1892 – Accounting & Finance For Startups with Paul Bianco

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the CEO of Graphite Financial, Paul Bianco.

Bianco Wide

Paul Bianco, founder and CEO of Graphite Financial, discussed the financial challenges and prospects for early-stage companies, startups, and SMEs. He highlighted critical insights into finance and accounting support for emerging businesses.

Graphite Financial provides vital services to companies facing the complex financial landscape of the business world. They offer extensive services, from basic bookkeeping to advanced financial reporting, as a complete substitute or complement to internal accounting teams.

Paul focused on the indicators of a company's readiness to enhance its financial leadership. He advised company founders to understand what potential buyers might look for in their financial records and emphasized the importance of proactive financial planning.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Services provided by Graphite Financial for early-stage companies and SMEs
  • Target clients of Graphite Financial
  • Importance of being less reliant on outside capital markets
  • Indicators for upgrading financial leadership role
  • Common misconceptions and myths about financial models and budgeting
  • Considerations for hiring a financial service provider
  • Tiered services offered by Graphite Financial
  • Invitation to visit the Graphite Financial website and resources available
  • Insights into financial and accounting considerations for early-stage and SME companies

About Paul Bianco:

Paul Bianco embarked on his entrepreneurial journey at the tender age of nineteen, setting the stage for a career defined by innovation and the relentless pursuit of growth. His early foray into the world of business during his college days involved the creation of an affiliate marketing website, a venture that saw him blending online strategies with grassroots efforts—distributing thousands of flyers across his campus to boost traffic. This blend of digital savvy and real-world hustle marked the beginning of a career that would later see him pivot from a promising start at Protiviti, a prestigious consulting firm, to the dynamic and challenging realm of venture capital. At FF Venture Capital, Paul dedicated years to mastering the intricacies of VC funding, a period that refined his business skills and shaped his future entrepreneurial ethos.

Despite the allure of venture capital and its manifold benefits for startups, Paul’s experiences made him realize the path he wished to carve for his ventures. In 2016, he founded Graphite, a groundbreaking platform offering fractional finance and accounting services to support founders in managing their finances efficiently without resorting to external investment. This decision underscored his commitment to sustainable, self-fueled growth—a philosophy that set Graphite apart in a landscape dominated by VC-backed startups. Under Bianco’s leadership, Graphite democratized access to premier financial services for entrepreneurs and achieved a landmark merger with CPM Advisory Group in 2023. This milestone heralds a new chapter for Paul, who is poised to lead the combined entity toward realizing its vision of enabling early and growth-stage companies to attain financial excellence with minimal overhead.

About Graphite Financial:

Graphite is a cornerstone in the startup ecosystem, offering a comprehensive suite of accounting, finance, and tax services tailored specifically for startups. It stands out as the go-to accounting firm for startups, providing top-notch bookkeeping and Fractional CFO services and industry-specific support, ensuring that startups have clean books, strategic guidance, and support tailored to their unique industry needs. Born from the insights of a venture capital fund, Graphite profoundly understands the challenges and opportunities faced by early-stage companies, aiming to help founders scale their ventures efficiently and sustainably.

Graphite’s success is its team, a dynamic blend of seasoned CFOs, accountants, entrepreneurs, and operators who bring a wealth of experience and passion. This collective expertise allows Graphite to serve startups at any stage of their journey, offering services that range from strategic projects to comprehensive finance team support. Whether managing day-to-day accounting and bookkeeping, navigating the complexities of financial modeling, or providing crucial fundraising support, Graphite offers a holistic approach to economic management. With a focus on high-growth startups, Graphite leverages its VC roots to deliver a unique perspective that benefits its clients from seed stage to exit, ensuring they are well-equipped for sustainable growth and success.

