In this week’s episode of the Enterprise Monetization Podcast, Sandeep Jain sits down with Glenn Hopper, CFO at Sandline Global to discuss the exciting things happening at Sandline Global and his book that came out last year, "Deep Finance, Corporate Finance in the Information Age"
Hi, welcome to the 12th episode of “The Enterprise Monetization” podcast. And this is your host, Sandeep Jain. In this podcast, we invite thought leaders from monetization space that is CPQ and billing, so that you can learn about challenges, opportunities, and best practices in enterprise monetization. Today, I'm very pleased to welcome our guest, Glenn Hopper. Glenn has deep expertise in the field of finance. He's been CFO, I think more than 15 years now. Currently, he's the CFO at Sandline. And I'll let him talk about what Sandline does in a second. But prior to Sandline, Glenn has held CFO and leadership roles at companies such as GR Ventures and SCT investments. Now, one thing that is very unique about Glenn, and he has quite a few unique things, by the way. But he started his career in public relations. Then he moved to a product manager. And then he entered into the field of finance as a finance person supporting operations. I find this immensely unique. There are some of the unique things. I'll let Glenn talk about himself in a second. But with that, welcome to the show, Glenn.
Hey Sandeep, thanks for having me. I'm excited to talk today.
Me too. So before we start, Glenn, could you share a fun fact about yourself with the audience?
I don't know how fun it is, I guess. The first thing I think of is my hobbies. In addition to being a CFO, I'm a triathlete and a marathon runner. And I've always wanted to be a science fiction writer. That didn't quite work out though. So I entered the field of finance. But I did find a way that I could still write and do finance. I wrote a book last year called “Deep Finance”, “Corporate Finance and the Information Age”. And that's out now at all your favorite book retailers, and it talks about not the space opera kind of stuff I wanted to write. But I talk about things like analytics and in data science and how they apply to finance.
That's amazing. Let's talk about this for a second. So you said you're a triathlete. So are you doing Ironman, or have you done Ironman, or do you plan to do Ironman?
So I did a half Ironman back in, or when was that? That was August last year, I've done mostly the shorter triathlons. My first thought after I did the Half Ironman last fall was, okay, now I'm going to do a full Ironman. And then I did a marathon in December. And now we're what at the end of May, early June. And I'm still gimpy from the marathon. So I thought, I don't know if I could actually swim a couple miles bike 112 miles and then run a marathon in that might not walk for a year after that. So I'm still aspiring to do it. I don't know if my 50 year old body is going to hold out and let me get to the point where I could do a full Ironman, but it's aspirational. I'd love to do one. I just don't know, we'll say.
Hope keeps us alive, and you're doing it, by the way, so this is amazing. And it's amazing that you wrote a book on finance. Let's just talk a few minutes about the book. What is the Book about? Because there's a lot of books on finance. So what's unique about your story in the finance?
So I've been doing a bunch of podcasts talking about this. And I didn't realize, at first why I was writing the book other than I mean, I'm always writing and I do enjoy writing. And I think a big part that's overlooked a big part of finance is your ability to communicate financials to people when no matter what their level is. And so I'm always, whenever I come across a new problem, I'm always trying to kind of write through it and figure it out. And so I was doing that with analytics and I'm looking at a lot of the way. A few years ago, I got a Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics. And when I was doing that, most of the classes were not about applying it in finance. But I realized the whole time I was in the program, I realized, this is all things that finance people, we may not have had as many tools back then. But this business intelligence goes hand in hand with finance and has for years and I've realized not till after I wrote the book that there's kind of a turf war going on. And I liken this to I've been in the business a long time. So I'm thinking about when the PMP is the first project managers came about and you had these operations people who had been doing it forever, and then you get this whole new industry, this whole new profession come up and tell you what you're doing wrong and how you're mismanaging your products and operations guys, like, you know, you guys are all over my turf right now you need to back up. And I realized after I wrote the book, and as I'm talking about it, that this is me planting a flag and saying finance people need to be responsible for analytics, it's in our wheelhouse, you know, give us a couple of coders, that'd be great, you know, if we had some true engineers, but the business intelligence analytical kind of work is what we in finance have been doing forever, all of our FPNA, all of our modeling, and everything is based on finding correlations and using internal data and external data, you know, to try to build the best model we can in my book talks about, well, we back up one more thing. So first, it's to plant a flag and say finance needs to own analytics function. But it also talks about if finance doesn't own the analytics function, I cannot think of and we can talk more about this, and we talked about our finance stat. But if I can't think of a single finance function, right now, that's not automated. So if everything in your department is being automated, what is the value you provide to the company, if all you're doing is giving people a report card, you know, looking in the rearview mirror, then that's not that valuable, because it'll a computer can do your job. So I'm trying to find ways and to tell other finance leaders to really get into analytics, really understand the data science, and understand the tools that are out there and own it and drives these digital transformations of your company. And what I'm really arguing for why it makes sense, while we're not the most technical people, why it makes sense for us to navigate the big picture this and have cross departmental help with the other teams, but really, I argue strongly that finance should take the leadership and digital transformations.
