Anaplan is a trail-blazer in the cloud and, within a very short period of time, has established itself as a formidable player in complex business planning and analytics in large enterprises, altering market perceptions about what is possible in the cloud. Fred Laluyaux, its charismatic CEO, joined the business from SAP just over a year ago, and under his leadership, the company has attracted new funding, doubled its headcount, opened new offices worldwide, added some notable household names as customers and is poised for even more ambitious growth in 2014. Fred stopped over in London to speak to FSN’s managing editor Gary Simon, to explain why he believes that the era of the super-vendors (IBM, Oracle and SAP) is over.
Editor: Why did you make the move to Anaplan?
FL: “The answer is very straightforward. I wanted to join a business that was going to have a profound impact – that is a company with a product that was going to be disruptive and shake up the market. I didn’t want to work with a ‘me-too’ product that would just rank alongside everything else.”
“Michael Gould, Anaplan’s CTO, had done a great job in developing the Anaplan product. He had spent four years developing exactly what was needed to disrupt the market, i.e. a single modelling environment for the entire organization, ‘in-memory’ computing, the ability to recalculate massive models at spreadsheet-like speed and multi-threaded processing. Yet despite these advances he kept the modelling logic simple. Once I saw Anaplan, it took me exactly two minutes to decide that this was a company that I wanted to lead. If the job was about restructuring an old company, or re-positioning an existing product, I wouldn’t have been interested, but this was a rare opportunity to shape the future of a whole segment of the market.”
“Now with the benefit of hindsight I believe I was absolutely right. One very large global customer, for whom we are handling sales forecasting for tens of thousands of sales reps, says they have waited seven years for a solution like ours.”
Editor: What advantages are you seeing in the cloud compared to three years ago?
FL: “I suppose the cloud isn’t a big issue any more. Yes, the cloud conveys huge benefits in terms of agility, time-to-value, no painful upgrades and total cost of ownership but the cloud is not the disruptive part. In fact we spend very little time discussing the cloud with our customers and potential customers. To them it’s just another deployment method.”
“There is too much ‘froth’ about the cloud and, to be frank, if a product is crap it is going to be crap in the cloud as well! What matters is: what are you are doing differently in the cloud? All the innovation is in the cloud.”
“So, the Cloud itself is almost a non-event except that it does enable considerable business agility. For example, it gave us the ability to open offices and expand our business globally at a pace we couldn’t have done 10 years ago. Customers are also finding that the cloud lets them move more quickly into new operations and acquisitions.”
Editor: But what about the platform – that’s important isn’t it?
FL: “You’re right, the platform is important in that it provides the foundation for our ground-breaking modelling capability. People are comfortable with the cloud and are now focusing much more on what they can do with the solution. To that end, we are putting a lot of effort into an App store and you will see announcements about this coming down the line. What we want to do is build a community of business analysts, i.e. the people who build models – we call them ‘Anaplanners’. We want to create an environment in which these individuals can exchange knowledge and swap best practice. We want people to create apps and lodge them with the app store so that other people can use them. We have two Apps that will be released shortly.
Editor: So is Anaplan a business planning and analytics company or a performance management company?
FL: “Our primary focus is on complex business modelling and planning in the Cloud for very large enterprises. We focus on the top 2000 worldwide. This is what we are good at. But we will soon be releasing a more functionally rich consolidation capability. We can already do consolidation, but our large customers are saying to us for the first time that they are prepared to move away from Hyperion HFM. That’s a major change and we are responding to it. We are not getting into the Last Mile and Disclosure Management, but we will be offering mainstream consolidation capability and, because of our technology advantage, finance functions will be able to see their consolidation models recalculate on the spot.”
Editor: Where do social technologies fit into this?
FL: “I strongly believe in the importance of social business tools and it is important that people are able to communicate within and beyond the walls of the organization. I would like to kill workflow and see it replaced by better communication which leads to better decision making. For this to happen, social tools need to be deeply embedded in the applications. We will be releasing a completely new user interface to do this. Not only will business analysts be able to ‘follow’ information as they would on, say, Facebook, but they would be able to share problems in the analyst community - even try someone else’s model.”
Editor: It’s been an exciting year for Anaplan, but what are the biggest challenges you face?
FL: “The biggest issue right now is keeping up with Anaplan’s rate of growth. We have programmed in 180 people by the end of the year, and expect to double again next year. I think we have arrived at the tipping point and the market is moving away from the traditional on-premise vendors and the large providers of CPM suites. They have done their job for the last 30 years, but now it’s time to move on. The market is looking for something that has the speed and scale to take planning to the next level, yet is quick to implement. That’s what we are about.”