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Posts Tagged ‘cylance’

Questions From Colleagues & Preserving Sanity…

April 24th, 2017 Comments off

It’s always interesting to me how cycling manages to work its way into professional conversations, even with a population of folks that don’t participate in the sport with any frequency, if at all. However, there’s a certain curiosity to people when they learn that you are actually spending 350-400 miles a week “on that little seat”. Most often they say nothing, might make a passing comment, or sometimes ask how the training is going with an obvious sincerity.

I’ve always talked about how strong a correlation there is between the disciplines I practice in my personal life and those I practice in my professional life. Very seldom are the two very far apart from one another. However, I was asked a very interesting question by one of my prior colleagues at Cylance. Knowing how much I ride, and that my training rides usually started at 5.30a, I was asked “if the effort required for those hours and rides were worth it and did it provide some balance to the turmoil of life at a start-up?” It was a great question and one that I had discussed with folks on my direct team, as well as friends and vendors.

Simply answered…YES. It really is too easy to get caught up…or I should say buried in the weeds and lose your perspectives when the pressure is high, there is change coming at you from every direction, and there is usually a loosely defined direction that is dependent on tracking against a business that is difficult to predict. You can really get caught in an escalating pace of analysis paralysis. Analysis that has you running every possible scenario, discussing every possible outcome with trusted folks on your team, balancing the hourly or daily interruptions that occur “because you need to be in this meeting…” while never really reaching conclusion or final decision. I learned very early on during my time working in equity research to quickly synthesize information, inquire with a few trusted colleagues, and make the necessary decision…and move on. Not all decisions can be made in that manner, but the vast majority can. Exceptions occur when they are going to have a material and lasting impact on the P&L….hiring, capital expenditures, etc.

When those decisions tend to be more prolonged I always found that my time on the bike, in the early morning hours, would give me the opportunity to weigh the alternatives and think about my decision without the inevitable interruptions that come in the office. When you have hours on the bike you sometimes you pass a certain business, recall a pertinent conversation, or simply realize a new idea that would have never materialized in the office. When you are on the bike, and in the dark, the only thing out there is your commitment to achieve specific performance objectives on the bike…and the thoughts of what you need to accomplish in the office. As I mentioned above, those two are seldom far apart. One moment your making sure you are tracking against the wattage number your supposed to maintain for the 40-minute block you’re in the middle of…and the next minute your thinking about the utilization rate that was just reported by Services, what effect that is going to have on their margins for the Quarter, and recalling the last Quarters activities and the contributions to the performance of that group. Was there a specific project where billing was delayed…was it not properly quoted at the beginning? How are the two large Product opportunities progressing with only two weeks left in the Quarter…and there hasn’t been an update in the most recent few days. These are the things going through your mind in the predawn hours of that ride…

Sometimes those hours in the saddle can be with a key member of the team that might be struggling with a certain decision. Very early on our CEO was faced with making a decision to fully replace the first generation Sales team and basically start from scratch. He and I had know each other for years before he made the commitment to start Cylance so bikes were nothing foreign to the two of us. If we got out on the bikes it was never predicated on having a meeting or certain discussion…but only to get out for a training ride. Inevitably it usually went in the direction of business, as it had that day. There was a long discussion about the challenges and potential risk of making the change, but in the end he knew the decision that had to be made…it was only the process of rolling along at 20mph discussing the subject that made it a bit of a therapy session.

That’s exactly what cycling is for me relative to my chosen profession…it’s part therapy, part challenges, part perspectives, part bonding with friends…and one more way for me to quantify & measure my efforts. The conversation I’ve had with colleagues is not about the specific activity of cycling, but to choose any activity that can give you a similar parallel with your activities at work, provide those perspectives, and allow you to avoid getting so embedded in the weeds that you are unable to make effective decisions that are in the best interest of the company, your team, and the objectives that everyone is working towards. Whether it’s running, rock climbing, cross country skiing, or swimming….what’s that activity that is going to keep you healthy, your brain engaged, and sharp for the next stretch of hurdles that you face at the office?

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

Do You Stay On The Gas With “Unlimited” Resources…?

