A conversation with Planful , Image credit Pixabay/GeraltGrant Halloran became CEO of Host Analytics in July 2019, following its acquisition by Vector Capital in January 2019.  The company rebranded in January 2020 to become Planful. Enterprise Times first asked Halloran to provide a 30-second pitch for the company.

“We are the pioneer of FP&A and consolidation software in the cloud. We’ve been doing this for twenty years, with 900 customers. We’re a 100% SaaS business. We help eliminate the technological, operational and collaborative friction that so many companies encounter across that whole end to end process, all of the planning, budgeting, performance, reporting, analysis, forecasting, consolidating the books, etc. We ultimately give the finance teams a new superpower, a lot more time back and the ability to drive analysis so that they elevate the financial IQ of everyone in their corporation.”

What’s your vision for Planful?

“Our vision is to be a global company. We’re going to stay in our space, in FP&A and continue to modernise the user experience for hundreds of thousands of corporations out there that are desperate for what we provide.”

The current situation

How is Planful doing? Could you give me an update?

Grant Halloran, CEO of Planful
Grant Halloran, CEO of Planful

“We’re about 350 employees and as I mentioned 900 customers and headquartered here in the States. About 85% of our customer base is here in North America, the balance of customers in international markets. We’ve been hiring quite a lot of folks, expanding dramatically this year.

“In Q1, we had a nearly 50% growth rate, quarter over quarter in new customer sales. In Q2, we’re expecting it to be even stronger. I can’t share a number with you. But I can tell you it will be a record in the company’s history in terms of new customers acquired and new sales revenues.”

International sales for Planful are mainly through channel partners. Enterprise Times asked Halloran if the model is different in the US?

“It’s multi-channel. We have about 25 resellers today. We’re growing fast there as well. We have a lot of companies who are leaving some of our competitors and coming to us in that channel.  I would say that here in the US,  by the end of this year,  our profile will look more like 75%, direct and 25% through resellers.”

Planful currently has partnerships with both Acumatica, Dynamics and Sage Intacct. Halloran believes that companies using these ERP solutions grow from $100 million to a multi-billion organisation without changing vendors. Planful also scales to that level. With more organisations moving their ERP systems to a cloud-based solution, he believes this trend boosts Planful’s growth.

On the leadership

Over the last few months, Planful has brought in several key people into leadership positions. Is Halloran looking to add to the team?

“Not right now. Since I came to Host Analytics and rebranded to Planful, we’ve added 22 VPs and above into the company. We’re going through a fairly dramatic transformation and growth as a company. We’ve got a  pretty strong compliment of people. The most recent person we hired into the leadership was Allison Searle in London,  as our SVP of international sales. We think we’re in pretty good shape to expand. We will add, we think, more leadership in the APAC region as probably our next step.”

How do you know when you’ve got the right leadership team in place?

“We are very focused on culture with a very big emphasis on our values and our behavioural principles. We have a set of behavioural principles that we call the Planful way. When I know I have the right leadership team in place is when we’re operating in alignment with those principles.

“Some of them, for instance, are having a bias for action, chunking problems down into bite-sized fixable elements and making progress on them continuously.”

Halloran also believes that the relationships between leaders are critical. He judges this by the level of collaboration between them during cross-functional projects.

On the year to date

What have you achieved in 2021 to date?

“Amazing growth! Record numbers of new customers in the first half of this year, we’ve already surpassed the record for any two quarters.”

Why the acceleration in growth? What has changed?

“This was an accelerating market even coming into the pandemic. The pandemic certainly highlighted, for heads of finance and CFOs, the need to get more robust around how this end-to-end process is run. Passing Excel files around is just not good enough. What specifically caused that was the amount of re-forecasting and scenario modelling that the finance folks had to do during the pandemic. Last year, we had examples of customers that had to run ten scenarios a day across the remainder of the year. That’s really challenging for people. It’s not only at the budget level; it’s also for cash flow.

“There’s this overall trend here that the frequency, of course-correcting in companies, is going up. Brexit was a great example of that adjustment, an exogenous factor that came along that forced everyone to rethink their plans. Then the CEO and the board want a whole bunch of different scenarios. All those scenarios have to be modelled.

