Anaplan: From Yorkshire barn-based startup to global tech unicorn

laurent anaplan

Business planning is important. Forward-thinking can enable you to set clear objectives for individual members of your team, manage targets and perhaps more importantly, help with sales projections.

If you are a startup – with hopes of scaling up – planning becomes all the more important as you try to get to grips with your expanding workforce and client base.

But planning can not only help you manage your growth better, it can also serve to ensure new ideas have been assessed for commercial viability and to help value your business if a possible buyer comes knocking on your door.

“Most businesses run [their planning] on Excel and we need to put an end to that … It’s time for change and that’s why we created Anaplan,” Laurent Lefouet, managing director of EMEA at cloud-based business modelling and planning software firm Anaplan told Tech City News.

Not your average firm

But Anaplan is not your average software firm. Although it’s now headquartered in sunny San Francisco, Anaplan was actually co-founded a decade ago by CTO Michael Gold in a slightly less glamorous setting: a barn in Yorkshire.

Somewhat true to its roots, Anaplan continues to have a presence up North, where its R&D centre is still based. The firm also has additional offices in Maidenhead and Shoreditch and employs more than 100 people in the UK.

Earlier this year, Anaplan created ripples of excitement when it announced the closure of its $90m funding round led by Premji Invest, which saw it land coveted ‘tech unicorn’ status.

Anaplan’s growth, Lefouet claimed, is largely attributed to the fact the company’s software allows businesses to scaleup and, in turn, disrupt the markets in which they operate.

“We have more than 500 customers,” said Lefouet. “We were created in 2006 and we began commercialisation in 2010. The first customers joined at the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011.”

For some, scaling up is all but a distant dream. For others, it’s a reality and one that needs to be dealt with using caution.

Growth may, in the long-term, equate to more profit, but in the short-term, tech entrepreneurs are often left to deal with adhoc planning, missed opportunities and poor system development.

That’s where Anaplan and your team come in, he said.

People, people, people

“It’s all about people. You really need to spend a lot of time recruiting your team, at least at the beginning,” he added.

A company’s culture, he said, will be based on the DNA of the first people hired.

“The first three people will define the culture of the next 30, and the next 30 will define the culture of the next 300,” said Lefouet.

His recruitment strategy is simple: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

“You need to make sure that you have a clear vision on why you are founding the company and what you want to bring to the world … It’s very important that you don’t buy people. People should join your company not because you are buying them, but because they buy your vision and your idea,” Lefouet said.

“By recruiting someone, you’re essentially paying people to join you on your adventure. If you can’t do that, then why will someone pay to use your product and buy your vision?” he asked.

As a founder, Lefout said, you need to stay connected with the recruitment process – and that’s coming from someone who, up until last year, interviewed every potential Anaplan candidate in Europe.

But how difficult is it to find the right people in the old continent?

“It is difficult when you are very small in your operating market and you represent risk because people in Europe are more risk-adverse than in other regions … Recruiting at an early stage is tough,” he said.

But it seems larger tech firms, such as Anaplan, still face similar challenges when it comes to hiring.

“If we are entering a new market or new country we face the same issue: getting the right people on board isn’t easy,” added the MD.

Funding your venture

Getting funded is most tech entrepreneur’s dream and possibly nightmare.

Lefouet, who witnessed Anaplan’s staggering raise earlier this year, may be one of the best placed people in the space to share his take on the process of raising venture capital:

“It’s never easy to raise money. It was easier maybe one or two years ago because there was a lot more money available.”

“As usual, all the money goes to a limited number of players. It may look easy to raise funds, but it’s very difficult for most people,” said the businessman.

The first thing an investor will do, he noted, is to assess the market you’re operating in. Secondly, they’ll call your customers, he warned.

“They don’t tell you this but they call your customers to get first-hand information about your performance. This immediately tells them whether they want to get involved or not,” said Lefouet.

Despite Anaplan surpassing a $1bn valuation, Lefouet claimed that raising cash at a high valuation could be a thing of the past.

“There is less money available and this money will not be provided at the same valuation that you would have got a year ago,” he said.

What’s next

Funding aside, Anaplan is now hoping to continue recruiting both in the UK and abroad.

“We are going to grow to 900 people with a good mix of engineers in London, York and Paris and increase our size of operations.

“In the UK we are going to double the size of the tech team. We are going to expand to Japan and Switzerland and bring in new customers, partners and applications,” he concluded.

Not bad at all for a company borne out of a barn!