Episode #14

Setting up High-Performance Finance Team for Start-ups

How do you create a culture of collaboration and success at a fast-growing start-up? In this episode, we sit down with VP of Finance for Occupier, Lauren Bahr and discuss how to set up a high-performance finance team that scales. We cover topics including challenges that start-ups face when it comes to building a high-performance finance teams and implementing the right tools and processes.  

“I think as you start to grow the maturity of the business and the revenue of the business, then you start to bring in these more specialized folks, tax, FP&A. But before you get there, you have to juggle with it. I’m going to do FP&A, I’m going to do tax. But you have to also self reflect and say, hey, we’re going to run the risk here and going blind into some of these areas because okay, despite Lauren Barr being a CPA, taxes is not my thing. So I’m going to have to outsource it because I don’t want the risk of that as I’m definitely going to miss something. And also, I would not like to prioritize my time on tax.”

Please note that the transcript is AI-generated and may contain errors. Podcast is not intended as advice and is meant for informational and entertainment purposes only.

Chris Ortega (00:16):

Today we are talking with Lauren Bahr, who is the VP of Finance at Occupier as she shares her thoughts on setting up a high performing finance team for startups and why it’s important for finance teams and finance leaders to make sure they self-assess where they are in their startups, scale up and business maturity. Welcome Lauren Bahr.

Lauren Bahr (00:40):

Oh, thank you so much. I feel like we have been cooking this up for months and it’s finally here because I think I met you at a conference maybe two years ago at this point, and then we’ve just been LinkedIn friends ever since, and so obviously love watching everything that you’re doing as well. And so I’m so excited to be here, finally.

Chris Ortega (01:02):

Thank you so much again to all the listeners. We’ve been cooking this up so this meal’s about to be… Get ready, this is about to be a great meal served up to you and I’m super excited. So yeah, the topic today is setting up a high performing finance team for startups. My background has always been in startup, scale up enterprise level companies and I’ve always come in as the first finance person in the organization, build, shape, scale, exit, right? I’ve done that so many different times in my career in leading high growth businesses.


So whether that’s software technology and other high growth companies. And I think right now we’re coming into this different recipe of what it means to set up that high performance team. We got technology changes, we got talent changes, we got value proposition changes, so there’s a lot of different change that finance leaders and finance teams are going through in terms of how you build that high performance inside your team. Lauren, my first question to you is what are some of those key factors through your experience that you’ve seen in building high performance teams inside of startup organizations?

Lauren Bahr (02:08):

Yeah, first part is a little bit of self-reflection and looking at the business and what the business needs from you. So what are the operational demands? Okay, what is your team going to spend the most of its time on supporting the business? And then another question is, okay, what hit you get wrong? There may be just two or three things that you absolutely can’t get wrong. What are those? You’re going to want to make sure that you have people, processes in place to support that short list of items. And that could be different for every business, maybe your medical company and allocations between subsidiaries is important. Okay, not important to me. I don’t have one subsidiary at Occupier, but for other folks, for me, I really need to make sure that I land quote to cash, that I, like everyone else in the world wants to get paid fast.


And so how do we make sure that is streamlined as possible versus maybe, hey, accounts payable, while it’s important to pay your vendors, it’s important to pay on time, it doesn’t have the same rigor for me versus a quote to cash. And so I think the first thing is identifying, okay, what can’t I mess up here? And once you’ve outlined those priorities, you could start to build your team and your tech stack around those initiatives.

Chris Ortega (03:35):

Yeah, I think that’s great. And I think a lot of times, and I’ve had this right, I’ve come into finance organizations and anytime I’ve come in, And I learned this the hard way. I remember the first time I came into a new organization, I just led a software company, we got through a skill in that and I was coming in and I remember coming in the first week, I was in my suit, I was completely different. I was like, I want to make an impact. All these great ideas and things I wanted to do. And I remember the CEO of the business sat down with me and this is in the first week Lauren, and it’s never a good thing when you get a meeting pop up with your direct leader about… And it was like finance alignment. I was in the first week. I was like, what did I do? I’m just doing onboarding. I’m doing the onboarding stuff and get my email set up. What did I do wrong?

Lauren Bahr (04:27):

I’m here.

Chris Ortega (04:30):

I walk into the meeting with him and he says, hey Chris, listen, two things. We know that you have all of this experience and you’re going to bring such great ideas, but one of the first things that you need to do, and I just want to caution you, and I love how he always say that. He always say, I caution you, which is always that yellow light. It is like, you’re not at the red light yet, but your gain is learn the business first, right?

