SI has done a lot of posts on how to identify the right e-Sourcing/e-Procurement/e-Supply Chain vendor, over the years, but one question that is often overlooked, or left unstated, is “who is your vendor really working for“. You might expect, based upon their marketing and their business, that they are working for their customers who are paying them, but is this always the case?
To answer this question, we need to go back to the basics of how businesses are structured and funded.
A business is either public or private. A public business is funded entirely by revenue and has its performance judged by Shareholders and Wall Street. A private business is eventually funded by revenue but initially funded either by founders, third-party angels and/or VCs, or a private equity group. There are other business structures and funding arrangements, but these are the most common in our space. Let’s consider each of these.
A public company will make an effort to work for you, but only so far as it does not hurt their Wall Street rating and does not cause the Shareholders to ask questions. They live and die by the stock price, so if the stock price falls, they will typically have to react by way of layoffs to meet whatever earnings number Wall Street has dictated, and probably layoff your account manager and the developer who was committed to your upgrades in the process. They work for you only so far as it doesn’t hurt them in the eyes of Wall Street which typically does not have the long term view you need as a Supply Manager. And while you’ll never get fired for buying from a big public company, you won’t be important to them, unless you’re a Fortune 100 and bringing them > 10% of their business. (And even then, you’re only important until they land someone bigger.)
Private – Angel & VC
Like a public company, a private company controlled by third party investors will make an effort to work for you, but only so far as it meets the objectives of the Angel and/or Venture Capitalists who are driving the board towards whatever vision for the company they believe will make them the most amount of money in the shortest time possible. And since Angels and Venture Capitalists are ultimately only concerned with the balance of their bank account, that vision will be whatever is sexy and likely to support a quick initial public offering (so they can get their return). If that means getting as many new customers in a year as possible to allow for a quick public exit, then all of the money and efforts will be directed towards sales and marketing and customer support and incremental product development and improvement will be an afterthought, if it is even given a thought at all!
Private – Founder Funded
A private company controlled by a founder, or a small group of founders, will be focussed on the objectives of the founder(s). If the goal of the founder(s) is to make money and grow the business organically, the company will have a razor-sharp focus on meeting each and every customer need that the customer is willing to pay for. If the focus of the founder(s) is to get Angel & VC funding as part of an ultimate goal to get the company to an initial public offering, because the founder(s) are vain and more concerned with public image and sex factor than quiet success, the company will work for you only so far as the founders feel it won’t make the company less attractive to the Angels & VCs that can help to take them public.
Private – Private Equity Group
A private company controlled by a private equity group will be razor-sharp focussed on the needs of the customer. Private Equity Groups exist to make money — and while they may sometimes take a company public, this is not their ultimate goal. They take a company public only when the opportunity is right and they’ve reached the point where they believe they can’t make more money growing the company organically over the long term. Generally speaking, private companies controlled by private equity groups will be boring as hell compared to the sexy companies driven by venture capitalists, but they will be the only companies that make you feel like you are the center of the business world, because, in the end, they need your money to pay the bills and keep the lights on. It’s their model, and the one model where you are always the center of attention.
So don’t forget to ask yourself “who is this vendor really working for” before signing on the dotted line. They won’t tell you (the truth), but if you look at their ownership structure (and the frequency of their press releases), you can figure it out.
As a final note, if you are still seeking spherical supply solutions (Part I, Part II, and Part III), you should take another look at the EU Supply Management software providers. Not only do they have more experience in international implementations, but most of their companies are controlled by private equity groups where as most of the North American companies are either funded by Angels and VCs or part of big public companies.