New Anaplan CEO Frank Calderoni lays out his vision for the SaaS unicorn as it prepares for an IPO

The new CEO of the cloud-based planning and forecasting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company Anaplan is only nine weeks into the job but has already laid out how he plans to take the company from unicorn-status to a potential IPO this year.

The ex-Cisco and Red Hat CFO Frank Calderoni arrived at the company after a search which took nearly a year to complete following the abrupt exit of Frederic Laluyaux in April last year.

He has been tasked with continuing the strong growth the SaaS company has been seeing since being valued at over $1 billion in January 2016 following a $90 million (£72 million) funding round. Anaplan says that it added a record number of customers in 2016 — 250 to be exact — and reported a 75 percent rise in subscriptions, accounting towards $120 million (£96.5 million) total revenue.

This week in San Francisco the new CEO got the chance to lay out his vision for the company on stage at Anaplan’s annual Hub event.

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Described as "a CEO in waiting" by his old Red Hat boss Jim Whitehurst, Calderoni started out by saying that it felt "natural for me to be here if I look at my background" and that he was excited by the opportunity at Anaplan because the software has the potential to solve the same challenges he had encountered throughout his career, namely: "Data and how we get data, and how we get that information connected and driving decisions."

In terms of putting the company's current strategy into a soundbite, Anaplan is fond of referring to what it does as "connected planning". So instead of various disconnected Excel spreadsheets dotted throughout an organisation, employees can collaborate on a single data model in real time.

The new CEO has fully bought into the message, saying: "Imagine a technology which allows everybody to have access to the best information to make decisions quickly, easily and boldly, this is the world I want to live in and why I came to Anaplan."

Three-pronged approach

During his keynote, Calderoni laid out the three tenets of his strategy for the company, and they will sound familiar to anyone well-versed in the SaaS lexicon here in Silicon Valley: customer first, innovative technology and community.

Calderoni told Computerworld UK that although many SaaS companies say they are customer first, many are not. The way he intends to make sure that Anaplan is different is by making it part of the company culture.

"Being customer first has a huge cultural element to it," he explained. "If people look at their roles as just a job description, and are too narrow, and don’t understand the bigger purpose of why they are at Anaplan, that is a cultural thing, and one that every company can do more of."

"What I learned over the years is that companies that put their customers at the centre of their strategy are the companies that win, that have the longevity and strength in the market to be successful over time," he added. "So we kicked off an initiative called customer first, which is internal to us. All for the benefit of meeting [customer] needs, requirements, and expectations."

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When it comes to technology, Calderoni doesn't want Anaplan resting on its laurels as a leader in the planning software space, especially with big name rivals like Workday starting to encroach on their territory.

"Yes we need to make continued investment to add on some of the requests our customers have and that is where I want to stay focused," he said. "We also have to be aware of how technology will evolve and make sure that is part of our long-range roadmap. [One] of the things that come up is the open platform, so allowing more connections and feeders in."

Calderoni also wants to ensure that Anaplan keeps up-to-date with the latest technology, saying that his CTO Michael Gould will continue to look into "how technology evolves around AI and machine learning and if we could evolve into capturing some of that into our platform, potentially."

Lastly, there is an increased focus on community, building out the existing Anaplan portal, adding user groups and continuing to grow events like Hub.

Calderoni saw the importance of community during his time at Red Hat, saying: "I learned a lot with my Red Hat experience as it relates to open source community and the value of that. In the community itself, where you have users of your technology connecting and sharing best practice, ideas, code, it makes you advance much faster as you bring in all that expertise and select the best."

IPO preparations

In terms of preparing Anaplan for a highly-anticipated IPO, Calderoni wouldn't be pushed on a timeline, but he does believe the market is showing green shoots and that Anaplan is well positioned to take advantage.

"Do we feel like we can reach a point where we are ready for an IPO? Yes. Do we also feel that we are on our way to profitability? Yes, but there are different steps that have to happen along that journey. I think we are well positioned right now for both." Calderoni cited the customer growth and uptick in subscriptions in 2016 as markers that the company is on that path to profitability.

"We did announce last year that for the first half of the fiscal year we were cash flow-break-even, which shows we have a level of frugality and that investments are made for a return and that is a good thing," he added.

In terms of the market, Calderoni says he has been buoyed by the recent float of MuleSoft and the impending Okta IPO. "We are starting to see some success [in the market] which a year ago wasn’t the case, so that is one of the factors we look at in terms of timing.

"So is the market able? Is there willingness and appetite to invest in software companies that have the kind of trajectory that we have? That is something we continue to look at."

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Calderoni is also conscious of chasing growth too aggressively though, saying: "We also have to realise where we are, we are a startup company working with customers that have a significant amount of demands on us, so I want us to stay focused. We can spread ourselves too thin too fast and then not necessarily accomplish the goals our customers need and we need long-term."

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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