Q+A: Chris Fenster of Propeller Industries
Can you tell us a little bit about Propeller Industries and the work that you do?
Start-up companies are not generally known for having awesome financial management. The challenge is that if you can only afford one part-time person you usually wind up with a bookkeeper. They can help deal with bills and payroll, etc., but they’re not going to help you figure out how much money to raise, how to price your products or how to actually make money and be successful. At Propeller, we basically take the finance and accounting processes out of our clients' offices and stick them in the cloud -- where we can “productize" much of the work and staff it the way a bigger company would. Companies who are growing rapidly and need more than bookkeeping but can’t yet afford to hire 2 or 3 full time people can spread their finance and accounting budget over a flexible team of 5 or 6 people with highly specialized talent and lots of pattern-recognition — all under one point of CFO accountability. As they grow, we can help clients hire their own finance teams and gradually transition workload back to them.
What's changed since you started in 2008?
Well for one thing, I no longer work out of a spare bedroom in San Francisco. I moved to DUMBO three and a half years ago to open our office here and now we have 80+ full time employees in seven offices on three continents. Our clients have raised well over a billion dollars from some of the best investors in the world and we get to work with some amazing entrepreneurs at companies like BioLite, Casper and Sir Kensingtons. I used to get bored as the CFO for one company at a time. Now, not so much.
As both the owner of your own business and someone who consults for startups and early-stage companies, do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I’m a failure junkie - it’s something I have extensive experience with. The population of things you need to get right to succeed is massive and complex but the things that cause failure are surprisingly consistent and, for the most part, easily preventable. Spend 1/20 of your time thinking about how NOT to fail and your odds of success will improve dramatically.
I love this place. DUMBO feels like 1/3 startups, 1/3 toddler patrol and 1/3 hipster -- I got into an elevator in our building the other day with like 10 other people and I realized I was the only one without a beard. It’s hard to imagine a place where I could be so immersed in my work passion, raise two kids under six and not feel like I was turning into my Dad.
Favorite spots in DUMBO?
We spend a lot of time at the Pirate Ship & just generally cruising around Brooklyn Bridge Park. I love the Archway & look out on it from our office and I probably spend too much time buying small-batch booze at the Mouth store on Water St.