March 20th, 2017 Comments off

     It’s been just over four months since I made the jump to start a self-imposed sabbatical to “recharge” and look to define the next chapter after 4.5 years in a hyper growth start-up. In essence, it was 4.5 years training at a redline pace that ultimately demanded a level of moderation, but at a pace that wasn’t mine to control. But what does a hyper-driven and intensely competitive individual do to “recharge” the batteries and spend some much deserved down time do? Well of course you decide to set your sights on doing one of the longest paved climbs in the world, as well as deciding on racing two of the most notable Classic races in Europe that will have no less than a combined 100 kilometers of cobbles between the two events. Those are natural next steps in getting some rest…right?

I’ve always made some pretty strong comparisons between the training for my cycling and the disciplines that have to be practiced in a Corporate environment. While some may balk at the comparison, it comes down to managing the resources you have available, using those resources in an effective manner, while accomplishing the goals or commitments you’ve made to yourself…or others. Let’s look at the very macro comparison of the resources available at a Corporate level versus Personal level. At the Corporate level, imagine having complete open access to the checking account of your favorite VC and being able to deploy those resources in any way you could to your business…ANY way. You can spend anything from $1 million…to $100 million…or more if you felt you needed it. Let’s say you settled on the amount and burned through that spend. What have you been able to accomplish with the deployment of those resources in the end? Have you built a healthy business that has a strong foundation for future growth and have you been able to establish a strong pattern of increasing performance metrics that strike the right balance between aggressive growth, establishing a healthy corporate environment, while positioning the company to deliver on your commitments? General questions, but you get the point.

Let’s talk about the Personal side though. I find myself on sabbatical and all of the sudden I basically have an “open checking account” for training time and can do whatever I want. I can train for 10 hours per week, 20 hours per week…or even 40. However, as with a Corporate environment, there is the same consideration to resources and a healthy foundation as there is for an athlete training for an event. It has to be methodical, planned, sustainable, with appropriate periods of reflection and a tempering of the pace. The attached picture is the actual chart of my training since November and the progressive peaks and subsequent tapering as I move towards my goal of leaving for Europe next week. In the chart the magenta line is the shorter term acute training load while the blue line is the longer term chronic load, which indicates a core fitness base. The yellow line is the fatigue line and the more it dips, the higher the fatigue and time and indication of need to rest. Think of the magenta line as the 200-day moving average for a stock…you can see spikes above the norm, but ultimately it’s going to come back down before hopefully making the next run up. It’s the same concept here. You can see where I’ve had the spikes, but ultimately, you taper down before making the next training push. It’s about finding the right balance, creating a healthy foundation, and continually pushing forward.

Just like the Personal level, there is an equal penalty for “overtraining” at the Corporate level. At the personal level, overtraining can lead to becoming ill, an inability to achieve peak performance, and an extended recovery time to get back to a healthy state of training. In the Corporate environment, the equivalent of “overtraining” is essentially excessive spend, excessive hiring, and a deterioration in the performance metrics of the company. At that point, there’s no choice but to move into a period of recovery to get back to a higher level of performance.

Over the last four month I’ve managed to put in over 9,200 kilometers in the saddle, climb in excess of 300,000 feet, and during that time burn almost 210,000 calories on the bike to achieve that. Again…that’s just in the last four months. Putting 210,000 calories in perspective with some of my favorite foods…

  • Roughly 2,100 packets of energy gel…
  • 131 pounds of pasta…
  • Roughly 1,750 Chobani yogurt cups
  • 1,500 cans of that nectar of the gods…Coca Cola

You get the idea…it’s all about the long game and establishing a strategic and achievable result. Imaging trying to cram all the stats above into a shorter window…say even two months. The likelihood is that you don’t have the proper foundation in place, will overtrain yourself, you’ll likely get sick…and ultimately your fall back weeks or a month…or in the case of a Corporate scenario…potentially losing Quarters due to overtraining.

Happy training my friends…

Jeff

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

Preserving Culture & Success In a Hyper Growth Environment…

February 22nd, 2017 Comments off

After my departure from Cylance, one of the biggest topics that I’ve been asked about, and given extensive consideration to, has been that of culture and how you preserve the success factors that were part of the early stages. Cylance was started with some key cultural goals in mind, which were primarily based on the disdain and avoidance of silos and politics. We had all experienced it at larger companies. The early efforts and decisions were all focused on the building of a product that would change an industry…nothing else mattered and everyone was committed to that vision.