That's a wonderful angle to the world of finance then. So this is amazing. But could you also not talk about your journey from a product manager to a person in finance? Because I don't hear that often? I've never heard that. So let's talk about that story.
So I think, when I saw my first professional job was I was in the Navy, and I was not your typical sailor, I was a Public Relations/Journalist in the Navy. So you know, when I was doing that, I thought, it's right brain and left brain kind of stuff. And I thought, well, I can use my creativity and I can write stuff in this. But there's always been a part of me that is really wants sort of qualitative information, or sorry, quantitative information to really understand performance. So, you know, when I did public relations, got out of the Navy, went to business school, got out of business school, and it just seemed like marketing, because of my background in public relations. It seemed like that's where I should go. But I got into marketing and I enjoyed what I did. I was a product manager for a tool called the “Web Architect”, which was basically like one of these in this was back in 2000. So we were actually cutting edge back then. But I was at a telecom company, and one of our products was a web design tool, it's like one of these wicks or whatever, one of these kind of drag and dropped, you don't have to be a coder. And, you know, back then people were using Dreamweaver or whatever to make their website. So we added a tool that you could just, you know, basically fill out a form and it would spit out a template in a website for you. And I was a product manager that, and that wasn't where the company made our money. It was a telecommunications company, this was just an add-on products. So I found myself always arguing, trying to get additional budget, additional resources and I just couldn't get what I wanted. So I started getting really involved. I started going to the marketing VP, and just really pushing for let me see the budget, let me see what is budgeted. And then finally, I got my hands on the budget. And I would constantly be trying to say, well, we're under budget here. Anyway, I became a real advocate for marketing and getting us more budget dollars. And then with that, I would end up coming to the VP of Marketing would bring me to the more senior level and I was really junior, I was just a product manager back then. But I would get to go into the more senior level meetings. And after doing that a few months, the COO tapped me and said, Hey, I want you to do what you've been doing for marketing for my organization. And I'll give you a promotion and a raise and bring you over and do that. So I went public relations to product manager to being a sort of a citizen finance guy in marketing, where I was just you know, winging it and doing it on my own with without working directly with finance at all. And then I became the advocate for the COO because he was tired of getting knocked down by the CFO every time he requested budget. He got tired of trying to explain his models for how much headcount he needed and for all the different components. So he brought me in and my only job was to be the advocate for the CFO and meet up in those finance meetings. So I moved up. And till I was, after I did that a couple of years, I was managing about $150 million budget of OPEX and CAPEX, for the company, and we telecom back then we're doing a whole bunch of mergers, we probably did in the seven years I was there, I would guess we did 9 or 10 mergers. So I got pretty involved in M&A and went through all that. And it went from the small telecom company, when I started to getting to several 1000 employees and 450 million or so in revenue in a pretty big company. And I realized then that I sort of really liked this startup space. And I had an opportunity through one of the board members and one of the investors in the telecom company to come to a much smaller company that had just started. And it was a retail business with only three locations, and they wanted to bring someone in to professionalize their finance operations, leverage it up, create bank relationships, and help grow the business. So I left this really huge or not huge, but relative to where I've been since then, a really big company. And since then, I've been in the startup space. And basically, I've been the CFO of the first company back in 2007. And since then, I've been at about four companies. And as the CFO, my focus has been, if I'm not there at day one, whenever I come in it is to professionalize and get businesses ready to scale up so that they can either go to private equity, look for M&A activity, if they wanted to be on the acquiring side, or sell the business. And I've sold two out of my last three businesses. And that's kind of where I've been, it's just getting businesses ready for sale in that small space. I gotta say, compared to a big company, it's a little, little exhausting. Because at a bigger company, you've got much more of a staff and things are more set. And this is just a wild ride as you know, as wild ride in the startup space.
Amazing, amazing. So I think the moral of the story is, I think for audiences, if a senior exec moves you out of your comfort zone and ask you to do something, jump on it. Awesome. Okay, before we go on to the Quote-to-Cash, can you just quickly talk about Sandline? What it does, so that our audience is familiar with that?