Lauren Bahr (04:53):

Right, yeah.

Chris Ortega (04:55):

And this is exactly what you talked about. Go find those processes, go find those value add things. It’s like what do I not need to mess up? What do I need to make sure that I’m walking into this finance organization to say what is going right? And I always call it even a leading fresh FP&A. It’s baseline assessing, what are the baselines of where we need… What do I need to get, what do I need to make sure deliverables are on time? What is that recipe as a baseline that I need to make sure that me or my team does not mess up? And I think that’s such a great pivotal point to start because once you know those things, and we all know walking into… Whether you’re the first hire or you’re seasoned or maybe you’re VP of finance coming into an organization that’s ready to level up their value in terms of leadership, but it’s also a way of getting those quick wins.


When you’re coming in, you can’t hit the whole runs. First in 30, 90 days, you’re just trying to get advanced and get in the book. And that could be ways to continue to deliver that value is hey, Chris or Lauren came in and we continue to have a high level of business partnership or like you said, the quote to cast process or the invoice to cast or whatever you call it, you making sure that rhythm wasn’t messed up.

Lauren Bahr (06:12):

Yeah, totally. There’s so many things that you can do in the first 90 days for quick wins, but I a hundred percent agree with you. The most important thing to do is learn the business and get out there and talk to as many people as possible because those people are going to be the ones educating you the most about the business.

Chris Ortega (06:32):

Definitely, another question I have going on to that is I think when people talk about high performance, it means a lot of different things. You ask a room of 10 different finance leaders what high performance is, and it’s a lot of different ways. Some take it technology, some take it people, some take it as hey, we get the financial statements done in day three, right?

Lauren Bahr (06:51):

Yeah, that is pretty nice [inaudible 00:06:58]

Chris Ortega (06:57):

My question is… We have some clients that’s halfway through the month and I’m like, what? That doesn’t make sense. So my next question is, if you were to define your viewpoint of high performance in the finance organization, what does that mean? What does that look like? What does that feel to the business?

Lauren Bahr (07:13):

I think there are certain things that you have to do well, there’s the base case. You have to close the books, you have to pay people and you have to pay them right and on time. So those are the level. If you’re going to get a C-grade, those are the things you have to get right.

Chris Ortega (07:32):

Yeah, those are table stakes.

Lauren Bahr (07:33):

Table stakes, exactly. When you start getting B or A-level grades, that’s when you’re actually starting to influence decisions, I think, and being able to actually help departments solving things that maybe they have come to you in conversation saying, yeah, these are the things I’m challenged on right now. These are my roadblocks, and if you’re able to help navigate them through that or talk more about the business as a whole, I think it’s a pretty cool gig we’ve got going on here.

Chris Ortega (08:07):

Oh, it’s awesome. It’s really awesome.

Lauren Bahr (08:10):

What? You are totally able to see everyone in the organization and how everything is intertwined and connected, and so if you can bring that knowledge to everything, sometimes I don’t want to say I’m the glue… We’re the glue that holds everything together, but in a way being able to talk to someone about what they’re doing at the job is an important thing, and so I think that’s what really brings you up to that B, A level.

Chris Ortega (08:37):

Yeah, let’s go a little bit deeper on that. So A-level finance organizations that are driving high performance, what is that? I love how you broke it down, table stakes. See, hey, you get the 2.0 and the GPA, right? I know there’s probably a bunch of schedules out there, but hey, I came from an era, there was a 4.0 system and 2.0 was the C, right? And 3.0 was the B, right? When you think of A, which is those top performing finance team that you’ve led, that you built, and that’s the key point. I think there’s a lot of great C and B finance team, the C and B leaders, but I know you, I follow you, you are definitely that a kind of leader and to be that A kind of finance organization. What are those differentiators?

Lauren Bahr (09:22):

I think the differentiators is… Actually, this may sound strange, but for me it’s been allowing me to have time with data and have time to think about the business and analyze. And so instead of focusing on monthly general entries or the operational side of the business, which I definitely have an influence in setting that up and making sure that’s successful. Again, table stakes, but I think for me to have more of an influence at my company, what has allowed me the most opportunity to do that is to have time just with data analyzing trends and saying, hey, this is unique right here. Bringing that to our co-founders or head of sales or head of marketing and things like that. So that’s been the biggest driver for my success.

Chris Ortega (10:18):

I love it, and I would agree a thousand percent. I think one of the biggest differentiators of that A-level is that balance of tactical versus strategic execution, right?