As we had shared with investors, analysts, and media, it took us the better part of 3 years to reach 115 employees. There was a focus on our burn and regulating our spend in a prudent…and almost surgical manner. It then took another year to grow our employee base to 450. Even this number, while certainly aggressive, did not give us an undue amount of concern. Yes, we did tap the brakes a few times to make sure our billings were continuing to trend as they were…multiples above our original plan. However, as I’ve discussed in prior posts, we were also focused on making sure the underlying metrics of billings and revenues per employee were also continuing to trend upward, as well as ensuring that our cash burn was in the confines of the original plan. Some might take the view that a tripling our headcount was an unhealthy growth, but we were cognizant of the number increase and actively discussing the potential risks with our key investors. We wanted to learn from their other portfolio companies and couldn’t afford the distraction of having to correct course under the trajectory we were on.

Let’s take that tripling of headcount and why that wasn’t necessarily an unhealthy number. When you look at the hiring of 335 over the course of a year that equates to 6.5 people per week that are hired in across every functional area…Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Research, etc. While the new hires might be coming in with some of the “corporate baggage” from the larger companies, there was a significantly larger number of incumbents that are able to offset that influence, properly onboard the new employees, and successfully indoctrinate them into the culture that had been the foundation of our success. Even in the latter part of the year, when you’re bringing in the other 165 hires, you still have a fairly large & established group that can help in the absorption and molding of new employees. Will you make some mistakes in hiring? Absolutely. But you also need to take the necessary steps to course correct early on. I also believe, but wasn’t successful in enforcing, was the need to have hiring managers outline the roles & responsibilities for their newly requested hires, which would later play into assessing the quality of their delivery, and ultimately, qualifying their work relative to bonus payouts. This was an extreme challenge as we were also confronted with a trajectory that was multiples of our original plan, which meant that we also were having to manage headcount growth that was nowhere near the original plan, or the first revision…or the second or third revisions. You get the picture…hyper growth demands quick reaction.

The biggest question though is where does the process actually break? What is the percentage of “tenured” incumbents that need to be present relative to hyper hiring…and is this even a valid statistic? This becomes the key question when you find yourself in a Quarter where headcount grows by 50% and there is a push to increase an incremental 30% the following Quarter…or effectively doubling your headcount growth in two Quarters. When you start hiring at the rate of not 6.5 new hires per week, but 18 per week…and then mix new hires with an equally new group of individuals who have not fully adopted the success elements of the existing culture. New hires, who when combined with undefined roles & responsibilities and a lack of guidance, are treading water at best and not sure how to direct their efforts in the rapidly expanding environment they just got tossed into. Combine the cultural challenge with the financial challenge where the majority of the cash flow is affected by headcount and how the Company is then performing relative to the billings and revenues per employee…and the cash burn metrics that have been committed to the Board. It’s all about keeping an engineered and discipline approach, but balanced with the unplanned needs of the business. There is no textbook approach in hyper growth and you can’t look to your past experiences to guide you through this scenario because in all likelihood…you haven’t been there. Ultimately, the success will be predicated on keeping successful communications going with the team, healthy collaborations, and knowing the pulse of the business…PERIOD. In the absence of these your destined for performance mediocrity, or worse yet, course corrections that will affect morale and momentum.

