Revisiting Rearden (as Amex Procurement Plunges into Disarray)

Over the years on Spend Matters, I've written at least a few times about a vendor that I think has the chance to really break out from the crowd. And that's Rearden Commerce. For those who are not familiar with Rearden, the provider is focused on automating personal services procurement (e.g., travel, dining, etc.), simplifying rather than complicating a business user's life. I've always been a fan of what they've been up to and it's probably the closest any vendor has come to making procurement compliance fun -- or at least not a burden -- to actual business users. Recently, a Spend Matters reader posted a comment asking for an update to my previous opinion on the provider in question. Rather than just respond personally or in the comments section, I thought the question deserved a more thorough response.

To begin, if you believe the hype -- I still have a Flavor Flav remix from the 80s reminding me never to do so -- then Rearden is doing fine, thank you very much. But underneath this strong PR veneer is a company that underwent a massive transition since I originally wrote about them. Gone is the old enterprise sales and marketing team -- who had some real heavy hitters in it -- and in it a larger indirect B2B group to support the American Express and other channel relationships (Rearden still has some direct sales capacity from what I can gather as well, though it's not a primary focus).

The deal and investment marked a significant milestone for Rearden. And my sources tell me it's paid off about as best as could be expected under the circumstances -- which are outside of Rearden's control. If you're curious about what I am referring to, it's the reorganization going on inside of American Express's internal and external procurement solutions group which has set the organization back quite a bit from what I hear. Rion Needs, who previously ran American Express's procurement solutions, is out. And I'm not clear who is in (neither is anyone else, from what I can gather). This is a shame, as American Express has squandered countless opportunities over the years to own the Spend Management market.

From past deals with Marketmile/Ketera to the more recent Rearden investment and Harbor Payments, Amex has made serious attempts to break into the market, but they've always come up short on the execution side relative to what they could become. Rumor now is that the venerable financial services company is struggling to fully integrate Harbor into its suite of capabilities and the group is largely functioning independently -- or at least not in a collaborative, go-to-market manner -- with the rest of Amex. But I digress. When it comes to Rearden, Amex's private label Rearden marketplace is doing just fine within the SMB market, but I question whether or not there's been significant traction with larger companies on a scalable basis (Amex's problem, BTW, not Rearden's).

So in the end, what does this all mean for Rearden and where is this potential Blue-Ocean provider headed? Their PR firm fires announcements out to me, but was unresponsive to my request earlier this year to speak to some of their new executives (as all my old contacts have left). I suppose this post will change that, but I still believe that if Rearden plays their cards right, that they could change the face of how the majority of individuals purchase travel and related personal services categories inside companies across North America and beyond. But whether they become the metaphorical miracle metal of procurement now depends as much on their channels as it does on their technology and direct sales efforts.

- Jason Busch

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