Sure. So Sandline, or Sandline global is an ediscovery company. And this is an industry I didn't ever expect to be in, but this is my second company in the industry. Ediscovery, the best way to describe that to people who aren't familiar with it, it's a legal technology. But think about if in a lawsuit in the discovery process. So the plaintiff and the defendant, both sides in the discovery process, you have to turn over any documentation that there is about whatever the lawsuit is about. So to get to that documentation, I mean, think about years ago, everything was paper, it wouldn't just be some paralegals are coming over some forensics people coming over with banker's boxes and going through file cabinets and pulling out files. And that would take a long time. But you know, thinking about that's looking at 100s or maybe 1000s of documents, but now in a digital world, that can be terabytes and terabytes of data that that you're dealing with. And so it's beyond what a human can do. So the way I got into ediscovery to begin with is, I'm not an engineer, I might want to be engineer, I might want to be a lot of things. But I have been fascinated with artificial intelligence and machine learning. And when I saw the way that ediscovery was using natural language processing to replace human reviewers, so the humans that were going through these documents and how courts are allowing this more and more often that with this, we can read millions of documents, depending on the size, if you're dealing with a really big company, I mean millions of documents, terabytes of data, and that's everything from emails to slack messages, teams messages, texts, CAD drawings, Excel files. I mean, it's so much data, it would take forever for people to do it. So seeing how ediscovery is using analytics and using these algorithms to find rather than just doing, you know, an old fashioned search, where you're just going by keywords or whatever, it's actually training these algorithms to find the data. It was fascinating. I don't work directly doing that. But I love being in an industry around companies that are using that kind of technology. So that's Sandline Global. We're in several offices in US. We just so this is a big month for us. We just opened our new kind of flagship office in Manhattan on Broadway, and I haven't been up there since the construction was completed. So I'm looking forward to seeing that, but our CEO is flying back from Dubai this week where he's standing up our office in Dubai. So our headquartered in DC, I'm in Nashville, we've got people kind of scattered around the country, as most people do and post our code. I don't know if we're post COVID, I guess we're still in. In the COVID environment, we have employees scattered all over the country. And we, let's say, so Frankfurt, Germany, Taipei, Taiwan. Now, Dubai, New York and a couple other offices in the US. And we're pretty small company to have that many locations but it's part of being able to provide services, you know, having an office in EU is very important because of GDPR, and all that, so that we can have a presence there and be able to sell there. And then so Taiwan is basically a round the clock service for us. We don't do any sales in Taiwan right now. But we sunset basically, when we cease operations in the US, we turn over to them so we can provide services for our clients 24/7.
Great, great growing company, Glenn. Can you talk about your team as well?
Yeah, my team is small. And I always you know, everybody in finance wishes they had a bigger team, probably everybody wishes they had a bigger team. But it's kind of what I was saying about when I left the telecommunications company, I had 30 something employees and since then the most direct of employees I've had or you know, in my organization is like eight or nine. So right now I've got a controller. Well, one part time AP clerk/bookkeeper, and then another, more bookkeeper type, and then I've got a full time accounts receivable specialist, and then a part time, HR person and that's my whole team right there. So it's only three of us are full time. So you know, we're doing a lot, we're few 100 invoices every month and a lot of still manual systems, but I'm working like crazy to automate as much as I can.
Awesome, I'd love to dig deeper into that. So with that, could you talk about the different channels that that you guys have? I'm assuming it's primarily direct, but can you talk about that?
Yeah, you know, it is primarily direct, but we always are looking for adjacent businesses that we could have. I'd love to have a dealer channel and have VARs out there for our product. We just haven't found the right partnerships, we do have a review company where we work with, we're sort of dealers for each other, but we don't treat each other like we don't pay each other commissions, it's just sort of, they help us get business, we help them get business. So really, our sales are primarily direct we have, and this is probably true of the industry, the sales cycle is so long for new clients. And when a big law firm gets comfortable with a company that's providing ediscovery, it's very, I mean, if their company doesn't mess up, it's kind of, it's either the devil, you know, or it's actually someone that's doing really good. But even if it's the devil you know, people are scared of change. So once we get a client in house, I mean, there is we're doing everything we're bending over backwards, and we're just, is much reminding as much business from those clients. And we have some pretty big, top 50 law firms, as clients of ours, and those are great, because they can feed us a lot of business, but you want to keep that client concentration, you know, so we need to keep going or, you know, you want to understand diversify, so that you're not dependent on, you know, just a handful of clients. So we're always out there. And we're trying to come up with different offerings that maybe we could appeal more to smaller law firms as well. And we also go after corporate clients, we don't have as many. Those are always great to get because they're very sticky as well. So if you're, you know, if you landed a client that is, has a lot of litigation or whatever, they want to just know that they've got someone in house that they can always go to for legal holds and ediscovery and all that, those are great clients for us, but we're doing everything direct right now. I think in the next nine, you know, maybe the next three or four quarters, we might start looking at having some a couple of other channels.
