CFOs

Coworking with Chermaine Hu

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· 4 min read

Coworking is a weekly segment where we talk to CFOs and others in the finance space about their experiences, their companies, and the larger economy. Let us know if you are—or you know—a CFO we should interview.

Chermaine Hu is CFO and co-founder of Episode Six, a payments-technology company with offices in Austin, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo that builds platforms for financial institutions and fintech companies. Founded in 2015, the company now has 130 employees globally.

Prior to founding Episode Six, what was your finance background?

I actually studied engineering at university and at the time, I decided that that may not be the career I actually wanted. I really wanted something a little bit more fast paced and with a lot more learning and growth. And as a result, right out of college, I went into investment banking. I was an M&A banker for 14+ years, and really learned a lot about all things finance, corporate finance, transactions, and a lot of those skills that you won’t necessarily think about what a CFO’s job is. I think a lot of it is really about learning how to attack situations, how to analyze problems, and then how to come up with ways to solve them.

Fundamentally, to me, the capacity to be able and willing to just understand the situation, and then find ways to solve it, is the most important skill that you need to have as a CFO.

How did your finance background inform the founding of your company and how did it influence the first couple of years?

It’s interesting, because my two partners and I are three very different people with very different skill sets. One of my partners is the technology genius; he built the platform. My other partner is really a business development expert with all the connections in this space, so that we know how to sell, who to sell to, who to talk to, how to get our product to market.

So I’m the one person left who, I guess, can handle some numbers, and I can analyze some situations. But then I became the person who deals with everything else that is involved in setting up a company. I mean, candidly, I didn’t really know what that truly entailed until you’re into it.

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A lot of this is not about, “You must have this education in order to be able to do this set of things,” it’s really about learning on the job, figuring things out, and being able and willing to just learn and do some research, do some homework. I have no skills in accounting nor tax, but at the same time, I’ve gone through so many audits, filed so many tax returns, with support, obviously, from some experts. But those are all things that I think you learn along the way.

What advice does present-day Chermaine give founding-day Chermaine?

Get the help when you need to. Starting a company is tough in many ways. You have to balance your resources. It’s not like out of the gate, we can go and hire lawyers, hire accountants. A lot of times we need to balance the risk of doing certain things that you’re not 100% comfortable with.

We’re paying a lot of money to figure out how to do it. I think being confident with making the right decision is a hard part of being an early-stage company executive.

Episode Six has offices all over the world. You have an afternoon to do whatever you want, wherever you want. Where is that and what is it?

Oh, I really enjoy being in my own office in Austin. No one set up any meetings with me so that I can actually sit down, do some thinking, do some planning, do some “real work.”

But obviously, a big part of my work is to connect with everybody across the world and solve problems as they come about. But yeah, an afternoon where I can just focus on a few things that have been on the back burner for a while would be perfect for me.—DA

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