Tweetable Moments:

09:23 – “Start slow. I'm a huge believer in that, and I did this myself. For our first 100 customers, I did every sale personally.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Graphite’s website at

Check out Graphite on LinkedIn at

Check out  Paul Bianco on LinkedIn at

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Josh (00:00:04) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Would you like consistent and predictable sales activity with no spam and no ads? I'll teach you step by step how to do this, particularly if you're an agency owner, consultant, coach, or B2B service provider. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create more than $10 million in revenue. Just head to up my influence. Com and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. You can even chat with me live and I'll see and reply to your messages. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for guests. Go to up my influence. Com and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us. Right now it's Paul Bianco. Paul, you are the founder and CEO of Graphite Financial. You're found on the web at Graphite Financial. Com thank you so much for joining us, Paul. Thank you. So share with us who Graphite Financial is, who you work with and what you do.

Paul (00:01:15) - So Graphite Financial does finance and accounting support for early stage companies. whether they're startups or SMEs specifically. What we do is we are we're not an audit firm. We are doing the accounting, the bookkeeping, the accounting, the financial reporting for the company on behalf of the company. So we step in and do anything in-house team can do from the basic bookkeeping, accounts payable, paying your even invoicing your own customers all the way through financial reporting board reporting. If you have a board of directors, everything like that. So we are a full replacement or supplement for an internal accounting team.

Josh (00:01:51) - Yeah. So at what stage? I mean, I would imagine you could work with a solopreneur or kind of where do you typically start?

Paul (00:01:59) - I'd say for us, if you're an owner operated business, you've got a little bit of heft behind the company. Millions. And it doesn't have to be tens of millions in revenue, but a few million bucks in revenue. And things are getting complicated enough if you are a venture backed company very early, because the reporting requirements are much trickier.

Paul (00:02:18) - and things are a little bit different. So I say like basically even before you raise any money, the institutional money before you raise that series seed.

Josh (00:02:27) - Well, so what I'd really love to do, Paul, is maybe just, you know, for our friend that's listening. Obviously, you keep eyes and ears on your world pretty closely and have for some time. I think most of us are just kind of doing our thing, right? You know, serving our clients, you know, kind of focused on what we do. from your perspective and in your work with your clients, what are some of the big, you would say, kind of tentpole issues that you find yourself advocating for, say, to a, you know, an SMB founder audience?

Paul (00:02:58) - Well, I think there's a couple things I'm going to put venture and SMB a little bit together in this. And I think just, I'd say the number one thing that's happened over the money was very easy to come across, whether it's loans or equity or any kind of investment over the past few years, to easy to the point where it gave, I think, founders some artificial confidence that there's going to be some kind of backstop there, and they could invest ahead of demand all the time.

Paul (00:03:27) - I think there's been an I'm a huge advocate for this is getting less reliant on outside capital markets to grow the company and a long way of saying, just make money and don't lose money. That's it. Nothing fancy really. If you get too fancy about, hey, I'm going to justify this, this investment and all these hires and we're going to start losing money. You better do that sometimes, but make sure you got plenty of backstop if things go off off track. Again, I think just staying reliant on yourself and the operations of the company is the most basic and simple thing you could do as a founder. Just make sure the thing is growing a little bit, staying alive, then optimize.

Josh (00:04:07) - Yeah. At what stage do you typically recommend if you're experiencing this, this, this or this? It might be time. You know, obviously, you know, you provide professional service like bookkeeping. do you get into tax as well?

Paul (00:04:20) - We do. Right. So that's one. You can't not do it.

Paul (00:04:23) - You can do that at any time. It's really when there's complexity we see a couple different things. Right. If you're a bootstrap founder you're doing your own thing. A lot of times we see you're kind of doing your own accounting. Could be a little bit messy, takes up a lot of time, then it makes sense to take things off your plate tack. So I mean that's the number one thing. Don't mess with that. Obviously that's the last thing you want to mess with. Just make sure you're compliant from a payroll standpoint is one right. There's a payroll tax filings whatever sales tax and then any kind of federal income and state income taxes as well. So just make sure you're doing that at a bare minimum. Easier to do that all when your books are all clean. But at least start there.

