As the CEO of Scalus, Kristen Koh Goldstein certainly has her hands full. Then again, it’s been that way for a long time.
A graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Business School, Kristen is no stranger to walking difficult paths on the way to success. Among her previous jobs include being a portfolio trader, a research associate, an industry analyst, and a chief financial officer. In 2010, she founded BackOps, an “integrated, web-enabled, paperless back office solution for SMBs.”
By 2013, Kristen embarked on her newest venture: Scalus.
The struggles at the start
With all her previous experiences, some might think that establishing a new company would be a piece of cake, but it wasn’t. “I understood what it took to grow the business,” Kristen said, “As chairwoman and founder of BackOps, I established more than a decade’s worth of trust in the tech community. Otherwise, no one would entrust me with their banking and books.”
After a stint in Wall Street, Kristen’s career consisted of being an in-house handling finances at start-ups. Eventually, she became a CFO and worked part-time to start a family. As an outsourced, part-time CFO, she realized that there was at least one area where she needed help: accounting. Kristen needed her financial advice to be valid in order to be effective in her job as chief financial officer. However, finding the right people to help her with her weak points was just one problem to tackle.
In her day-to-day operations, Kristen used tools such as Excel, Quickbooks, and various others. However, the results were not what she expected. Workflow automation was needed on top of collaboration. This realization led to the creation of Scalus.
“You don’t need project management to scale your business. It’s process management that’s the key to scale.” Kristen states. “Other staples in my tech stack included Bill.com and Expensify.”
In addition to her tech woes, Kristen also had a problem that no new company can escape: funding. For this particular issue, she tackled it with one method: bootstrapping. “I am a big fan of timing. You boostrap until the right time to step on the gas.”
This time, it was a success. Through this method, Scalus acquired $3 Million in revenue within 18 months. In turn, this led to a 7M Series A from top-tier investors and $10 million overall.
On company culture and business management styles
Scalus has what Kristen refers to as ‘radical transparency.’ “I bring the team along the journey in real-time.” She explains. “They see why we make our decisions. They see the good, the bad, and even the ugly unfolding as it happens.”
One thing Kristen learned from her days in Wall Street is that it’s about getting immediate results. Radical transparency gets people there and is quite motivating for the right employees.
However, this is not for everyone, as Kristen found out the hard way. “I was once condemned as unfit to lead a venture backed company by members of my own team that came from big companies. They felt whipped around by the transparent and rapid decision making process.”
Kristen employs a particular business management style that involves outlining the pros, cons, risks, and benefits before making a decision as a team.
Work-life balance struggles
If anyone knows just how tough it can be to struggle a career and one’s personal life, it’s Kristen Koh Goldstein. After all, she took time off and began working part time to start a family. Her situation led to a discovery of a unique opportunity, which she instantly took advantage of.
“I started a part-time CFO business because I couldn’t work full time as a mom.” Kristen says, adding a joke: “I had to start my own business just so I could employ myself!”
As her own boss, Kristen didn’t have to make time to do everything on her own. The transactional side of business was the first that she focused on optimizing. Through her experiences, she learned that not only was the need for a work-life balance necessary, but so was the need to do it the right way.
On help received, lessons learned, and advice to impart
For the type of business Kristen has engaged in, having a network of trusted people is essential due to the fact that it can jump start one’s word-of-mouth marketing.
For Kristen herself, she points to two individuals that helped her tremendously: Aileen Lee from Cowboy ventures and Naval Ravakant from Angelist. “They really opened up their network with portfolio companies,” mentioned a grateful Kristen, “That really helped us a lot.”
As she continues to do well with her company, there is always time to look back and reflect on all the lessons learned from the journey so far. Kristen believes that it is in her DNA to be scrappy. “I graduated into a recession during the Gulf War,” she explains, “I got used to working hard and hustling at every job. This was a blind spot when I started out; I naturally assumed everyone would work just as hard.”
Figuring out how to reach goals with different methods is just among the things that Kristen wishes that she knew early on. It is fortunate for her that she also received advice from fellow entrepreneurs. “Adaptability regarding the things you can’t control is key; it’s not about how smart you are or how hard you work.”
Another lesson she wants to stress is true motivation regarding business.