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

Employees, Facilities, & Systems In A Hyper Growth Environment…

January 19th, 2017 Comments off

IMG_0219     I’m really enjoying the conversations that I’m having with prospective new teams, as well as the vendors that I partnered with during the hyper growth phases at Cylance. The most predominant question is “how did you guys plan that out and accommodate the growth you did?”. Really, the level of success we achieved was not planned, at least not in the timeline that it was achieved in. From the outset, we had “modest” growth that still had us doubling our billings on an annual basis. We knew early on that we were going to have a relatively aggressive trajectory, but certainly not the hyper growth we were confronted with. While it has its blessings, it also tables an entirely unique set of challenges. Challenges on finding that appropriate balance in planning out employee growth, facility growth, as well as the systems you want to put in place…all with a focus on prudent spend knowing that the wrong decisions will result in unnecessary cash burn.
Employees. While we were extremely surgical in the original hiring, there were also unplanned surprises that increased our headcount, and thus our burn. Take for example the assumptions about our product and what we were anticipating relative to the ongoing support of our customers. Early on, the assumption was that our product would be entirely turnkey, that any deployments would be extremely rapid, and that the product would be easily integrated into any customers native environment. Well…not so fast. We quickly determined that we would indeed need a more robust customer support team, and one that was going to be more than just a few people. It was not a difficult decision to make as we knew this was the best decision for the customer and the best decision in support of our product and future success. We just needed to ensure that we moderated our spend in other others to accommodate the unplanned spend. As with some of our other spend, these were not black & white spreadsheet decisions and we worked through all the shades of grey as a team. Also early on we were aggressive in the buildout of our Sales Engineering team. This team was the technical complement to our Sales team and would be responsible for any pre-sale technical questions, proof of concepts, deployment issues, etc. As we started to close more business it was determined we needed a dedicated team just to handle the proof of concepts with prospective customers. Again, not in the plan, additional headcount, and thus, an increase in our cash burn. More conversation that thad to be addressed by the broader team and ensure that the metrics that we were operating under continued increasing in the face of rapid employee growth.
Facilities. When you start out in a living room on fold up tables you tend to maintain that same prudence planning and moving into new locations. We had early support for an investor with some temporary space. Following that, it was then a big commitment for us to assume a five year lease on a 12k square foot space when we still had barely secured our first Services customer. Even more surprising was outgrowing that space in less than two years. The other three years? We had always negotiated great leases so we had no problems maintaining cash flow neutrality when we subleased that space and moved into a new 16k square foot space, but with the opportunity to expand to additional floors within the same building. Imagine our surprise when we realized that in less than a year we were going to be out of space due to a dramatic increase in bookings after we signed the lease. We then renewed our relationship with The Irvine Company to lease additional space in an adjacent building and could easily expand to additional floors. As with our earlier leases, we always ensured we had negotiated leases that we could sublease if necessary if there were any unplanned corrections to the business that had us with excess capacity. However, it wasn’t excess capacity that was the issue, but a lack of. As I had successfully worked with other companies in a campus type environment, we started leasing vacant space in adjoining buildings to accommodate the rapid growth. There was little cap ex for buildout and we had exceptional flexibility. Even as we started to occupy a significant amount of space in prominent high rise buildings adjacent to the airport, while also securing prominent building top signage, we were able to keep our facility expense to less than two percent of our total operating expenses. Building top signage on two buildings that would essentially create the Cylance corridor near the airport.
Systems. As I was handed a laptop with Quickbooks on my first day i knew that this would not be our platform moving forward and quickly looked at what we might deploy that would carry us out over the next 2-3 years…or more. It was determined that Netsuite would be the platform and we could add additional modules as we grew and our needs changed. Whether commissions, deferred revenue, fixed assets, or multi-currency, Netsuite provided an economical platform that was widely adopted and could scale. I had just completed an SAP implementation and it was clear that we didn’t need to go in the direction of Oracle or SAP, both from a complexity, as well as a cost perspective. There were also some other great platforms that we had looked at early on. As an example, we had looked at Domo as a candidate for our dashboard platform. However, at a full implementation cost approaching six figures it just didn’t make sense early on as we had very little to report on in a pre-revenue capacity. A great platform, but not for the nominal amount of financial data we were compiling. Fast forward to a year of accumulated product bookings, pipeline data, channel data, etc. and we were properly positioned to take advantage of it, which we did. As we also started to push towards employee growth of almost 500 we knew that the HR & Payroll module in Netsuite was not going to be robust enough for what we needed and determined that Workday would be the appropriate platform as the company started scaling towards a headcount in the thousands. A year prior and headcount of barely 120 there was certainly no reason to spend high six figures to license and implement Workday. However, a year later and employee count approaching 500 it became a much easier discussion to have.
So how do you plan for employees, facilities, and systems in a hyper growth trajectory? You really don’t. There is no Board meeting that your going to roll into and legitimately say your going to go from $10M to $100M in the next year…not unless you’re going to sedate them and move quickly through that slide. However, you do put the systems and decisions in place that will give you the most flexibility to continue altering your course without having to look back with the realization that you’ve incurred a significant amount of sunk costs that really didn’t deliver any value or provide you with future flexibility. Decisions have to be made in tandem with the broader team, the key vendors that you’ve established relationships with, as well as the input of the Board and key advisors. It’s a heck of a ride and one your not going to be discussing in B-schoool…although look for a Cylance case study in the future!
Thanks for reading…
Jeffrey Ishmael