Glenn, let's talk about self-serve. So we talked about dealer and war channel, what do you think about self-serve? And I think it gave three customer profiles. One is the big law firms, that is the mid-sized law firms and he talked about corporate clients. So can you talk about the context of self-serve? Like is it relevant to any of these three?
Oh very, yeah. So we have so many jobs that are, we will take jobs of any size from our clients. Of course we like everyone would prefer the bigger jobs with higher margin. But there are so many jobs that just there's some amount of data, it could be one phone collection that the data needs to be processed and, and pushed out in a way that can be reviewed and all that. So, you know, it may be Friday at 5:30pm. And the client calls and says, Hey, I've got this processing job, I need to get it done, you know, before I go home tonight, so we're used to that, and it's kind of part of the business, but what we really would love to do is the smaller jobs that we don't have to tie up our resources and the tools that we're using, now. You have to be certified to use them the sort of tools that we use within the industry. But you know, one thing that's on our development radar is kind of a drag and drop where people can come in, and they don't have to bother as they can just log in with their account credentials and put their files up, you know, their ZIP file or whatever, into a program. And we'll go through and process it and spit it out the way that our reviewers would, and that could lead to additional things. But it would be really nice. And it would increase our margin significantly if we didn't have to have human involvement in those. And I think it would increase customer satisfaction, as long as it was very easy for them to do that. If you're having them have to jump through hoops and do all this complicated stuff, they're not going to be interested in doing that. But if they if we can figure out a way to give them drag and drop, self-provisioning, that's going to be a huge win for us and will let us go even further downstream. And that way we could get some of these small clients so that maybe don't have these big lawsuits and but do have to do some eDiscovery, in what it is. And they just normally can't afford an ediscovery firm. But if there were like self-service that would make it easier for them.
Got it. And you talked about self-service in the context of new customers. But do you see self-service as helpful for your even existing big clients if they have to amend anything? So do you think that needs to be completely white glove as well?
Well, yeah, so somehow, I'm going to talk on both sides of my mouth here, which I think is typical for a finance guy. So they're our industry has become very commoditized, there's been a whole bunch of M&A activity, a bunch of smaller companies rolling up, people doing very similar things. And it was just people at the beginning, were just competing on price and very familiar, just everybody's driving the price down. And so, you know, you can continue this race to the bottom, or you can do what our business and what many of us did, it's super white glove service. And like I said, if you make that call at 5:30, if you make that call at 11:30pm on Saturday night, someone at our company, you know, we've got 24/7 on call in the US or overseas, someone's going to pick that up and do it for you as quickly as you need it. So that's great from white glove, but at the same time, one of the things that we're looking at, and this does, we have to fix it, and finalize it internally first, but we sell managed services where there's basically a subscription, it's a big sis subscription. But if you've got a client who pays in advance for some amount, you know, a bucket of hosting, a bucket of processing, a number of users and a bucket of hours, that we let them have a flat fee and come in and if they go over it, you know, if they burst that, then they're going to be additional rates. But in order to do that, we need to give them real time or near real time, you know, maybe updated daily, but let them see where they are in their hosting, are they about to hit their limit for the amount of hosting we do? Are they about to go over an hour's and let them manage that? And then if they see that they're consistently going over the agreed upon rate, it would be great for us to let them just change their plan right there. It's on the roadmap, and you probably see this a lot. But it's the amount of development that goes into that like, first, we have to be able to really be sure we have a handle on that internally and you can display it visually. It's not just having the data, it's making it easy to access and having the dashboards, but that would be you know, our sort of global intelligence platform would have that and they will be able to get real time be able to see what their billing is make changes on the fly and not having to wait on us.
Got it. And could you talk about the existing systems that you're using in this Quote-to-Cash?
