Posts Tagged ‘budget’

Anaplan…& Implementing a Robust Forecasting Platform: Billings & Revenue

March 24th, 2017 Comments off

For the first few years at Cylance there was not a huge reliance on our forecasting platform and the need to put a pricey tool in place. There was simply no need to spend a six-figure amount when our business was still an entirely domestic story and the core revenue stream was still Professional Services. While we implemented NetSuite within our first few Quarters as a company, we opted for the NetSuite as our core platform so we could then bolt on additional modules as needed. We opted for their forecasting module almost immediately, but for a very basic forecasting function. As a Professional Services story, we only had a basic need to forecast gross labor hours, utilization rates, hourly cost rates, as well as estimated billing rates. At this point, we still did not have any consideration to Product revenue, and in the absence of, did not have any considerations for revenue recognition at that point. Considering that our Services revenue was not invoiced until completed, it was a very straightforward modeling exercise.

Fast forward to the launch of our Product offering and we knew it was going to necessitate a jump to a new platform as we were already starting to see some weakness in the NetSuite module. This new phase required an entirely different level of forecasting considerations for which there was no historical activity and for price points that had not been previously seen in the security sector. Would we actually realized, and stabilize, at a pricing level that would be many multiples over the incumbent first generation AV offerings. With consideration to the Product forecasting;

  • Average price per node on an annualized basis
  • Billings distribution by contract length…12, 24, and 36-months
  • Flexibility to easily adjust the anticipated weighting of billings
  • Subscription or Perpetual agreements (very few perpetual, but still present)
  • Robust deferred revenue modeling as a result of signed contracts
  • Sales staff hiring and assigned quotas.
  • Implementing any “seasonality” consideration into the model
  • Existing quotas, annualized growth, as well as ramp up period for new hires.
  • OEM, Consumer, and Government assumptions.
  • International entities & expected exchange rates for a consolidated USD view
  • Contra revenue accounts

It’s pretty easy to see that, even the short list above, there was going to be an entirely new level of complexity to our forecasting efforts, which could not be accommodated in our original module. After meeting with one of our key investors and discussing some of the options available, Anaplan seemed to emerge as a strong candidate and we made the decision to move forward. It was time to put a more robust tool in place as we started moving towards 9-figure revenue goals.  Even with the move to a new forecasting tool, we also had an entirely unique challenge as in developing a the components of this Forecast without a wealth of historical performance metrics. This meant that we would be constantly updating the Forecast as we compiled more Product transaction data. Fortunately for us, we saw a relative level of stability in our average PPN and our contract lengths. The two most difficult elements we had to work through during the implementation was the buildout of the deferred revenue forecast and the buildout of the revenue forecast that was supported by a detailed hiring plan and the assigned quotas for each one of those individuals. This was not going to be a simple spreadsheet exercised based on modifying a few cells and voila’…you have an annual number! The goal was to build a platform that would hold up to the scrutiny of our investors as well as easily identify & bridge any performance shortfalls that were realized versus planned.

In taking one example of where Anaplan excelled was in the modeling of our domestic revenues through the quotas that were assigned to each of our sales staff. While a painstaking exercise, there was an itemization of every existing sales staff, as well as those who were recently hired, or planned to be hired. There were individual quotas assigned to each one of these individuals. For those new hires, there were additional considerations to a ramp up period as they learned our tech, the inner workings of the Company, as well as seeding their existing network in their new employment. While these assumptions were usually conservative to reflect a few Quarters of nominal contribution, most were ramping extremely quickly. However, were we going to see the same level of immediate success as we scaled from a few dozen to sales staff to a multiple of that? That’s where we would have flexibility in Anaplan to adjust the model accordingly. From a billings and revenue modeling perspective, the only limits in Anaplan would be those that we placed on ourselves. However, we also had to be careful that the levels of planning detail we opted to incorporate would be important in the planning of the business and not turn into an exercise of planning paralysis.

