Startup Blueprint: Scott Maud, CFO of Trade Me

Michaela Egbers

The Startup Blueprint series shares insights from the founders and operators building companies & ideas defining what the world could become. Hear about their journeys, learn from their insights, and maybe leave with a dose of inspiration. 

Hear from finance leader and CFO of Trade Me, Scott Maud. He shares his perspectives on the evolving role of finance in different stages of business growth, the importance of crafting an equity story, and the critical role finance plays in translating business strategy into actionable initiatives. He also offers valuable insight on on decision-making, capital allocation, and prioritising key business initiatives.


Scott Maud is a powerhouse business leader who has worn strategic CFO and COO hats throughout his career. He has played pivotal roles in scaling businesses globally, navigating them through multiple capital events, and contributing to the growth of companies that saw their enterprise value increase in the magnitude of billions. He advises up-and-coming leaders and startup founders, and has recently joined Trade Me as their CFO. Plus, he’s as humble and down-to-earth as they come :)

Scott’s in-depth interview below exemplifies his generosity in sharing his time and expertise, something that he also does for a cohort of finance leaders within the Icehouse Ventures portfolio. We're stoked to bring you a treasure trove of his insights below, ranging from; 

  •  The evolving role of finance from the early to growth stages of a business, and how to leverage external and internal resource at different stages
  • What an equity story is and why it’s important to think about it early on
  • Finance's crucial role in translating business strategy into actionable initiatives and fostering healthy tension during financial decision-making
  • Making decisions on uncomfortable levels of instinct, to
  • Frameworks and criteria for evaluating the most appropriate allocation of capital and prioritising key business initiatives


Kia ora Scott,

You’re a business leader who has traversed CFO and COO roles from early-stage to high-growth startups and now sit in the CFO seat at TradeMe (congratulations on the recent appointment).

Firstly, what are the key roles a finance leader has in the early stages of a startup? Does this evolve over time as the startup scales?

SM: I think the role of finance changes over time in a startup, especially as you move from an early-stage startup into a growth-stage. I think it's clever in the early stages to leverage outsourced resource rather than investing in a finance leader or a finance team from the word go.

When I think about the role of finance, whether it's outsourced finance, a finance leader, or a team, I really believe that finance should create significant shareholder value, and not just be a support function. I think the heart of good finance is when you see yourself as responsible for making sure that strategy translates into performance. When that occurs, it most often translates into value creation as well. So with that, I see finance as much more valuable and more widely defined than the traditional view of the function.

When you think about the ages or the stages of a start-up, the ability for finance to have that ultimate impact is going to evolve as you move from the early stage into the growth phases. I think you need to optimise how you use financial resource through those phases by getting the right balance between external and internal resource. 

It’s a massive simplification, but as an example, I’ll split the phases of a start-up into two stages:

Phase 1: In the very first stage when you're starting up a business, the focus is very much around creating a great product and working out how to sell it, ultimately turning it into revenue. At that stage, you will naturally maximise resource around that objective and keep it very, very lean outside of that. The role that finance plays during that stage is really around setting up the foundations to measure and report the business's performance. There are multiple aspects, the foundations, that finance needs to get right; from accounting systems to the bookkeeping processes, cash forecasting, tax compliance, payroll, reporting and then the emergence of KPIs as the business starts to turn products into revenue. At this stage, I would recommend leveraging a virtual CFO service because they are a very efficient way to capture the multiple disciplines that you need to lay those foundations and be able to grow.

Phase 2:  After the business starts generating revenue, it transitions into a stage where it needs a growth plan. It’s likely the moment when you've got to raise meaningful capital to capture all those opportunities and accelerate your growth. This is when finance transitions from that laying of the foundations into a high-impact function. 

The question I've heard from lots of founders is when is it worth the investment in capable finance leadership? My answer for that would be, before you go through your first strategic planning process. 

