One of my most vivid memories at FreeMarkets in my early days was a late night in the office when I had an "ah-ha" moment. At the time, I was working on a sourcing project for a high tech manufacturer during the day, but doing competitive strategy and analysis for FreeMarkets at night. The moment came when I decided to plot the stock prices of Ariba and Commerce One against the dates of press releases and related news coverage. What I found was almost too simple to be true -- a direct correlation between bumps in stock price and company news releases. Now this sort of finding is downright scary, for most press releases are nothing more than a reflection of anything other than a marketing department's ability to spin a story into something that is supposedly newsworthy. At that point, realizing this finding, if I had any guts, I should have bought hundreds of leap put options or sold calls on the B2B .com stars and waited for the money to role in the coming years.
But alas, in my youthful arrogance, I took this finding as a signal to suggest to my colleagues that we, too, should get more into the press release game (and that I should double-down on my employee stock purchase plan -- another stupid move on my part because, as an insider, I was locked up and could not sell as the purchases were made). At least it was some consolidation that in the coming months, I did end up playing a bit on the short-side of the market as well. But I digress. Getting back to my little press release / stock price analysis, at that point, FreeMarkets barely had a marketing group, let alone a spin machine (though this would come in short order). But I can remember the next morning when we looked at the analysis and the executive team took it as a signal that we should get into the "Barney" press release game as well. You know, the type of "I love you, you love me" announcements. So along with a couple others, I was drafted to help identify some of the best partnership deals we could put together in short order. Some of these had strong intentions behind them, while others were done more for the print value of the deal itself, just like everyone else.
So like every other vendor that fell victim to the B2B hype game, FreeMarkets, too, latched onto the mania and churned out announcement after announcement. If all the vendors had instead spent the time focusing on what customers might have wanted next, perhaps the landscape might look different today.