Increasingly cited in various rankings of innovative and fast-growing companies, Anaplan offers strategic planning solution that clashes with everything that existed until now. Accessible online, on demand, easy to use by non-specialists, its platform can simulate all kinds of decisions and accurately assess the management of various stages in numerous areas: commercial, financial, HR, logistics, etc.
There are many ways to describe the Anaplan Company. It is what we call a “unicorn,” a start-up from the digital world whose value exceeds one billion dollars even before it is listed on the stock exchange. Some say its product is an “Excel killer,” that it will put an end to the use of spreadsheets. FastCompany.com listed it among the 10 most innovative publishing software, along with Amazon, Microsoft, Box or Docker. The company's website says it is “the first platform in the world designed to facilitate decision-making at all company levels”... It is often referred to as an intelligent simulator, a performance management instrument, a strategic planning tool.
The simplest way to describe Anaplan is certainly to mention what its solutions are. Thanks to its platform in SaaS mode, that is to say, available online and on demand, Anaplan allows companies to simulate each of their decisions with their own data, to predict impacts and plan for implementation of both decisions and actions. For example, Procter & Gamble uses Anaplan to manage its discounts globally, a task this giant of health and beauty is no longer able to manage with a mere spreadsheet. At a time when businesses need to react quickly and with agility, both cloud and SaaS provide them with the scalable and powerful tools they need, when they need it, without investing in human resources, hardware and software.
“Anaplan is a tool for events that have not yet taken place!” says Michael Gould, its founder and current Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Here are some examples: Assess the cost of creating new sales positions in subsidiaries, decide what products to sell primarily and in what countries, what would happen if the company acquired a given brand or create a new plant, how many salespersons positions must be created to increase sales by 20% in a given territory, or what is the impact on the income statement for the removal of a UK subsidiary following the Brexit ... “Anaplan can play on all the factors together to plan and simulate,” says Laurent Lefouet, Managing Director Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). When we consider the volume of data available in companies and necessary to produce such forecasts or simulations, a mere spreadsheet is no longer sufficient to model an organization and its mechanisms. “In addition, operational functions follow a daily or weekly rate while finance have a longer rhythm. Similarly, human resources work at the individual’s level or contract level, when production takes products into consideration. Anaplan reconciles all these dimensions almost in real time, where a spreadsheet requires nights and weekends of preparation… at least!” says Laurent Lefouet.
Anaplan was created by Michael Gould. He says he developed the solution in his barn in Yorkshire, an English version of the Silicon Valley’s garage. In the late 90s, Michael Gould, originally from York, worked for Adaytum, which marketed planning software, then for Cognos when the latter acquired Adaytum in 2003. “I left Cognos in 2006 because I thought all decision supports and planning products were getting old. There was a lot of back and forth between spreadsheets and databases. There was a real need to create a new platform, which would work differently. I thought it was possible to combine the best of both worlds; that is, create a product as easy to use as a spreadsheet and as robust as a database.”
Two years later, in 2008, Michael Gould patented a technology he developed: the Hyperblock, able to analyse company data in various dimensions (cubes, columns, cells) and in a single business model, almost in real time. Anaplan was born. The company set up its headquarters in San Francisco. “That was the place to be, because we wanted to be a global technology company and have access to venture entrepreneurs. In addition, the area gave us access to talents in cloud platforms and datacenters,” says Michael Gould. In 2010, after a hiring a few more people, Anaplan conducted its first roundtable and recorded its first client, Jive – a collaborative Software Editor. Then every year had its fundraising, its new customers and new jobs by dozens. The York site remains the cradle of the company. More than 75 people work in an old warehouse on the edge of the river, redecorated according to the Californian codes. The cafeteria is equipped with colorful furniture, terrace with a view on the river, food always available, chairs and ottomans for informal or weekly meetings, everything seeks to make the lives of employees as pleasant as possible.
The key: a planning engine
York is one of Anaplan’s four engineering centers, along with San Francisco, Paris and London, which opened in the fall of 2016. The company spends about 25% of its turnover on Research & Development. Hard to say what is the exact number of engineering teams, because, as in any start-up in hyper growth, it changes each month. In the summer of 2016, they were 120 engineers, developers, programmers and media teams, etc. The San Francisco engineering team has forty people. York, which is essentially a technical office, has about sixty. In Paris, the R&D center opened in early 2015, already has about fifteen engineers. The size in London will be 16 people by the end of 2016, half of them will be engineers.