Off To The Races & Billion Dollar Valuations…

December 13th, 2016 Comments off

With the original Cylance team established in July of 2012, the orchestra came together and at that time there as a unified vision to transform the security market and change the way that corporations were thinking about their security infrastructure. We were less than a dozen people working in the living room and bedrooms with a goal of security transformation, and in the eyes of our founder, achieving a billion dollar valuation inside of 4-5 years. When you’re starting on fold-up tables there is no blue print to getting there…only a bit of a dream. However, that’s exactly what the team was doing in those early weeks and few months…creating the blueprint on white boards and oversized post-it notes. The team was sparring on a daily basis on what approach would achieve the best commercial results. It was all about specifically identifying the value proposition behind the vision of the tech that had been decided. While we were not trying to build a new company in a high growth sector, we knew the security sector was dominated by dinosaurs and there was billions in revenue that were ripe for disruption. Cylance was going to be the disrupting force in the equation and that exactly what the team was focused and unified on accomplishing.
We also knew that we could accomplish the goal while being very surgical in our spend and that our success would be based on a breakthrough tech and not spending tens of millions on advertising campaigns, spending ridiculous amount early on trade shows, non-value add events, as well as keeping our hiring cadence under strict control. The company cash burn was extremely minimal in the early stages and it was nearly 18-months before the company received its second round of investment in February of 2014. As we continued to bolster our headcount, invest in the Services team, and gradually moved into new offices, the original $15M investment lasted that first 18-months. Again, we were extremely surgical in our spend and spent every dollar like it was our last dollar. A philosophy that managed to last the better part of almost 4-years…
While the Research team was focused on developing the product there were a host of other operational issues to address as we started to grow as a company and would need a foundation for the first few years. First on the list was to find commercial space as we would definitely need to move out of the house. While a remodel was imminent, we were also working in a space where there were water leaks, open beams with exposed nails, and all the other fun elements of a home start-up! You can imagine the response received when you’re trying to meet with The Irvine Company on a commercial lease, as a new company, no revenue, and you want to sign a 5-year lease and then have them pick up all the buildout and incorporate into the lease rate so as to minimize any immediate cash burn. On top of that…and as a start-up…you’re also asking them to have certain restrictions on competitors worked into the lease as well. Suffice to say that we had a pretty weak position and it took more than a few meetings to get them to buy into our vision and the growth we were looking at achieving. At that stage, it was a huge accomplishment to get our lease signed with The Irvine Company, in a premier location, with building top signage on both sides….and all with a minimal security deposit. Score one for Cylance!
Even with our new lease, we kept our spend to prudent levels that were consistent with our philosophy. Rather than spend six-figure amounts on furniture, we committed to a new entry level offering from Steelcase that could easily be added to as we grew…but not before staying on fold up tables for many months before getting into our new space. We all tended to joke that fold-up tables had become part of the Cylance DNA.
Next on the list was our corporate insurance portfolio. Rewind to the start-up that had no revenues, still had less than a few dozen employees, had actually been turned down by Marsh for being “too small”, but seeking coverage in the low 7-figures. I looked to a prior relationship and again found a partner that believed in our vision as well. Fast forward a few months later and securing our first few customers and we were already going back to ask for additional increases in coverage to the mid-seven figure range. This drill continued on almost a quarterly basis until a final larger customer pushed the coverage limit again…to a point that exceeded our billings on even a cumulative basis. Again, transparency and strength in our relationship got the coverage in place. While there was certainly some raised eyebrows, they believed in Cylance and continue to realize the benefits of the relationship, which now extends on a global basis. Again, it came down to relationships, communication, and a mutual respect on both sides to manage the expectations on such a hyper growth path.
Marketing? The first few shows were an absolute kick to plan being the new kid on the block. Our burn was primarily aimed at headcount support, but we also knew we needed to start getting the Cylance name out there. For the first few RSA and Blackhat shows we had the luxury of being an unknown and used it to our full advantage as the team rolled out a full guerrilla assault on the show. With everything from custom napkins dropped in bars, to rented suites to meet with potential customers, to other similar means, we made a huge impact in those early days and clearly got the Cylance name out there. Not immediately recognized post-show, but we established the open ended question of “Cylance?”. We were clearly on the radar at that point…and already starting to create discomfort with our competitors.
At this point, there was still a unified team, all engaged in the same direction, and we knew the end play we were headed for. We knew we were going to be able to achieve our objectives without putting excessive spend in place. What I appreciated at this point, which was similar to the philosophy we had in place at DC, was that we were operating in a brand first capacity. There were no decisions made in the best interests of a person, department, or other agenda…it was all about Cylance. With this philosophy politics were still being avoided and there were no silos in place. We all bled green. Along with this approach was the continued prudence in spend throughout every level in the organization. We were pacing well, the product was coming along, and all indications was that once product was commercialized in 2014 we were going to start eating our competitors lunch. What our competitors didn’t hear was the increasing sound of the Cylance war drums and their sunset turning a bright shade of green…
Thanks for reading.
Jeffrey Ishmael