When you do go through a strategic planning process, that's when you want finance resource with strong analytical skills to help you analyse your strategic options, translate your chosen strategy into a commercial operating and financial plan, and then set up good reporting and management cadence in the business. A key part of that is installing accountability and the ability to track execution, so you can course correct as you're operating. I'm a big believer in how important the tracking of execution is because that's when the value is actually created, when you actually get the stuff done.

In terms of building a plan, it doesn't have to be perfect or complicated, all it needs to be is something that translates those strategic goals, objectives, and performance measures against time and resource. It’s translating the strategic ideas into something that's measurable reality. 

When finance has the opportunity to translate the strategy into a plan and then ultimately see that translate into performance, I think that's where the finance skill set really comes into its own and adds value to a business.


"I really believe that finance should create significant shareholder value, and not just be a support function. I think the heart of good finance is when you see yourself as responsible for making sure that strategy translates into performance. When that occurs, it most often translates into value creation as well."


Based on that, how do you go about finding the right person or the right virtual CFO in the early stages??

SM: I would leverage the virtual CFO when you're looking for more of that financial controller type skill set to set up the foundation of a business. Though virtual CFO’s can also get into the world of doing good forecasting and the KPIs that you want. 

When it comes time and you're maturing out of using a virtual CFO service and you want to bring in the in-house resource, the type of person that can help achieve that phase two growth I described is often one with a background of a financial planning and analysis capability or management accounting capability. They can come from various places in the finance market but you could characterise that capability as opposed to a core kind of financial control capability. 

Having said that, I would not be looking to stereotype someone based on the title that they're coming to you with. I'd be looking for someone that has got proven financial capability, an inquisitive mind, and are passionate about learning business. Ultimately, like I said before, understanding a strategy, understanding what will make it successful, and being able to use their skill to translate that into a financial plan.


We’ve heard you speak about a startup’s ‘Equity Story’ - can you elaborate on what that means and the importance of it? How does that tie into a startup finance leader’s role in the capital-raising process?

SM: There are various terminologies for this, but for me, the equity story is the heart of the growth story that you'll tell when you're looking to attract equity investment into the business. The story you're telling also becomes part of the investor's thesis and why they believe your business will make a good investment for them and create value for them as part of a broader portfolio of investments.

Even though this is a story that you'd tell at the point of raising capital, I'm a big believer that you should pause and develop the story well ahead of that time. There are some real benefits to doing that. It allows you to be clear on what's important for your long-term value early on, and then you can start building evidence in your business to build credibility in that story when you're actually going to raise capital. Increasingly, in this world where people are doing more diligence before they invest, it's really important to have that track record of evidence surrounding your equity story.

So, more practically, what I see as an equity story is a bit of a one-page narrative that translates the company's version and mission into more practical strategic goals and objectives and outlines how the company will leverage its strengths and competitive advantages to capitalise on growth opportunities. Also including why people should believe that your business is uniquely positioned to create outsized equity returns, which is coming back to the term ‘equity story’.

You could see it as a one-page summary of your pitch deck, all the most powerful points in your pitch deck. And, as I said before, I'd recommend doing it well before you actually write a pitch deck. As part of a strategic planning process is often a good time to stop and try and put pen to paper around this. It allows you to really challenge yourself around the essence of what makes your business great and why you believe your business would present a unique and valuable opportunity.

I think building up evidence of a track record is so important to make it compelling. When you've got this compelling story supported by evidence it ultimately translates into value.  An investor looks at it and it's more believable because you've de-risked some aspects of it by proving you can do some of it. You don't have to have done all of it, but it’s about laying the foundations and the muscles to show that your business can do these things. 

So from a finance perspective and the role of a finance leader in this - I see this as another discipline or another way that a finance function can properly add value to a business. During a capital raise finance leaders have a pretty big role in multiple directions, but one of the most valuable contributions of finance is actually being able to de-risk the long-term plan by showing the evidence of the ability to deliver that long-term plan.

Finance capability can help define the points of evidence that would be most valuable in supporting the equity story, and then challenge the business to actually do those things over the periods before they actually go to raise capital. 

