Case Study: Excel4apps

Excel4apps 20% average growth, with strong profitability, and a strong future

A Gazelles International executive coaching success story

Overview/Background

Excel4apps delivers a product that puts real-time data into Excel, dramatically simplifying the workflow of financial professionals.  They currently have about 1,000 business clients and serve about 35,000 users on 5 continents. Their growth and profitability have been phenomenal, and the most intriguing part of their business is how they compete around the world with so few people.     

In order to develop a sales presence in almost every major market in the world, the Excel4apps team works from a geographically decentralized model.  They have 6 offices in 5 different continents, with the largest office in Pittsburgh PA. Because of their geographic diversity, the management team can only meet in person once annually at its management retreat which rotates between its 4 business unit regions (Americas, Europe, Middle-East & Africa, Asia Pacific).

Decision to Hire A Coach

In early 2012, when co-founder and CEO Michele Buson recognized that his participation in strategic meetings was limited by his facilitation role, he engaged Gazelles International coach Doug Diamond to help.  At that point, Excel4apps had just earned revenues of $5.4M in its previous year, employed 26 people and had 450 customers.  

Together, Doug and Excel4apps launched a powerful strategic partnership that has led to phenomenal growth – averaging better than 20%  top-line growth annually from 2012 through 2017, with strong profitability. How did they do it? Michele says expert guidance and powerful tools have made all the difference. He explains, “Doug is our trusted, independent advisor. He brings a more objective view of organizational dynamics and keeps us strategically focused on the future direction of the business while equipping us with Gazelles best practices and new thinking.”

Coach Role / Areas of Impact

Specifically, Doug has helped plan and facilitate each of Excel4apps’ annual in-person management retreats and electronic planning sessions linking together the team leaders around the globe. He has guided the company in developing their  One Page Strategic Plan that defines the framework within which it plans, prioritizes, executes, and evaluates the direction of the business. Further, he organizes their quarterly strategic planning meetings where the team identifies quarterly priorities and key performance indicator targets. Departments regularly score and report on their priorities and KPIs during the quarter, which has improved individual and team accountability as well as departmental performance.

Quarterly Planning with Managers Around the World

Finding a way to do quarterly planning with a management team stretched across 20 time zones became one of the early challenges that Doug took up with the Excel4apps team.  With a combination of technology, meeting time creativity, and planning know-how, Doug worked with the team to find ways to communicate together to set the plans, and then stay connected during to quarter to hold each other accountable for results.  

Part of the planning also includes establishing quarterly company-wide goals that are then associated with an employee award which is part of the theme-reward-recognition process from the Great Game of Business. If goals are met, every employee receives a set dollar amount that they can spend on a reward. These rewards get communicated in a memorable way by various management team members which adds to the fun.  This gets people outside the management team interested in how the company performs and gives them a line-of-sight from what they are doing to the company’s strategic plans. Further, it adds to the feeling of winning that’s a big part of the company culture.

Strategic Clarity: Core Customer, Core Values, Purpose

Another key topic in the early stages of the relationship, Doug helped Excel4apps to clearly define its core customers and then focus tremendous energy on understanding and meeting their needs. This resulted in increasing deal sizes and overall revenues.  

Excel4apps’ understanding of its own culture is equally critical to its success.  By helping the team identify its core values and helping them to bring the core values alive in the organization, Doug enabled Excel4apps to rally around those values and bring others into the organization who share them.

In more recent work together, Doug helped to lead the management team to better define their company purpose statement. “Software people love,” is simple but powerful and drives everything they do. It defines their direction and sets the entire team on a path toward the same destination.

Employee and Client Data Gathering

To ensure that they are clearly communicating their vision in meaningful, actionable ways, they have taken steps to ensure that every employee is engaged.  They recently had each person in the company take the Gallup Engagement Survey, and achieved an overall score of 4.29 on a maximum score of 5.0 - an impressive accomplishment for such a rapidly growing company.  

To objectively measure how we’ve met customer expectations, Excel4apps undertook a third-party global study to determine its Net Promoter Score. Excel4apps attained a remarkably high +36 score, indicating that we share a customer satisfaction level comparable to the world’s most respected companies.

Leadership Change

Another more recent development with Excel4apps is a leadership change that has allowed the founders of the company (Michele Buson and Shawn Pendrigh) to let go of their management roles in the company, and to serve together in a new venture called “The Innovation Center.”  This has allowed other members of the Excel4apps management team to move up, and a new CEO, Chris Meyer from the Pittsburgh office, has been appointed. This transition has allowed Chris and Doug now to lead the planning sessions and Management Conferences and to work together to make sure that the company is well positioned for the future.    In Chris’s words, “As an organizational coach, Doug has been instrumental in introducing and helping us deploy quarterly, annual, and 3-year plans.  With Doug’s help, we have been able to implement planning and measurement processes for both tactical and strategic initiatives.”

Gazelles Summit Participation

One advantage of Chris being in the US is that he and his team have joined Doug several times at Gazelles Summits in various cities around the US.  The Summits allow teams to hear the best thinking from 10-12 thought leaders over 2 days, and allow the teams some valuable time to think and talk together and with Doug too.  These gatherings have been impactful for Excel4apps, and lead them into Lean thinking when they listened to a speaker named Paul Akers talk about his book “2 Second Lean”.  This has lead to company-wide efforts to “fix what bugs you” across the company in all 4 of their business units.     

Excel4apps Accomplishments / Bright Future

Since 2012, Excel4apps has doubled its client base from 500-1000, expanded it’s headcount from 26 to 80, grown at an annual average rate of 25%, and has won prestigious awards from around the world.  

Awards:  

  • 2015 Best in Biz International - Fastest Growing Company of the Year, Bronze Winner

  • 2015 Business Finance Awards - Software of the Year, Finalist

  • 2009-2017 UKOUG (United Kingdom Oracle User Group) Various Partner of the Year Awards, a 14-time winner

  • 2017 Culture Leader of the Year, Finalist 2017 Pittsburgh Technology Council

  • 2017 Pittsburgh Business Times - Coolest Office

Looking back, Chris had the following comments about Excel4apps decision to use a coach,   “Doug brings a wealth of business knowledge and our organization has greatly benefited from his involvement.  Doug has directly contributed to our growth and success over the past 6 years”

Looking forward, the future is also bright.   “Excel4apps has a strong, differentiated product, and they have built an incredibly strong team of A players to keep them growing,” says Doug. “The team has a great appetite to learn, and improve.   Because they take the Gazelles best practices very seriously and they work hard to get better every year, their growth potential seems unlimited at this point.”