Workiva Built To Meet Demand For Financial, Regulatory And Performance Reporting
Increasing demands on financial reporting brought about by Sarbanes Oxley legislation and regulatory bodies like the SEC have long represented a reporting burden for many publicly-traded companies. But one man’s burden is another’s opportunity.
“We started Workiva as a culmination of our experience, desire and of lessons learned,” says Workiva founding Chairman and CEO, who had himself understood the challenges through his previous role as CEO of a publicly-traded company.
The Ames, Iowa-based Workiva delivers Wdesk, an intuitive cloud platform that modernizes how people work within thousands of organizations. Wdesk is built upon a data management engine, offering controlled collaboration, data integration, granular permissions and a full audit trail. Customers rely on the platform to help mitigate enterprise risk, improve productivity and give users confidence to make decisions with real-time data. The company employs more than 1,200 people, works with 70% of the Fortune 500 and has offices in 16 cities.
According to its latest earnings report, customer demand for a broader-based enterprise-wide solution continues to grow as they expand across customers' organizations. The company recently announced data integration between its flagship Wdesk platform and more than 100 cloud and on-premise applications, including Oracle ERP Cloud. Integrating enterprise business systems with Wdesk helps Workiva customers improve a wide range of financial, regulatory and corporate performance management functions. “Expanding the amount of data that Wdesk users can directly access amplifies the power of our platform throughout our customers' organizations,” says Rizai.
Rizai is a seasoned CEO and entrepreneur, but was somewhat reluctant to build another business at this stage in his life. “We were not necessarily looking to start another company because it's very grueling to create a startup and scale it. Plus, we were in our late '40s and early '50s when we decided to start a business. Very few companies or entrepreneurs do it at that time. I've started companies before, going back to 1983. I learned a lot. We did a lot of innovation that really disrupted certain industries, but I was left thinking, ‘If we had the time and the resources, we could continue disrupting industries and build something even more significant',” says Rizai.
“This time we were determined to get to a level where we have a significant say in the industry through our accomplishments of how we can impact the industry. We knew in order to do that we had to get to $100 million in five years. Did we know exactly where that $100 million was going to come from? No. But we did know that we couldn't get to that size with just one product or one solution. That notion opened up our thought process. Our focus was going after enterprise businesses, to land, scale and expand.”
That focus on providing a solution to a common reporting and audit-trail challenge and scaling the business, allowed the firm to indeed hit the $100 million revenue mark in five years. That momentum allowed the company to go public on December 12, 2014. “Going public has always been part of the capitalization journey. We felt that we had enough history and data to communicate with investors and hopefully gain their confidence. We used the public market as an avenue to fund and scale the business to the next level. The IPO was an entrance for us; not an exit,” says Rizai.
The company chose to headquarter its business in Ames, Iowa, which Rizai feels has become a competitive advantage that allowed it to scale in a way that might not have been possible in Silicon Valley. “I admire everyone who does business in Silicon Valley, but that's not our strength. Our strength was to start and scale a company in the middle of the country. In the Midwest, you don't get as much competition for talent, so when you hire the talent, they stay. We have a culture and thought processes whereby we work together, regardless of where we are.”
The way Rizai sees it, the company’s Midwest grassroots provides a culture to empower everybody. “Business is all about people, and we have our company set in an environment with a great school system, where you can buy land, where there's always space, where commuting is easy and healthcare is top notch. It's a great place to have a rich quality of life that is hard to match elsewhere,” says Rizai.
Rizai became an entrepreneur later in life than most. He grew up in Istanbul, Turkey and dreamed of coming to the US. Towards that goal, he become an exchange student with American Field Service where he wound up in Dearborn, Michigan and went to Dearborn High. He then went to Bosphrous University before transferring to Michigan State where he earned his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. He was always interested in business and at first enrolled in the business school as a freshman, but his mother had other ideas. “She was so upset because in Turkey there were two ways that you were going to make some decent money, either as an engineer or a doctor. She knew that I couldn't look at blood so that was off. She had me withdraw my application from the business school and enter the engineering school. That's how my tech path all started,” says Rizai
He spent seven years as an academic at Michigan State and did some consulting for the automotive industry. It’s also where he would meet his good friend and long-time business partner Marty Vanderploeg. He went on to earn an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and later moved to Ames, Iowa to build his first start-up, Engineering Animation, at the age of 34 along with Vanderploeg.
“Going forward, our focus is really not about money; our focus is centered around the fact that we have the opportunity to become an iconic software company,” says Rizai.
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