FinancialForce CEO's bet on Salesforce coming good

Jeremy Roche, CEO of, had a strategy to build on the platform

Those bold enough to have bought stock over the years since 2004 when the toastmaster of cloud applications floated, would have made an investment nearly equivalent to that of Forrest Gump when he was gifted Apple shares in the 1980s. With a market capitalisation that has recently touched almost $50bn, Salesforce stock has doubled from an already impressive number in the last few years. And yet when explained its strategy to build a financial management system-cum-ERP on the Salesforce platform it received brickbats rather than plaudits.

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FinancialForce CEO Jeremy Roche explained the curious history of his company to me over lunch in London’s Soho recently, as he took an hour to talk before meeting company staff in the company’s office in the capital. The product had its roots in a financial software company called CODA that had begun developing an on-demand version of its system and announced joint plans with Salesforce to create a financial management system on Salesforce’s (now AppCloud) platform in 2007. CODA was acquired by ERP firm Unit4 in 2008.

“We committed early and everything is built around It was the back-end of 2007 and all the analysts thought we were mad,” laughs Roche. “It was still some lines of code and an idea then [when the acquisition happened] but in 2009 we went to market.”

Twists and turns

Then a meeting changed the course of direction again.

“Polly Sumner from Salesforce [the company’s chief adoption officer] had the idea for this to be a new cloud company. [A Salesforce Ventures executive] said, ‘I can back this.’ Then they said ‘Who’s going to run this?’ and everyone looked at me. [Salesforce CEO] Marc Benioff said, ‘Great, and why don’t you call it’”

The name came from a domain Benioff had bagged for a rainy day.

“He said, ‘We weren’t sure where we were going to go so here’s one I had in my kit bag.’”

After a long career in ERP, Roche says he revelled in the new(ish) cloud world and the chance to go again, unshackled from legacy, and build a finance system with professional services automation, HCM and supply-chain management capabilities. For customers, by splicing FinancialForce tools with Salesforce and its ecosystem partners, the result is a broad online platform for running pretty well all aspects of a business with one of the most respected user experiences on the market. You might think of the converged platforms as a sort of federated, multi-company, 21st-century version of the one-stop shop vision that won SAP torrential sales in the late 1990s.

“We had a clean sheet of paper to figure out what the future looks like, not what does the past look like,” he enthuses. “I spent my entire career looking for 360-degree view of the customer, wrestling with the nuts and bolts where customers were literally rekeying in data but with SalesforceIQ [for small businesses], Wave Analytics and Marketing Cloud, Salesforce really has a platform.”

Northern steel

In line with its unusual genesis, FinancialForce is geographically a curious blend. Roche is from Manchester, England and he manages the business from San Francisco. (It’s a relief to note that he shows no inclination to develop that tremendously annoying affectation of a transatlantic drawl, although he good-humouredly confesses to the lesser crime of using American terms such as ‘washroom’ when in California, saying in mitigation this is in order to be better understood.)

Research and development, a legacy from CODA, is mostly in Harrogate in the county of Yorkshire in the north of England. The genteel, picture-perfect spa town is best known for tea shops and the crime novelist Agatha Christie having disappeared there for a spell in the 1920s, and might seem an unusual location. But given the globalising of technology development it’s really not, and FinancialForce is within an easy drive of both veteran business software giant Sage to the north in Newcastle, and of Anaplan, the very hot business planning company, which has R&D in York. Roche says FinancialForce benefits from not dragging staff across the ocean or to the expensive, crowded towns of the south-east of England, from where most large technology companies ply their local trade.  

Today, with about 650 staff, $186m in funding and an annual revenue run-rate of over $50m, FinancialForce’s platform bet appears to be paying off. The company appears to be wrapping itself in Salesforce as tightly as ever. At September’s enormous Dreamforce event in San Francisco it made a series of announcements that included deeper reporting capabilities and adding Apple Watch integration for time tracking, but also binding itself with Wave, IQ and Lightning, Salesforce’s app development platform.

Future shocks? It’s sometimes raised as a possibility that Salesforce could launch its own financial management system, even though Benioff has always rebuffed the notion flat-out. Roche says it’s unlikely that, despite it growing octopus-like in several directions, Salesforce will ever want to compete with its partner.

“Maybe one day lightning will strike and Marc Benioff will want to do a general ledger,” he says, but it’s far more likely Salesforce will stick with “the day job”. That, he says, leaves the way free to address the huge market for organisations that need greater visibility and speed in their operations. And with that this Californian-based Mancunian is off to fight his next battle – with the all-consuming London traffic.


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