Mistake X that Procurement Founders Keep Making

As part of the discussion between the doctor and Jon The Revelator on how 2005 can tell us why most AI initiatives fail in 2024, the doctor, who recently finished the first six installments of his Mistakes Procurement Founders Keep making series, noted one mistake that founders keep making that maybe he should have made more explicit.

Specifically, and this applies to founders who are techies / ex-consultants in particular who are tech first, the one big mistake that is still being made two decades later is this:

Building a “solution” without having identified the “problem” they are trying to solve.

Or, as The Revelator put it, you must solve problems before selling solutions.

(And, preferably, not a problem that was already solved, and solved better.)

While this mistake could fall under foundational market research, it also stands on its own because these tech-minded individuals think that just because the tech doesn’t appear to exist, there’s a market for it.

While the “find a new ‘solution’, figure out what it works for later” might work for PhD students (develop a new algorithm, technique, material, etc. and then figure out what it can be used for), it doesn’t work well in the business world.

While techies might think business people want cool, the reality is that business people, especially those writing big cheques, don’t care. Techies think business people want slick UX. The reality is that business people don’t care. Techies think business people want the latest and greatest tech stack. But, again, business people don’t care.

The techies fail to realize that the business people they are selling to are NOT the people in the organization who are actually going to use the solution, which could be on decades old tech, with a horrendous UI and UX, and descriptors from an 80s horror film. All the solution buyers in an organization care about is

  1. will it meet the business need,
  2. will we get it at the lowest price and,
  3. if the solution processes transactions or personal data,
    does it have all the appropriate security certifications and monitoring?

That’s it. The budget controllers only care about whether or not the solution will solve their problem efficiently, effectively, and affordably. And if you can’t demonstrate that, they won’t care whether or not they’re buying it from Someone Who’s Cool.

BlueBean: Instant Coffee for Mid-Market “Tail”-Spend Procurement

Billing itself as a platform that lets you enjoy a consumer-like buying experience with enterprise-level controls on existing e-commerce websites, BlueBean is a new solution for easy, compliant, organizational Procurement that lets you control your budget and pay less right from your browser.

Billing itself as a “request-to-pay” solution, the goal of the BlueBean platform, and the founders, is to simplify end-user buying in an average mid-market organization in a Procurement-compliant way without the need for intake, orchestration, and/or a traditional tail-spend / expense management platform that expects an underlying e-Procurement platform when most of the spend in such an organization is driven by users (due to there only being a few categories where strategic procurement is worth while and/or an understaffed central Procurement department). Moreover, the goal is to deliver a completely browser-based SaaS solution that doesn’t require a buyer to learn a new platform to make a purchase from a vendor who has, or sells through, an existing on-line e-commerce site.

So what is BlueBean? For the end-user, it’s a consumer-like “coupon manager” app (implemented as a browser extension) that runs in the browser and allows them to quickly:

  • find preferred vendors for any product or service
  • identify the (discount) codes they use on the vendor’s site to ensure the organization receives their (GPO’s) pricing
  • request a virtual card for the product(s) or service(s)
  • instantly receive that virtual card if the purchase satisfies all defined organizational requirements
  • pay with that virtual card
  • … and capture the e-commerce receipt for automatic submission to the Procurement/AP department

In other words, for the average buyer, with the exception that they have to pull down the in-browser app to find the allowed/preferred vendors, request the virtual card, and then access and use the virtual card (when the request is approved), it’s a super minimally intrusive Procurement app that allows them to buy in the traditional e-commerce style they are used to without having to learn any new Procurement systems. Compare that to even the modern orchestration systems where these same users would have to log-in to the enterprise app, use the wizards, or, even worse, try to converse with the Gen-AI engine (that shows them the latest pair of Nikes when they want brake shoes to fix the delivery truck), and then jump to either the organizational catalog, or, if they are lucky, punch-out to the e-commerce site where they populate a cart they then have to pull back. In other words, BlueBean makes the average orchestration system look like overkill. (As orchestration was another app developed for Enterprise customers that needed a lot of Procurement modules and solutions, not mid-markets.)

The founders of BlueBean, who have built a number of enterprise Procurement systems, realized that while you need a Procurement system for large(r), strategic Procurements, also realized that for “tail” spend, traditional Procurement processes and systems are overkill, and this is why you have people avoiding them and/or being non-compliant.

The founders of BlueBean also realized that in order for an organization to have proper spend management, even Tail Spend needs to be managed, and, more importantly, it needs to be captured. So they created an app that allowed for Procurement to manage this tail spend without requiring organizational users, who just have to use the browser extension, to learn new tools or processes, which distracts these users from the job they need to do.