The second painstaking, but worthwhile effort, was the buildout of the deferred revenue model. With the help of one of Anaplan’s premier implementation staff members, this was efficiently tackled and resulted in a clearly mapped Forecast that was easily trackable after any changes were made to new sales hires, quota modifications, or changes to average contract lengths. It was no longer the “black box” that we were challenged with on our prior platform. The additional benefit of the new Anaplan deferred revenue forecast is that it was easily audited and reviewed against the underlying assumptions. This would have played a pretty key role in our prior financing round in which there was a divide between the models presented by investors and our internal view…on the older platform. As one investor had noted during those efforts…”We’re familiar with that module and it is a bit of black box…”. A nice affirmation of our decision to move to Anaplan, but we were not yet fully deployed on Anaplan to supply the new view.

With respect to our choice to move to Anaplan, we also chose to work directly with the Anaplan implementation team as we wanted to keep our entire efforts and focus inside the Anaplan camp. I opted not to risk having a point of weakness between Anaplan and the efforts of a 3rd party reseller for implementation. It was a great decision and the Anaplan team was fantastic. In the end, the primary goal of moving to Anaplan was to be able to provide complete transparency to our investors, provide them the confidence that there was a robust set of underlying assumptions in the Forecast, and to allow for an intelligent dialogue on the integrity of the underlying Forecast. That once unbundled, it would be easy enough to see where any weakness might be occurring if there was a shortfall against Plan. We’ll jump into the cost of goods and operating expenses in the next round…

Thanks for reading.

Jeffrey Ishmael

Best Of Class Forecasting & The Eternal Struggle…

March 16th, 2017 Comments off

There’s few corporate topics that elicit the levels of frustration and confrontation that budgeting will create amongst teams. Unlike the amusing skirmishes that we’re watching at a government level right now, you’d think that this exercise at a corporate level, when there is only company performance to address and the absence of “political parties”, that this would be a straightforward process. Well this certainly couldn’t be farther from the truth as we all know. Over the next few posts I’ll be diving into not only the process and pain that most companies will go through, but an overview of the budgeting platforms I have worked on and the considerations for each.  While some of my views might seem matter of fact to my finance colleagues, my posts are always intended to provide insights for the rest of the organization when their having to deal with what is typically that “black box” department called Finance.

In the most optimal situation, the compilation of a Budget represents the collaborative process that should involve all the functional areas of an organization. This collaboration in the end will yield a Budget that all individuals are supportive of and will ultimately drive future accountability in delivering results that achieve the commitment made to the Board. In the worst situation, and one that will ultimately result in a broken process at every level, are goals that are mandated at the top level and each functional area is forced to determine what path it will take to get to the end goal, regardless of how reasonable the goals might seem. Ultimately, these goals are not fully supported by the team, will not be met over time, will yield resentment, as well as create unnecessary levels of conflict amongst the team as they resources become scarce in the absence of results and fingers are pointed in every direction as goals that were never their own are missed. These are absolute extremes, and in most cases, the majority of corporate budgeting efforts fall somewhere in between and need to be navigated through effective communications, compromise, and support.

What is important to keep in mind, at least with consideration to what the Finance department is managing, is all the elements that they’re compiling and that the budgeting process is really a mechanical process…there is no emotion involved in this process. Even though it will prompt emotional responses across functional areas, it’s really mechanical for the Finance team. With that in mind, it’s also worth understanding what the endless data points are that are having to be compiled for the Budget. I’ve worked in smaller $30M turnarounds that have a relatively small product offering and limited international distribution….to much larger entities such as DC Shoes / Quiksilver, as well as MGE, which then reported on a consolidated basis to Schneider Electric. The latter organizations had extremely complex budgeting practices that had been decades in the making, involved consolidations with dozens of international entities, while also having to balance both GAAP and IFRS reporting. Not only were there challenges with international consolidations, but there were countless other elements to work into the planning process, which included…

  • Establishment of company codes depending on subsidiary considerations.
  • Delineation between the multiple sales organizations
  • Considerations to the multiple distribution channels that were at play
  • Breakdown between customer types
  • Inventory segregation
  • Product segregation to allow further performance reporting
  • Seasonal considerations, which in apparel, likely meant 4-5 seasons annually
  • Demographic segregation…Men, Women, Youth, etc.
  • Product categories…Bottoms, Tops, etc.
  • Fabric segregation…Denim, etc.

It’s easy to see with the list above why the Budget process is a very mechanical process and NEEDS to be absent of any emotion in the process. It’s also easy to see with the list above that the process also needs to be a collaborative one with EVERY functional area to ensure success in the process and an end budget product that is supported an endorsed by the team.

