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53 The Road to Success is Always Under Construction with Chris Roling, CFO at Coinme

Chris Roling has 35 years of commercial and private equity experience, having served in board, CEO, COO, and CFO positions with a number of global public and private companies. Currently he is CFO at Coinme, a crypto financial services and blockchain technology company that is dedicated to helping the world gain access to virtual currency. A self proclaimed, ‘global nomad,’ Chris has worked across the world for many different companies and verticals. His vast experience in nearly every functional area of finance and mindset of taking the path less traveled has allowed Chris to successfully guide and help Coinme prosper as it scales quickly in an expanding industry.

Notes

Episode 53: Coinme | With Chris Roling, CFO

Chris Roling has 35 years of commercial and private equity experience, having served in board, CEO, COO, and CFO positions with a number of global public and private companies. Currently he is CFO at Coinme, a crypto financial services and blockchain technology company that is dedicated to helping the world gain access to virtual currency. A self proclaimed, ‘global nomad,’ Chris has worked across the world for many different companies and verticals. His vast experience in nearly every functional area of finance, and mindset of taking the path less traveled, has allowed Chris to successfully guide and help Coinme prosper as it scales quickly in an expanding industry.

To be a successful CFO, Chris believes you need to take chances and get out of your comfort zone. At the same time, he encourages a philosophy of keeping it simple and not over-complicating things. He sees the role of a CFO as someone who provides a common sense approach to their company. 

Chris feels strongly that variety, networking, and international experiences are keys to learning and success for CFOs. He also views the CEO and CFO partnership as absolutely instrumental to a company’s success, requiring collaboration to focus on the success of the customer, investors, and overall company strategy. 

In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Chris talks about his vast experiences working with companies around the world. He provides insight into the state of the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry, and how the technology is connecting people and companies throughout the world. As Coinme quickly scales as the crypto industry grows, Chris discusses his approach to working as a CFO with a startup and how to ensure success through a new and emerging market. 

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Guest Analysis

Name: Chris Roling

What he does: Chris Roling has 35 years of commercial and private equity experience, having served in board, CEO, COO, and CFO positions with a number of global public and private companies. Currently he is CFO at Coinme, a crypto financial services and blockchain technology company that is dedicated to helping the world gain access to virtual currency. A self proclaimed, ‘global nomad,’ Chris has worked across the world for many different companies and verticals. He has vast experience in nearly every functional area of finance and the mindset of taking the path less traveled. Chris believes you need to take chances and get out of your comfort zone, and feels strongly that variety, networking, and international experiences are keys to learning and success for CFOs.

Key Quote: “I've worked for very large companies, very small companies, and I love the small startup or small company environment, just because it's much easier to make an influence and much easier to kind of pivot and make changes. And I really enjoy being able to see the before and after of your hard work. I think it's much easier in a small company environment to see that and measure, as opposed to a major multi-national.”

Where to find Chris: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisroling/

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From Chris’ Playbook

Take a leap of faith

Chris thinks that to become a successful CFO you need to “take the leap of faith, jump off the bridge, and hope the rope holds.” There are many ways to do this. Learn about new areas of finance. Work in different industries and with companies of all sizes. Go international to learn about different cultures, people, and places. If you have a chance to move out of your comfort zone, take it. In the finance function it is often the same no matter where you are in the world. The language might be a bit different, but the biggest difference comes in the size of a company. If you or your team are having trouble taking on a risk, take a step back to take two steps forward. Exploring the unknown and taking chances is fundamental.

Variety and insight are essential to learning and success

Become as commercial as you can. Step out and go into other areas. Raise your hand for projects out of your comfort zone. Pick your battles and fight them accordingly, but don’t take on any that you have no chance of winning. Always be measured in whatever you do, understanding what are the facts available, and decipher what is the best return you can get with what you’re working on. A value-added piece of business or finance function is in the financial analysis and reporting space. Focus on business partnering, embedding yourself and your team in different parts of the business, being the eyes and ears of organization. The partnership with other functions and financial analysis brings a lot of added value and will assist decision making.

