Q&A with revenue management platform Acumen

Nick Ryan, co-founder and CCO, explains why consumer brands love his approach
BizAge Interview Team
Nick Ryan

Hi Nick! What's your elevator pitch?  

Hi! I'm Nick Ryan, Co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer at Acumen, a consultancy focused on the world of pricing and trade investment in FMCG. In 2006, my partner Matt Wills and I decided we’d had enough of Excel spreadsheets and felt that there had to be a better way of doing things. We now help manufacturers of consumer brands make smarter decisions about how they price and promote with their customers.  

We bridge the gap between cutting-edge software and hands-on consulting, forming enduring relationships with our clients. With offices in London and Singapore, we've earned the trust of 12 of the top 20 FMCG businesses globally.  

What does the market need it? 

Unlike pure software providers in this space, we provide consulting and change management support across the pillars of revenue management. We develop long-term relationships, partnering with our clients on their revenue management journey (many of our clients have been with us for 5+ years!). Most of our consultants have FMCG or retail backgrounds so are grounded in the reality of the businesses we serve and know what’s achievable for our customers across different channels. 

The combination of our operational experience and consulting services means that we provide practical and implementable solutions that deliver tangible change and unlock value. Many consultancies lose traction when they hand over to the business teams to implement recommendations. We are by the client’s side throughout, from strategy through to execution.  

Where is the business today?  

We have been enjoying topline growth of 20%+ for the last four years, emerging from the pandemic as a stronger and more versatile business. We are expanding geographically with our current clients as well as continuing to acquire new ones, within our defined market which is manufacturers of consumer brands. Our team has grown to 65 strong, based in London and Singapore with an extensive network of associate consultants across Europe and Asia Pacific. 

What made you think there was money in this? 

Acumen was born out of the pain points which we encountered first-hand working for PepsiCo in the early 2000s. We had experience of working with a number of consultancies that failed to deliver any meaningful change and we struggled to get the data we needed for managing international customer relationships effectively. All analysis was being done in Excel which was neither sustainable nor an effective means of monitoring longer-term performance, so we knew there had to be a better way! 

What's your biggest strength? 

Our strength is that we deliver solutions that are both practical and implementable. Our software is designed to address the challenges we encountered when working in the corporate world: better visibility based on reliable data that informs smarter decisions. We have built our software from the perspective of the account manager, trying to deliver the best results with their customer(s). The account manager is trying to maximise return on investment in that customer whether it be through promotional funding or trade terms and discounts.    

What is the secret to making the business work? 

We implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS Traction, written by Gino Wickman) four years ago and it has made a material difference to how we run the business and the results we have achieved. Like any business in a “scale up” phase we are not without growing pains, but our world has become a whole lot better through the changes that EOS forced us to make: alignment around the vision; single points of accountability; identifying and resolving issues (vs kicking the can down the road); and using values fit as a performance metric. 

We’d strongly recommend implementing EOS to any other founders who have hit a ceiling which they are looking to punch through. I always say it’s a bit like baking a cake, follow the recipe, don’t cut corners!

Another factor in our growth has been the transition from an individual-led sales engine to creating a commercial team. Like many founder-led businesses we grew the business to a decent level of turnover but then found that we had “maxxed out” in terms of capacity. Recruiting and developing a sale and marketing team has taken time but has been incredibly rewarding. On a personal level, this has enabled me to step back from day-to-day selling and have a greater impact across the business.   

How do you market the company? 

Historically, our focus has been to develop and sell solutions and marketing was not in our DNA, so we have had to invest to acquire those skills. Over the past years, we’ve refined our commercial proposition which is to deliver smart revenue management for consumer brands. A lot of our marketing is targeted at the revenue management community by hosting events, holding webinars and posting content on LinkedIn, but we have recently started working with Missive, our PR Agency, who have been great on media relations and helping to broaden awareness of the Acumen brand.   

What funding do you have? Is it enough? 

We are a classically bootstrapped business, and we have always funded our growth by reinvesting in the business. This means we have not had a meteoric trajectory, but we are financially sound and not reliant on support from any third party. We could always benefit from growth funding, but our bootstrapped model has made us rigorous in our investment choices and decisions, albeit this means that we have not always been in a position to invest ahead of the curve.  

Tell us about the business model 

Our business model is comprised of consulting fees and recurring software subscription revenue which is based on geographic scope and number of users. Our software subscriptions include any Acumen-driven enhancements through our product roadmap, which means that users always benefit from the latest features and clients are running the latest version of the application. We have pricing menu options for additional services like setting up integration feeds and providing change management support.  

What were you doing before? 

I spent 10 years in corporate roles in consumer goods companies, including Mars, PepsiCo and Diageo before leaving to become a consultant. Initially I worked on my own and built up a client portfolio, before teaming up with Matt Wills, a former colleague from PepsiCo to find the business that we have today.    

What is the future vision? 

Our future vision is to deploy AI in our solutions to make data processing and generating insights more automated and efficient for our clients. We see AI as a real game changer and can see lots of potential in how we can use this in our client solutions and also in how we work internally. As a smaller player in the market, we want to be fast and nimble in how we harness this, to be out in front of the pack.  

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
January 25, 2024
Written by
January 25, 2024