Josh (00:05:04) - Yeah. And at what stage or what might be the indicators, be that a founder or an operations leadership team might be ready to start looking at a bit of an upgrade, you know, in that financial leadership role and even potentially looking at bringing in or starting to get toward more of that realm of someone who might be fulfilling a little bit more of a fractional CFO type role.

Paul (00:05:29) - Yeah. So we do that as well. What I'd say is, it depends on the complexity of your company and the type of company you are. Again, if you're venture backed, I recommend you've raised a bunch of money. It's off to the races. You got to just you need to establish product market fit right away. Right. As soon as you can take that risk off the table for you and your investors, I'd say outsource anything that's not core to what you do and give yourself as much information as you can. I think for venture, it's really early and don't spend your time doing this stuff. Understand it. Work with your partner. Have a fractional CFO again service like us. That's it. Right? For an SMB, it's when things start getting a little bit more complicated is when I would lean into it a little, a little bit more and even just, sometimes an hour or two of a conversation is really, really helpful. It can unlock some things you weren't thinking about.

Paul (00:06:21) - What is your what's the company look like? Do you want to sell the company one day? What's a buyer going to expect out of the books and understanding and the margins and, and kind of the revenue, health and things like that. Like it's important stuff to know, even if, even if you don't have existing investors breathing down your neck, you're you own your own thing. Well, someone may provide you some liquidity one day. Make sense to understand what is important going into that kind of transaction to. And we solve for that.

Josh (00:06:48) - what would you say are some of the most common misconceptions or myths or flaws that maybe a founder may be practicing or doing? Because maybe someone told them this once, or they just developed this idea somewhere along the way that you find yourself having to, you know, maybe do some a little bit, of course, correction with them when you start to engage, anything come to mind?

Paul (00:07:13) - Well, from an accounting standpoint, I'd say the number one issue we see is, founders saying, hey, we want to raise money, do this, get acquired, you know, get get a loan.

Paul (00:07:25) - So we need you to whip up a financial model so we can give it to her and potential investors, and then they never look at it again. That's not what it's for. So financial model or budget we help companies put together. That's supposed to be a tool to help you understand how the company is going to run and operate over the next, like a a window into the future, how things are going to go. That really is the number one thing. It seems like a checklist item. I need to just get this done. Forget it. Now I'm going to do my thing. If you have one any kind of budget, do you can to try to use that to understand what things you need to do to make things look better and move towards a goal in the future so that that's one. On the tactical side, it tends to just be putting the cart ahead of the horse and a little overoptimism you got to be optimistic as an entrepreneur, but I think just, really thinking things through, especially if they're kind of irreversible or difficult to reverse decisions like over hiring too quickly in certain things where you're not 100% sure that's the right thing to do over hiring and sales, but for the product is ready to go is probably the number one example of that.

Paul (00:08:28) - Products like okay and 1 or 2 customers are kind of maybe want to pilot. You hire five sales reps into that, you're in, you're going to be in trouble. And I've seen that many times before.

Josh (00:08:40) - Yeah. What I'm just kind of curious when you've seen that, like what ends up happening other than a bunch of salespeople sitting around or, you know, going to market with something that they don't believe in and they know is crap.

Speaker 3 (00:08:51) - Yeah, well, you have.

Paul (00:08:52) - Salespeople making promises and no one wins. You have salespeople trying to get commission and doing what they're doing, and sometimes making promises that the the company can't keep. You have high churn because the sales will close a deal. Right. And then the customer is like, this isn't really what kind of what. I expected a good sales process. And I thought we spoke about my needs, but it didn't really work for me. And then they turn off and that's filling a leaking bucket. What ends up happening is most of that team ends up getting caught anyway, which you know, you could avoid just by not doing it.

Paul (00:09:23) - Start slow. I'm a huge believer, and I did this myself for our first 100 customers like I did every sale personally. Then I hired a sales rep to support me, and then he grew in the organization, started building out a sales organization. Once we knew the pitch, we knew the needs. We really understood what the customer wanted, and how we fit in the overall market. I think it's pretty important. The founder is, chief salesman. at the very beginning. And, and, you know, your product more than anyone else. Then go from there.