Exceptional Value Is In The Sum Of The Parts…

December 2nd, 2016 Comments off

The original goal when I started my blog was to bring an insight into financial strategies and operational disciplines that often drive the actions of the Finance team and why they often wanted to be involved in so many other parts of the organization. More involvement than just reporting what was happening in the other functional areas we work with. Quite simply, exceptional value is almost always created and driven by the entire sum of the parts and not just the actions of a single individual, department, product concept, or operating division. It’s all about the sum of the parts…the team that has been assembled to execute on a commitment made to the Board, Executive team…or a commitment to employees.
My point of view isn’t just based on a single company or a single experience of corporate success, but the pattern I’ve seen played out over a number of companies. Whether it’s been most recently at Cylance, strong financial and brand performance at DC Shoes, or aggressive EBIT initiatives during my time with a division of Schneider Electric, the exceptional results could not have been accomplished without the strength and commitment of a competent team. It always started with defining the mission and breaking down that mission into a set of directives that would shared across the functional areas. It was NEVER about closed door initiatives, secret meetings, or selective transparency on key topics. It has to be about clear communication, transparency, and honesty with the team on the direction that everyone is moving and the expected outcome. Measured, achievable, and sustainable changes to the business. There’s no room for short term thinking or decision making that alienates key team members.
In the case of MGE UPS Systems (Schneider Electric division), we were moving into some key periods for the company and were starting to see compression in our margins, our operating metrics, and ultimately the results we were reporting to corporate in France. All this while we were seeing massive fluctuations in just about all of our raw material prices, which at that time were primarily copper, lead, and steel. As a larger Executive team, and under the direction of our Chairman, we identified approximately 15-20 initiatives that ranged from increasing Services utilization rates, to improving battery pricing, to improving revenues in underperforming segments, as well as headcount related metrics and expenses. Additional initiatives included balance sheet management for the improvement of A/P terms, improving DSO metrics, and bad debt expense. None of these in any sense were a smoking gun, but as a collective and through the commitments of all the teams involved, we’d be able to make some very material improvements to our EBIT results. This overall initiative spanned the course of approximately 9-months and we met on a monthly basis, with our Chairman in attendance, and reviewed the progress being made on all initiatives. The reviews were not done on a 1:1 basis, but as a collective in a larger conference room. It was the purest form of group accountability. While a significant grind during that period, it was amazing to see that the team not only achieved the originally targeted results, but exceeded the commitment made. Still an amazing accomplishment by that team in what was a very mature / static company that was not experiencing anything close to hyper growth. It was about absolute efficiency in execution.
Fast forward to DC Shoes and this was about a huge amount of uncertainty. I walked into a situation where there was a heavily entrenched culture that was operating under the Quiksilver corporate umbrella, but operating completely independently and in a different location than the rest of the organization. A truly independent team and company. The goal going in was to partner with the new President for DC, as well as the likely relocation of the company to Quik HQ since the DC lease was expiring. At this time, barring some selective improvements, DC was a high performing brand, had tremendous additional potential, and was highly accretive to the overall corporate results. Corporate results that were driven primarily by the Quiksilver brand, DC Shoes, Quiksilver Retail, Roxy, as well as a host of smaller brands. DC’s continued results were so strong that it was a near impossibility to sell the brand due to the deleveraging it would create in the corporate P&L for what would remain and the subsequent results that would be reported moving forward. There was also the development of a full 5-yr Plan that had the DC brand growing to almost $500M, which in the few years after the brand was moved to HQ, would have exceeded the market cap of the entire company. The unfortunate part for DC is that while the brand was performing exceptionally well and aggressively growing market share, the sum of the corporate parts were anything but a synchronized and collaborative team. There was infighting between brands, selective support from corporate oversight teams, key executives making decisions they weren’t qualified to make for other brands, and ultimately, a complete scarcity of financial resources after extended periods of poor spending decisions and declining results. We know the unfortunate position that Quiksilver found itself in.
Cylance…a completely clean slate. No baggage. A complete blue ocean scenario to chart a path as a team and to start executing. We had a CEO & Founder who had an incredible security vision after decades of being told it wasn’t possible. We had a Chief Scientist that is probably one of the most brilliant folks that could have been chosen to head up our Research team. We had a CTO that was a CISO for a top telecom and moved his family from Australia for the crazy dream. An SVP of Product that was laser focused on building out the entire product team, while also building the product! We had a CMO that had a strong pedigree in security and did whatever it took to get the Cylance name out there…and in brilliant fashion. An SVP of Business Development that delivered on whatever was asked…including the collaborative and successful closing of the Dell OEM agreement. We had a VP of Professional Services that started generating revenue in our first Quarter. We had a VP of Legal that kept us out of the courtroom and played a key role in our corporate foundation. We had an SVP of Global Sales that partnered with everyone on the team to deliver the first $1M order…$10M order…crazy sales growth every Quarter, domestic team expansion, and international expansion. We finally got our first CPO that in just one short year oversaw employee growth of over 500 employees. I can’t imagine Cylance experiencing the level of success we did without the team and their amazing contributions. I can’t imagine that the team would have been able to share in the extreme success we did absent any of these individuals. Would there have been success, absolutely…but at what moderated level? Truly exceptional team results…and in the case of Cylance, exceptional value was in the sum of the parts.
Thanks for reading…
Jeffrey Ishmael