Lauren Bahr (10:28):


Chris Ortega (10:28):

And when you think about it, let’s break this down from… And I love the analogy you have from C, B, or A, right? If you’re a C performing finance team, you’re probably 80, 85, 90% tactical versus strategic balance, right?

Lauren Bahr (10:43):

Totally. a hundred percent.

Chris Ortega (10:44):

Yeah, you’re in the weeds. You’re doing the ASC 606 commission entries and you’re reconciling the prepaids and you’re download. You’re in that balance where you’re probably eight 90% tactical and 10% strategic, which ultimately creates where you’re very reactive to the business, right?

Lauren Bahr (11:03):

Totally, totally.

Chris Ortega (11:03):

When you get to that B, you maybe 60/40, but you’re like, hey, we got a little bit of automation. We got closed pretty much down. Or maybe we have an accounting leader that’s really in a tactical execution and we’re like 60/40 between strategic versus 60% tactical, 40% strategic. That A level, you’re like the inverse of the C, you’re like 80 to 90% strategic and 10% to 20% tactical. I love how you mentioned that point because getting that time to do, that’s really a differentiators. I think there’s a lot of people that are listening to this that says, Chris, I may be a C player and I want to be an A player. And I think the number one thing that you can do to catapult you to that A level is getting that time back, re-shifting the deck to say, where am I spending my time, energy, and effort, and where are my resources and where my team are, and how can we bring in whether it’s technology or bring in resources or bring in knowledge, bring in alignment to help us rebalance that tactical versus strategic balance.

Lauren Bahr (12:05):

Yeah, a hundred percent. I think you have to add advocate for yourself and your value as a finance org, and that’s the value is the time and being able to analyze and just… Things don’t happen overnight. If you don’t have time to analyze the data until it’s 11 o’clock at night, that analysis probably is not going to be the best. If you do it on Monday and Tuesday and feel a little bit better, then it’s probably going to be a better result. And so I highly recommend, especially for startups, even though it may feel, because this is how all finance people are, it may feel like, hey, I’m a CPA, I can do these journal entries. It does not take me that much time. It’s not that hard. It’s not a merit of the fact that you can or can’t do it. It’s a merit of you should not be focusing on that. That is below your pay grade. You need to focus on more strategic initiatives.

Chris Ortega (13:00):

I love that, Lauren, and that’s great. Yeah, just because you can do it doesn’t mean it’s the right effective use of your time.

Lauren Bahr (13:07):


Chris Ortega (13:08):

And I think this segues to the next question that we talked about, right? We talked about what makes a C, what makes a B, what makes A, high performing finance organization is startups? My next question is what do you think are some of those challenges that FP&A, finance, accounting, CFO leaders that are trying to build high performance teams, what are some of the challenges that they… Man, Chris, I faced these challenges, that’s why I can’t move from a C to an A. What are some of those challenges that you see in your perspective?

Lauren Bahr (13:37):

Yeah, I don’t know when this ever goes away, but resources and time constraints always. So you have to ruthless prioritize everything. And we touched on this and having the value of an accountant fast. Okay, finding that accountant might be hard because this person needs to be a Swiss army knife because they need to be incredibly comfortable with a wide range of activities. They need to be a self-starter, they need to be able to work with ambiguity because they’re going to be doing things that they have never done before. And they’re probably going to do that all of the time when they work here and they have to know accounting. And so the list goes on and on. Range of people that may be a great fit for that role may be a little bit diminished, but that’s the type of person that you need also to help you be successful.


And I think as you start to grow the maturity of the business and the revenue of the business, then you start to bring in these more specialized folks, tax, FB&A. Before you get there, you have to juggle with, okay, I’m going to do FB&A, I’m going to do tax. But then I think too, you have to self reflect and say, hey, we’re going to run the risk here and going blind into some of these areas because okay, despite Lauren Barr being a CPA-

Chris Ortega (15:05):

And a superstar,

Lauren Bahr (15:07):

And a superstar, tax Is not her jam.

Chris Ortega (15:09):

Me too. I had to take regulations twice.

Lauren Bahr (15:14):

I almost left the exam mid-exam because I was like, there is no way I am passing this, but somehow I was blessed that day. So taxes is not my thing. So I know as soon as I go to a place, I’m going to have to outsource it because I don’t want the risk of that because I’m definitely going to miss something. And also, I would not like to prioritize my time on tax.

