In this episode of the Sourcing Industry Landscape, Dawn Tiura interviews Rob Bernshteyn. Rob Bernshteyn is the Chief Executive Officer of Coupa Software, a cloud platform for business spend management. After moving to the U.S. at a young age, what began as an interest in sports memorabilia turned into a profitable venture during middle school and high school to help fund his college education.
Dawn Tiura: This is Dawn Tiura from SIG, and I'm excited today to spend a little bit of time with Sean Delaney. Sean is the Vice President of sales at Determine. Now, a lot of you don't know who Determine is, and shame on you, because it's an amazing company with amazing leadership. So, Sean, I wanna welcome you to the podcast series.
Sean Delaney: Thanks, Dawn.
Dawn Tiura: So, I'm glad to have you here today but you know, you have one of the most amazing backgrounds and you also left one of the sexiest areas of buying activity, in retail. And, so, let's take a minute and let's go back in time, so, one of your first jobs—so, you studied business and design, is that correct?
Sean Delaney: Yes, well…I did, yes.
Dawn Tiura: So, business and design, and then you went to work for Marks and Spencer and you were a buyer of fashion. I mean, that's what everybody dreams of when they say I want to go into buying. So, can you tell us a little bit about those days?
Sean Delaney: It was amazing, actually, for a young, single guy living in London, flying around the world, selecting garments—girls wear, for example, which is even more interesting. It was great, it was great. It was one of—I learnt so much, a great company, some of the models and some of the things I learnt there I still use today. It's just a wonderful company, wonderful experience, but I just got to a point where I needed something different after about eight years of that.
Dawn Tiura: So, going to Paris to buy fashion and going someplace else to buy swimwear, that just get old after a while?
Sean Delaney: Now I'm feeling bad. Maybe I made the wrong decision.
Dawn Tiura: No, but then after that you left and started your own catalog company, is that correct?
Sean Delaney: I did, I got into catalog management back in ’99/2000 so, I didn't know if catalog management at that point but it was really the first kind of embryonic stages of Downstream Procurement as we know it now, and that was my first website. And then I moved into Upstream and I created a reverse auction website and, and that's where it—the rest is history after that point. Met the guys from IASTA at the time and then we grew the business from, you know, until it was acquired by Selectica some years later.
Dawn Tiura: So, you started your own catalog company, then you went into reverse auction, then you joined forces with IASTA. You'd led the entire European division at one point, is that correct? You were the managing director?
Sean Delaney: That's right, I was the responsible for growth in Europe which, in those days, we didn't have any clients, so it was literally ground zero. And we grew it to, we got a number of customers in the UK and Ireland, Northern Europe, Middle East, Australia, Singapore, we started growing and, some great years with my friends and colleagues at the time, Dave Bush, Jason Trider and Todd Apple, we did some great things.
Dawn Tiura: Wow, so, what brought you to the United States because from your accent, obviously, you were that young lad in London, originally when you were with Marks and Spencer. So now you're in Indianapolis, is that correct?
Sean Delaney: Yeah, and that's kind of another transformation going from London to Indianapolis. I was traveling back and forth working at IASTA, and it just became so much work, and we had so many things to do so I decided to take the plunge and move over. I've been on a visa ever since, and last week just got my green card, so I'm gonna be here for a bit longer.
Dawn Tiura: Oh, that's awesome. So, you came over as a young single man or with a family or, tell me about that?
Sean Delaney: I came over with the family. Three children, now 14, 13 and 10, and it's been a great experience, a real good experience.
Dawn Tiura: That's wonderful, and how long have you been here in the United States?
Sean Delaney: Since, July ‘14.
Dawn Tiura: July 14, okay, so going on four years for you?
Sean Delaney: Almost, yes.
Dawn Tiura: Okay, so let's talk a little bit about that because…so then, IASTA was Selectica, then Selectica became Determine. So is this three different companies coming together, or is it just the metamorphosis of IASTA into Determine?
Sean Delaney: It's actually three companies, so it's IASTA for Upstream, Selectica for Contract Management and BPAC for Downstream so, the P2P piece. So, pulling all those three companies together has been a real, real interesting journey and, I've learnt a lot in the process about change management and I've learnt a lot about living in the U.S. doing that, doing it globally. I've learnt a lot about communication, the importance of it. And it's been a real rollercoaster and, you know, I'm glad where we are now, for all this hard work we're starting to really come out as one company after all those changes. But, you need a lot of tenacity to do that which I'm lucky that's one of my strengths is tenacity.