Businesses often have so many opportunities in front of them, and I think you want to try and get a bit of balance between horizon one and horizon two and horizon three opportunities, because it really does help the story.  The foundations of the equity story often relate more to the opportunities that you unlock when you're working towards horizon two and horizon three. I'd encourage finance leaders to develop this long-term story as part of the strategic planning cycles, and then keep the evidence of that as they trade through periods of the business. 

What I've done practically in the past as a finance leader is I've actually kept a page in my digital notebook, titled equity story. Then as I see things that occur, you know, day-to-day points of evidence, which I think, oh, that was pretty cool that we've achieved that, I'll literally make notes on it. When it does come time to do a capital raise or go through some sort of transaction in the future, you've got this catalogue or this diary of things your business has achieved. And to be honest, I look at that list sometimes and I probably only skit back to about 20% of the best stuff. But it does remind you of the strength in your business that you’ve leveraged to be successful to get to where you are.

The other point I’ll make is that often in startup and growth world, the opportunities ahead of your business at any point in time are vast and you can't deliver all of them at the same time, the rate limiter is often the amount of cash and resource you’ve got. And again, if you've developed your equity story early before you're actually going to raise capital and continue to build your business around it, it means that if you had an opportunity to raise capital to go quicker than you weren't expecting, you're ready to jump on it. 

I think through my career and there's been a couple of times that's happened. You never feel perfectly prepared, but if you've been thinking about what you're trying to create out of a business, it does put you in an advantaged position to be more ready than otherwise.


Do you have examples of the types of things you’d use to build an equity story? 

SM: They are often customer-centric and one that always comes to mind is when you've successfully negotiated a contract extension. It's a proof point around your ability to retain customers because they see value in your product. It's a very financial lens to put on it but it is recognising that you're translating customer value into financial outcomes.

Another one is when we've done integrations with third-party products. Again it’s about creating more value for your customers. Today's integration can turn into tomorrow's acquisition. And it's almost like a try-before-you-buy type motion of creating value for customers, with the potential of also creating value for your own enterprise by actually acquiring that business, which often then lays the foundation to be able to create more value for your customers as well because you can have an even tighter integration when you control both sides.

Finance functions or CFOs can be seen as the ones who pull the reins in and are in opposition to the outlandish ideas proposed to find scale. How much of that is true (or necessary) and how much of that comes down to how senior leaders collaborate and find alignment on how to execute on a startup’s vision? 

SM: There's some truth in this. What you're asking about here comes down to smart allocation of resource and capital to the most valuable and strategic opportunities in a business, and that's core to what a finance leader should do. Though it's much easier to say that phrase than actually to do it, in practice it's far more of an art than a science, right?

You always need to take bets with incomplete information, and there are always trade-offs. You often find that you're making decisions on what I'd describe as uncomfortable levels of instinct. And one of the best ways to get better at that is with experience of making decisions and seeing the outcomes.

I think in that whole trade off and pulling the reins in, finance’s role is to create a healthy tension in the business where investment decisions are made with an honest view of the return on investment. I say honest because often there can be operating myths in business where people think something's true, but you actually need some good analysis to support whether it is the truth.

You then need to track these things through execution with good accountability frameworks and that allows you to course correct quickly. Often if you've made a decision to prioritise something and it was wrong and you're tracking it and you're not seeing the outcomes you expect, you can fail quickly and move on to something else.

To be successful in the most appropriate allocations of capital I think you need three things: 

  1. A good strategic plan to know where you're heading and how you're creating value, 
  2. An investment or opportunity assessment criteria to then assess opportunities consistently and honestly,
  3. A cash flow forecast to understand what's the constraint that you’re operating with because you can't do everything. As your business grows, that translates from a cash flow forecast to more of a profit-based forecast as you become a profitable business because profitability will be very important.

There's always need for trade-offs because typically the opportunities exceed what you've got available to invest. There will always be outlandish ideas and the role of finance is to help the business apply an appropriate level of rigour in assessing those opportunities and getting comfortable with the return on investment to then help rank order those opportunities. 