“The other side is that for vendors like us, our technology is very mature. What we’ve specifically been doing is making it increasingly easy to adopt. We’ve chunked it down into 30-day increments to stand up parts of the system, roll it out, get users using the system. Then roll out the next use case and the next use case. We call that implementation package Planful Now. We’ve trained all of our partners to implement it that way. It’s extremely agile, very low risk and relatively low cost to implement.”

On the future of Planful

What do you hope to achieve in the next six to 12 months?

“More scale through our alliance’s programme and international markets, we’re expanding pretty heavily there. We’ll potentially more than double the growth rates this year. We’re well ahead of our plans for this year, extremely well ahead. So just fantastic growth.

“You’ll start to see more action for our company in international markets. Also, look after our customers, and we have some fantastic new products that we’re bringing into the market, one that we just launched recently, our predict signals application, which is the first application in a whole family of machine learning applications.”

On the Planful product

What is next up on the Planful product roadmap?

“A lot, continuing to modernise the user experience. We have a lot of emphasis on the user experience in our product. It’s necessary because where you’re starting to see the market and our customers going is having a lot of non FP&A non-power users in the system. So we spend a lot of time on user experience. We are thinking through how we get those folks to update their forecast and understand the performance of their business inside the Planful platform in the most user-friendly way.

“We’re starting to see customers want to adopt more of that advanced predictive automation technologies, algorithms with machine learning models. Not only to help them detect signals in their data, and bring quality assurance to their data. But also to do projections and multivariant analysis within the platform where the data lives. We’re solving it very differently. We’re building that in situ in the product, so you don’t have to move data around. You effectively just turn the functionality on, and it starts to work and bring you utility.

“Also, our Dynamic planning, multidimensional modelling and there is a lot more emphasis in our roadmap around just huge scale. We have customers who add extraordinary amounts of data and ask extraordinary amounts of questions from that data. So just continue to build out more performance at scale in the product as well.”

On acquisitions

You last raised funding in May 2020. That led to product innovation and growth. Are you still looking at making acquisitions?

“We’re active in looking at acquisitions. Our shingle is out for companies that want to potentially partner with us for sure. We’re looking at mostly adjacent technologies, where we think we can bring more value to our existing customer base. We’ve looked at several companies, and we continue to do so. We have the backing of a great PE firm here in San Francisco, and we work closely with them in that regard.”

More tech tuck-ins, rather than market share tokens?

“We’re interested in market share tuck-ins as well. So it’s a bit of an and/or so if there are businesses in Europe and APAC that fit within the rubric of what I talked about, that’s something we’re very interested in. The ability to bring more value to the customer base within the experience we provide on our platform and/or the ability to accelerate our global expansion to that vision we talked about earlier.”

On Challenges

What are your challenges?

“It’s all execution. We have a strategy in place. We’ve got a really good market perception, a really strong franchise with our customers. It’s just about expansion and execution through that. As you’re trying to scale a company internationally, many things can go wrong, and I’ve done it a few times. It’s about keeping the team united around the strategy, keeping that North star evident to everybody, and just course-correcting quickly.”

When will you drop referring to Planful as formerly Host analytics?

“Normally, when I’ve rebranded a company before, it’s about 12 months before people have become used to the new name. COVID probably stole a little bit of the timeline there. One of the market areas that’s still got its head in the Host Analytics world is the investment banking community. We’re still educating them a little bit that Planful used to be Host Analytics. If you look at all the customers that we’re acquiring into our community today, they’re coming to us because we are Planful, so I think we’re pretty close. It’ll be this year for sure.”

The book question

What’s the latest book you read? How does it relate to business?

Well, I read a lot at the same time. But the one that I will call out is “The Splendid and the Vile,” by Eric Larsen (Aus/UK/US). I love it because I am a little bit infatuated with Churchill and his leadership. I thought it was just a good, timely book to read, especially during a pandemic.

That book is about how Churchill, his family and the English people endured through the Blitz. It’s a brilliant book. How it applies to leadership is just observing when you’re in a crisis or situation where, for them, of course, it was existential, for England, for the people, but also the nation. How can you change the rules and change the way you operate when something like that happens?

“The big thing that it asks of me as a leader is, what elements of that can you do all the time? Why should we not be able to go faster and make decisions that seem wise? Why do we allow bureaucracy to enter in when things are status quo? So I’ve really enjoyed it, and it’s a fantastic read.”

This was the same book read by Scott Brown, CEO of FinancialForce, who was similarly impressed and revealed a different take out.


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