Why hiring an FD for early stage growth has long-term benefits

Xchangepoint founder Richard Almeida on the value of the early stage FD and long-term relationships


When it comes to the internet, you don’t get many people better qualified than Richard Almeida. A serial entrepreneur, he’s founded various net technology companies along with a number of UK internet industry bodies. You could say he’s a businessman who knows how to make the right connections.

This was certainly the case when he first met his current FD Stephen Coles, who has been working with him now in a variety of set ups. Coles, a chartered accountant with over 25 years experience in FTSE 100 companies including Rank Xerox and Forte PLC, first joined up with Almeida when he was running web company Internet Network Solutions. He oversaw the sale of INS in 1999 to Cable and Wireless before taking up a part-time role at Almeida’s next venture Nexus. When that ran its course he came on full time to business telecommunications provider Xchangepoint, which his business buddy was already up and running.

Almeida says time and again Coles has ensured his business formula worked: “When you’re an early stage company everything you do generates bills, so it’s vital to get in a sound financial mind which allows you to concentrate on the business and not get involved in chasing money. That’s exactly what Stephen has done.”

“You need a good chartered accountant but who is also commercially aware – not just someone who will follow rules in a book but who actually understood the business. It’s my experience that, far from the stereotype, accountants are not socially inept, but are exceptionally good at being the financial face of your business,” he adds.

In the early days acting as a financial face was exactly what Coles needed to do to attract private investors into Almeida’s ventures, particularly back in the mid-nineties when no-one wanted much to do with internet businesses. As a non-executive director for other companies he knows exactly the sort of information and financial reporting investors require, saving his colleagues a lot of time and hassle. In fact it was his ability in this department, rather than any dotcom experience, which was at the forefront in his Almeida’s mind when he brought him on board in the first place.

“Back when we hired Stephen there weren’t really any candidates around with an online business background but I feel an FD’s skills are fairly portable between sectors. At the time I was concentrating on what was most important for us at that stage, and that was raising finance.”

So while some smaller businesses might question the need for an FD, Coles has made sure Xchangepoint’s financial future is a solid one, particularly with expansion into European cities including Hamburg and Frankfurt underway. And even though the firm has only 19 employees to date, bringing Coles in sooner rather than later has meant the working culture between the senior members of management has also been firmly defined. “Stephen sits next to me so I can’t say anything too horrible about him,” Almeida jokes. “But we work well together, all management interact, share ideas and, most importantly, trust each other completely.”

AT A GLANCE

Company name: Xchangepoint Activity: Business telecommunications provider Founded: 2002 Turnover: Undisclosed Employees: 19

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