So they built a simple enterprise e-Commerce platform that is like a punch-out catalog management, p-card management, tail-spend procurement, budget-management, and a paypal/stripe platform all rolled into one — which also simplifies the process and technology landscape for overworked and under-staffed Mid-Market Procurement teams who need to roll out something to manage the majority of enterprise transactions that doesn’t fall under the strategic procurement spend they barely have time to manage (when you include all the OT they likely have to work).

Right now, the just-launched BlueBean platform contains the following capabilities:

  • Company Profile: the company profile (with subscription details)
  • My Profile: the Procurement user’s profile and access details
  • Account Details: the company’s expense account details — available and pending funding and linked bank accounts
  • Virtual Cards: the virtual cards that have been issued, and the users / teams they have been assigned to
  • Transactions: all transactions that have been put through the BlueBean platform (for the prescribed time-frame) (with receipt attachments)
  • Spending Limits: by person or team (or category, as a team can be setup per category)
  • User Management: the platform users (with their details, limits, etc.)
  • Savings MarketPlace: the sites that have been approved for organizational buying by the organization (from the BlueBean marketplace or the organization’s GPO marketplace), organized by category, broken down by savings plan (to keep track of each GPO, department, etc.)
  • Preferred Stores: the e-commerce sites that the organization has marked as preferred
  • Statements: monthly P-Card-like statements that can be downloaded or exported to your accounting system
  • Reports: simple, on-line, dynamic spend breakdowns by category, time-period, team/user, etc.
  • Security: security configuration

And, as noted, BlueBean allows for direct export of all transactional data, with receipts, into the accounting platform for full spend tracking and classification (by vendor and default category), which allows more organizational spend to be (at least minimally) under management.

It’s a very neat solution for a mid-market organization that needs to get tail-spend / end-user spend under management and under control, but doesn’t have a large Procurement team, the resources to train organizational users, or the time to impose full Procurement processes on organizational users who just need to get a job done. So, if this sounds like something your organization needs, even though they are the new kid (on the block), the doctor would recommend checking out BlueBean and giving your organization the caffeine-rush it desperately needs. It’s serving a niche that hasn’t been effectively served yet (as most existing Tail-Spend solutions were defined for larger organizations and most orchestration platforms require one or more Procurement solutions to already be in place, and a mid-market Procurement team doesn’t have the manpower, budget, or time to manage more platforms than absolutely necessary). The minimal imposition will make your end users happy (and that leads to adoption).

Dear SaaS Founder. We know you’ll make mistakes, but there’s no excuse to make these!

This month, having seen many of the same mistakes that he’s seen over 18 years as an (independent) analyst and 20+ years as a consultant, still being made in new startups (since leaving Spend Matters almost 20 months ago on 2022 Sep 30) the doctor decided to put his experience to e-paper and chronicle 15 of the most common mistakes he sees all too often — mistakes that don’t need to be made anymore. (In the early noughts, before there were dozens of tech startup books telling you what worked and what didn’t for founders that went before, some of these were excusable. But not anymore.)

Now, these aren’t being pulled out of the air. Over his career, he has researched/engaged in depth with over 500 vendors and their solutions as an analyst, consultant, or diligence professional, and publicly (co-)written up the solutions of over 350 of these on Sourcing Innovation and Spend Matters. He’s also followed the progress, or lack thereof, of many of these companies and seen some grow, some stagnate, some get acquired, and some ultimately have to shut their doors. The number of analysts still active in our space that can make the same claim-to-fame can likely be counted on your fingers!

He’d hope after last year’s series on the 10 + 2 best practices for success, some of these mistakes would become obvious and their frequency would decrease, but he was obviously too indirect in why those best practices were being focussed on and what some key takeaways were.

In any case, because he loves innovation and startups (which should be clear from the fact that he writes about 50 to 75 of them per year FOR FREE) and would like to see founders with good products, platforms, and commitment to their customers succeed, he’s hoping this more direct approach will help those companies who just started and who are still making a few of these stop doing so before it’s too late and help others start on the right track.

So without further ado, here are the links to the articles on the mistakes you’re still making:

Enjoy. Educate. Excel! (No, not the spreadsheet, the intransitive verb!)

Dear Sourcing/Source-to-Pay/Procurement Founder: Please STOP Making These Mistakes! Part 6

In Part 1, we reminded you of the 12 best practices for success that we published last year and noted that, since this obviously wasn’t read enough (or properly) understood, as the doctor is still seeing founders make the same old mistakes year after year, he needed to do more. So, using his 18 years of experience as an (independent) analyst and 20 plus years as a consultant, during which he has researched and/or engaged with over 500 companies, of which 350 were publicly covered on Sourcing Innovation or Spend Matters (between 2016 and 2022), he’s decided to make plain at least 15 of the same mistakes he has seen over and over again, in hopes that maybe he can prevent a few founders from making them again.

