Tradeshift Goes To Davos – Genius or … Not?

Is it worth businesses going to the World Economic Summit in Davos?

One of my old friends, a senior communications exec, was there with her company, a leading financial services business (investments and fund management) and I enjoyed reading her postings from the event. Here is just a flavour of what she thought about her time there.

“If there is true value at Davos, it is the opportunity to encounter difference - nationality, background, ideas, culture, which is surely more important now than ever. On our table on Thursday we had a rural educator of girls in India, a Swiss engineer, a Russian oilman, a Belgian waste recycler and someone from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund - all of whom had a shared interest in history. At what other conference would you find that?”

In our procurement sector, tech firm Tradeshift attends and has its own “Sanctuary”, while founder Christian Lanng speaks and participates with top business, political and generally interesting folk. So during the event, I was reading about their experiences, and sent this Tweet.

“I really don't know if @tradeshift spending whatever they spend to "do" Davos is genius or madness. I'd genuinely love to see the post-event justification analysis. #Davos2018 #tradeshiftatdavos

Now while there was a bit of challenge in there, I meant it genuinely and in the spirit of inquiry. Tradeshift is the only firm in our technology space which “does Davos” as far as I know, and clearly the cost must be significant. So, is it a brilliant idea, giving them huge exposure at a level you just wouldn’t get frankly from eWorld, ProcureCon or even Procurement Leaders (no offence to all those good conference people)?  Or is it all a waste of money, in return for a bit of a high-powered jolly?  How does the business case stack up – I would genuinely love to see it and understand whether this is indeed a genius initiative.

Let’s face it, Lanng is a bit of a maverick in the industry, renowned for being outspoken and doing things differently, so he is quite used to defending his original ideas!  But I then heard that my Tweet had upset a top executive at Tradeshift (not Lanng), who felt I was having a go at the firm. I wasn’t, and he must be very thin-skinned, that’s all I will say.

What made that more ironic was I then discovered that Lanng himself wrote an article last year titled “Why I take my company to Davos”. In it, he gave an excellent analysis which answered my inquiry pretty well. You can read it here – he gives three reasons, and here is number three, “Real change”.

“I fervently believe in the World Economic Forum’s mission and capacity to enact real, global change. And the leaders who attend Davos tend not only to embrace Tradeshift’s vision; they also happen to be in unique positions to help us make a real difference toward creating positive change. We are committed to solving critical global challenges and are looking forward to developing both quick-win solutions and long-term partnerships that leverage technology—the kind that has the power to connect trading partners of every size all over the world. Even if you sometimes have to be a rebel to get your message through”.

In any case, Lanng and the firm must be doing something right. Last month Pitchbook announced that, “Business commerce platform Tradeshift is in the process of raising $200 million at a unicorn valuation .. (that’s a $ billion, by the way) Tradeshift CEO Christian Lanng declined to comment on the news. The San Francisco-based company raised a $75 million Series D in 2016 at a $600 million valuation. Backers in that round included American Express Ventures, Notion Capital, CreditEase Fintech Investment Fund and Pavilion Capital.”

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Voices (2)

  1. Christian Lanng:

    So you write a whole snarky piece about us, insinuating that we are upset about your previous coverage and don’t try to contact anyone at Tradeshift even though you have all our contact information, it’s just bad journalism… You have all my contact info Pete, why not talk to me?

    Also saas companies who have bet big on Davos and done very well Salesforce, Workday, SAP, Palantir, Google (which you would know if you had done 5 min of research).

    1. Peter Smith:

      Well, someone WAS upset about my Tweet, I wasn’t “insinuating”. That person was invited to contact me and hasn’t bothered. Frankly, I didn’t contact you because I don’t want to bother you on a less than life and death issue, you’re busy running a Unicorn for goodness sake. I thought quoting from your article was a nice way of answering my question around the value from Davos. I know it has worked for other firms, my original comment AND the article were both questioning the value from a perspective of “hey, if Tradeshift do this and it works, why don’t the other players in our market” as much as I was questioning your decision. If you weren’t all so sensitive then you might read it in that way! You should respond by saying exactly what you did in your article I quoted from – we do it because we’re different, because we play in the wider business world, not the narrow world of “procurement”, because we believe in collaboration and networking… I suggest you stop seeing insults where none exist and focus on the pride you should have around how you do things.

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