It’s perhaps no surprise that the late 1990s came to mind for Anup Singh when we asked him to share with us a finance career lesson or insight from his past.
It seems that our CFO guests have become ever more reflective on the period of years preceding the dotcom implosion as they seek to help their companies navigate the murky economics of the post-COVID age.
“This was a time when many firms ignored the core fundamentals of a successful business model,” recalls Singh, who at the time headed up FP&A for Excite@Home, an new entity formed following the $6.7 billion acquisition of Internet portal Excite by @Home networks.Read More
Not unlike its acquisitive parent company, Excite@Home had an appetite for growth.
“We spent $1 billion to buy a company called Blue Mountain Arts, which had zero dollars in revenue, but the idea was to buy “eyeballs”—and the fundamentals just got away from us,” continues Singh, who in part was responsible for supplying analysts and investors external guidance as the environment for dotcom’s grew ever more turbulent.
“We were a casualty of the era,” notes Singh, who would become tasked with helping Excite@Home’s bankers, lawyers, and accountants to initiate a financial restructuring of company.
Apart from succumbing to the dotcom era’s irrational business mind-set, Singh observes, Excite@Home also paid a price for a complex ownership structure that undermined its ability to achieve an alignment between its board and the company’s strategy.
Having witnessed up close this strategic alignment failure, Singh made sure that going forward in his career, he was keenly focused on management directives that allowed executive teams to achieve strategic alignment.
Such agreement, Singh relates, needs to center on simple statements such as “Here are the three bets that we’re going to place,” “Here are the products that we’re going to build,” and “Here are the markets that we’re going after.”
This is a prescription upon which Singh has perhaps recently come to rely on more than once, as in his role as Illumio CFO he has sought to keep the software company’s ambitious international expansion plans in check and in step with the uncertainty of the current economic environment.
According to Singh, Illumio is now opting for “depth over breadth” and “doubling down” inside its largest overseas markets, rather than focusing on growing the overall number of countries within which it resides.
Says Singh: “We’re really trying to sharpen our focus and say, ‘Here are three markets on which we’re going to bet in the coming year.” –Jack Sweeney
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CFOTL: Tell us how Illumio has grown since the last time we caught up with you …
Singh: I think that the last time that you and I chatted was about 3 years ago. I had been CFO of Illumio for about a year at that time. Now, I’ve been in the seat for a number of years, having just celebrated my 4-year anniversary.
The company has grown fantastically well over the past 3 years. We are a late-stage security software company that addresses the containment of breaches, stopping the spread of ransomware, and preventing other bad things from happening. Slightly over a year ago, in 2021, we did our Series F, with which we raised about $225 million at a valuation of $2.75 billion. The valuation of the company has grown, and this obviously has been aligned with growth in revenue and the number of customers using our products.Read More
Alongside the executive team, I’ve really tried to help to drive the expansion of the company. For one thing, we’ve expanded our number of geographies—international users, as an example, now account for about a third of our customers. We have expanded the portfolio of the products that we sell. A couple years ago, we sold a single solution—now, we’re a multi-product organization. We’re expanding the platform, if you will, so now we are much more of an end-to-end solution. We are the leader in what’s called zero-trust segmentation.
In today’s environment, security is a really interesting industry to be in. We’re solving, in our minds, very important problems, and I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to bring our solution to many more end users. We provide security in ways that are cheaper, easier, and better. We’re really just all about trying to resolve issues that are very important to our customers. jb
Illumio | www.illumio.com | Sunnyvale, CA