Ironclad is a digital contracting platform that builds workflow software and collaboration tools around business contracts. Their software enables companies to implement workflows for internal business processes. For example, suppose one requires approval from the VP Sales, Head of Finance, or General Counsel. In that case, Ironclad manages a contract's lifecycle from gathering the right internal stakeholders to collaboration with external counterparties. After a contract is signed, the platform can lend interesting, contextually relevant insights to drive any business forward.
Before Ironclad, contracting information would be siloed in tools and platforms like Slack, Email, or Microsoft Word. Ironclad brings all relevant contract stakeholders into a single application, layering on collaboration features to facilitate teamwork.
We spoke with Elliot Comite, who leads the Ironclad Finance function, on how they've scaled their team and helped improve spreadsheet-based workflow processes 10x using Layer.
Elliot started by saying that he's a big fan of Layer, the team, and the product. Prior to joining Ironclad, he spent several years at Stripes, a New York-based growth stage firm. Stripes focused on both software and consumer investments from Series B through pre-IPO.
Elliot has been with Ironclad for more than two and a half years. He started as the first dedicated finance hire and has helped scale the team and processes in integrating next-generation tools into their technology stack as they've grown to over 300 employees post-series D. Ironclad also made the Forbes and TrueBridge Capital Partners 2020 list of the 25 fastest-growing venture-backed startups most likely to reach a $1 billion valuation.
What challenges did you have at Ironclad?
As Ironclad is scaling, the team has spent too much time on manual data entry and copying and pasting between our different spreadsheets, systems, and records. That means that we have certain crucial company spreadsheet information living on Microsoft Excel and workflows living on Google Sheets.
As part of a scaling finance team, you're often tasked with doing an extensive breadth of tasks. These include everything across reporting, monthly forecasting, operationalizing go-to-market approaches, improving core unit economics, and ensuring the company is focused on the right metrics. So, ideally, you want to stay focused on the higher-level strategic type of activities that can drive the business forward instead of more mundane, repetitive tasks. At a higher level, you want to be deriving key insights from data and figuring out business problems to help drive business units forward.
We had been facing a manual entry, data movement, and information flow problem. It made no sense for talented, high-quality individuals to be spending time manually copying and pasting data across systems. So, around that time, we started searching for a solution that could help us scale our processes, which is when we serendipitously met Layer.
How do you use Layer?
We leverage Layer internally in two main ways. First, we use it to move very sensitive spreadsheet data across our organization. Finance is the core source of truth for much of the most sensitive internal company data, whether that hails from financial statements, go-to-market data, or headcount data — in either way, this is information that must be in the hands of key stakeholders to drive the business forward, but with the appropriate levels of controls.
Layer is our workflow engine to help us align spreadsheet processes across business stakeholders. We started rethinking how we can take very coarse, static financial data and move it seamlessly in an inoperable way across the organization. That way, whenever one needs to get information from finance to sales, marketing, or talent for a core analytical process, Layer plays an instrumental role. Previously, moving this data across systems might have taken several hours of manual, paste, and scrub. Now, because we use Layer's workflow engine, that entire process has shrunken down to 10 minutes. That's a core use case for us - making spreadsheet data work for us.
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Second, we leverage Layer to collect and aggregate inputs from our teammates. As a principal spreadsheet user, gathering data from other people for feedback, model insight, or core inputs was an excruciating process. You might need to either email or Slack your colleagues. Then, if you send them the model itself, they often wouldn't know how to think about the core inputs or construct the proverbial data model in the best way. It's also challenging to get other people to contribute and collaborate with you when you're building models from a "single master" spreadsheet point of view.
Layer solves that problem. It allows us to go out, solicit and collect information from other key stakeholders whom we want to be a part of and collaborate and contribute to building spreadsheet-based processes without putting too much on those other folks. It allowed us to change our spreadsheet perspective from having a person in finance building a model and then informing stakeholders towards a finance individual plus 4-6 key business stakeholders coming together in order to move the business forward.
In certain ways, Layer is adding workflows and rigor towards spreadsheets in a similar way to which Ironclad adds business processes and workflows to contracts, which I think is part of the reason we've gravitated towards the tool.
Did you try any other solutions?
Not really - this is a new way to do our work. Before Layer, we had no way to bring other stakeholders and core business owners into a collaborative spreadsheet experience. Our temporary solution was to set up some models and processes on Google Sheets. However, the security and collaboration features, like commenting and version history, were nowhere near as robust as Layer.
This type of data sensitivity is not worth doing if you aren't entirely sure that the information data is secure. So Layer really enables us to work in a different way.
Why did you choose Layer?
We enjoy Layer because it's a workflow-based approach to processes that already exist. We upload our spreadsheets, set up our internal process, and can immediately get going.
There are other collaboration and FP&A (Financial Planning and Analysis) tools out there, but nothing was geared towards core spreadsheet owners and encouraged us to stick with Excel. We love spreadsheets but wanted them to work for our business.
What made you continue using Layer?
We like how Layer was configured, as we could adjust it towards how we thought about our current spreadsheet-based processes instead of taking a new system and imposing it down on the company.
We're also looking forward to the Layer Google Sheets integration. Like many companies, we have documents on both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets, and especially in our budgeting process, Google Sheets is essential. That's why we think the integration will be instrumental in helping us drive better productivity and efficiency as an organization as a whole.
What type of spreadsheets do you manage with Layer?
We mainly manage the core spreadsheets, our collaborative base models, the kind that take a bunch of inputs. The largest one is our broader budget model, which shows past historical data and future projections in the business. There is another core model that we have internally where you often need to move information from one place to another where using Layer is significant.
We also collaborate on various models across go-to-market functions as there are certain areas where you need to solicit information from multiple teams regarding aspects of a planning funnel. Those are the types of models that we found to be very well suited towards the collaboration aspects.
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How often do you use Layer?
Right now, we use Layer on a weekly to bi-weekly basis. We wish we could use it more often, though, as there are still many more use cases for us internally to explore.
We have two to three master spreadsheet owners managing our workflows on Layer. As the Google Sheets integration comes out, that number is expected to increase.
Our number of collaborators is constantly changing. However, we have a solid 8 to 10 people internally across different functions that are part of the internal ecosystem. Those are primarily members in core planning, strategy, and ops teams, simply because those are often the individuals thinking more holistically about numbers, spreadsheets, and how to build inputs/outputs that better explain the business.
How can Layer help you?
Layer is a spreadsheet platform that works on top of Excel and Google Sheets. It allows you to easily manage and automate spreadsheet workflows. With Layer, you can:
- Upload or connect your existing Excel or Google Sheets-based budget.
- Share different sheets or even cell ranges of your spreadsheet with various stakeholders or departments involved in the budgeting process.
- Automate your communication flows and keep track of your data submissions, contributors, and deadlines.
- Review every single change made and decide which ones to merge with your spreadsheet or discard.
- Eliminate errors in your budget or manually copying and pasting data across files.