Yeah, so we just did an upgrade. Like I said, I'm like, when I come into a company, I'm coming in to help them scale up for whether it's funding or, you know, M&A, activity, whatever they're going to do. I typically come in and I call it you know, the Gartner hype cycle, where you have sort of the first word companies building up and then you get to the trough of disillusionment, where all the hype is kind of gone, and you're kind of in a mess, and there's a little bit of a dip. I liken that to the business development process. And I think you can grow to a certain point using sort of cobbled together systems, you know, maybe somebody's running a SQL database on their personal laptop to track something and somebody else has their own, you know, some excel spreadsheet. It's getting emailed around and all that nothing is scalable, and it's just a nightmare. And you get to a point where, hey, these systems aren't going to work anymore. So when I come in, I'm usually looking to put in new systems or find, you know, just get whether it's API or ODBC connection, or whatever it is get their systems talking to each other. And that's really where I am now. And I've got this long term roadmap of all the bolt ons and things of things I want to do. And I won't go through our whole finance stack unless you really want me to, but the sort of the, the Quote-to-Cash stack is up front, we have a CRM that has not yet hooked into our ERP, because we're still trying to say what all we're going to put in that CRM and how much information we're going to get early. Of course, I'm always advocating for get as much information as we can get the, you know, the billing, contact, the sales, contact, the mailing address, the, you know, whatever we can get, let's get it up there. Because I have this dream of all that data carrying through all of our systems. And of course, salespeople are like, how can I do the least amount of work so I can get back out and sell? So we're trying to figure out where that right point is, and then you know, statements of work are always a problem. And I think it's because if you've got a PDF that is getting changed here and moved around, and you make a stipulation for one client, whether it's a longer receivable, you know, a longer time for them to pay, or they have a different rate, or whatever the danger is, human error can come in there, and then SOW can get messed up and somebody gets the wrong SOW, so they get terms that are different than what was negotiated. And I'm always panicked on that. And so how we love, I'd love to have the statement work be digital upfront. So we got the CRM, we've got the ERP, and we're doing billing now directly out of the ERP system. But I've been looking at some software that I really want to put in place, because in our current ERP, there is no way to click on an invoice and do like a payment online. And I would like to be able to have that capability and also to be able to send, you know, reminders on a consistent basis. And especially when you know, before it's invoices do and after and when people are paid, just have things set up on an automated basis to get paid, because we're really trying to focus on cash conversion cycle. And law firms, I think, law firms architects are both to industries I've worked with, and they're notoriously slow payers. And so cash conversion cycle is really important to us and that's a big focus for us.
Got it. And Glenn, what's your CRM and ERP?
So our CRM is HubSpot, and our ERP is NetSuite. And we moved from QuickBooks to NetSuite. And we're very green in NetSuite. So we're not using everything that we can yet. And in HubSpot, we haven't had really an administrator for it. So I know we're not fully using what we can up front they're in, because they're not connected yet. I just we have to define I'm big on define the process first and then automated, then connect stuff. So if we haven't even defined the HubSpot process up front, that's I'm kind of holding them at bay because I don't want to be in a garbage in garbage out situation. I wanted to find that process know what we need up front and then start taking the data out from them.
Got it from that. And just so that audience can understand the scope or the size of the business, just really quick questions, like how many SKU’s do you have do yourself?
So it's not that many SKU’s we're, I guess we're a transactional SAS business meaning we have some things that are build their usage based. And then some things that are based on the kind of work we're doing, whether it's forensic collections up front or project manager work behind the scenes, or we even do expert witness testimony and stuff. And so there's different rates for different kinds of services that we get give. And then we have, we process a lot of data. And there's one rate for bringing data in win rate for exporting data. There's hosting data we charge for users on the system. So it's a mix, but it's only about a dozen SKU’s. And we have no inventory goods. We do you know, we may sell hard drives if somebody's taking, you know if they're taking down their data or something, but we don't keep an inventory of anything. So it's all non-inventory goods and services.
Got it. And how many salespeople you have?
So in the US right now, the funny thing is, when I first got there, we only had one salesperson and it was really just a national account manager. So he just flew around and wined and dined clients all over the country and we went through COVID couldn't do any of that and it was actually you know, I'm always trying to find silver linings in things. And I think one thing that happened in COVID is we couldn't do the kind of sales that we did this sort of really relationship face to face based selling. So we made some changes. And we really leaned heavily on, it went both ways. We leaned heavily on our existing clients, and tried to get as much business as we could from them, but at the same time, not for our big clients but for the smaller clients, we had to be flexible with them. And we gave them longer payment terms and things. So anyway, it was getting through COVID was tough, and the focus shifted a little bit. And coming out of it now, at least as travel and face to face meetings are opening back up, we have two salespeople in the US two in Germany, we're about to hire another one. And they sort of have territories based on where they are, we've got one's in Texas now and one is in Utah, and they sort of the Texas guys sort of take some Midwest all the way over to the east, but we're this year hiring another East Coast based one, but it's a base, you know, we're internally mining existing relationships. But as far as going out and looking for new, it's going to its to right now going to be three in the US, and then two in Germany, bring in that new business. So the amount of revenue that we do, I think that's probably a pretty small number of salespeople. But you know, the contracts are big, they're bigger than a SaaS Companies contract would typically be.
