Verticalnet: Balancing Product and Financials …

This post is not an invitation for the usual Verticalnet-bashing community to chime in with their usual rants (please keep any comments civil and constructive on the subject). Rather, I'd like to take a quick minute to share with you a few of my thoughts regarding Verticalnet and their position in the market of late. As some of you may have already seen, Verticalnet announced a number of new product enhancements recently. From providing a new learning management system -- essentially, another way of spinning training, knowledge management, and process templates -- to building out their sourcing and supplier performance management capability, Verticalnet is not sitting still in the Spend Management technology race. This point should not be lost on current customers or those evaluating Verticalnet today.

But at the same time, despite my enthusiasm for their technology investment, I do have concerns over the company's financial position. More important, a number of customers I've had contact with in the past couple of months feel the same way (and have in fact approached me with their concerns). At least some are beginning to search for alternative providers in case Verticalnet ends up being ignored as part of someone else's giant application suite (or worse).

Since I am not a financial analyst, I will leave the specific quant analysis of VERT to others. However, in my opinion, it's my gut opinion that Verticalnet will suffer without Gene Goddick as CFO (he left last year). Gene, a former Arthur Andersen executive and a well respected accountant within the Big 5 world, stuck around Verticalnet for years, despite having the credentials and experience to serve in a similar capacity for a much larger organization.

The rather complex financing vehicles that Verticalnet was able to pull off over the past couple of years were certainly in large part the result of Gene's financial acumen. Without his ability to engineer creative financing approaches, I wonder what remaining cash-infusing options will be left, especially considering the much rumored CDC acquisition apparently fell through late last year. Now, Verticalnet will most likely have to fight it out on their own in the market. That is, unless someone like Infor decides to pick up the acquisition phone (which would be a smart move, in my book). But above all, with customers worried about their vendor's future, the clock is ticking for Verticalnet, despite their solution enhancements. It's a situation which simply can't last if their customers begin to look elsewhere out of concern over their provider's viability.

Jason Busch

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