Anaplan CEO: We no longer fit the traditional startup model

Anaplan CEO Frank A. Calderoni on his first year at the helm of the ‘Connected Planning’ company.

Having raised just shy of $300 million, the budgeting and planning startup Anaplan joined the fabled ‘Unicorn Club’ of $1 billion+ valued companies in 2016. It was one of IDG Connect’s ‘Red Hot B2B startups’. Things went quiet, however, after Frederic Laluyaux left the company and Anaplan spent nearly a year in the wilderness without a CEO.

Former Cisco and Red Hat CFO Frank A. Calderoni took charge of Anaplan in January of 2017 and was tasked with taking the company to the next level; evolving the technology, scaling the company, and eventually, an IPO. So how have the last 14-odd months been for Calderoni?

“I think we’ve come a long way in the last year, for me for as well for the company,” he tells Connect. “I can't look at the last year and say there's anything that was a disappointment.”

The Yorkshire, UK-founded and San Francisco-headquartered company has changed a lot since its founding in 2006. Since Calderoni’s arrival, however, Anaplan has grown up to be something more mature than your standard startup.

“We don't fit the traditional startup model. I would consider us kind of late stage startup, matured. I think you've see a lot of that maturity over the last year.”

The company has certainly been busy. Anaplan recently opened a new office and data center in Germany, hired it’s 1,000th employee, now counts major companies the likes of Coca-Cola, McAfee, Seagate, and Autodesk as customers, and regularly hits that top right corner in those Magic Quadrant-like analyst reports. In the last 12 months the company says it added more than 200 new customers for a  total somewhere around the 900 mark. That maturity brings benefits when looking to be seen as a serious contender against the likes of Oracle, IBM, and others.  

“We get the benefit of an early stage company in being fast and flexible and innovative, and I think we've also been able to demonstrate the ability to scale, when we have the kind of customers that we have, and the multiple use cases, and the number of users that we've been able to bring on the platform, it gives us the credibility.”

“I just came from a meeting with one of our largest customers was sitting there, and they have thousands of people on Anaplan, and they're now thinking about the next thousands to join and how we work together to make that happen.”


Beyond killing Excel and fighting the incumbents

During the company’s early days, Anaplan was often known as a Cloud-based alternative to Excel for the CFO looking for something a bit smarter. These days, Calderoni refutes the idea that the company is simply an ‘Excel Killer’ and reiterates the Anaplan vision of ‘Connected Planning’.

“I think we're much more than that, I think that just relegates us to a tool and I don't think it's just a tool, I think it's a platform to do so much more.”

“When we go in there [into a business] and you're understanding Anaplan for the first time, the easiest thing is to say, ‘that spreadsheet that you work on, this is a spreadsheet that does this in the Cloud’, that's step number one.”

“But there’s so much more that we offer, and customers, after they start getting into it and they get on that Connected Planning journey and we help through that, they really start to appreciate Anaplan and that platform.”

Part of this new, mature iteration of Anaplan is developing its partner ecosystem. Where in days gone by the company did everything themselves, says Anaplan’s Regional Vice President Northern Europe, Karen Clarke, these days the company aims to deliver all of its solutions through partners in an effort to scale quicker.

While Anaplan still has a role in every deployment, it sees itself more as a facilitator of change management.

“It's more of a discussion about what they can do with planning and how they should be rethinking planning, and really thinking about that process change, the cultural change, and really bringing more people into the planning process,” says Clarke.

“We're talking about the planning market being worth $20 billion, but actually I think our addressable market is much greater than that because we're engaging more people in planning, people that normally would be isolated from the planning process or only engaged in spreadsheets or paper reports, and so more people are now engaged in the process than ever before.”

“We still see ourselves as disrupting, but disrupting in terms of how planning can operate, and bringing more people in the planning process.”

As well as working on its channel program, the company has been expanding on the its App Hub. This app store for the platform now features 250 apps – including 45 added this year – from partners big and small to bring use-case and industry-specific capabilities to the main Anaplan offering.

“We demonstrate this to the customers at every customer we meet. It shows the breadth of Anaplan, and really it's a visualization of the Connected Planning story.”


From planning to connected and predictive

At this year’s Anaplan Hub event, Calderoni claimed ‘traditional planning was dead, yet the time between planning and decision making needed to be zero’.

The company’s goal, he said, is “all planning for all people, where decision-making is spread throughout the company.” The vision is to go beyond mere planning, budgeting, forecasting and evolve in a platform that is predictive and contextual.

During his keynote, Calderoni revealed a demo video of this vision. In it, news is pushed to the app, which sets off a chain of events looking at how this news will affect a product launch, and the consequences of pushing back a launch to a different place and time. This goes beyond basic planning and forecasting into something truly real-time, automated, contextual and predictive if they can pull it off.  

“What you saw in my presentation gives customers the ability to kind of see, ‘hey this is bigger and broader and something that I can really take as a platform’.”

During the keynote he said this wasn’t some futuristic vision, but the here and now. In reality, the vision is still in development. Some predictive features are available now, the company is currently undergoing Proof-of-Concept trials with some customers, and the rest is being developed partly in-house and partly utilizing external partners (members of Google’s TensorFlow team presented during the conference).

Later on in the conference a live demo was shown, demonstrating a mobile app that features natural language processing, auto-predictive suggestions, and automated workflows for dealing with a supply chain disruption. Calderoni says making the complete vision a reality is “within a near-term horizon”. While it’s an incredibly ambition vision, he says it is the “the right one for Anaplan and our customers.”


Disrupting incumbents and the long-awaited IPO

In recent years the incumbent players in the space – the Oracles and IBM’s of the world – have made significant attempts to become ‘Cloud’ players. While their levels of success are up for debate, is Anaplan feeling the heat from renewed competition?

“We're on the cusp of helping drive some of that disruption,” says Calderoni. “Some of it's related to the Cloud, some of it I think is related to just the flexibility, the capabilities that our platform provides.”

On the finance side, he argues, the big players say they’re Cloud but aren’t really Cloud because of fears about taking away from their current install base, and in functions such as sales or supply chain there are only point players that are narrowly-focused. 

“The two major benefits I think we have over every competitor that we have; the first one is cloud. And the second, and more importantly, is we're enterprise. No one else can say ‘I’m all planning to all people’.”

It’s hard to talk about Unicorns without looking at the exit strategy. Once an acquisition target for Workday, Anaplan is firmly expected to float on the stock market at some point. When asked if Anaplan’s IPO is imminent or dependent on how the likes of Dropbox or ZScaler’s IPOs perform, Calderoni is nonplussed about the timing.

“It's not the be all and end all, we are not looking at it that way,” he says. “An IPO is one of the milestones in our journey, but it’s when the time is right.”


Also read:
Anaplan Plots an End to Excel-Mania For Business Planning
Yorkshire offers a northern home to tech’s finest
From CFO to CEO: Does Anaplan’s new boss have a plan?
Separate Ways: After Workday split, Anaplan plots its own path
The iPhone of Spreadsheets is Coming Through the Back Door
How big is the market for solving pointless “work about work”?