When Slowing Down May Speed You Up: Coupa Inspire 2016

Coupa Inspire 2016

We’ll be summarizing our current and comparative analysis of Coupa as well as our Inspire 2016 takeaways from the hundreds of company, partner and customer conversations that the Spend Matters team had at the event this week in a more detailed Spend Matters PRO analysis in the coming days. But as our team wraps up the week and a truly an excellent event — highlighted for me by sharing an elevator with Sir Richard Branson, who keynoted the event with his son, by happenstance — I thought it would make sense to pose an almost rhetorical question.

Might Coupa actually slow down to speed up?

Coupa’s CAGR has been off the charts in recent years, and as we noted earlier in the week, it has moved from the “hunter” to the “hunted” in the procurement technology market. But based on a number of snippets I’ve gathered in different conversations this week, I could argue Coupa has almost grown too quickly for its own good, and slowing down might in fact speed some things up over the longer term.

I’ve got three groupings of evidence and ideas to support this hypothesis.

First, Coupa has all the makings to create a movement with its different philosophical approach to procurement and all the clever tricks it has done to improve on transactional purchasing, accounts payable and even contract authoring. The firm continues to accelerate the rate at which it is adding ingenious little add-ons both through organic development and acquisitions, many of which will make it difficult for customers to ever move off the tool because they’d miss them.

Yet some of the customers I spoke with this week have felt that Coupa has done only the minimum to engage with them outside of getting a contract signed and the system up and running — and continuing to push out features, capabilities and new modules.

A number users would like deeper collaboration both with Coupa and other Coupa customers, to become part of a movement that Coupa leads, pulls them into and continuously nurtures. Many Coupa customers don’t just want to use clever technology — they want to become part of the ecosystem around it. At the very least, they want Coupa to reach out to them more frequently (this especially goes for global customers outside of the high growth countries for Coupa). Curiously, this type of customer engagement is in Coupa’s DNA. But it would seem growth has curtailed the time Coupa can put into it cohesively across their user base.

Second, to manage growth, Coupa appears to be driving customers to standardization in various ways. (Note: Standardization does not mean limiting configurability, but rather suggesting or guiding customers down certain paths.) Evidence of this includes driving implementation teams to faster “in the box” go-lives (three to four months for more complex implementations as a goal) and becoming less flexible on the adoption of upgrades for future releases — that is, on Coupa’s schedule versus a more flexible customer-led one, as has been the case in the past.

And third, Coupa does not appear to be (yet) fully taking advantage of some of its most unique assets in ways that could truly help differentiate in just about every deal it competes in, but that would require deeper prospect and customer discovery and engagement outside of technology alone.

Coupa Advantage is a great example of this. Even though spend going through the Advantage GPO program has grown roughly 8X in the past year — the growth and numbers are really impressive — the leveraged buying program could be doing even more to truly differentiate Coupa outside of just having preloaded contract prices and terms.

But these investments would require stepping back and reimagining (with customers) what group buying could be with such an able technology suite at the core of it (e.g., supplier rationalization with “master” vendors, supplier compliance/lifecycle management, supplier risk management, longer-terms/DPO extension potentially with third-party funded early payment financing and much more).

Rapid growth is a great problem to have. But after 48 hours at Inspire this week, I came away feeling that slowing down just a little bit and investing more time outside of doing everything possible to maintain a breakneck CAGR and related pace of product investment could help Coupa create an even more successful business (and movement) as it flies into its second decade of growth.

I remember Coupa Sam originally being a zen-full cartoon character. We shouldn’t resurrect or conjure him back again (Coupa’s latest videos set the standard for procurement technology humor and fun). But perhaps we could all — the Coupa team included — learn from his mindfulness.

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