without an accounting or financial background.
I recently had the chance to talk with Rami Essaid, the CEO and co-founder of Finmark, a financial modeling software for startups out of the greater Raleigh area. What they’re providing is needed by many small businesses, and based upon their model and their early success, it appears they’ve found an audience that shares that assessment.
Mary Juetten: When did you start?
Rami Essaid: We launched Finmark in May 2020 and have been growing rapidly ever since. While there have been several lessons learned about starting and maintaining a business during a global pandemic, from prioritizing employee mental health to being constantly reminded that every dollar spent counts towards the bottom line, we have been incredibly fortunate to grow.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Essaid: Finmark is financial modeling software for startups. Historically, most startup founders and entrepreneurs have used Excel templates for financial modeling, but spreadsheets are poor for collaboration; error-prone; and version control is a nightmare. Our software eliminates the need for complex spreadsheets with an easy-to-use platform, so founders can easily create, update, and share their financial metrics and plans.
We built Finmark so anyone, not just CFOs or finance execs, can easily make and update a financial model without having to spend weeks updating complicated spreadsheets. Finmark takes complex financial concepts and calculations and distills them down into a simple-to-use interface so founders can easily create and share their financial plans, manage burn rate and cash, forecast revenue and expenses, and plan for fundraising.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Essaid: Our primary targets are startups, from pre-revenue to pre-IPO. We price our software based on your company’s revenue and scale with you as you grow.
As an early-stage startup ourselves, we were fortunate enough to participate in Y Combinator’s Summer 2020 cohort, where we forged connections with other startups and introduced them to Finmark. Several of our cohort counterparts went on to become early adopters of Finmark. We are also leveraging several of our industry partnerships to first educate founders on the basics
of financial modeling and then share how Finmark can accelerate this process.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Essaid: As a two-time startup founder, I’ve lived through the pains and complications of Excel-based financial models. Prior to starting Finmark, I founded a company called Distil Networks, which I sold to Imperva in 2019. During my time growing Distil, I was continuously frustrated with how financial modeling was handled, from the lack of collaboration with internal stakeholders to difficulty sharing with investors. While I tried to implement numerous short-term fixes to solve this problem, when it was time to start a new venture I knew exactly where to start. Thus, Finmark was born.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Essaid: Greg Lissy, Chief Product Officer, Jeremy Neuberger, Chief Technology Officer, and I are the three co-founders of Finmark, and are joined by more than 30 full-time employees who support all aspects of the business.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Essaid: Yes, we announced our oversubscribed $5 million seed raise in late October 2020. More than 14 firms and 30 angel investors participated in the round, many of which are major players in VC and technology. The interest we saw across the board emphasized the need for a tool like Finmark within the industry and showed us that Excel-based financial models should be a thing of the past.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Essaid: One of my favorite startup stories is from Brian Daly, the CEO of another Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort graduate Grandpal. Grandpal helps younger family members be there for their older loved ones to help fight loneliness. Growing up, Brian lived with his grandmother in Dublin. After moving to Berlin to work at Techstars, he struggled to stay in touch with his grandmother due to his hectic schedule. Following her death in 2017, Brian wanted to help others more easily connect and interact with their older family members. While initially starting as a way for volunteers to visit nursing homes to combat loneliness, Grandpal quickly pivoted during COVID 19 to become an easy-to-use app that helps family members stay connected to their loved ones with reminders and recommended interactions.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Essaid: Growth is, of course, a key indicator of success, and there are numerous financial metrics founders can, and should be, measuring to show growth. However, for many early-stage founders who haven’t signed their first customer, success may look different. Hiring your first employee, scoring your first inbound lead, raising seed capital, being accepted to an accelerator program — these can all be measures of success in the early days of a startup.
One success story in particular that comes to mind is Carta.
We were one of their very early customers at my last company. Their product filled a need for us and was straightforward to use, so we bought it.
The interesting thing about Carta is they started with something very simple—cap tables—and executed so well they ended up dominating their market and now they’re worth billions. Their product has transformed a lot over the years. As an early customer, seeing their growth has been amazing and motivational.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders or CEOs in growth mode?
Essaid: Use your passion as a litmus test. For me, I was passionate about the startup and VC ecosystem and wanted to help other founders, which gave me the drive to both start and grow Finmark. Early-stage founders should be passionate about their business from day one. Passion can be the driving force for a founder to “sell” their idea to potential co-founders, investors, and customers. Without that type of dedication, any and all endeavors to grow the business will fall flat.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Essaid: Our first and primary goal is to build and perfect the platform. We plan to expand our capabilities in the year to come in order to become the true system of record for startups. We see a world where Finmark is the central hub and access point for all company data, from marketing and sales expenses to payroll, revenue, and more. From there, we can aggregate that data and help to provide industry benchmarks and recommendations to ultimately help these startups grow.
I’m grateful to Rami for taking the time to share his experience. As we know, not every startup succeeds, but it’s good to see more resources, particularly financial tools, that give them greater opportunity. #onwards.