Funding is about finding the delicate balance

You want to ensure that you've got enough cash runway, but you don't necessarily want to raise more than you need at lower valuations. You don’t want to risk ending up diluting your ownership, particularly if you're a private company. A CFO needs to ensure accuracy in terms of cash burn and cash runway. While you don’t want to raise more than you necessarily need, you've got to make sure you have an adequate runway in case the markets turn, or you're not able to raise money when you need it later. Research and focus on customer value and the cost of customer acquisition. As long as you have the technology and data analytics, you will be in a much better place to situate your company and help it grow.

Networking is fundamental

The people you meet and work with along your career are hugely important. Don’t ever burn bridges, because you never know when you might need the insight or assistance from someone in your network. In the end, the world is actually a small place and you never know who you may run across again. Maintain and cultivate relationships you gain over the years. They could help in so many areas, like recruiting, fundraising, and mentorship. People will become your greatest asset down the road.

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Episode Highlights

Figuring out financing is an art

“There is no science to company valuation. You can triangulate, and I faced this as a private equity professional where I had the money. Quite frankly, that's an easier side of the table to be on. Now, I find myself on the other side of the table where I'm looking for money, trying to raise money, and it becomes a negotiation. It's more of an art rather than a science in terms of the valuation.”

Finding the time for tech

“It's a natural trend I think for technology to, let's just say, supplant to some extent the human resource side of things. But I've seen it go wrong. I'm a firm believer in the circle of life. And if I think what we need to do is serve the customer either externally or internally and use the technology to do that in the best way we can. And, where technology won't allow, we do it the old fashioned way; You know, blood, sweat, and tears.”

Take comfort in construction

“Somebody once said the road to success is always under construction. And I can't tell you how many detours I've taken, how many U-Turns I've taken. I've run off the road, but you know, I've climbed back on when I've broken down. Basically, there is no one way. I think exploring the unknown, taking chances, is fundamental.”

Venture towards variety

“My greatest asset is the fact that I've worked in so many different companies, so many different countries, so many different functions, that I've built and maintained a network of colleagues, peers, and customers. It's funny how the world is actually a very small place and you run across people that you dealt with 10 or 15 years ago. And fortunately I've maintained and I've cultivated that network and it's paid off a thousand fold.”

Top quotes:

05:00

“I've worked for very large companies, very small companies, and I love the small startup or small company environment, just because it's much easier to make an influence and much easier to kind of pivot and make changes. And I really enjoy being able to see the before and after of your hard work. I think it's much easier in a small company environment to see that and measure, as opposed to a major multi-national.”

08:54

“There is no science to company valuation. You can triangulate, and I faced this as a private equity professional where I had the money. Quite frankly, that's an easier side of the table to be on. Now, I find myself on the other side of the table where I'm looking for money, trying to raise money, and it becomes a negotiation. It's more of an art rather than a science in terms of the valuation.”

10:29

“Overall, I think for the industry, for the startup community, for certainly some of these cryptocurrency firms or blockchain firms, I think it is healthy that some of the air comes out of the bubble, so to speak. These are very difficult businesses to value, the cost of customer acquisition, et cetera, et cetera. And quite frankly, as long as we have the data and we can capture that data using new technologies and new data analytics, we stand in a much better place to be able to negotiate with these venture capitalists and these private equity firms, and these private investors to justify the valuation that we're going out for.”

12:28

“You want to ensure that you've got enough cash runway but you don't necessarily want to raise more than you need at lower valuations. Therefore you end up diluting your ownership, particularly if you're a private company. And so it's a very delicate balance for me or for any CFO in a similar position in terms of, we need accuracy in cash burn and cash runway. We don't want to raise more than we necessarily need because of dilution reasons. Yet you want to raise enough that you've got an adequate runway in case the markets turn, or you're not able to raise money.”