With some relief, it was a much simpler budgeting process at Cylance as we were still a primarily domestic story with Protect being the main product offering. We ran a separate P&L for the Services business as that was a strategic part of the organization, but we also had to ensure that the Services team was operating in a profitable manner. Services was an incredibly profitable business at MGE and there was no reason it shouldn’t be at Cylance and we had the reporting enabled to be able to track whether that was the case. While there was still some developing international business, it was going to be a fairly small percentage of our overall results, at least over the next 12-24 months while the domestic business was still going to be the main growth vehicle. Did we need to plan at a regional level and monitor the spend…absolutely. However, for the stage that Cylance was at, and for the foreseeable future, there was no reason to complicate the process and create a ton of busy work to keep Finance busy and engaged. There was no reason to build a P&L based on hundreds of departments or cost centers that was more akin to what was necessary at a $40B Schneider organization. As with manufacturing, and other supply chain philosophies, lean P&L management in early stages leads to a very straightforward process, one that does not require extensive interpretation, and ultimately leads to a clear & concise path that was developed by the team, is supported by the team, and is easily navigated by all constituents.

So how do we bridge the gap between supporting the teams with what they need, effectively consolidating and considering their feedback, and the platform that is utilized to bring it all together and present the detailed view to the Board? That’s what we’ll dive into over the next few posts and jump into some of the key areas of the P&L. The common theme that I’ve always carried over the years, is that the success of an organization is tied to the collaborative approach and one that considers and respects the feedback of the team. Ultimately it’s the team, or the CEO, that is presenting the Budget to the Board. A Budget that is expected to be delivered on and achieved. It should be a safe assumption that the Budget is the product of an entire team collaboration and one the team is committed to rather than being dragged along for the ride. I’ve had to endure every situation, but without a doubt, I’ll always side with collaboration…

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

You Didn’t Have To Provide A Plan To The Board?