Chris Ortega (15:39):

Being a recovery CPA myself, I did that a long time ago when I was in audit. But I love how you broke down those challenges and let’s go into… And I think one first one, you said resources. I would venture to say that finance is no longer just a cost element. I think we have a lot of capabilities to be a revenue value added producing business, but we’re always going to have the resource constraint. Because here’s the thing, when Sales are going great and you’re in a high growth startup and sales are going good, you’re just like, hire more salespeople. I’ve never had the opportunity where the CEO, business owner or founder was like, hire more finance people. That’s never been the case. So I agree on that resource. And then also as we talked about in the previous… The time, right? Finding that good balance between strategic and tactical. I would add a third challenge in there is that expectation setting.


And you talked about this because when you’re at a startup business and you’re the jack of all trades, that’s my jam. I love being the jack of all trades. I love not being a single focused person as just like, hey, I’m only really good at this, the Abilene and the HR, contract reviews. But also you talked about it is like, I know my gap is anything tax related and I can talk about it, but when it gets into the depths of it and how we’re treating… And this is where software companies like Occupier become great, with a ASC 842 right?

Lauren Bahr (17:03):



I don’t know this. If you don’t know lease accounting, I would highly recommend every finance accounting, CFO professional. If you’re dealing with lease accounting issues and you don’t have that expert in house, go check out right now Occupier. Go check them out. That is everything you need to handle everything around lease accounting. But that’s where you compliment. And I think that’s where that expectation gap and that challenge comes, is because you may be at a startup, but you’re the single finance person and the CEO, the business owners, maybe you’re board, maybe the investment people, they expect you to do everything. And you got to say, look, I am not the best… I can’t be the best in everything, but I want to bring more resources. And maybe it’s contract resources, maybe it’s fractional resources to say I need to have that empowerment and that enablement to bring on the skills passes, talents and expertise that I need to help cover the gaps. And I just think a lot of finance, these people don’t step up and say that. They don’t raise their hands, hey, I need help.


These finance people are wearing super hero capes. They’re like, I can do it all.

Chris Ortega (18:12):


Lauren Bahr (18:13):

You can, but maybe you shouldn’t.

Chris Ortega (18:18):

Definitely, I think it is that balance. And in the high performance teams, you move so fast. I think all the different software companies and startup companies I’ve been a part of, when you reach that scale up, it’s a critical point. And that’s where you talked about this other point in maturity, and I want to go into that piece of it. When you continue, when you’re a sea company, you go to startup, you go to… Scale up is always my favorite place, where the momentum is there.


That’s where you start to really see a lot of the foundations that you set in the finance organization really start to accelerate, right? So when you think about how does that financial maturity change as you move from a startup to a scale up and maybe to getting to that enterprise level?

Lauren Bahr (19:00):

I think the financial maturity changes as you start to grow the company. I think processes naturally start to break more. And so you might have to have more people in charge of not breaking those things. And so I don’t know, especially for us, we’re experimenting a lot. And so we have to be nimble with reacting to our sales, our marketing, how our product team works together, and the things that I’m building now, while I would love for them to be the foundation for success, I know that they may not be what carries us through to BDIPO and things like that because of how fast our business is moving. And so the maturity, I think of it as, okay, at what point do you need to get additional things? When you started the startup, you had two or three things. As you grow, you’re going to need four or 5, 6, 7 things. Hey, if you IPO, welcome to controls, you’re going to have to start doing that. And the list gets bigger and bigger. And that’s why you have to have people that support those things.

Chris Ortega (20:16):

Yeah, I love your analogy where you said, as you continue to mature in your finance organization and as your business continues to mature, you’re going to start uncovering, oh, we didn’t do this one. And the thing about it is, I think this is the thing I love about always being in startup scale up, and seeing it, that startup and scale up phase is like, now you have the opportunity, and it gets back to the first point that you mentioned.


You have to go back and self-reflect, right? You have to look back and say, Hey, what got us to a series A level and maybe it’s 80 million of revenue not going to be… That may not even be the same leadership team in the organization. That may not even be the same value proposition inside the finance team to get us to that next level. And you’ve got to come to that harsh reality and say, hey, I know for us to get to that next level, I need to bring on people that have more core competencies and business collaboration or are great communicators or people that have a great data technology insight that they can provide to the business. Because what got us too is I needed people that were curious to scratchy. That’s what got us to this level.