“I Have This Idea I Want to Share…”

November 18th, 2016 Comments off

While I am still only a few weeks detached after deciding to leave my position with Cylance, I’ve been getting an endless flood of inquiries about the trajectory we had been on as a team, how the company had achieved some of the major milestones it had, as well as whether there were any lessons that I was taking with me and would carry with me into the next chapter. It’s true that the pace had been insane from the very beginning and that the success we had achieved as a team may never be replicated…at least not without the synergies the team had realized early on. I also know that Cylance will not be easily replaced as the experience has been nothing short of amazing. It’s not about finding a job. It’s about reflecting on what has been a life changing 4.5yrs and the desire to reflect on that experience and share with those that have been asking. I’m not sure how many “chapters” there might be, but this is certainly my attempt to kick it off..
While Stuart and I had known each other for a handful of years prior to Cylance, we never knew the depth of each others professional capabilities. I knew he was involved in Security and he know my background was in Finance….end there. What we did know about each other was the relentless nature in our personalities and the ability to suffer for extended periods of time on a bike…think more than 12 hours. Think dehydration, severe cramping, horrible weather conditions, and perhaps all at once. Situations that truly test your personality and whether you have the vision and commitment to see it through. With that said, Stuart shared his idea of a new generation of security and one that he had a team committed to solving. This new initiative was not just about the tech, but about changing the way people thought of security. Fortunately, I had a mentor of almost two decades that came from the security space and he quickly validated Stuart’s knowledge of the space and where he was headed. Combine that with two investors who had prior interactions with Stuart and I know that this was not going to be any ordinary start-up.
Start-up. That characterization that seems daunting to some and terrifying to others. You’re not coming in and inheriting a team…or for that fact, even a company. You have to build it with the team. There’s no other way around it. We had found early on that there were a number of people that were just not capable of surviving in a start-up environment. Whether vision, discipline, experience, inability to build their own client book…or whatever the element might have been, some fell victim to an ongoing exercise in Darwinism. It was truly survival of the fittest. As I had started as employee #7, or for anyone starting in the first 50-100 people, there is no place to hide. You were either getting it done…and getting it done right…or you knew it was time to move on. There was no coddling, no hugs and “it’ll be ok..”…but a relentless push for achieving the results. As I had learned and practiced at so many other prior companies, you delivered on what you promised. Period.
However, at that time in the company, there was also a deliberate avoidance, and an absolute disdain, for politics and silos. We all recognized that if we didn’t have a sense of cohesion in place, a commitment to an end goal, and the support of our respective team members, then we were going to fail. Period. It was in these early days that the support was absolute. Whether someone was getting married, selling a house, establishing new households, moving across the globe…that these conditions were supported…to ensure that we were going to be successful and that everyone was going to be along for the ride. We knew we were going to be on the gas and the pace was going to be relentless. The pace was going to have to be relentless if we wanted to establish a billion dollar company inside of a 3-5 year window. Now keep in mind, while the term “Unicorn” now is common, if not overused, it was