AECSoft — A Quirky Vendor Finds a New Home with SciQuest

I must admit, the first time I heard of AECSoft, which will soon become part of SciQuest, I was in the company of a larger vendor in the supplier management/content/diversity sector a few years back. I remember from these conversations and my notes that this one competitor did not take AECSoft very seriously, referring to them as a "low cost" and sometimes "rock bottom low cost" supplier diversity peddler. The term "ankle biter" might have been mumbled once as well. Perhaps these competitors should not have taken their eye off the diversity -- and now, supplier management -- ball, as AECSoft managed to build material traction and increased market share in recent years. Yet the vendor always had a quirky and scrappy streak that arguably worked in its favor as it amassed what was most certainly one of the most profitable, on a percentage of revenue basis, companies in the entire Spend Management sector.

As anyone who ever sat across the table from AECSoft's cofounder Tom Ren could tell, this was not a traditional vendor back-end software company. In my limited interactions with Tom over the years, I was always struck by both the juxtaposition of a "let's make a deal at any cost" approach with the thoughtfulness behind some of AECSoft's development and data automation/validation processes he shared with me. In short, AECSoft was unique -- and so was its cofounder, Tom. The other co-founder, Lily, Tom's wife, whom I have not met, has been accused by more than one person I know of being a one-person development and products machine, but clearly the engineering arm of the company has expanded over the years beyond just her deft development capabilities.

The quirky and offbeat personality of AECSoft was arguably a strength and weakness at the same time. Some close to the organization over the years suggest the operating structure, customer agreements and overall development environment/documentation was very different from many traditional software companies. At a certain point, this type of back office environment can be a material shortcoming when it comes to scaling the business. Yet Tom's openness -- he still negotiated most of the company's important business and client relationships himself -- in a world where all too slick vendor salespeople, PowerPoint presentations, and demonstration scripts cloud the mortar holding the bricks together no doubt helped the company more than it hurt it.

SciQuest will have a challenging balancing act on its hands in keeping the good elements of what made AECSoft AECSoft, while quickly overhauling and operationalizing the vendor's back-office to meet the standards of a public company. I wish them the best in doing it, as there is no doubt that the entire market will benefit from broader reach for a supplier management suite that will now gain further distribution and potential integration into a broader P2P and network environment.

Jason Busch

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