Got it. So what are your typical challenges are the biggest challenges in this Quote-to-Cash when salespeople generate generates a quote, and I get to generate invoices, and I might be a law firm that has increased the usage? So how do you manage this thing? What are the biggest challenges for you?
Yeah, so the one that I already talked about is, it's the biggest one, I mean, it drives me crazy. And it makes me nervous as statements of work not being handled properly. I just, and I don't want to have to, you know, I'm the finance guy. And I'm not a lawyer, we have several in our company, believe it or not, in the industry that we're in, even our salespeople, but I don't want to have to evaluate every statement of work that comes in, and we don't technically do quotes, and this is another problem. So the salesperson will go out and talk to the client. The first kind of proposal he would give to the client, or potential client would be kind of a draft statement of work, and it doesn't say, quote, or whatever, it's just, here's what we can do sign it, and then they may negotiate it back and forth. So we don't we don't call it a quote, but I guess that's what it is. And I guess that's the biggest problem is things. When you have legalese, you know, blocks and blocks of text that they're, you know, somebody with internal counsel goes through and they redline it, you make a change, and then you have the salesperson go up and instead of pulling that original draft, they pull the one that's modified, and you have this ripple effect, where you have customer signing SOW that, you know that you wouldn't want to be standard terms. So that's an issue. And it's, I've got to say, we're much better at doing it now. And I'm making sure that SOW comes through, but I still, because there's so many opportunities to break that I still lose sleep over it. And the other one that we have is, again, this goes back to not having official quotes, but because our project managers work so closely with our clients, a client may ask the project manager to give them just give me an estimate on what this would cost. So the project manager who's not a salesperson, will give them an estimate based on what they know. But then the client will then go, you know, so it's a law firm. So they, if they take this estimate that wasn't packaged up, like a nice quote, and it didn't have all the thought that maybe the full quote would do, then they give it to their client, and suddenly it becomes the budget. So just an offhand conversation. So that's something I'd really like to and we address it internally by basically, we just had to tell our project managers, you can't quote anymore, someone from Solutions has to quote, but to your earlier point, if clients could just go do that themselves, if they could self-serve, you know, drag and drop and figure out what their plan they wanted, that would be an incredible thing to offer our clients.
Got it. And you talked about some challenges and invoicing earlier, which is shortening your cash cycle. But any other challenges when this SOW signed generating invoices from that, or if there's no change that I'm assuming invoices are pretty simple thing to generate?
I mean, if we have standard rates and you know, you got your right card for all of your matters. And as long as it's a manual process now, but as long as the rate. So enter properly off SOW into the project management system. They get billed, you know, those pass through to the invoicing. And then at the end of the month, we just click through an invoice. But there is a huge QTC process around it, you have to make sure that there's someone didn't fat finger a number of hours, but we're addressing things like that, like, instead of having project managers manually enter their hours, there's a little clock that they click, and you know, it times them. And then when they stop, they hit the clock again, and it'll round to the nearest quarter hour or whatever. So it makes things a lot easier for invoicing that way. But for me invoicing, what I'm looking for and the challenges I have is, we have slow pay clients, and they're good clients otherwise. And I think that the amount of work that goes into the communication with them right now, we can automate a lot of that. And we're, I think at NetSuite, there's probably some ability to do that. But I've also seen some other bolt on tools that you could hook up with NetSuite like something like a Tresoria, or there's a few other that I can't remember where you can set reminders, send statements, and even have people click on an invoice to pay via ACH. And with the size of our invoices, I'd never do credit card, you know, because significant things with it. But that's I'd like to see some better automation with collections and reminders, and giving people more automated payment options to rather than having to go through and set up their wire ACH or send a cheque which we still do have some clients.
And Glenn, you mentioned that you went from QuickBooks to NetSuite, can you tell us like one or two top reasons what made you shift from QuickBooks to NetSuite?
It's really the, QuickBooks is great first, I mean, it's you know, 65,000, or more than that. However, many small business customers they have. It's great for small businesses, but it's very limited in what it does, it's just accounting, there's not the full range. And if you can extract data from QuickBooks, and you can tie in API's to talk to other systems. And we did that to some extent before we use tools like bill.com and AR collect are two things in Concur for expense management. So you could link some things in but we just ended up with these information silos and accounting being its own silo. And even our HR system was in a separate silo, and then the sales system and in the project management system, and it's great, and you can find ways to sort of, you know, capture data from each and make sure you've got a unique identifier that passes through all the systems. But I really think for what we're trying to do, as much as we could get everything into a single system, a full ERP that we can, you know, because NetSuite has that front end, they do have a CRM capability. It's not as pretty looking as like HubSpot, or Salesforce says, and I think there's a lot of people that use Salesforce and NetSuite or HubSpot and NetSuite and Bolton men. And my initial thing was, we can get rid of HubSpot and use NetSuite, and of course, sales and marketing people being very visual. And I think they were more impressed by HubSpot visuals. And that's why we're using it. But you know, and I'm fine with that as long as we figure out a process and have it connect, but I just think ultimately, NetSuite is giving us more data points that we can use for our business intelligence and analytics and for what we eventually provide to our customers.
