Iasta Morphs and Grows (Part 1)

While I'm not an old man just yet -- even though some might say that I have my curmudgeonly tendencies, not to mention liking to get to bed hours before Letterman comes on -- I have been around the provider side of the Spend Management world long enough to see dozens of vendors move from writing their initial business plans into their formative years and later into additional stages of maturation. Such is the case with what used to be a small provider I always enjoyed talking to and catching up with, Iasta. I've known the founders of Iasta since before they knew me. When I was at FreeMarkets, Iasta initially set out to copy our full-service sourcing model (and they did succeed in undercutting us on price and winning deals from time to time, as various salespeople reminded me when asking: "Who the heck are these guys from Indianapolis.")

Back in those years Iasta's three founders were heck-bent -- that's Bible Belt / Indy speak for hell-bent -- on creating a viable business model. And while they weren't sourcing guys, they knew a good business model when they saw it. As I got to know Iasta's three founders and became friends with David Bush at the time, it became clear that the Iasta business model was evolving from one of full-service capabilities into a self-service sourcing platform (along the lines of Procuri, Bay Builder and others). Early on in this migration, Iasta competed primarily on price, but as its features and capabilities grew, they started to win deals on more than just their willingness to undercut FreeMarkets, Ariba, Emptoris, Procuri and others. In fact today, they're often among the pricier options in certain deals. But they continue to win more than their fair share of deals in the areas in which they compete (primarily e-sourcing, spend analysis and optimization).

Last week, I had the chance to catch up with Iasta at their reSource event roadshow, as it swung through Chicago. In a series of posts this week and next, I'll dig into how Iasta continues to morph as it grows at one of the fastest rates in the overall market. In this first post today, I'll tackle some of the basics regarding their history and growth, sticking to the facts and figures. But perhaps most important, as a first question to tackle, is how did three guys from Indy create a thriving business in the Spend Management world without outside investment and with little or no initial knowledge of how the sector worked?

They listened to customers, that's how. And this remains a strategy they continue to employ to this day. In fact, starting out in 2000 through 2002, they followed their customer's requests to focus on fully managed auctions. Then in 2003-2006, they rode the SaaS e-sourcing wave. And more recently, they've grown through both customer and solution diversification, in addition to pushing a core sourcing platform that continues to garner accolades from users.

Today, Iasta has approximately 100 customers using their applications. Most of these are typically Global 1000 companies. They also have 50 services clients today (with a strong overlap between the two areas). These numbers not only represent what's been a strong level of customer acquisition in recent years, but also strong revenue growth overall (which is a signal that e-sourcing and related markets aren't seeing the type of pricing pressure that many initially hypothesized they would).

In fact, Iasta has realized a trailing three-year growth rate of 256%. This includes 77% growth in 2008. In Q2 alone, they saw 121% growth between the 2008 and 2009. And they've signed 32 new clients year to date. Moreover, 27% of the recent quarterly growth has come from software license sales (which represent what over 90% of the time amounts to a perpetual annuity).

Compare these numbers with Iasta's competitors and you'll quickly realize this is a company that is on the move. Moreover, the growth is all the more impressive if you consider they've done it without any outside cash infusions. Iasta remains 100% owned by the management team. They've also not yet hit a commercial inflection point, needing to bring in a truly heavy hitter in the sales area. So in other words, not only is all of this growth truly organic and real, it's evolved without the typical investments in sales, marketing and other areas that often require millions of dollars in a Series B financing round.

Stay tuned for the rest of this series looking at Iasta's growth. Next-up: a quick-hit investigation of Iasta's platform and related sourcing services.

Jason Busch

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