How to tap into acting skills in a CFO role – and the biggest mistakes that business founders make.
Thirteen years ago, Bradley Channer, CFO at interactive gaming chair manufacturer Roto VR came to England with nothing but £70 in his pocket and £20 on his Oyster travel card. His first London job was getting people into Soho nightclubs for £1 a person.
It was a far cry from his native Australia. Bradley had worked in kids TV, having trained at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and the Actors College of Theatre and Television. He’d come to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music, intent on a career in performing arts.
Yet after graduating and becoming disillusioned with his earning potential as an actor, Bradley took an altogether different route.
“I decided to start up my own company instead,” Bradley recalls. “I started an app called Free Beer that would give free beers out around London. It was my first company, and it failed miserably, so I have all the scars. And that’s a good thing – you need to fail in business a few times to become a better entrepreneur.”
A new beginning
Bradley quickly discovered he had a flair for business finance, acting as an ad-hoc consultant for an acquaintance. He ended up working as the CFO and gaining an accountancy qualification with CIMA. “I haven’t looked back since. I had the knack for raising money for start-ups. I understood what start-ups needed in terms of business structure and investments, and I just spoke the language.”
On one level, the acting profession seems a world away from the corporate finance world, but Bradley insists the opposite is true.
“There’s no difference between acting and business. The skills you learn in acting school are the skills you use every day in business, like confidence and having self-belief.” Acting school, says Bradley, teaches you how to express how you feel, manage people and most importantly, communicate with lots of different stakeholders.
Bradley prepares for meetings in the same way he used to work on scripts as an actor. “I work out what my objective is, what I’m trying to achieve and how I’ll meet my objectives. I also use a ‘through phrase’, which is a phrase or word that sums up why you’re in that meeting. If you forget everything else, the through-phrase will help you stay focused and achieve your objective.”
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Wear many hats
Bradley’s passion is helping post funded start-ups “get their act together”. He does this through creating and implementing business strategies, financial modelling, building infrastructure and raising capital to encourage sustainable growth.
As well as working as CFO at Roto VR, Bradley is also the founder of specialist financial services provider Acceler8me, which helps firms prepare for investment, drive growth and build infrastructure. He’s also worked for the Welsh government, running workshops for start-ups. He currently sits on the Creative Wales Digital Stakeholder Group.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bradley has supported and advised hundreds of start-up companies over the years, both as an in-house CFO and as a consultant. “You know things are getting surreal when you’re calling up Geri Halliwell and Ronan Keating to remind them to pay their invoices!”
Yet while clients and customers need chasing to ensure they settle invoices, Bradley believes start-ups spend ‘too long’ ensuring they’re paying their bills on time when it isn’t sustainable.
“It really annoys me,” he admits. “Cash Management is key for a seed-funded start-up. For some reason, young companies feel they have to pay everyone early or dead on time. It’s easier and cheaper to have one or two paydays a month. That way, you have full oversight over cash flow. But too many business owners pay suppliers on a weekly or even daily basis. They then spend half their time worrying about paying people instead of focusing on their actual businesses.”
In Bradley’s view, the lean approach pays off to limit monthly transactions and in headcount and software. Finance functions, in general, are likely to shrink severely in future years, he believes, thanks to automation taking on the majority of financial processes. But training is critical for quality staff.
At the same time, Bradley believes there’s an issue with some fintech platforms, particularly forecasting software, which he says isn’t up to scratch. “I’ve yet to find forecasting software that’s better than Excel. There are so many variables; new software requires a lot of training before staff are competent. Excel is straightforward, nimble and much more accurate.”
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Bradley, who has been CFO/COO at Roto VR for over a year, is responsible for everything from financial forecasting and modelling to HR. “Unlike a traditional accountancy role, it is important for CFOs to look forward, not back.
“The problem with a lot of accountants is that they worry more about why the general ledger is out by three pence, rather than the £1,000 the CEO wants to spend tomorrow. A C-level needs to think forward 80% and back 20%.”
Before the pandemic, 80% of sales of the VR chairs were B2B, including amusement arcades and to the military. But with lockdown and the subsequent closure of arcades and other entertainment venues, the start-up had to diversify, releasing new products with cheaper price tags for consumers. Now, 80% of their sales are to gamers.
“There are 3,000 parts to one chair,” says Bradley. “Our gaming chairs enhance the experience of virtual reality by allowing 360-degree rotation, controller mounting and 3D touch.”
While many start-ups have struggled over the past 15 months, Roto VR is one of the few which have done well. It’s thanks, in part, to its ability to transform as a company and respond and adapt to change. In many ways, lockdown presented new opportunities. With most people at home for more extended periods, it’s no surprise that gaming chairs have increased in popularity. Roto VR embraced change and thrived.
In Bradley’s view, this ability to pivot – or not – is where start-ups tend to go wrong. Often, CEOs hold fast to their original ideas and don’t listen, even when it becomes clear their concept won’t survive. “It’s one of the biggest reasons businesses don’t succeed,” says Bradley. “Leaders don’t listen, and they refuse to adapt.”Bradley likens it to raising a child. Babies require a lot of care and attention. But once they become children, they need to attend school, where other people come on board to provide care. “But here’s the thing,” says Bradley. “That child is yours, but you don’t own your child. Your job is to care for them. It’s the same with business. A founder is paid to look after the business, but ultimately, they need to let go and allow it to adapt and change. A good CEO steps back and listens to those around them – and that’s key.”