I led finance teams for over 10 years at two different companies, and during that time I always had great visibility into what was driving our revenue. If you came up to me and said, “Hey Howard, how’s revenue looking this month?” I could’ve given you a detailed and accurate answer because of the tools available to me. I took pride in my multiple Looker and Tableau dashboards that showed me exactly how much revenue had been earned to the day, how we compared to last month, and what was driving any changes. User acquisition, pricing dynamics, churn issues, whatever it was, I could confidently give you my answer because I had the tools to do it.
But on the expense side - and tell me if this sounds familiar - it was very much the opposite situation. I had very limited visibility into expenses because I had zero dashboards for tracking spend intra month. If you came up to me and asked how we were doing with expenses, I’d tell you to wait until after the accounting books were closed, which would often be 15-20 days after the actual close of the month. At that time, I’d get my hands on the expense report, and then I could tell you how we did - but that’s not to say that I had all of the answers.
The report was a typical Excel file - the rows were our vendors, the columns were the months, and the cells were the dollar amounts we were spending each month. So when I say that I didn’t always have all of the answers, here’s a common scenario to illustrate what I’m referring to: I see that this one software vendor increased their spend from $24K last month to $34K this month. What drove the $10K increase? I can’t drill down and double-click into the cell to find out, so I have to figure out who manages the relationship with the vendor at the company, track them down, send them an email with my questions, wait to get back a response, and if their response wasn’t sufficient, then set up a follow-up meeting to review it in person.
I figured there had to be a better way to communicate about vendor spend, to understand the drivers of this spend and not just the dollar amounts, and to build a stronger culture of accountability within the organization related to vendor spend. How could we do this?
My ah-ha moment came in 2019 when I realized that I already had all of the information I was looking for. The finance team I led processed hundreds of invoices each month, but they weren’t capturing the line items of the invoices that detailed what we were buying, the unit prices we were paying, and the volumes we were ordering. Our accounting and AP system at the time (QBO and Bill.com) were only capturing the amounts due.
What if I had a tool that could digitally capture that information, put it into a common data structure, and then do time series analysis of the drivers of our spend?
With a tool like that, I could quickly discover insights that previously would have taken a significant amount of manual analysis slogging through Excel files to find, such as:
- Monthly spend for a certain collaboration software was up 30% this month compared to last month driven by 27% growth in licenses, but wait, our headcount only grew 15% that month. What’s going on?
- Usage has tripled over the last year, but pricing has remained the same. Is it time to negotiate better pricing?
No tool like that existed at the time, so I took the jump and left my job as the CFO at Better.com to build it. I connected with my co-founders Ankur and Jia, and together we started Glean.
That was in early 2020. Since then, we’ve hired and grown our team to nearly 20 people distributed across the world, built an MVP, demoed it to dozens of CFOs and accounting teams, acquired a core group of companies as beta users that are actively using the platform, and now we’re almost ready to launch the product (and oh by the way, we did all of that during a global pandemic).
We started Glean for any finance professional or budget owner who has ever wished they could drill down into their Excel data. We aim to unlock the powerful information detailed in vendor invoices to surface non-intuitive spend insights so finance teams are empowered to create a culture of spend accountability within their organizations.
Soon, we’ll lift the veil on what we’re building at Glean, and I’m excited to do so. In the meantime, if any of my story resonated with you, or if you’re interested to learn more about this tool that we’re building, please reach out and request a demo. We’d be thrilled to hear from you, learn how we can help your company with vendor spend management, and eventually empower you to create a culture of spend accountability at your organization.