not in existence until being coined in 2013. So in 2012 for Stuart to say that in a handful of years he wanted to establish a commercially successful company with a billion dollar valuation…he was dead serious and it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. His vision, while aggressive, was not part of a herd mentality of wanting to be in some hyped “Unicorn Club”. His view was not about creating a tech that would get sold on the hope of establishing commercial success…NO…he wanted to establish a truly disruptive technology that would turn the security space upside down. He wanted to see the team create a tech that would just eat the lunch of first generation AV vendors. Period.
After having done a number of turnarounds, the thought of a start-up certainly was not intimidating. Considering the quality of the team we had, the wealth of experience that each of them was bringing to the table, as well as the collaborative personalities that each one of them shared, I knew that we had a very high likelihood of success in the launch of this company. The most difficult balance we were going to have to achieve was being fiscally responsible to mitigate burn, continue hiring the right individuals, and ensure we had the resources in place that would allow Stuart and the product teams to stay laser focused on their obsession to disrupt the security space. The team that had been assembled would absolutely be able to do that. There would be a further challenge in determining what the necessary resources were that should be put in place. As an example, I had just finished an SAP implementation at my prior company and clearly that was not going to be our platform of choice, but it certainly wasn’t going to be Quickbooks or some other bottom tier platform. The challenge would be to find the Goldilocks solutions for the first 12-18 months. No reason to buy the F1 race car when you couldn’t afford the pit crew and the track hadn’t been built yet…
After a number of emails, a few phone calls, and finally settling on an offer letter, it didn’t take much convincing to join this new start-up. I saw the vision, I believed in the vision, I believed in the team, and I trusted the team at the table. With that, and a few weeks later, Stuart gave me my laptop, let me know it had Quickbooks on it, and if I could get the payroll done that day. With that, as well as a payroll processed that day, I knew we were off to the races… 🙂
Looking forward to the next chapter..
Jeffrey Ishmael

How Do You Summarize 4.5yrs of Hyper-growth?

November 3rd, 2016 Comments off

For my friends & family who have been watching my pace over the last four years, that pace has been relentless, and for the most part, all consuming. The 4+ years that I have spent at Cylance where I started as employee #7 and working on fold up tables in a living room had progressed to over 700 employees. Cylance has grown from an idea our founder shared in a coffee shop to now a multi-national company with operations in 10 countries and billings in excess of 9-figures, while protecting some of the most recognized company names.
As with most chapters, there comes a time to turn the page and start a new one. I’m so incredibly proud of the team I have been able to work with, what has been accomplished, and what they will likely continue to accomplish. The next chapter is not about quickly finding a new opportunity, but reflecting on the incredible experiences & team that I had the privilege of helping to create.

I look look forward to sharing the experiences I collected at Cylance & the insane hypergrowth pace we found ourselves in. From the early stages of transient office spaces, to system decisions, preparation for modest growth levels, financing rounds, vendor relationships, as well as the cultural challenges created in such an extreme growth environment. I leave behind an amazing team and know our paths will likely cross again and will look forward to that possibility.

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael