In a shaky economy, the worst nightmare of a corporate financial officer is when revenues do not match budget projections. But such budget gaps are not inevitable, even when sales are slow.
For Bill Korn, chief financial officer of Antenna Software in Jersey City, the key to ensuring that yearly revenues are ample has been surprisingly simple: he uses a business model that relies primarily on recurring revenue. As a result, his company has done so well that in the last three years it has been able to buy out four of its competitors.
Korn will be part of a panel on “Avoiding Revenue Shortfalls,” offered by New Jersey Technology Council’s CFO Network on Tuesday, December 6, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at Ernst & Young, 99 Wood Avenue South, in Iselin. The moderator is Bob Olanoff, chief financial officer at Systech International, and the other panelists are Scott Kantor, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Advanced Health Media; Wayne Baker, senior vice president and chief sales officer of Advanced Health Media; Gerald Kochanski, chief financial officer and treasurer of Nephros; and Peter Saretsky, chief financial officer of Achieve 3000. Cost: $50. Visit njtc.org or call 856-787-9700.
Korn shares some hints to help companies make sure that their actual revenues come in on target:
#b#Installments#/b#. Instead of big payments up front, require smaller monthly payments. At Antenna, most customers access the company’s software over the web and pay a monthly fee to use it. But even when customers license the software, they pay an annual fee, of which one-twelfth is recorded on the books each month.
Although in the beginning it might feel like you’re getting less money, Korn says, the smaller payments over time constitute dependable revenue that doesn’t stop. “We try to structure things so that the revenue stream is mostly based on things we’ve done in the past,” he says. “If the sales force doesn’t do anything, it only affects us a bit.”
The reality is far different for companies whose business model is structured so that a customer pays all at once. In that case, each month the business starts with a blank slate and needs to make new sales to meet projected revenues.
Antenna’s business model showed its strength in 2008, when the economy took a nosedive. “When the economy turned down, a lot of our competitors started losing money, and their investors are upset and not ready to fund them,” says Korn. When many of its competitors fumbled badly, Antenna was able to buy them out. For these companies, Antenna writes new agreements with monthly payments and, whenever possible, migrates customers to monthly payments.
#b#Be realistic when you are forecasting#/b#. “If you think you might sign 20 new customers a month, but in the past, on average, you signed 10 a month, you shouldn’t predict more than 10,” says Korn. “If you are realistic, you are more likely to make the number.”
#b#Hire the best and pay them well#/b#. Companies need to put excellent people in place to sell, to manage the sales team, to market, and to forecast and plan, Korn says. “You need to spend as much time finding good people as anything else and keep your standards really high.”
Once you have made good hires, structure their pay so that if they earn more, they are paid more. At Antenna, once its salespeople make quota, they start earning more on every new sale; and when they reach double quota, they earn even more. “We’re not afraid that a good salesperson may close a good deal and make more than the CEO,” says Korn.
To maintain a high-quality workforce, a company also has to be willing to let people go. “You have to be ruthless when people are not performing,” says Korn. Of course, they are given a period of time to improve, but if they are not successful, then the company needs to find someone else who will be.
Korn grew up in New York City. His father worked at Macy’s as a store manager in Manhattan and in New Haven, Connecticut. Korn graduated from Harvard University in 1978 with a degree in economics and then studied general management at Harvard Business School.
For 30 years he has worked with fast-growing technology companies. He started with IBM, “in nontraditional parts of their business.” He helped start IBM’s consulting business, and when the Internet came out, he started its first Internet-based business. “We put the first flower shop on the Internet to take the first credit card transaction on the Internet,” he says.
Next Korn served as chief financial officer of Integrion Financial Network, a joint venture between IBM and 19 major financial institutions building Internet-based banking services.
He was chief operating and chief financial officer of INFONXX, which provides directory assistance services to the wireless industry, and then became president of Telelogue, a venture-backed Bell Labs spin-out creating advanced speech recognition technology. Before joining Antenna, he was chief financial officer of iRail, which provides procurement solutions for transit agencies, and he continues to be a member of its board.
Antenna Software has been in the mobile software business for about 15 years, starting out with pagers. “We were doing mobile applications before RIM sold its first Blackberry,” says Korn, noting that the company’s business really started taking off in 2003, a year after he joined. Its Antenna Mobility Platform is used by many large companies to mobilize their business apps.
For example, it created a version of Merrill Lynch’s My Merrill application that allows its customers to buy and sell stocks securely on the web using their iPhones, iPads, or Androids. Today Antenna Software has about 400 employees and is headquartered in Jersey City, but the company itself is global, with a third of its employees in Asia, a third in Europe, and a third in North America.