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Procurement Influencer Series: Rob Bernshteyn of Coupa Part I

Publisher’s Note: The Ardent Partners family has grown by one with birth Jackson Robert York born yesterday to CPO Rising’s tireless editor, Matt York, and his wife Renee. All three are well (and sleeping we hope). Please joining us in welcoming Jackson and congratulating his parents!

Last month, I sat down with Rob Bernshteyn, President and CEO of Coupa, the California-based provider of spend management solutions for the cloud, for a wide-ranging discussion spanning his career, tenure at Coupa, and, most importantly, his new book, Value as a Service: Embracing the Coming Disruption. In his book and our conversation, Rob offers a fresh perspective on the state of B2B technology solutions and highlights the new model where solution providers become strategic partners with their customers and work jointly to define, and ultimately, deliver greater value.

Getting Inspired Early

Rob began his career in enterprise software more than 20 years ago, interning for Anderson Consulting in the summer between his junior and senior year of college. It was a very formative experience for him, so much so that after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, Rob returned to Anderson (now Accenture), where for almost five years, he implemented SAP programs as a programmer, project manager, and systems integration consultant.

During this time, Rob realized that enterprise software companies, their customers, and the consulting teams tasked with implementing the software were misaligned with each other. The customers would pay significant sums of money to the systems implementation team but not necessarily realize the value inherent in the software. For many clients, it was a wholly-inefficient process, and Rob believed that there was a significant opportunity to improve it. With that in mind, Rob enrolled at Harvard Business School in pursuit of his MBA, and a better B2B software solution model for enterprises.

Developing a Vision

After earning his MBA, Rob moved to Silicon Valley, landing at Siebel (later acquired by Oracle) where he served as Director of Product Management for several years and drove the company’s Employee Relationship Management solution suite. But a different locale and a different company, nevertheless, brought back the same misalignment he encountered while at Accenture: customers were paying too much and receiving too little value in return. It was then that Rob began to wonder if companies could change the implementation model where customers would pay as they go, which could incentivize software companies and possibly even consulting and implementation teams.

Rob left Siebel to join SuccessFactors as its Vice President of Global Product Marketing and Management, where he, among other things, helped to take it public and expanded his expertise in B2B software. But, after nearly 15 years working in enterprise software spanning sales, operations, and human capital management, Rob considered other horizontal areas within a typical enterprise that may also experience value misalignment, and how he might help to deliver quantifiable value to them. He set his sights on procurement and supply management, where the value that practitioners deliver for customers could be the most quantifiable in terms of compliance and savings.

So, Rob left SuccessFactors in February 2009 to become the President and Chief Executive Officer at Coupa, and the timing was impeccable – the US economy was in the midst of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. They often say that the way to know a business has legs is if it was started in really tough times. Under his leadership, Rob has taken the company from a staff of 19 to roughly 800 people at the time of print.

Coupa: a “Value-as-a-Service” Company

Since taking the helm at Coupa more than seven years ago, Rob has also had a chance to realize his vision of aligning solution providers and their customers around the notion of shared value, and also quantified value. And today, deploying technology solutions is so much more than buying the cheapest software, going live, and trying to drive high adoption. It is about driving quantifiable value, and delivering it in a new way, what Rob calls “Value as a Service.”

According to Rob, the idea of “Value-as-a-Service,” or VaaS, originated out of frustration that enterprise customers have with getting inadequate ROIs on their technology investments. According to Rob, companies rarely see the full return on investment (“ROI”) or even bother to check once they have launched the software. Many more are simply unhappy or unsatisfied with the value that they receive, or fail to receive, from their solution providers. They are looking for solution providers to not only provide more and more consistent value, but also value that is quantifiable. This is the major theme of Rob’s book and the focus of Part 2 of our discussion which we will publish next week.

In the meantime, Rob’s book, Value as a Service: Embracing the Coming Disruption, is available for purchase here.


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Procurement Influencer Series: Richard Waugh of Zycus

Chris Shanahan: A Profile of a Transformative Procurement Leader – Part I


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