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

January 19th, 2017 No comments

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

Hyper Growth…Do You Know Your Company CTL Level?

December 22nd, 2016 No comments

ctl-chartFor my friends and colleagues that know me, they know that I am fiercely driven both in the office…and on the bike. While I’ve tempered the shoulder and elbow bumping criterium racing these days in favor of career preservation, there is no decreased focus in the pursuit of achieving the best results I can on the bike. In fact, it was a laser focus and a very defined training plan that allowed me to achieve a 2014 title win for the SoCal Time Trial Series, which covered more than a dozen races. Some would think that this is a futile pursuit and an endeavor not worth the investment of time. However, I continue to realize the correlations between what happens on the bike and what happens in a corporate environment. It comes down to disciplines, awareness, proper planning, and executing on the strategy that you put in place. There’s no cutting corners, there’s no accidental or chance success…it’s about appropriate planning and execution. Period.

For me, getting out on a bike ride doesn’t mean just heading out for 3-5 hours, plugging in some music, and getting some good exercise. It’s about have a specific plan for that day. It’s about having specific time execution in specific power zones with specific cadence output…and REST in between those efforts. How does this even relate to corporate execution? We don’t go into the office and hope that the Quarter comes together in the last 5-10 days…although we all know this seems to be the case in just about every industry. HOWEVER, we do head into the Quarter with a blueprint that is typically part of a larger annual plan, that has Quarterly quotas, quotas that are supported by the necessary Sales headcount, as well as a host of other preplanned Marketing and operational support elements. While I commit to a daily training plan and see the immediate measurements of that output, that same realization doesn’t happen in a corporate environment. We continue to put in the “training” on a daily basis, but sometimes the runway to actually see the benefit might take a few months…or possibly a few Quarters on a more significant deal. It’s about having a plan and executing against it. A plan that is achievable. You break that plan down into its core elements and you execute against it. Period.

How does this all relate to hyper growth and corporate performance? Very simply…it’s the ability to maintain a sustainable pace that doesn’t overheat the engine, doesn’t waste resources in an inefficient way, and will allow the individuals, and ultimately the team, to cross the finish line…together. In cycling and the tracking of fitness, there are two lines that are followed during the course of executing a training plan…the CTL and ATL lines. The CTL line, or Chronic Training Load, measures your cumulative output of a trailing 28-day period. The ATL line, or Acute Training Load, measures the short term extreme spikes in training that indication your ability, or inability, to continue putting in sustained efforts. Think of the CTL line as a 200-day moving average for a company stock. You don’t want wild fluctuations in this line, and when there are, it typically isn’t healthy. You may have shorter term efforts that bring your CTL line up…but the ATL line realizes an extreme divergence away from the CTL and starts to indicate potential exhaustion and the need to rest. It’s the same concept at a corporate level, but drawn out over multiple Quarters than multiple weeks. Just like the cyclist, employees can put in a hell of an effort, but continued redlining will lead to that overextended ATL line, an unhealthy and unsustainable spike in the CTL, and eventually a condition of overtraining where either the team gets sick or rest is mandatory.

Knowing how to pace yourself and your team is critical to maintaining a path and a cadence that can continue driving a level of hyper growth. It’s taken multiple lessons for me to learn from others that it’s necessary to know and understand all the inputs that help maintain the pace. I don’t know how many times I was told to slow down and get some rest in the training by my coach. REST?!?!? Are you joking?!?!? “I’m feeling great and I don’t need to rest…”. Follow that with either getting sick or starting to see a drop in the performance level. “What do you mean rest…this isn’t the first time I’ve ridden a bike and I’ll know when I need to rest.” is what I might convey to my coach dismissing his feedback and experiences. I’ve since come to appreciate his valuable feedback and it was his feedback that was a major factor in securing a regional title.

Coming back to a corporate environment and the link to cycling…it’s all about the plan and managing all the necessary inputs to achieve that plan.