Josh (00:09:57) - Yeah. Well, that's the stage I've been in. I do, you know, and I think it's of all of the roles that I no longer do, I would say that's the last kind of less than maybe not necessarily a CEO role is, you know, kind of just really kind of holding on to the sales. The last one I, I seem to be letting go of, how do you see that? I mean, again, this is a little bit outside of you, but from a financial standpoint, how does someone calculate a good move in that area when the CEO says, okay, I'm at the tail end here, I think I'm ready to let go of the reins, overdue perhaps.

Josh (00:10:37) - and, and ready to kind of set some, you know, formal sales structures that I'm not as involved in. Have you seen that done well or have you advised on that?

Paul (00:10:47) - Well, I'd like to think we do it all right. I'm still involved in some sales. Right. But not not much. And it is hard for founder to let go of. It was fairly hard for me to let go of it. And it was. Your role will change. It's an interest, you know, for me, and for a lot of founders speaking to the potential clients and in your market, each and every day is a good indicator and helps inform you. Right. You'll you will step a little further away from the customer as you relinquish the, the sales responsibility. But I think just doing it slow and steadily and from a financial standpoint to tie it in, one thing that I've seen is there tends to be a surprise that, hey, I was doing all the sales and marketing myself. They're all my clients are referrals, whatever.

Paul (00:11:26) - Now, I hired a sales team. Why is it costing me so much to sell stuff? Well, because you were kind of doing it for free. You know, you need a sales team now that you're paying commissions to now they're you may not be fully reliant on just referrals to you as a person. If you're trying to scale a company, you have people going out and about forging partnerships, business development, doing real marketing to get leads through the door costs money to do it. So your customer acquisition costs will go from $0 when you're just doing it. And it's just people, you know, sending you deals to some amount much more than that. And I just know there's financial impact. It's important to just kind of sketch that out what it might be. it's a net if your sales team is not paying for itself. That's a huge problem. Yeah. And so that's a different problem. But no, there will be an upfront lift before the sales team start paying for itself. which could be a bit of time takes time.

Josh (00:12:20) - so I think sometimes, you know, just speaking for myself as a, you know, founder of a couple of companies, it's I don't want to make a mistake when I hire a financial service provider or bookkeeper tax preparer, any, you know, maybe I don't say no red flags, but, you know, any kind of rules of the road for making a good decision on hiring, a, you know, either a a bookkeeper or a CPA or something. Someone is going to fulfill those services.

Paul (00:12:46) - Yeah. I mean, I think trust her got more than anything. It's tricky. It's financial decision too, right? I think, if you see something that seems too good to be true in terms of price, at the end of the day, what we do is a professional service with people that know how to do the work, doing the work. We use technology behind the scenes to make it, you know, a little, you know, less expensive for our clients and a little bit more efficient for us.

Paul (00:13:11) - But it's it's a professional service. We're paying people to do the work, and we have to pass that on to the customer, do the work. So if you see something where it's like 100 bucks, a few hundred bucks, like a month, and there's a lot of work think about, is it really and take like two hours total to do that, or is there something here it might not going to get hands on support. So I think Get comfortable. Make sure that make sure they know your industry very well because it's very industry specific. Every industry is a little different and the devil's in the details. So get a good industry understanding, get a feel for the team. That's actually if the if the if the provider won't let you meet the potential team that you are going to be working with. Not the best because it's really based on the team, right? We want everyone to meet the team that they're going to end up being working, end up working with after work, signing up with us.

Paul (00:14:01) - and again, it's one of those buy ones cry ones type of things. You know, everything. If you go from doing it yourself, it's free. Just like I was talking about what sells to now having a service provider doing a thing, it will cost incremental money. I wouldn't optimize only for that. Be a fiduciary to the company. Don't overspend. Try to cut a good deal. but go for who you think is going to be the best long term partner.

