FSN Interview Rob Hull, President and Founder of Adaptive Planning

11th March 2013

Adaptive Planning is a rapidly growing international cloud-based CPM vendor which has quickly established a new paradigm for performance management in the Cloud, built around a fresh approach to application design and a more attractive economic and operating model than traditional on-premise offerings.  In under a decade, Adaptive Planning has built up a business of 1,500 customers and 45,000 users, spread over 80 countries and is growing at an annual rate of around 90 percent.  In this interview, Rob Hull, Adaptive Planning’s president and founder describes the company’s strategy to Gary Simon, FSN’s managing editor, as it embarks on the next phase of its global expansion.




Prior to founding Adaptive Planning, you served as CEO of ChemTracker and as CFO for a number of market-leading software companies, including LoopNet and Risk Management Solutions.  So what caused you to launch Adaptive Planning?

“The genesis of the company was my frustration, (as a CFO in industry) trying to do my job, with Excel spreadsheets and the alternatives such as Oracle Hyperion, SAP Business Objects and IBM Cognos.  Spreadsheets are fine as a personal productivity tool but not as a collaboration tool.  I was also put off by the expense and complexity of traditional on-premise tools and I had witnessed a lot of failed implementations that simply took too long.  At the same time I saw the success of Salesforce.com and how the CRM SaaS model was being driven and used by the business.  I realized that there was an opportunity to do things differently in the finance function as well.  I was fortunate enough to be in a position to do something about it and so I started the company.”

How is Adaptive Planning differentiated?

“Our approach is finance-led. We provide a tightly integrated CPM environment with the full range of capability, i.e. planning, analytics, BI, visualization and consolidation but underpinning it all is our focus on ‘ease of use’ and customer satisfaction.”

“Take for example our soon to be released consolidation product.  We’ve had consolidation capability for some time and many of our customers already produce a consolidation in Adaptive Planning.  But what we are doing is ‘productizing’ these features - making them as simple to use as the planning application.  We are providing lots of ‘drag and drop’ capability and making the whole thing more visual – it’s about taking out the complexity. The likes of Hyperion and IBM Cognos are too complicated.”

So what challenges does the business face?

“Our biggest challenge is keeping up with demand and scaling the organization.  We have proven demand together with a proven product and business model.  We are cash positive and we are now investing in the next step in our evolution backed by $22 million of funding from Norwest Venture Partners (NVP).”

“We have more than 100 customers in the UK and Europe and the launch in the UK is about putting ‘feet on the street’ in London.  It’s a stepping stone to yet more growth and our partners are an important part of this growth strategy. Local partners understand the local culture and are best placed to deliver services and support.”

But Hull concedes that initially, recruiting partners was not easy.  “There was a lot of hesitation,” says Hull.  “These days partners are increasingly comfortable with the SaaS model. It’s a different economic model for established resellers because they receive annuity income instead of an upfront sum.  Those partners who understood the advantages of a stable and predictable income jumped on board quickly. They found it brought about positive changes in the way they operate, for example, it freed them from the burden of implementing and managing infrastructure and instead they could add more value, focusing on becoming a strategic business partner.”

“The other notable shift is that we are selling Adaptive Planning directly to the finance function and Line of Business users rather than the IT function.  Everyone benefits.  The business users get their business problem solved affordably without being beholden to the IT function and the IT folks can concentrate on higher level matters.  IT is generally pretty happy with this although historically this was not always the case. The turnaround is because they do not need to allocate precious resources to these projects and can therefore concentrate on other priorities. Their role has changed from one of absolute control of IT spend to enabling the line of business functions to ask the right questions and make the best decision for the company.”

What about the technical challenge of integration?

“We already offer three different ways of integrating with Adaptive Planning, for example, flat files, APIs and increasingly through self service integration platforms.  We already link to all of the common ERP and financial management suites such as JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, Lawson, Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite, Sage and QuickBooks. Our aim is to continue to improve self service integration although many businesses simply use flat files.”

Do the global vendors present a threat?

“Since the very start naysayers have assuredly told me how Adaptive Planning would not succeed because of the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and IBM coming in to the SaaS market.  But they have a completely different business and economic model.  Our business is built on relationships and this runs right through our culture. A large enterprise sales culture does not translate well into the SaaS environment.”

“Nevertheless we do sell to quite large businesses. We have customers ranging from $5 million in revenue to over $50 billion.  The interesting development is that now we are quite commonly called into these larger businesses rather than us approaching them.  Large businesses are now much more open to the idea that their divisions do not have to standardize on Oracle or SAP.”

And in 5 years time?

“We are already the leading vendor in the CPM SaaS space and we will continue to expand the capabilities of the product. Our customer satisfaction and retention is the best in the industry and I think we have struck the right balance between customer contact and self service and with our proven business model we will continue to thrive,” adds Hull.