Then, we covered the first twelve (12) of the 15+ mistakes the doctor has indicated he has seen over and over again.

  • Assuming that because you were a CPO, you don’t have to do your market research. (Part 1)
  • Assume you can serve any company that shows interest in your product. (Part 2)
  • Assume you can go for disruptive or innovative first. (Part 2)
  • Assume you can take Tech Shortcuts and Fix It Later. (Part 2)
  • Assume that because you could run a Procurement Department that you can run a SaaS company. (Part 3)
  • Assume you know the average process and technology competency in your potential customer base. (Part 3)
  • Assume that you know the messaging because you received the message. (Part 4)
  • Assume if you cut the price to get in the door, you can raise it later. (Part 4)
  • Assume you need a CMO early to get noticed and build demand. (Part 4)
  • Assume that becoming an “influencer” or “thought leader” on LinkedIn will replace proper lead-generation! (Part 5)
  • Assume that you need AI or that jumping on the Gen-AI bandwagon will save you. (Part 5)
  • Assume that you can get a great salesperson or grow your sales team (primarily) on commission (only). (Part 5)

If the mistakes stopped here, we’d be done. But they don’t. So, today we’re going to cover the next three and conclude this initial series.

13. Assume you can hire and do it all in-house!
There’s a reason that best practice #10 was get advice and listen to it and #11 was get the help you need sooner than later, and that’s because, when you are small, you can’t hire the people you need to do it all in house. You need a lot of expertise from a lot of senior people, all of whom will be on the higher end of the salary scale. And while these people are worth every penny they demand, that is only the case for the role(s) in their skill set, and you will need a lot more roles than you can hire for.

You will need to not only listen to the analysts that will talk to you, but get one or more expert analysts / consultants to help you tackle key challenges you don’t need a full time person for and/or can’t justify hiring at the current stage in your journey. The best people are not only great at what they do, but willing to admit where they aren’t great and could use the help.

14. Assuming you can barter for what you need when you finally realize you can’t do it all in-house.

A lot of founders are extremely cash-conscious, and while the doctor respects that, you can’t barter for everything you need to keep costs down. And when the doctor says barter for what they need, he means some will try to barter for anything:

  • for a while they would try to barter for rent reductions with stock options, even after the first IT crash … but most landlords are pretty shrewd when they have fixed assets on which to make their money and followed the “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice …” philosophy and either politely said no or just laughed
  • when print marketing was big, he’s seen software and services companies try to barter for content, editing, design/layout, and even overhead/margin with free software / consulting / marketing services (though newsletter inclusion, promotion at an event, free consulting, etc.); this didn’t work very often
  • when they couldn’t get good trade in value on IT equipment that needed to be upgraded (with the IT vendor), all of a sudden it was hard-ware for services; that didn’t work well either

He sees (much) less of the above today, but the following is still too common:

  • speak for free at our event for exposure
  • write for us and we’ll send your article to 10,000 subscribers
  • advise us on our roadmap and we’ll give you a recommendation to our partners/customers
  • help us with our marketing and we’ll give you referral fees

Sometimes these deals happen, but, despite what the founders think, they don’t work out that well (for the founder).

Let’s consider each of these example cases:

  • if the speaker you want normally makes 10K+ a day for speaking at an event, they don’t need your exposure; this means that if they do agree, they are likely doing it because a) they aren’t as big a draw as you think they are b) they have a vested interest in your company (through an investment, through referral fees, or through projects they get associated with it) … i.e. unless they have a vested interest, you’re not getting the value you think you are
  • they know the open rates and the actual read rates and then the percentage of people who will ACTUALLY notice their name, so if they have any reputation at all, they are just going to work for a paying client instead (now, you might luck out on a newbie who’s really great, but do you really want to roll the bones on critical messaging?)
  • if they’re good, they can make their own recommendation to your partners/customers
  • IF they are willing to accept referral fees (because the minute they do their potential clients will know they are biased towards your solution), why would they want to strike a deal with your company when they could get 10 times the fee with a big company that will sell platforms at 10X what you will get for your module?

In other words, you get what you pay for, and if you pay nothing, you get nothing. this doesn’t mean you have to spend top dollar, as many analysts and consultants (or at least those NOT at the biggest firms) will sometimes offer lower rates to startups willing to accept a limited, but well-defined, set of services offered on the analysts’/consultants’ schedule (to fill gaps between big client projects). In other words, it’s not necessary to pay top dollar to get top value.

But do NOT push referral or commissions on analysts or consultants who say they don’t accept commissions or referrals. You need to remember that some analysts or consultants can only maintain their reputation and make a living IF they are unbiased. And while unbiased doesn’t mean that such an individual cannot have a preferred solution of a given type (which could even be your solution), it does mean that such an individual CANNOT accept a fee for recommending it, because then the buyer would have no way of knowing if the recommendation was truly because the individual believed it was the right solution or if it was because it was the solution that, in the given situation, would lead to the individual getting cut the biggest check from the provider.

