Rearden unShrugged …

The first time I saw Rearden Commerce's application, I knew it would be the future of "personal" services Spend Management for employees at all levels within companies. In fact, I was so convinced of its future that I called Rearden's playing field an up-tapped "Blue Ocean" of opportunity. But the trouble with Blue Oceans is that it can take a long time for the tide to come in. Consider how FreeMarkets came precariously close to running out of cash in its early years, yet soon after had investors knocking down its door, begging to invest at any valuation before it went public. In fact, KPCB's John Doerr personally jetted to Pittsburgh begging to bless the thing with his pixy dust before the IPO.

As was the case with FreeMarkets, I think the moon phases are changing for Rearden, and its tide will soon rise to a new level if they can work out a few kinks, which I'll get to in a minute. And if they get it right, Rearden should be much larger than FreeMarkets ever became. For non-services spend junkies, it might be hard to understand the reason for all of this, as well as my unchecked enthusiasm for their product. In short, I believe that Rearden is such a revolutionary application because it is so easy to use and simplifies the user's life on so many levels, while ensuring compliance in a completely stealth way. In my view, it's even easier to use than consumer applications like Amazon.com and Orbitz, which is precisely why it should be so successful and spread virally once it reaches the tipping point. Rearden is an application that users and executives will demand because it helps them -- not because it helps procurement (even though it does this in spades as well).

Given Rearden's power, why haven't most people heard of them yet? Because their historical marketing approach and positioning has been way off the mark in my opinion. By the looks of their current site, things are starting to change. But shedding the past will take time. The fact that their application is built on a services oriented architecture (SOA) makes for good spin to tech geeks, but completely underscores its actual power in a business setting. Come on, procurement and business execs don't give two figs about three-letter mumbo-jumbo (which is how Rearden marketed for years). Given this, I believe that Rearden made a huge mistake early on by playing up the technology and not the experiential side of the application, which they're just starting to do.

Rearden's latest news, announcing an expanded services reach and a new mantra for travel -- the "Total Travel Experience" -- is a step in the right direction from a positioning perspective, but falls short of the message they need to project to the market. I know Rearden is small, but money should not be an excuse for the wrong marketing approach (they have Porter Novelli forwarding me their press releases). Regardless, the clock is ticking to get their marketing act into gear. Just as the original Mac changed the user experience on the desktop, Rearden is about changing a large execution aspect of procurement in its entirety. But the Mac quickly lost share to Windows once Redmond figured out a 75% solution. Rearden will face a similar challenge unless they begin to capture more mindshare by portraying the power and experiental side of the application. Announcing a series of big customer wins would be a start, but they have a ways to go (even though I will say their PR and messaging has improved recently). Fortunately, the good news is that it's easier to improve positioning and marketing than it is to change a product. In the case of Rearden, there's a new supermodel waiting to break out of Kmart duds. And in this case, there's brains behind the body.

Jason Busch

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