22:39

“The reality is I've actually had a harder time or a more challenging time, big company versus small company. And that transition I think is much more challenging than picking up and moving from Germany to Switzerland or to Italy or whatever. And obviously there's challenges with that, you know, cultural challenges, language challenges, but as a finance guy, that was relatively an easy transition. The challenge of moving to a small company or a startup is you need to build that platform. The team becomes much more important and basically hiring ahead of where you are at the moment. So hiring big.”

29:06

“In terms of crypto, it's a highly transactional accounting type system. We need to know for every customer when did they buy the crypto? What was the price? We have to calculate the fees. We have to calculate what state they were in because of state reporting, on and on and on. We have ‘KYC’ which is - know your customer data, which could be potentially valuable from a marketing perspective. And I think the challenge that we're facing is we have a tremendous amount of data. How do we sift through it? How do we throw out the outliers? How do we come up with meaningful statistics? And that's something that we're kind of learning as we go, particularly from a cryptocurrency and blockchain perspective.”

30:07

“It's a natural trend I think for technology to let's just say supplant to some extent the human resource side of things, but I've seen it go wrong. I'm a firm believer in the circle of life. And if I think what we need to do is serve the customer either externally or internally and use the technology to do that in the best way we can. And, where technology won't allow, we do it through the old fashioned way; You know blood, sweat, and tears.”

31:10

“Three and a half years ago it was a massive challenge (hiring people at Coinme). And what I had to do is say, ‘Hey, look, I'm a normal guy, look at my background. If I'm willing to take this plunge then you ride with me. I mean we're both wearing the ankle braces for the bungee jump and I'm going with you. I'm not completely crazy.’ So it was very much trying to portray the strategy, the vision that we're in this together. And it worked in some cases and it didn't work in other cases where people just said, no, not for us. If you fast forward to the current day I'm beating people away. All of a sudden we've become the cool kid. Everybody wants to work in cryptocurrency. It's become much more main street. The financial institutions are starting to get involved.”

32:24

“I felt very much as if I was the CFO of a leper colony/ Three and a half years ago I couldn't find a bank willing to open up operating accounts. I couldn't find an auditor to do audits. Never before have I pleaded for an audit. And, we were trying to hire people, and it was all quite challenging. And now all of a sudden, hiring is not an issue. Banking is not an issue.”

34:10

“We view it (cryptocurrency) very much as a new technology and a much more efficient and effective way of remitting money of payments and then obviously we have a lot of customers that view it as an investment. They trade it, but all three of those markets are you know, trillion dollar markets, be it the remittance market, the payment market, and the crypto trading market. And fortunately Coinme spans all three of those.”

36:07

“We think from a technology perspective, it makes the world much more efficient. There are a lot of developments in terms of central bank coinage, stable coins - which willl take some of the volatility out of it. And that quite frankly has been the hardest thing for me as a CFO is we don't necessarily know, speculate, or trade in whether Bitcoin is up or down. So we essentially collect a transaction fee regardless of whether somebody buys or sells the currency. And quite frankly, volatility actually is correlated with trading volatility. And so as there's volatility, there's more trades, which means there's more transaction fees for us. And that's what we're driven by is how do we increase customer retention? How do we increase customer transactions?”

40:49

“Somebody once said the road to success is always under construction. And I can't tell you how many detours I've taken, how many U turns I've taken. I've run off the road, but you know, I've climbed back on when I've broken down. Basically, there is no one way. I think exploring the unknown, taking chances, is fundamental.”

42:35

“My greatest asset is the fact that I've worked in so many different companies, so many different countries, so many different functions, that I've built and maintained a network of colleagues, peers, and customers. It's funny how the world is actually a very small place and you run across people that you dealt with 10 or 15 years ago. And fortunately I've maintained and I've cultivated that network and it's paid off a thousand fold - in terms of me being able to go out and recruit, being able to fundraise, being able to mentor or be mentored. And so I would say fundamentally maintain the network, don't burn bridges. It will become your greatest asset down the road.”

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