I think there's nearly always incomplete information and having conviction with incomplete information is one of the most tricky things for finance to navigate. You've got to be careful not to over-engineer this process and realise you're not going to have all the perfect information and you are going to have to make decisions on gut feel. But it's a case of putting the right structure around that and knowing where you've made decisions without complete information and making sure the business is aligned to how you've made those decisions.

My advice is to design a basic framework of criteria and have the business actually agree to that. So long as that's consistent and objectively applied, then you normally get to a sensible outcome, you can normally filter out those outlandish ideas, and if someone really wants to make a captain's call and go ahead with it, at least you've had a good level of analysis behind making that decision.

Finance can’t always be seen to be saying no. The business has to own the final decisions on these things and endorse the way they are assessed and made. But at the heart of this, I think finance needs to see itself as having the role of the good steward of capital. You've got these finite resources and you need to come up with the right framework to allocate it in the most efficient way.


Following on from the above, even when there is great communication and collaboration between senior leaders, it can still be difficult to decide which of the many possible value-add projects should be pursued with the limited available resources. What assessment criteria or methodologies do you apply to help the business prioritise and translate strategy into agreed-upon initiatives? 

SM: I boil this down to 5 criteria.

  1. Strategic focus: how aligned to your strategic plan is it, often that's your horizon-1 objectives,
  2. Long-term strategic value: this is often thinking about horizon 2 and horizon 3, and links back to the point around the equity story and building evidence for that. I think it's really important to get a balance between those things when you're thinking about your investment priorities, 
  3. Value of the benefits: based on the cost of the investment, these are often quite hard to pin down. What you can do is have a rating system or a scoring system and score things relative to each other. Rather than having to put a million dollars of revenue on an idea, if you rated it 10 out of 10 because it's high value, it's a very quick way to cut through a bunch of noise and have a relative prioritisation outcome,
  4. Customer or market validation: have customers validated that they will pay for this particular outcome? 
  5. Market-wide use: how wide is the application of an investment outcome within your customer base? Can your whole addressable market get value from this particular investment or is it more narrow?

Apply them in a scorecard, potentially with different weightings, and to move quickly be comfortable making a quick judgement. For example, it’s often hard to get accurate benefits and costs, so use scoring between projects… ie does the benefit from an opportunity feel more or less than other opportunities?

I think that the art here is making quick judgement based decisions and it works pretty well. It's not a perfect size but it allows you to rank everything and gets you ~80% of the way fairly quickly.


Would you suggest the senior leadership team go through this ranking together? 

SM: I think a finance leader should build this criteria in conjunction with product leaders and then I think a leadership team endorses it. 


🔥 Quick-fire questions 

A resource you recommend all finance startup leaders check out?

A resource that is often overlooked is your Board - when I reflect on the most effective learning moments of my career, it has been learning from the experience around me… directors, investors… they often see so much across the market and can also connect you with their network… they are absolutely incentivised to help

NZTE have often been very helpful in growing internationally.

A word or phrase that reflects how you approach life at the moment?

Keep listening and learning - pace of life keeps getting quicker and quicker, and with that there is so much changing, need to be open minded and don't miss opportunities to learn… in fact seek them out.

It’s the year 2044, what’s one thing that you hope has materially changed for the better as a result of the work you’re involved with?

I would love for NZ to be seen as a global technology powerhouse.  While our remote location has it's benefits, it has traditionally been tricky to scale a business from NZ.  But technology is a mode of commerce has massively reduced that challenge… and we have seen a few NZ success stories, but I feel like we are potentially starting to see more in this next cohort.

I look at the nordics, countries a similar size to us, and they have various tech companies in the US$10bn-$20bn+ enterprise value range

In NZ we have so much talent, great ideas and a unique hunger to win on the global stage… we've got all the components, let's go take the opportunity



Meet Scott here.


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Tags: Startups, Founders, CEO

Michaela Egbers

Written by Michaela Egbers

Head of Marketing at Icehouse Ventures