January 20th, 2017 Comments off

BUDGETOne of the benefits and enjoyments I get from updating my blog are the questions that I typically received from people asking for certain clarifications. This comes as no surprise since the original intent of my blog was to bring a little more transparency into how the Finance department operates relative to every other functional area in the company and what might be driving the actions or decisions of the Finance department.
With that said, I received a follow-up yesterday on the update I wrote on planning within a hyper growth environment. One of the main messages in yesterday’s post was that you really can’t plan, or at least effectively, in a hyper growth environment. With that message I was asked how the Board would accept that an operating plan wouldn’t be presented to them for the year. I have to say I was a bit amused at the question, but completely understood why it was asked. Not to mention, the Board would never allow such a hall pass from any team. There is ALWAYS an operating plan that is highly thought out, detail oriented, and usually has a number of additional scenarios that will convey what the impacts will be to cash and profitability if targets are missed or exceeded. For ballpark references, you might have the base scenario, as well as a +20% and a (20%) view. For a more mature company these ranges will obviously be tightened up when you have a higher degree of predicability and more history to base the plan off of. When you’re really just a handful of Quarters into a trajectory, which you are anticipating to double, and the trajectory starts looking like a 6-8x, then you have an entirely different beast to deal with.
So how do you plan for such a scenario? Again, as I mentioned yesterday, you really don’t “plan” for it, but you react to it and adjust the allocation of resources to support that new growth trajectory. As with any business, you have key indicators you look to gauge the health of the business and whether you are tracking to achieve the commitment made to the Board. The elements below are certainly not all inclusive, but are merely a sampling of the items that could be watched when encounter a growth rate that is entirely unplanned.
Billings & Revenues: While this is the key driver on which all spending decisions are made, the total number is not the overriding driver. There’s further review that should be done on the quality of that revenue, what the concentration is, and whether there are any key areas that are potentially missing against Plan. In the case of Cylance, we were constantly watching what our price per endpoint (PPN) was at every level. What that PPN was at a macro level, a channel level, a vertical level, as well as what they were for the duration of a deal. Looking to this number would indicate what the true health of the business was. Was there a single customer that accounted for a disproportionate share of the Quarter business, which in turn, might prompt a tapping of the brakes to ensure that hiring and spend weren’t getting ahead of themselves relative to the Plan and a normalized trajectory. Prudence should always reign supreme.
Gross Margin. Definitely a key indicator, but it also depends on what the structure of the billings are and how the terms being written may be influencing GAAP-based reporting. For a situation where multi-year deals are being done, it might be best to look at early results on a non-GAAP basis if a disproportionate amount of the activity is headed for the balance sheet as deferred income.
Headcount. For me, this was one of the key indicators as it related to our burn and this is certainly not just a single macro number, but a more complex element to dive into. First, what is the overall cost per head and what is the trend line on that figure? Are you’re costs per head staying constant or are you seeing an increase in that number, which might be tied to incentive plans that aren’t aligned with results, increasing benefit costs, or all of the above? Second, what are the average billings and revenues per employee? While the overall headcount might be increasing, this number should also be increasing with the results that are being achieved in excess of plan. It’s not a problem increasing headcount over the Plan, so long are you are seeing the achievement or increase in this planned metric. Third, what is the distribution of the headcount by functional area? Did the original Plan call for 12% within the Marketing area and now the revised number puts Marketing at 18% of the headcount? Is there a disproportionate growth in any one area because that functional area has successfully lobbied for additional staff that is not consistent with industry norms?
Facilities. This area is obviously heavily influenced by the increased headcount that is occurring to accommodate the unplanned growth. If historically Rent expense has been 2% of your operating expenses then this is the approximate metric that needs to be followed in order to stay consistent with the Plan. If you’re exceeding Plan and need more staff then this number, while increasing on a constant dollar basis, should still remain at approximately 2%. As an example, you’re planning a $25M year, which would allow for approximately $500k in rent expense. If the new trajectory is now $100M, then theoretically you would have $2M to spend on rent to accommodate the additional headcount needed to support that growth. Ideally you also start achieving economies of scale where you can actually see that number go down as a percentage of spend. If you fail to miss you billings number, hire all the folks, commit to even more rent expense…then you’re going to find yourself in a bit of bind. It’s akin to “I’m going to get a big raise next year so I’m going to buy my second home and a new car for my wife and I…”. And when it doesn’t happen?
Systems. This is another area that needs to be heavily strategized and managed in a hyper growth environment. There will be unplanned upgrades that will necessitate spending in the $500k-$1M range that, while necessary for growth, were previously balked at due to their cost and the original trajectory you thought you would be on. You might have thought you had another year…or two…to bring them online, but now seeing a 6x freight train coming at you there is no other choice than to starting throwing a ton more coal on that fire and get up to speed.
Culture. We’ll discuss this in another post…or posts.
This barely scratches the surface of “planning” in a hyper growth environment. It’s more about regulating the health of the patient, making sure the vital signs are remaining healthy, keeping your finger on the pulse and knowing how to respond. It’s the doctor that has decades of experience, treats every patient the same, only to realize he has misdiagnosed the patient and either administered the wrong medications…or too many. It’s about collaborating with the broader team in making key assessments, discussing with the team their needs, and ensuring that the resources (MONEY) are properly allocated and within the range of the original Plan that was discussed.
Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

It’s December & the Budget isn’t finalized…?

December 10th, 2008 Comments off

Needless to say the last month has been extremely hectic trying to reengineer the financials of a new company, as well as trying to finalize the 2009 Budget. While it’s kept me from regular updates on the blog, it’s been a great exercise in a truly unique economic environment. As of now, I am looking to present the final 2009 Budget to the Board next week for approval. If this was any of the prior years I had gone through the budgeting process I would have been infuriated if the Budget had not been completed by the beginning of Q4, but then again, this is no ordinary year.

Considering that we are focused within the Retail / Apparel sector, we have obviously been closely watching the retail comp results of the last quarter and trying to anticipate the impact to our own business. Fortunately, one of our larger customers, Journeys, has been posting positive retail comps, which has been a bright spot in the Genesco portfolio. However, others have not been so fortunate. We also distribute product through the “Core” channel, which is primarily comprised of “Mom & Pop” shops, which have exhibited some surprising resiliency over the last half-year. Clearly, this holiday season will be the true test for them. Regardless, we have ended up using every bit of time in this calendar year so that we can finalize and commit to a 2009 Budget that is as accurate as possible and not having to explain obvious variances for the remainder of the year.