(However, if you want the doctor to stop talking to you, it’s one of the fastest ways to make this happen. If you’re curious, another fast way is to waste his time, but, honestly, if you don’t want a check-up from the doctor, he’d just prefer you tell him you only do commission deals as he’d prefer you not waste his time.)

15. Assume that you can take less than your forecast in a raise and still be successful!

the doctor has seen too many companies fail (to meet potential) by

  1. over aggressively estimating the minimum amount of money they need to reach profitability
  2. then taking only 70% to 80% of that to close a VC round

The #1 rule of a startup is: it will ALWAYS cost more than you think.

  • getting to MVP will take at least 30% more effort than your development team thinks; halfway in they’ll discover that the data model isn’t enough; the out of the box workflow won’t quite cut it; the algorithm isn’t fast enough; there are scalability issues with the current architecture configurations; the stack has a few bug/known issues that have to be worked around (when it’s too late to swap it out); etc.
  • you’ll always discover core functionality that you missed (possibly due to a lack of market research) you need to have to close those first few customers (without deviating from the core you should be focussed on)
  • cloud costs will be more than expected (as providers raise prices, you need replication and backup, and your beta/demo customers drive the system hard)
  • you won’t be able to do as much virtual and sales / support will have to do more travellng than you budgeted for
  • you may be able to get away without that office, but you will still need to bring the team in to a central location a couple of times and rent workspaces, pay hotels, etc.
  • you will not be able to rely on consulting partners as much as you think and will need to hire more implementation managers than was in the budget
  • you will need to bring in more demand gen / pre sales / sales earlier than you would like under pressure to show eventual profit
  • etc. etc. etc.

In other words, if you want to stand a reasonable chance of success, you have to inflate all of your numbers 20% AND not settle for less than that, because, without any flux (to weather these increased costs and unexpected events like epidemics, the loss of a key resource, etc.), you just won’t survive.

Now, are these all the mistakes the doctor has seen? Most certainly not, but these are among the most common and NOT making these would a great first 15 steps to ensuring your startup gets on the path to success. So, read them closely, then re-read the best practices, and start your journey with the knowledge of what you know and, more importantly, what you don’t so you can find the help (via partners, analysts, consultants, and appropriate beta customers) you need to make your startup a smashing success.

Another Supply Chain Misconception That Should Be Cleared Up Now

Yesterday we discussed one supply chain misconception that should be cleared up now because, despite all of the misconceptions mentioned in an Inbound Logistics Article, it was not addressed. However, there is a second misconception that is almost as critical that was not addressed either, so today we will address it. And while, there are, dozens of common misconceptions (including the 22+ mentioned in the article), these are the two that are the most critical to understand, as they are two that pose the most risk in most of today’s Procurement organizations.

 

THE SECOND BIGGEST SUPPLY CHAIN MISCONCEPTION

Supply Chains Have Reached (A New) Normal

Supply chains have never been, and will never be, normal as they will always be in flux due to perturbations, delays, and disruptions that happen daily. You may not see all the trial and tribulations a third tier supplier goes through every day, but trust the doctor when he says they have just as much turmoil as you do. Nothing is predictable in supply chains. When you accept this misconception in conjunction with the first misconception, it’s easy to see how almost all of the others are also misconceptions (that highlight slices of the bigger misconceptions).

For example:

  • cost becomes much less important than supply assurance due to the unpredictable nature of supply chains
  • since it’s not a linear, closed, model, zero-sum doesn’t apply
  • we made up the stages of planning, buying, transportation, and warehousing silos to fit a theoretical definition of normal that doesn’t exist
  • there is at least a hand-off at every stage, so the process is not disconnected but linked, if not intertwined
  • etc. etc. etc.

When you accept the reality, Supply Chain Management, as well as Source-to-Pay, will become a lot easier to manage because you will realize that

  1. only human expertise can adapt to new situations and find real-world solutions to the new challenges that arise
  2. technology will allow you to automate the tactical / semi-normal operations and instead focus on the exceptions and challenges, making you more productive as you focus the majority of your effort on strategy and thinking vs (e-) paper pushing and thunking which is the only thing the machine is good at (and, based on current technological understanding, ever be good at — which is exactly why we can limit it to the thunking because it can do over 3 Billion calculations a second flawlessly [if we ditch the “AI”] while we struggle to do 3)

In other words, only intelligent, adaptable, humans can manage constantly changing supply chains. Good technology can alert them and give them the intelligence they need to make good decisions, but technology cannot make those decisions for them.

(And the doctor, who dreaded saying Bye, Bye to Monochrome UIs can’t wait for the day he can say bye, bye Gen-AI.)