Revenue.    Corporate…what’s the Quarterly and Annual Plan? Cycling…what are the major event goals and the power level necessary to achieve the result?
Cost of Goods.    Corporate…what are all the elements necessary to produce? Cycling…what are the dietary needs to stay properly fueled, recover, and continue building on the achieved results?
Operating Expenses.    Corporate…what is the necessary cost structure to support the Plan & the resources available to achieve the plan? Cycling…what is the cost of nutritional supplements, tires, tubes, equipment, travel, etc.?
Net Income.    Corporate…with consideration to all the inputs, is the company achieving it’s planned result? Cycling…are you making progress towards achieving the wattage goals and distance goals? If not, is there a tweak to the inputs that can be made that may result in the same outcome?
It might be a bit simplistic of an analogy, but you can see the correlation between the two. While some might see my quantitative view on cycling as a bit unfortunate, it’s what makes me tick and it’s what I love about my career. For the same reason that I can’t just show up in the office and put in 8-9 hours and collect a check…nor can I get on my bike and just go for a ride…at least not with any frequency. I’m completely driven by performance and performance doesn’t happen without a strict plan in place, a set of metrics to track the plan, and the commitment to deliver. Period. In a situation of hyper growth, you need to be keenly aware of the elements and their impact on, and contribution to, delivering performance. You also need to realize that an excessive use of resources, which may ultimately be waste, will not necessarily deliver the desired results. There is no set formula…but it’s all about having the experience to know how to balance the inputs, drive a sustainable cadence, and deliver on what you promise. Changes to the plan? They happen, but don’t introduce a new race to the calendar next week, load up at the buffet with a ton of carbs, and hope that is going to get you through with a successful result…

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

Off To The Races & Billion Dollar Valuations…

December 13th, 2016 No comments

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 No comments

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 No comments

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 No comments

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

Who Is Your Go To Mentor When You Don’t Have The Answer?

August 20th, 2016 No comments

One of the staples that I have had in my career has been a mentor. Fortunately for me I was able to meet this individual and strike a good relationship, and friendship, that has lasted the better part of 20-years. He’s been there in my early career transition days where I was moving from Operations and Product Planning into a more Finance-specific track. In fact, it was his prompt that really directed me towards the Finance path I am on today.

While he has been a staple through those years, I’ve also aligned myself with people that I very much enjoyed both working with…and for. Folks that challenged me individually and people that I was able to learn from as well. There were three CFO’s in particular that I was able to work for that really challenged me and gave me all the rope I ever wanted…with the challenge presented that it would only by my actions that would cause my hanging. Fortunately I always kept the rope pretty taut…

However, as you move higher on the climb, the challenges become more pronounced and quite often the experience you bring to the table may not be sufficient to get you through the next challenge. This is when both the strength of your mentor(s), as well as the strength of your network, need to be of sufficient levels to carry you through. Each individual’s challenges will be unique, but still a minefield that needs to be walked and navigated.

In particular at Cylance, there is nobody on our team that has been through the kind of growth that we are currently realizing. From the increase in our billings, to the increase in our headcount, or the international rollout and rapid formation of subsidies. We’ve never seen anything like it, and typically have only come across it in a B-school case study. We’re living the case study right now at Cylance…

  • How do you accurately forecast growth when you continue to blow out your numbers and nobody has seen similar growth in quite some time?
  • How do you ensure that you’re preserving the culture, intimacy, and execution in the coming years that you’ve seen over the last 4-years?
  • What are your key metrics to measure and how often will those metrics evolve as the company continues to mature?
  • What are the key areas of risk that you need to have on the radar and keep a focus on regardless of how well things are going?

For someone that measures every watt, pedal stroke, and heartbeat when I’m on the bike, these are the things that I completely geek out on when measuring the performance and health of the Cylance organization. This organization is an athlete that will be continually be subjected to fine tuning and unplanned shifts. Shifts that will be influenced by our employees, our executive team, our investors, and the mentors that we all should have in place to successfully navigate a race that is ours to lose…

Who is your go to mentor when the race stakes get high?

