Part 3: Reflections on Spend Management's Decade

In a couple of hours, Ariba will ring the NASDAQ opening bell. Given the occasion, I thought I would take a few minutes to give a personal history of how the start of the Spend Management era also led to the ringing of a different type of bell. As I recall, it was sometime in the fall of 1999 during a Net Market Makers conference in Berkeley that a perfect match was made. But the back-drop was anything but romantic. The scene was bubbling with energy, excitement, and arrogance. It seemed that anyone with a business plan, a bit of tech savvy and modest industry credentials could convince a venture fund to shell out millions to fund a new marketplace concept.

Wherever one went, it seemed impossible to escape the same elevator pitch in the halls that argued the same "up and to the right growth" and market size potential of just about any opportunity. Want to start a procurement exchange to trade boxes? Funded. Got an idea to aggregate buying power in an industry which you know little about? Funded. Want to be the Nth provider with an eProcurement system for stopping maverick purchases? Funded. Want to tackle tough Spend Management opportunities that require significant business process knowledge, category expertise, and domain knowledge? Well, that did not exactly role off the tongue. But heck, you could have probably have convinced someone to at least hear your story.

Beyond the funding of a thousand and one superficial or copycat business ideas that would ultimately fizzle out as fast as you can say Intellysis (or was that Metiom) laid a sustainable plan hatched on the fly. At the gala party sponsored by Verticalnet -- a million-dollar affair with multiple bands, bars, and entertainment aboard an aircraft carrier -- a sufficiently liquored-up young man decided to close in for the kill on his prey, an opinionated New Yorker, or so he thought from the accent, who seemed to know even more about the marketplace phenomena than he did (both were considered the market domain experts in their companies). As the conversation began, it turned that she had been offered a job at FreeMarkets -- his current employer -- but turned it down earlier in the year because she did not want to leave her Chicago-based consulting firm to move to Pittsburgh (ironic, considering he had left his Boston-based firm, to do just that).

The dialogue continued for the next hour. And it even started anew the next morning when the two agreed to meet at the original Pete's Coffee to pick up where they left off. The "business" discussion -- or so she thought -- then continued in various cities throughout the country as the two somehow managed to be in the same place at the same time (travel budgets had a great deal of flexibility back then). They even helped create a partnership between their two employers (see, the travel was justified). But eventually, he got a real date -- his intention all along -- and the rest as they say, is history.

Jason Busch

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