Chris Mossa, Chief Strategy Officer at Graphite
Someone tells you to think about your startup’s finances. Pictures of numbers, math, and data points are probably the first things to come to mind. But these concrete details are just one aspect of finance.
All of these details are ultimately collected for one critical reason—to tell a story. This could be the story of what your organization has already accomplished, what you’re planning to do in the future, or what possibilities lie ahead.
The right financial data not only makes your story more credible but also informs business strategies across your entire organization.
In many cases, the math behind these financial calculations isn’t hard. The challenge lies in presenting it in a digestible way. There’s so much to learn from your organization’s finances. But without a way to contextualize financial data or when you don’t choose the right metrics to highlight, they’re just a collection of numbers.
The most successful finance teams skillfully transform their data into a strong narrative. Here’s how many of them do it.
What Can We Learn From Financial Data?
Many financial calculations take just a few minutes to complete, but they have a broad impact on your organization. Each piece of financial data you produce can reveal meaningful insights about your organization.
Working with SaaS organizations, we often look at net revenue retention as a key metric. Net revenue retention represents the percentage of your revenue that comes from existing customers over a set period of time rather than new customers. This metric is relatively simple to calculate, but the insight you can extract from it is extremely valuable.
Strong net revenue retention numbers illustrate that you have the ability to increase your revenue without needing to bring in new customers. Not only is this actionable when it comes to deciding where to invest time and money, but it can also be a positive signal to show to current and potential investors.
This number on its own doesn’t mean much—it’s the story that number tells that’s important. Say your net revenue retention is 105%. On its own, that looks good, but knowing that you brought in a 5% increase in revenue without adding any new customers is even better.
Looking at progress over time is also crucial. If your net revenue retention jumps from 105% to 115%, that shows not only strong performance but also a consistent upward trajectory. You can also look at how your performance compares to industry standards to assess whether or not you’re trending in the right direction.
To dive deeper, look for causes that lead to your net revenue retention improving. Maybe you hired new customer success specialists and found new product opportunities. Mapping these changes to upticks (or downturns) in your key metrics can help you strategically plan for the future.
KPIs like this will not only inform your business decisions but also support financial presentations to investors and illustrate your organization’s growth trajectory. When assessing these KPIs, consider what each data point signals to readers. This will help you structure your financial reports to best tell your organization’s story.
Use This Financial Model Template to Tell a Stronger Data Story
Prerequisites for Strong Decision-Making With Financial Data
Before you can effectively tell your startup’s story through financial data, there are a few prerequisites that serve as the backdrop for strong financial decisions across your organization.
You need effective systems in place, smart people who understand how to use the data, and a platform that serves as the canvas on which you present this data to the world.
To make the most of your financial data, your organization needs to be propped up by a strong financial foundation. This starts with strong data systems that capture, calculate, measure, and report data in a reliable and repeatable way.
Systems might include your:
- Accounting system that captures all data related to your organization’s financial transactions.
- Billing system that captures all data related to collections and payments.
- CRM that captures all data related to customer interactions and sales processes.
When these systems are designed and implemented correctly, they reliably capture the data so that someone on your team can assess and position it effectively.
You need professionals who understand what that data means in order to tell your story. That might mean having a team of financial experts in-house, but for many growing startups, that means working with a finance department as a service, like Graphite.
Many early-stage startups operate without an internal financial team, with the founders taking on financial management and reporting. However, just being familiar with accounting basics won’t be enough as your organization grows.
Financial professionals eat, sleep, and breathe this data, so they’ll know not only how to manage your finances but also how to communicate your financial story to potential investors, lenders, or even your customers.
Whether you outsource or keep it in-house, having these knowledgeable team members is going to be key to making the leap from raw numbers to storytelling.
Finally, you’ll need a platform to communicate the data. This platform serves as the canvas for your story. One of the simplest ways to do this is through spreadsheets, but there are many possible approaches.
Many startups prefer to use a high-performing financial dashboard. Recently, at Graphite, we launched a new Financial Health Dashboard. It’s been a valuable tool for helping organizational leaders gain the insights they need to make better business decisions while providing the canvas to tell stronger financial data stories.
Having your financial data stored in one place is key not only to efficient operations but also to building strategic and informative financial reports. With a strong platform, your team will be able to reference all of your data at a glance, finding connections between key metrics to illustrate your organization’s growth trajectory.
Let’s Start Leveraging Financial Data to Tell Your Story
As your organization grows, you need partners to help you make the most of your financial data and tell your story the way you want it to be told. Graphite’s team of financial experts is experienced in working with startups and other high-growth organizations to create and scale their financial processes.
Whether you’re in need of bookkeeping, financial modeling, or even fractional CFO support, we provide essential financial services as you scale. Get in touch to see how we can help your organization leverage financial data to make more impactful business decisions.
Need CFO or Accounting Help?
Born out of a VC fund, Graphite fully understands the strategic and financial needs of high growth companies. If you need accounting support or simply have a question about accounting at your company, feel free to connect with us!