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

Is Your Corporate Security Worth The Cost of a Monthly Latte?

February 18th, 2015 No comments

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredibly sharp Finance folks, many of whom are able to deliver on their budgeted results regardless of what curveballs are thrown at them. Some are able to effectively deal with shades of grey while exhibiting a focus on what is best for the company. Others are rigid, run the company with an iron fist, and if not budgeted….it’s not going to be spent…no matter what. It’s the latter approach that I have seen quite often recently and it leaves me scratching my head as to the flawed logic that drives their actions.

As you can imagine, I’ve had the opportunity to watch our team deal with some of the most serious breaches, which are usually reported across most newswires. Breaches that could have easily been prevented, but are now going to cost companies a significant amount to repair, as well as have to rebuild their reputational goodwill with customers…or in some cases, spend more to offset the loss of critical IP.  In the midst of these breaches, I’ve seen companies argue whose budget will carry the cost of the response because it wasn’t part of the original plan. They sit and quibble about the lack of Budget dollars in the face of a breach where millions of records have been released or critical IP has been compromised.

Let’s back up though to a point in time prior to the breach. The Cylance team goes in and walks through our technology and displays its absolute effectiveness to the prospective customer. It is all too clear that our solution crushes the traditional antivirus “solution” and would either protect them from malware that has hit their competitors, or in the most optimal display, would have prevented the breach that had just occurred. They’re also shown the efficiency in which our platform operates and places a CPU load in the low single digits, which again, is at the opposite end of the traditional antivirus spectrum that typically has the CPU redlined under an attack. Let’s not even talk about the additional cost of incident response that have to be carried in the event of a breach, which is often in the range of $400-500/hr depending on the seriousness. Don’t like paying legal fees for frivolous actions? Try paying those fees when you know they could have been avoided for the cost of a latte…

As simple as this sounds, it really does come down to the cost of a latte…and this is no joke. Companies cater business lunches for “working meetings”, companies tend to get a bit loose in the wallet for other “business events”, but there is also the retort of “we don’t have any open spend for this area…”. So let me rephrase what you just said:  Are you saying that you don’t have any open spend equivalent to the cost of a coffee for each endpoint in your enterprise to ensure the security of your employee records, customer records, and critical intellectual property?

While I certainly don’t like surprises or unplanned spend, we are certainly operating in different times and need to be able to adequately protect the data and prior investments we’ve been entrusted with. It used to be a failed ERP implementation that might cost a CFO or CIO their job, but now it will likely be ineffective security spend and ineffective deployment that will cost jobs. When the situation has the absolute ability to effect revenues and jeopardize key data…the CFO has to be involved and do what is best for the business. Perhaps that’s something to consider when you’re sipping that latte during your transitional networking meetings…

Thanks for reading.

Jeffrey Ishmael

When Processes & Systems Are Put To The Test…

January 21st, 2015 No comments

Part of the enjoyment that I get from working at a “start-up” is that we essentially have a blank canvas on which to build the company, configure our systems, and define processes. Processes that are both needed, as well as in the best interests of the company. Essentially the establishment of a back office configuration that will support increasing growth as opposed to legacy decisions that are still carried out within a larger enterprise that are simply no longer adding any value.

However, until you’re tested, how do you know the decisions you’ve been making will be positively affirmed and be of value to the organization? From an operational point of view we’ve had a number of touch points that have tested our systems. Whether it’s been the growth of our employee base, the successful completion of our Series-B fundraising, or our accounting audit….we’ve had multiple opportunities to test our systems.

From an operational point of view, I’ve chose to run headcount in a VERY lean manner and instead invest in systems that would support the highest level of efficiency. I’m probably working with the smallest Finance & HR team that I’ve had at any company, yet we’ve continued to successfully respond to due diligence and audit requests that typically involve the generation of hundreds of supporting documents to validate what we are reporting. While tedious, we have the systems and processes in place to respond to these requests.