One of Anaplan’s key technological differentiators is the use of SSD storage (solid-state drive), using flash memory. They are way faster than any traditional hard disks. “This technology is not new but we make a new use of it,” says Jack Whyte, Global Engineering Vice President, who joined Anaplan in October 2015. The use of this technology allows customers to perform simulations and real-time planning on very large volumes of data hosted in Anaplan’s datacenter. “The ease of use and real time function are also important differentiators,” says Jack Whyte. But the real highlight of Anaplan’s solution is its scheduling engine. This is what Michael Gould is the most proud of. “First, because I spent two years and a half to develop it, but also because it is the essential element of our solution, our intellectual property. And it is particularly robust!”
To further shorten the solution’s implementation time and facilitate its use by non-computer specialists, Anaplan created an application hub. Users can deposit there the applications they have developed to share and find those made by other companies. The App Hub provides some 130 applications, such as the budget planning for human resources, developed by Atos, or the demand planning application from the EyeOn Solutions pharmaceutical company.
Managing hyper growth
During the summer of 2016, Anaplan announced that it surpassed the $100 million annualized revenue and reached the balance of its cash flow. This revenue comes from the United States (55%), Europe (35%) and Asia Pacific (10%). The performance is not in these numbers, but rather in the fact that these objectives have been achieved one year earlier than planned. Anaplan goes fast, very fast! The growth was 80% in the first half of 2016 and forecasts predict an annual growth by at least 50% for the next three years.
The number of customers is also increasing rapidly. It rose by 50% in just six months, from 400 to 600. The list includes the likes of HP, Intel Security, Louis Vuitton, Morgan Stanley, United, Boston Scientific, GE Healthcare... “Our customers are mainly large companies, but the platform can be used by companies of all sizes,” says Michael Gould. “As a matter of fact, we started using it internally since we were only 50!” Especially after having invested in commercial and financial activities, Anaplan now attracts new businesses such as human resources, logistics, including supply chain and transportation.
“These results are definitely beyond my expectations,” acknowledges Michael Gould. Is this going too fast? “No, our development speed is good. But still, we have to let the dust settle! Think that 500 of the 650 people in the company arrived during the last two years... We must strengthen our senior management. We recruited people who create, then people to manage those who create. We now need to recruit people who have the experience for n-1 levels and then for n-2.” Between the opening of the new office in London and the vacancies worldwide, the workforce should move quickly to 700 people. “In York only, we recruited 24 people in 10 months,” says Rick Ansell, senior technical recruiter. “There is room left for only ten people. In other words, we will full by the end of first quarter 2017,” warns Jenny Hague, in charge of Human Resources for Engineering and Sales for Europe.
The rapid growth still poses a recruitment problem. “The hardest to manage in a hyper-growth start-up is recruiting,” admits Laurent Lefouet. “We need to recruit quickly but be able to support this growth and maintain it.” If recruiting developers is not easy in London or Paris, it's even worse in York! Because the company suffers from a deficit of notoriety. “It is not easy to attract young engineers because they have never heard of Anaplan,” laments Rick Ansell. “So we try to be innovative and we multiply our initiatives in universities and schools to improve our attractiveness.” Since spring 2016, Anaplan appears on a giant billboard in the York train station to inform travelers that the company recruits and offers great career prospects. “This brought us some candidates,” says Rick Ansell, “but we also encourage people to come to us. In this, the opening of the London office will help us because it will make us more visible.”
Becoming a unicorn
If there is a public with which Anaplan does not lack notoriety, it is among investors. In 2014, the company raised $ 100 million in its fourth round (series D) with the Salesforce and Workday companies, among others. This is its fifth round who made it enter the unicorns club. Raising $ 90 million in early 2016, Anaplan had its valuation exceed a billion dollars.
In the meantime, it opened offices in many countries: Malaysia, Russia, Australia, Scandinavia, Japan, Germany... This global development also concerns R&D activities. In France since 2012, Anaplan opened an R&D center in Paris in early 2015. French skills are an asset for Anaplan, in particular for predictive analysis, machine learning and other artificial intelligence applications. “The Paris office brings together math skills – abstract concepts – which are very useful for simulation methods such as the Monte Carlo method, for example,” said Jack Whyte. Henri Biestro, in charge of engineering in the Paris office, totally agrees: “The French mathematical school generates good Cartesian, the Best Minds. French engineers have a good knowledge of algorithms. They are not as square as the Americans, but they are much more elegant. We do things well, effectively and with less!”
Anaplan’s York-London-Paris axis provides a solid foundation in engineering, supplemented by San Francisco for cloud and data center technologies. A combination that proves successful for now. And for the next few years apparently.