So that recognition and to that self-awareness and self-reflection, as you mentioned, you got to take that point. I think at different phases as I built teams and got us to scale and ultimately to acquisition, I’ve always looked at different transitions and I call them moments in time where it’s, hey, this is the moment of time, it’s season that we’re in. What have we already harvested in this season and what other seeds that we need to plant inside of people or maybe technology, our processes, our value, our performance, what other seeds do we need to be thinking about? That way when we get to this next season, we already have those season. It’s harvest, and it’s going to start giving us the value inside the business. And it’s a great point.

Lauren Bahr (22:04):

Totally, totally. Even when you’re thinking about people, I like how you said the first people are the warriors who can do it all. And even if you can have a player that can give B level support to everything that they need to do, and at a certain point, okay, you’ll say, actually, I need a player in this role or this role based on those priorities. And I think once you hit those certain inflection points, you’ll know. Hopefully you can stop it before something bad happens. You don’t want to crash and burn, but it’s just feeling that out and when that happens.

Chris Ortega (22:45):

Yeah, and I think that’s really an important point because a lot of finance leaders, we get to a certain point and we feel like we can do everything right? And we think our team can do everything. And then you get the CEO or the chief revenue officer and they’re like, hey, you got it to this point. You guys did everything. Why do you need an extra person? Why do you need FP&A? Why do you need data analytics? Why do you need this, right?


And I think it’s always making sure we make that case of, yes, we needed that in this season, but now if we want to continue to provide the value, if we want to continue to make the impact across the business, and we want to continue to be looked at as those strategic finance partners, this is what we need. And coming to the table with that, sales does it, marketing does it, all the other functional elements are like, this is what I need to get to here. I think we need to take the same approach.

Lauren Bahr (23:31):

Oh, a hundred percent.

Chris Ortega (23:32):

Yeah, hey, so one last question I have, and I ask every guest this, and I’m curious to know this from you. What is your number one hot finance trend and why?

Lauren Bahr (23:43):

Gosh, I don’t know if this is a finance trend, but I think just the pure amount of new software vendors there are out there to support finance and accounting is so exciting because they’ve identified, hey, we’re ripe for change and they’re motivated to start businesses to support us. And hey, five years ago, maybe you only had one or two AP vendors. Now you have, I don’t know, 10, 12, 15, so many. Whenever you go to conferences, there’s so many of them there. But I think it’s exciting, not because I want to use all of them, but because people are trying to make the lives of accountants better, and I can stand with that.

Chris Ortega (24:30):

And I think that’s the holy balance. The great balance that we’re seeing right now is like you’re starting to see technology adoption at the tactical level. It ties back to what we talked about. If you’re trying to have those resource constraint and you can’t go invest and hire more people, but you want to find that time that you can get back, which gives you more time to go from C to be more strategic. I can’t tell you how many different vendors there are around or to cash and AP. A Lot of these tactical areas where it bogs a lot of people down. There is countless solutions out there that are leveraging predictive and prescriptive analytics.


They can help compliment your ERP system and just, hey, I can go find a technology partner to help me automate it, give me the resource expertise and the time back to my team. So I definitely agree, that technology landscape is super exciting right now.

Lauren Bahr (25:19):

Yeah, it’s very exciting. Even if you’re grappling with, oh, but I have to do an implementation, sometimes you have to downshift to accelerate, right? And hopefully they’ve got the implementation figured out. And so I think it’s could be worth it a lot.

Chris Ortega (25:34):

Definitely, definitely. Hey, Lauren, thank you so much for taking time out on CFO trends. I’ve deeply enjoyed this conversation. I know we can talk about so many other different things, but if people want to learn more about you, if they want to connect with you more, learn more about Occupier and how your organization can help them standardize and understand or least accounting and standards, what can people learn more about you?

Lauren Bahr (25:55):

So for Occupier, you can go online to occupier.com. We have some amazing lease accounting resources out there. We have a memo, we have amortization schedules. We have a ton of really awesome stuff there. If you want to connect with me, you can follow me on LinkedIn. It’s linkedin.com/lobahr and then I also have a podcast that I’ll release every Friday, gives you little tidbits, five minutes or less on things that are going on in my world, and it’s called the Low Bar Finance Podcast.

Chris Ortega (26:27):

Nice, yeah, and I would highly recommend all those accounting, finance, FP&A, CFO professionals, go connect with Lauren, go follow her on LinkedIn. I have absolutely been behind the scenes of being a complete fan of everything that you’re doing, love everything, and the leadership and just authenticity that you bring to the finance organization at Occupier as well too. Lauren, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for being part of CFO Trends.

Lauren Bahr (26:50):

Thanks for having me so much.

Chris Ortega (26:53):


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