We’ve also had to strike a very fine balance between implementing system enhancements and the need to run the day-to-day operations. We could have easily put Commission and Deferred Revenue modules in place earlier, but with a focus on cash management and time resources, we’ve waited on multiple implementations until it was right for the business…not for what was convenient or bragging rights of extra system horsepower that ultimately sat idle in the garage.

The challenge we’ll continue to embrace moving forward is how lean we can continue to run while providing top tier business intelligence to the rest of the team and responding to the needs of our outside vendors and partners. While we might be currently smaller in revenues than most of the other companies I’ve worked with, our trajectory is on plan and we have a great operational foundation in place to support it. The satisfaction I get from testing our systems and processes isn’t much different than the Sales Director who gets that purchase order…it feels like a win. It’s great to be working with a team that’s always focused on the test and ensuring that daily efforts put us in the strongest position possible.

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

What Have You Done For Me Lately…?

November 24th, 2014 No comments

While I don’t think that I’ve ever used this line in any seriousness at any time, it’s also a line that I strive for in my pursuit of results and ensuring that I can assist others in any way I can. The difficult part for any Finance professional is qualifying the results that you deliver to a company and the value that you continue to build. I specifically say “qualify” as we are constantly quantifying company results in the form of Budget objectives, KPI’s, and every other indicator we use to determine of the company is financially healthy and moving in the right direction.

However, in order to get to the point that you are delivering healthy financial performance, you need to have the right team and the right infrastructure in place. For our Sales team, there is only one metric for performance and answering the question posed above….it’s the continual stream of purchase orders. You’re either successful in delivering….or you’re not. Pretty straightforward. From a Finance perspective, I’ve always been fortunate to have a strong relationship with the President and the rest of the Executive team. Based on my feedback from this circle I’ve always outlined the deliverables that I would be putting in place for the Quarter, which are always supportive of that team, and ultimately, the strengthening of the company and its underlying foundation. I solicit feedback to ensure if there are any other items that I might not have on the radar and if I need to tweak my Quarter objectives at all. Hopefully that is never the case, but it’s always a good exercise to adopt.

As I’ve been interviewing more candidates lately for our next hiring push, it’s given me a reminder of where we’ve come in the last 2.5 years and the foundation we have been able to put in place. I still laugh at coming fresh off an SAP implementation at Quiksilver only to be handed a laptop at Cylance on my first day and being told it already had Quikbooks installed. At that point I knew we had a lot of work to do. As I look at where we are now with what I believe is a very robust platform with seamless integration between platforms, it actually surpasses many of the systems I have had at previous companies. As we continue to grow, our needs become more complex to manage and we adapt. We’ve recently just finished the implementation of our Deferred Revenue module, and with barely a break, are now kicking off the Commission module to manage variable compensation at multiple levels. I’ve also recently completed a complex forecasting module that models out a multi-layer deferred revenue view. This is not an offline Excel model where you’re just updating a few cells, but taking into account all the critical aspects of the business and surgically forecasting proforma cash levels.

As we move into our next hiring phase, we’ve also put into place a very solid recruiting and onboarding process. Also an element of a previous Quarterly goals layout. With this in place we can effectively fill our open positions as we continue to operate in a lean environment, but also without having to rely on outside recruiters that are more than happy to deliver a five figure invoice for each position they’re able to fill.

What I strive for daily is the ability to close each Quarter, and like the salesman that totals out his POs, I can tally up the deliverables I qualified at the beginning of the Quarter and know that myself and the team have pushed the Company forward in a healthy way and have delivered a solid level of support to the broader organization. That the efforts of the team have not just been about staying busy the last 90-days, but have been strategic and surgical in their efforts to strengthen the company. Hopefully that’s what we’ve done for the company lately…

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

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