Got it. And, Glenn, any recommendation? If somebody's setting up the stack, the Quote-to-Cash stack from the beginning, there'll be a CRM in an ERP, for sure. But you have a requirement to generate quotes, you have to requirement to generate invoicing, and there is accounting part. But this should be stuff about generating quotes and invoicing. Do you have any thoughts about this being done as two separate systems or one system?
I think don't reinvent the wheel every time you quote somebody or come up with this statement of work. So I think I'm a huge process guy if I haven't repeated that. But I think you establish the process first. And instead of buying a system and making your process fit the system, you define the process and then you see can the system do this and I think that's the way you're going to be most efficient. So the answer to that would be if a single system can do everything, great, but don't you know it when you're in that blue sky period of being a startup and you don't have this baggage of. And it's maybe a different thing if you've got baggage of historical the way you've done things and the information you have. But if you're in a blue skies startup world, you're doing this for the first time. And that is a perfect time to just set that process up, and then shop for things that do what you want. So I would say if it's a couple of different systems, and you can get them to talk to each other, but they match your process, great. And if a single system does it, then that's great, too. But otherwise, I wouldn't lean towards a preference either way, except I guess to say, integration is, you know, just be prepared and know that you as a finance guy aren't going to be able to do the integration, you're going to need resources, wherever you go from other departments to help get those synched up.
That makes sense, Glenn. And any advice or recommendations that you have for vendors who are building products in this space, whether it's quoting, invoicing, accounting, like this is your chance to talk to the vendors and say, look, folks, here are the things that we are most painful to a person in my role.
I think that the first thing I would say is make it as easy as possible to use. I've never met a salesperson who loves to do paperwork and loves to get in the back system and enter all this data. Salespeople want to be out selling. But they you know, and I would love if you can afford to have a sales admin on your team, someone that just gets all this and puts it in, that's great. But for a vendor who's designing it, I would say, don't assume that they're going to have a sales admin and assume that somebody in the company like me is going to want as much data as possible, and that salespeople are going to want to spend as little time is possible entering that data. So as much as you can streamline and make it super simple, and super scalable and repeatable and error free that should be the focus up front.
Got it. And, Glenn, I think we've touched upon this a little bit. But I think this is a topic that I hear from one of the transactional set aside about usage based billing. And I think your usage is maybe in a different context. But I want to have you talk about what usage billing means to you?
Yeah, so usage based billing for us is it's that difference between I'm giving you a bucket of storage that you might burst, you might not, but you're gonna pay a flat rate for it, and you're going to like our managed services, you're gonna get a certain amount of hours and a certain amount of hosting and a certain amount of processing and users on the system, versus, we don't know, and you don't know how much data you're going to need hosted and all that. So we are every month we're like we bill, the high watermark for how much posting, they had the high watermark for how much and how many users they had, and we bill for processing on a job. So there's there can be hourly rates to it. But normally, it's a per gigabyte thing for that. So every month, we're having to take information from our tool that we use internally to actually the tool that we work in, and then pass that through to billing and be able to log that as a non-inventory good basically in bring it down. So it would be simpler if you just had a SAS concept where you're just you know, every month, it's the same thing, it so many few fewer errors in that system. And it's just reliable, and it's easier to model out and predict. So if you're out, whether you're talking to private equity groups, or doing your own modeling, when you have contracts that are there for a duration, and they're just fixed contracts for a certain amount of months, it's much easier to say what you're going to be, whereas us we may get a client come in, and we think, Oh, this is just gonna be a processing job, but then it turns into a much bigger job. And we maybe put it in a pipeline, as this is going to be a $12,000 job, but then it turns it into some kind of class action or multi district litigation or something where you have several law firms involved. And suddenly, this $12,000 Job becomes a $250,000 job that's going to stretch it out over several months. And so it just makes forecasting a lot harder.
And Glenn, so from this internal tool to the billing journey, is that manual or is this automated?
