Partnering with private equity firms can put companies on the path to hypergrowth, market leadership, and an initial public offering (IPO). It’s no wonder mergers and acquisitions are on the rise.
PE-backed Finastra, the third-largest financial technology company in the world, is a prime example.
Finastra serves 90 of the top 100 banks internationally, has nearly 10,000 employees, and brings in about $2 billion in revenue.
Finastra’s story began in 2017, when Vista Equity Partners saw a need in the financial services market for a more comprehensive software solution provider. Vista combined two companies, Misys and D+H, that spanned North America and Europe. That global banking behemoth they renamed Finastra.
When it was formed, Finastra was valued at $4.8 billion. Recently, Finastra has been valued at more than $10 billion. Finastra’s transformation and scale illustrates how PE backing can spur next-level growth.
While the potential and results are enticing, M&A isn’t without complexity. Merging two different fintech companies with different cultures, customer bases, data, processes, tech stacks, visions, and leadership is no small task. It’s a massive change that must be handled with care.
Likewise, there’s a finesse to achieving success in a PE partnership after an acquisition. Dan Jacobs, Vice President of Commercial Finance and Sales Operations at Finastra, has partnered with Vista at three different organizations, including Adobe Marketo and ACTIVE Network. Jacobs brought his years of PE knowledge to Finastra to optimize its revenue operations process with meaningful, accurate data that drives predictable growth.
In this Q&A, Jacobs discusses how he navigates aggressive growth targets, which metrics PE firms see as indicators of success, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Tell us more about Finastra, Vista, and their partnership.
Jacobs: Vista Equity Partners is focused specifically on software companies. Technology is where they want to be. This is my third go-round with a Vista company, and it’s one of the reasons I was asked to join Finastra in 2019.
Vista’s goal is to help companies scale and optimize their people, process, investments, and tech stack to drive maximum revenue gains, and that’s exactly what they helped with during our merger. With Misys in Europe and D+H in the Americas, Vista recognized there were synergies there—where you could bring these two bookends of the world together and form a larger company.
Of course, that meant bigger scale, and that we could start approaching more markets around the world. Vista put these two companies together to make something that hopefully will establish Finastra as the world leader in finance software.
What expectations do PE firms have when partnering with an organization?
Jacobs: Vista expects their companies to focus on operational effectiveness, as well as clear, clean, and focused data-driven decision making. They work to make sure that high-caliber senior leaders are in place, and then Vista gives direction on the expected transformation targets needed to grow the business.
They engage at a very detailed level with the operational teams on things like systems, tools, and processes for both the sales and finance organizations. Vista also supports investment to correct issues where needed. For example, ensuring data is clean and that everyone is working from one shared source of truth.
How can smart organizations use PE firm investment to optimize their revenue operations process?
Jacobs: I may be biased, but for me, it is all about the automation of systems and getting one view of your customers and prospects. Making sure investments have immediate impact and strong ROI is crucial, because the growth plans and time cycles in PE-backed firms are typically aggressive. Making sure your teams all have a shared knowledge of what is happening with customers is a huge benefit.
When that type of system is implemented, it changes the way work is done on a daily basis. Clari is a great example that’s delivered an immediate impact for sales leaders and sellers. Overnight, spreadsheets disappeared. Now 500 sellers across the world are running their forecast out of Clari. The entire revenue process has been elevated with Clari.
With better data, increased deal inspection, and more accurate forecasts, we’re able to deliver predictable revenue to the C-suite and Vista at a moment's notice. Accuracy and predictability are two words we would have never used in the spreadsheet world.
How can organizations avoid pitfalls when working with PE firms?
Jacobs: Understand that many PE firms, Vista included, let the independent leaders of their portfolio businesses make their own decisions. While it is good to have references from other companies in a portfolio of any PE firm, usually the PE firm doesn’t make the decision for the companies.
For example, if a salesperson at Company X thinks he has a chance to sell to Company Y because they share the same PE firm, don’t count on that connection alone as the way to make the sale. A good sales process between two portfolio companies still needs the same level of diligence and understanding, regardless of their relationship to the PE firm. I have seen other companies think they would get in with Vista and sell to all 60 or so companies, and their value prop just didn’t fit with most, and it fell flat.
Each company in a PE portfolio can be very different. To put it simply, focus on the company you are specifically working with and do your homework. Then use the portfolio relationship if needed.
What key metrics does the board view as indicators of a healthy revenue performance?
Jacobs: Vista looks at revenue and EBITDA as standard number metrics, and also focuses on year-on-year growth and performance-to-plan for the quarter and the year. The plans tend to be very aggressive. Vista spends the most time making sure the plan will attain success, and they also dive into any reason why performance may not be as expected.
When you’re preparing for a PE board meeting, what insights, dashboards, and metrics do you utilize in Clari to report?
Jacobs: For the sales track of the board meeting, we dive into each quarter's performance metrics, such as performance-to-plan and performance-to-forecast, which we determine internally at our initial quarterly business review at the start of any quarter. Truly accurate data is crucial to understanding how to invest and track future business success.
We use Clari for the current forecast from the internal QBR, current sales, the makeup of the types of sales, and all pipeline inspection for the outer quarter (next quarter). The insights Clari provides highly influence our conversations on the health of the business and helps us ensure our growth plan is still on track.
What are the top three things you learned from your experience in partnering with a PE firm?
Jacobs: Go fast. Make Decisions. Stay alert.
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