Rob Bernshteyn at Coupa Inspire – Keynote Highlights

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It is less than six years since I was persuaded by a friend to go to drinks at the Institute of Directors in London one evening. He was desperately trying to get a few people together to meet the CEO of a small US procurement software firm that were making their first moves into the UK. There were maybe 15 of us present in the end.  That included a handful of practitioners, a few IT people who were potential "integration partners", and a few folk from Coupa, for that was the firm - including their still relatively new CEO, Rob Bernshteyn. He made a very good speech, I vaguely remember.

How far they have come! A float and a valuation of over $1 billion, and 500 people at their customer event in London last week. We were only there for a short time, but took in Bernshteyn's keynote, as we mentioned here. And he is still making good speeches.

He based it very much on the three core Coupa principles and his book Value As A Service - “you don't write books to make money”, he said (so true Rob, so true...) but he described it as the firm’s “position paper”.

The principles are ensuring customer success, focus on results and strive for excellence. Hard to argue with those, and he stressed that he does not focus on customer satisfaction – results are what matters. Three customers were named as "MVP" award winners, which was a nice touch although if you're going to make a thing about it, I might have got them up on stage to shake hands.

Bernshteyn said “our main competition is ourselves” – other key players are in the “cash-cow” stage of their lifecycle, focusing on monetising their products. An interesting line to take in terms of competitive positioning, we thought. “We want to get paid fairly but we want high returns for you, the customer”, he said. We will have to see if that altruistic attitude to margins survives the pressures of being a quoted company, of course.

We didn't really get any sense of the corporate direction post IPO - there was not even a hint of any acquisitions, geographical expansion or really much on corporate strategy at all. Presumably there has to be more care now the firm in public.  But on the more operational side, we really like the tools Coupa can provide for helping customers build their own business case for investment.  That enables a convincing case to be developed and presented to the CEO/CFO with the minimum of effort from procurement (or whoever wants to buy the Coupa product).

The opportunity to look at data from across the Coupa client base is also genuinely exciting – that seems set to be a major theme and one that could define a strong position for Coupa compared to competitors. For example, being able to benchmark meaningfully either processes (invoice cycle time) or actual line item level pricing could be very powerful for users. There are a few issues that makes this trickier than it first sounds, we suspect, but it could certainly be a powerful tool. It is not fully available yet for Coupa customers but development is well-advanced.

Bernshteyn also touched on developments across contract lifecycle management, invoice management, and pulling data from third party travel booking sites, which all looks good. A very quick mention and glimpse of “services maestro” looked very interesting – is this Coupa getting into the WIP (worker intermediation platform) space? We didn’t see enough to be sure, but watch this space. The “no UI” principle is also important for the firm – “we want the system to do as much as possible without any user involvement, unless that adds real value”.

coupa-16-3Bernshteyn is a fluent and natural presenter, working without notes or teleprompter, and I suspect he would trounce Clinton or Trump if he ever stood for President! But I did miss some of his humorous stories from previous years. He seemed more serious this time and his passion for Coupa (which I’m sure is still there) came through a little less than it did in previous years. Perhaps that was the bigger room and audience, or he must have done a lot of presentations in recent weeks, which might have taken the edge away. But it felt a touch more “corporate” - inevitable perhaps when you're a billion-dollar public corporation?

Having said that, the Coupa story is pretty remarkable and continues to be a very strong one. The potential to develop further in areas such as user benchmarking, supply chain finance and into other specialist areas such as services procurement is still considerable. Coupa's ability to execute and engage with customers is second to none in the industry and suggests they will continue to be a fearsome competitor and a major player in coming years.

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