It's auto magic. The way that I see it, it appears because it's basically just I get everything dumped out in a CSV as if it were just pulled directly in the system. And it actually then, so we get everything dumped out from this tool and then we push it through another tool into the billing system. We're working right now on finding ways to automate it. They're just some rules that we're doing anyway. There's gonna be some element in it, but right now it's very manual. It gets kicked out in a CSV, where you've got all the jobs you did and the gigs and then that ties back to the RAID card. And then you have to plug it in. Well, I mean, that's automatic, once you jump in, and you know, it knows to get that RAID card, but pulling it down and pushing it up there. And then I think before I get the CSV, it's actually touched by a couple of people who are doing some data cleaning before I get it. So I get it cleaned up. And it's, you know, we have to get that on the first of the month, so that we can start our invoice cycle. And it would be nice if that just appeared automatically, and you didn't have to wait for somebody, if they got hit by a bus or got sick one day or whatever, then it can slow down the whole invoicing process.
Got it. And I think you mentioned earlier about self-service, it's probably tied into that angle. Whereas a customer, can I see my usage in real time, or is it only at the end of the month? After you your team processes, that's when I get the surprise as a customer? Do customers get surprised when they see the bill is like, I didn't know that I exceeded this thing in a month, and oh, gosh, $12,250K.
So, it's interesting, law firms know, and they can guess, but it's the end client. So if we, you know, our client is the law firm. And then their client is the company that's being sued or whatever, and they don't even know what ediscovery is. And then so the law firm gives them a bill and says this is for our services, and this is for your ediscovery services. And they you know, be a fortune 500 company and have, you know, a couple 100 employees who have been on this legal hold who we had to get data from, and they don't realize those couple 100 employees or you know, 12 terabytes of data of everything that they have. And then they get the bill for all that hosting and it can freak them out. So having to set expectations. And a lot of times there's a little bit of a wall between, sometimes between, sometimes we work directly with the client, but sometimes there's that wall between the law firms. So if the law firm, if we're not talking directly to the client, we're only working with the law firm, then that could be an issue where expectations aren't said, but there isn't right now, there's no visibility by the law firm or the end client until they get the invoice. So our Global Business Intelligence platform, the idea is that they'll be able to in real time or near real time, get that information. And we're probably and optimistically, 12 months out realistically, maybe more like 18 months out from having that.
Got it. Glenn, this has been a super interesting conversation, you're my first guest, which is in, I would say non-traditional SaaS that as we know about it, especially in the legal context as well. So this has been most illustrative conversation, at least for me, and I hope that audiences find the same. My last question to you, Glenn, of course, actually, on my first guest, who was an author. So I asked this question about a recommendation on a book or a podcast or something that that sort of touched a nerve. So you're an author with a book Deep Finance. I urge all my audiences to take a look at that. What is there something else besides that you would want to share with our audiences?
I've read several business books in the past couple of years, but maybe the two that have stood out the most to me one is it's called “Competing in the Age of AI”. And it's by two Harvard professors Karim Lakhani, Marco Iansiti. And the reason I like that is it talks about the change that artificial intelligence is the promise of it, and how it's changing the business world, and how, you know, people have been talking about digital transformations for, I don't know, 25 years, maybe longer than that. And people used to think of a digital transformation as a one and done but now we're realizing, because we've been talking about it this long, it's not one and done. It's more it's not a one-time thing, it's more of an evolution. And what I like about this book, competing in the age of AI is, it doesn't get overly technical, but it talks about practical applications. And because they're Harvard professors, there's a million case studies in there too. Many case studies, you know, they're not like full blown, but it talks about this, this how ant financial, used artificial intelligence, and they go through and this is how Google did in this case. And there's several different case studies, but it's very accessible, even for non-engineer types to understand what artificial intelligence is doing in the business world. And then the other one is just a straight business book, that it's what's called “Lead and Disrupt” by Michael Tushman. And what I love about that, there's two, two things that come out of that is explore and exploit. And the main lesson of that book is exploit is be continuous improvement on what you do is the core function of your business. And always be trying to get better, incrementally better at that. But at the same time, you have to apply some resources to exploring new opportunities. In that, you know, there is an example of why you do that is, Blockbuster was awesome at the stores where you went and picked up a VHS, tape, or DVD ultimately, but they thought of themselves more as we're just a brick and mortar store, this is what we're doing. They weren't exploring new ways of content delivery. So they're able to get disrupted by someone, like, Netflix coming in. And there's, you know, Kodak, there's a million different examples of this. So I really like the idea. No matter what phase your business is in, no matter what industry you're in, keep getting better at what you do, that's great, that's needed. But you can't take your eye off of the business world is always changing. You have to find ways to change with it and to be on the leading edge. So focusing on both. So competing in the age of AI, and Lead and Disrupt.
Awesome. Hey, Glenn, this was a very fascinating conversation today. Thank you once again for your time and your notes.
Yeah, thank you for having me.