What Puts the ‘U’ in Coupa? Look to the FAANG Playbook on Usability

Rare is the presentation where a Coupa employee fails to reference the acronymic meaning of the company’s name. We heard this numerous times at Coupa Inspire 2019 this week in Las Vegas, and while few these days would confuse the Palo Alto cafe with the unicorn software provider, I have to admit the repeated messaging on the name has clearly sunk in with customers.

Case in point, over multiple conversations at Inspire, customers have frequently referred to the “U” — usability — as a key reason why they either signed with Coupa or have remained a client. And when I ask about just what makes Coupa so “usable” compared with other enterprise tools, an interesting theme emerges: Coupa reminds them of the technology they use in their daily lives, the consumer world in economic parlance.

The usability element of Coupa isn’t just about a clean user interface or adaptability to a procurement organization’s unique sourcing process. In many ways, it’s a direct application of the FAANG playbook into the B2B world. Coupa borrows plenty of features from Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google to make its own solution recognizable to business users of all stripes. It also takes a key lesson from these companies’ strategies by building its own innovations on top of the products and user experience expectations that FAANG has set in the B2C world.

Consider how the acronym for highly valuable tech stocks drives the value creation letters for the business spend management suite:

  • Mark Zuckerberg likes to tell people that the point of Facebook is to connect the world, but Wall Street and Cambridge Analytica will tell you the social network is really about mining data from user behavior and turning those insights into monetizable information. Coupa does a similar thing, sans the data privacy and threat to democracy side issues. Community intelligence — normalized, anonymized data about spend flowing through the platform — brings tons of value to Coupa users, like insights about “hot” suppliers winning sourcing events.
  • A lot of what makes Coupa “usable” wouldn’t be possible without the mobile infrastructure that Apple made possible with the launch of the iPhone. The fact that all business users have an internet-connected camera in their pocket, that they’re conditioned to do information retrieval on their phones, that every time a ping sounds they know there’s a task or request to acknowledge all points back to Apple (and, of course, Google with Android). Much of Coupa’s expense capabilities, as an example, extend from this foundation.
  • The Everything Store has set the bar for how people expect to shop online. Type-ahead search, taxonomization of the catalog, voice-assisted search, easy price and attribute comparison — all of this has made an “Amazon-like” guided buying experience a de facto requirement for success in B2B purchasing. Coupa gets this and includes many of the same features in its e-procurement module that Amazon offers online. And the two are becoming more and more alike, with Amazon Business integrated into search results via Open Buy and IT solutions on AWS marketplace available to purchase and invoice through Coupa. (No word yet on whether CEO Rob Bernshteyn has aspirations to start a space exploration side venture.)
  • If you like watching romcoms, Netflix knows. It also knows which other romcoms you may want to watch. That’s because binge-watching is really a way for Netflix’s reinforcement learning algorithms to hypothesize your tastes, test those guesses when you watch a movie (or ditch it halfway through) and get to know you better all the time. Coupa does that too: It observes what and the way you buy and takes that into account to recommend items and actions, as well as find ways the overall user experience could be improved. Just don’t start binge-purchasing safety goggles — 99% of CPOs who watched that one hated it.
  • Achievements in computer science aside, Google has become a virtual therapist for your information needs. Can’t quite figure out why the sky is blue? Want to finally understand how Craps works beyond repeating “big money” while shaking dice? Google can help you figure it out, and you can just pop the exact question into the search engine to start. No weird parameters, special characters, education on how to use it — just pop in your question and you’ll get answers. Coupa takes a similar approach, with a search bar that simply asks, What do you need? And while the results are not as comprehensive as Google, the breadth of what can be returned increases with every release (e.g., the ability to run services requests that direct you into a form for temp labor vs. independent contractors).

Clearly there’s a lot to learn from the B2C world, and FAANG provides only a sampling of what procurement technology providers can borrow for their own solutions. But this is not to say that Coupa is merely imitating consumer technology applications. In several instances, it’s innovating on top of the B2C world to bring entirely new applications for B2B scenarios.

For more on how consumer technology has informed Coupa’s product strategy and what’s on the roadmap in this vein for 2019, stay tuned for a follow-up brief on Spend Matters PRO.

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