Speaker 4 (00:14:27) - Yeah.

Josh (00:14:28) - So I met your website right now, Graphite Financial. Com. Do you mind sharing just a bit about, you know, your offer, how you work with? I know you've got kind of some tiered services with you know, it looks a little productized, which I appreciate.

Speaker 3 (00:14:43) - So we did productize.

Paul (00:14:44) - The way we market it. But we are a service. At the end of the day, we're just trying to make it simple. There's so many things that go into what an internal accounting team can do. It's not just classifying transactions that come in through your bank and credit card and stuff.

Paul (00:14:56) - I guarantee you that anyone, anyone who's pitching that is probably not the right partner. There are so many things that go into it. We kind of just visualize it in a way that's simple but high level. We have a couple tiers one. Think about it as accounting, managing your QuickBooks, everything that comes in, all the revenue, making sure that paying bills, everything that's what has happened and catching you up and giving you a good indication as to what happened and good reporting as to what happened. Second tier saying, all right, based on what happened, what is going to happen. And that's what we that's more like FP and A and CFO layer on top of that. building that financial model, giving a really good dashboard with really, really good metrics from any tool you use from HubSpot, whatever, putting it all together in a way that makes you lets you understand not only what happened, but what's going to happen in the future. Planning ahead. And then we have some add ons on top of that.

Paul (00:15:49) - If you want some tax or other sorts of services that don't fit within those tight buckets.

Josh (00:15:56) - Yeah. so Paul, again, I'm on your website is Graphite to a friend that's been listening to us. and they're like, okay, this sounds great. I definitely need some help or some guidance. Or at least why not have a conversation? what would some of those next steps be from here?

Paul (00:16:14) - We actually made a dedicated page called Draft by Financial Compost Cast. If anyone wants to go there, take a look. Reach out. I even have a calendly link that if you want to talk to me, you could do that. Happy to I that's what I enjoy. Like I was talking about during the sales conversation. Like meeting entrepreneurs. Happy to do it. I said check the website out. You don't have to talk to me. You could just talk to whoever you know on her team, and we could see if you're fit. And, we just reach out right on the website.

Josh (00:16:42) - Yeah.

Josh (00:16:43) - You're based in New York. You have some team members here in Orlando, which is. Which is great as well. And just any limitations on industries or size companies or anything like that?

Speaker 3 (00:16:53) - No not really. We're about 100 employees.

Paul (00:16:56) - we've got I'm in New York, we got some folks in the Tri-State area in New York, New York City, new Jersey, all that, but also all over a lot of folks on our team in Florida, California, Texas, Colorado, like, really all over the place. Industrywide wise, I'd say, you know, technology generally is our number one, whether you're venture backed or an SMB consumer packaged goods or e-commerce generally is another piece. so SAS think about SAS, e-commerce and then even within those verticals, food and beverage, fintech, insurance, tech and all sorts of other things. So really, any sub $100 million in revenue tends to be it, which encompasses most companies. Sure.

Josh (00:17:40) - Yeah, that's that's that's a big, pretty big chunk of the, the business population.

Josh (00:17:46) - Well, Paul Bianco again, founder CEO of Graphite Financial. Your website, Graphite Financial. Com the special page that you've got set up is Graphite Financial. Com forward slash podcast. And there's actually quite a few templates and resources there. You've got a financial model template chart of accounts template, month end closed checklist accounting tech stack guide. And again those are all on those pages. So Paul Bianco again CEO founder, thank you so much for joining us.

Paul (00:18:15) - Thank you.

Josh (00:18:21) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up my influence. Common guest. If you're a listener, I'd love to shout out your business to our whole audience for free. You can do that by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or join our Listener Facebook group. Just search for the Thoughtful Entrepreneur and Facebook. I'd love, even if you just stop by to say hi, I'd love to meet you. We believe that every person has a message that can positively impact the world.

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