One of the more challenging fronts has been the International side where we distribute product through more than 45 countries and negotiate our transactions in both the U.S. Dollar and Euro. For our Euro accounts, although we have had discussions with some of our customers about decreased purchasing power and weakened markets, those customers have also shown surprising resiliency. However, for those subject to exchange rates based on their native currency, there’s a different story. We’ve seen decreases of any where from 25% in the U.K., to 40% in Australia, and outright currency freezes in a number of other countries. Will the currency situation reverse as the oil situation did from its highs this year? Hard to say, but at this point we’re planning for an “As-Is” scenario.

So as we move into the final weeks of 2008 and prepare the final Budget for submission to the Board, I’ve been able to effectively incorporate the conditions currently reflected in our sector, which would not have been included were the Budget completed at the beginning of Q4. We’ve made changes to all aspects of the Budget and will be moving into 2009 with a degree of confidence knowing we’ve been able to reflect all aspects of the current environment. We’ve also had the luxury of being a smaller company and having the agility of moving quick to adapt to market conditions, which is much more difficult in a larger entity. So yes, it is December and only now is my Budget being finalized. When was your Budget completed? Are you going to spend the year explaining countless variances or have you been able to incorporate current market conditions?

Thanks for reading . . . .

Jeffrey Ishmael

Do you have a fiscal strategy or fiscal workout?

October 25th, 2008 Comments off

Every so often we’re reminded about the need to have a specific plan in place, and without that plan, you’re not going to achieve your ultimate goals. I’ve seen this play out in two different ways over the last few weeks. One was my recent commitment to race the Southern California Time Trial Series this year, while the other is my new position as the CFO of a small footwear manufacturer.

Let’s start with my cycling training. I have all the top tools that would enable me to have specific and regimented training programs. I have PowerTap wheels for both my roadbike and TT bike, the latter a PowerTap disc. I have all the latest software to analyze my wattage history and taper accordingly. My wattage levels have been great. However, I hit the first two races and they were an utter disaster. I finished outside of the Top-5 and was not awarded points. My wattages during the race were 15-20% below my recent results. So….the local shop Pro tells me I was probably overtrained and not rested enough. He set me up with a daily program that I have been following diligently every day. While the “numbers” tell me my fitness is dropping, the legs feel fresh and strong. At my last race, I raced in the Pro 1/2 class, received points for second, and set a personal course record. Go figure…..

Carry the same analogy into my new company and I’m finding a team that is working very hard to make sure they hit their annual goals and achieve whatever level of profitability they can. However, just like my previous training plan, there were no day-to-day specifics, or in this case, month-to-month specifics. In particular, the Finance team does not have a forecasted P&L, there are no cash flows, there are no specifics as to how they will move back into profitability, and a host other non-existent reporting tools. The great news is, as I was, they are very willing to change and aware that they need to in order to achieve their necessary results. We are already putting some of the necessary plans in place and I’m very optimistic about the 2009 outlook. In a handful of weeks we already have reconfigured P&L info, we have a preliminary 2009 Budget, and we’ve identified a number of areas that will provide us additional product margin or expense improvements.

In both these cases, we were both working extremely hard but just not getting the necessary results. The effort was there, the necessary tools were there, the skill set was there, but what was lacking was a specific plan. In my case, it took a fellow competitor to bring out my best, while in the case of my new company, they hired me to bring out the best in them….and I’m looking forward to the results on both. So ask yourself – Do you have a fiscal strategy or fiscal workout?

Thanks for reading. . . .

Jeffrey Ishmael

Pending projects – September topics planned

August 29th, 2008 Comments off

Today is really turning into one of those days where it’s not quite coming together for a quality update and I’ve really tried to focus on Quality versus Quantity in my postings. Maybe it’s partly due to the looming holiday weekend & that its also been an incredibly busy week. Between a client project I’ve been working this week, as well as “meetings” with a number of other companies, recharging the batteries are key this weekend.

However, I have been thinking about all the topics I do want to address in the coming weeks. I’ve been trying to schedule more time to address these since I think they’ll be very interesting subjects to table. I really want to address points #2 and #3 since these have the potential to have far reaching implications in the conversion to IFRS. Some of what I had in mind:

1. Further breakdowns of the Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP) process and the development of a white paper on this topic.
2. Revenue recognition and the differences between IFRS and GAAP.
3. Fair Value reporting and the differences between IFRS and GAAP.
4. Overviews of the Budget/Forecast process as it relates to a traditional 4-quarter view versus the implementation of a rolling 5-quarter approach.
5. SEC reporting and the differing levels of transparency between companies in the same industry. (Not all 10-K’s are created equal….)

I also need to compile a few of my multiple updates into a single white paper, such as the Internal Audit thread. I’ve also created an account on SlideShare where I plan on posting some of my slide presentations. Looks like it’s going to be a busy month ahead…..

Thanks for reading . . . .

We’re mid-Q3, are you achieving your plan?

August 19th, 2008 Comments off

I apologize in advance for republishing an earlier white paper, but I felt that this one was worth revisiting considering recent conversations about Finance departments and their staffing levels. I am continuing to hear from my peers, as well as recruiters, that departments are being run extremely lean. With this in mind, it becomes even more necessary to keep our groups motivated and focused on the task at hand. When the targets for hitting our annual plans are those home runs that take the better part of a year to achieve, it becomes harder to keep teams focused, and should those goals not be met, almost instills a sense of failure within the group. Something we can certainly do without in this demanding environment.

I would also have to assume at this point that most organizations have already achieved their “big hits” over the last year since we really started to see the current slowdown in the latter part of Q3 last year. If you’re a company with a revenue range of $200 million and OpEx in the $50 million range, and you want to trim 5% from you expenses, where do you begin? For starters, you not only need to trim the 5%, but you also need to counter the inflationary impact on salaries, insurances, and other variables. However, if you start breaking that $2.5 million down into smaller increments, it becomes much more achievable and manageable. You can also keep the team motivated as you check off the incremental goals achieved through the year.

Depending on how efficient your entity is operating, those incremental savings might pose a significant challenge if your company is seeing significant growth, which then comes down to evaluating whether you’re leveraging your OpEx. In that situation, what would your Budget look like if viewed on a constant basis year over year? Winning the “Budget Game” is about consistent base hits and keeping our teams motivated.

Thanks for reading . . . .

Achieving your plan with Base Hits

Finance 101 – what do the results really mean?

August 11th, 2008 Comments off

I have written a number of posts regarding questions such as “Who really owns the Budget?”, as well as speaking about my belief in developing collaborative cross-functional relationships to enhance the budgeting and forecasting efforts. It’s so easy to assume that key managers and directors should be clear about balance sheets and cash flow statements since they are always covered in even the most basic business and accounting classes, at the both undergrad and graduate level. Naturally, everyone should know the interaction between these two….right?

While I have successfully created these cross-functional relationships and have been able to have these same managers & directors embrace their budgeting efforts, they are typically not clear about the relationships between the three main financial statements. For most, the absolute bottom line question is whether we are profitable as a company. No question that this is key, but profitability does not always ensure that the company has the resources it needs to support the growth it might be experiencing. For the most basic example, lets assume a $100 million revenue company is growing at a modest 15% and produces net income of 7% per year. This gives the company, without incurring any additional debt, $7 million additional current capital to support the 15% increase.

    But what are the additional investments that need to be made by the company?

-What additional inventory will need to be added to support new growth? New product line?
-Will the company need additional sales people to invest in future sales? New sales group?
-Are their system upgrades or implementations that need to be invested in to support growth?
-Is the company outgrowing it’s current facility and needs to consider expansion?
-What inflationary increases need to be accounted for in the Budget? Wages and insurances…?
-Is the company currently servicing an existing level of debt previously incurred?

Once we start getting into the issues of working capital management and the effects on the balance sheet and cash flow, it’s quite possible that the picture may not be as optimistic. After running through just the few questions listed above it’s easy to see how quickly your profit from the year has just been whittled down, or may not even cover the needs of additional growth. It’s when the management from all functional areas understand these relationships that it becomes much easier to rally their support and involvement in the forecasting process. While your colleagues don’t need to possess the skillset to build these financial statements, their understanding and support will go far when the business environment is challenging, as it is now.

Thanks for reading . . . .