Dawn Tiura: Tenacity.
Sean Delaney: It makes up for my lack of intelligence.
Dawn Tiura: But you also shared a story one time with me about your now 14-year-old son and you said, "nothing's hard compared to what he's had to deal with his life." Do you mind sharing a personal moment with us, just as a sort of a point of comparison?
Sean Delaney: Yeah, that's Sean my eldest born [inaudible] and a half weeks and he has hydrocephalus which is, for those who don't know, it's fluid on the brain so it's a bit like—it's related to cerebral palsy and he's had his challenges but he's a very tenacious kid and the difficulties that he's had in life I've learnt and as a family we've become richer because of it, I mean, it's just been an amazing...he's an amazing kid and he's in normal school he's hanging on in there he's doing a really good job but there's nothing like a child, having a child, special child like that in the family. It does change the dynamic and it's extremely rewarding. It's tough but extremely rewarding. So, things like this are just a mere blip by comparison.
Dawn Tiura: But that's a beautiful way to look at it, because so many people would get wrapped up in the fact that you're bringing together three companies, three cultures, trying to make a commonality. I mean, you look at, you know, what your son has overcome, this is nothing. This is just people and process and change management and communication. It's not fighting every day physically, mentally, you know, to become more capable. This is just what we should be able to do as an organization so, obviously he got your tenacity, hopefully he has the intellect as well, plus a little more from what you're saying.
Dawn Tiura: So, tell me, then, you're bringing together three different companies, is it stronger as a result of one plus two equals three, or were they strong individually or are you stronger? Does it equal more than just the sum of one plus one plus one equals three?
Sean Delaney: I think the three companies are extremely strong in their own rights, and I think that's a benefit. I think what we've kind of...over the last couple of years paused a little bit as we pull all those strengths into one integrated platform. We've actually done the hardest thing is actually put it all onto one platform. It would've been easier to string them together and create some kind of flying junkyard, but we didn't. We did the hard thing and it's starting to pay off and there are bits that are stronger than others, but that won't last forever. We're building it out every—we spend a lot of money on building out the platform.
Sean Delaney: But the interesting thing is, in all of this, is: does one plus one equals three? It does, but customers are still buying applications to solve business problems. They're not necessarily buying platforms and so there is this transition that we're going through that we've gotta be world class on our applications. That just happens to be on a platform. The platform conversation tends to be secondary as a consideration in the buying process, so that's what I'm seeing at the moment.
Dawn Tiura: So, to put it so that I understand you correctly, having a common platform with three applications is not as strong as having the best applications, luckily, on a common platform?
Sean Delaney: Correct, yes.
Dawn Tiura: Well, that's actually a really good perspective because I do hear from members and they say when someone tries to be everything to everyone they only get it right on some parts and they assume that we're going to be happy when some of the parts are not as strong as others so—what you're saying is that's not acceptable. All of the applications have to be as strong and best in class as one another.
Sean Delaney: Yes, yes. I think people are smart enough in the buying process now to realize, and they are making decisions based on getting best in class by application, and they're quite happy to have different applications. I'm seeing that more and more, so that's the challenge for other providers, but I think it's the way we're going without product so I'm happy for it to go in that direction.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah, that's the direction and, like you said, if that's the direction that people are going to buy then you might as well produce a platform that has three world class applications on it, that they will buy.
Dawn Tiura: And, I've never heard the flying junkyard before so I might have to quote you at some point. That created a great visual for me so thank you for that brief moment of levity there. So, talk to me, you were leading global sales in the UK or in Europe, and now you're leading global sales out of North America. Can you compare and contrast what it's like? Because, I know, just when we take SIG around the world, that it's a very different atmosphere. But can you tell me how it's different from a sales perspective and from a customer perspective?
Sean Delaney: Yeah, it's been interesting trying to figure this one out because, I mean, I understand the UK and Northern Europe and Middle East and places like Australia, but they've all got different requirements. I've learnt a lot more about France being with the BPAC team, now part of Determine, and obviously living in the U.S. There are different needs by country, there is—obviously the US, the UK are very similar in some ways—but then you go to Southern Europe, they've got quite different needs. What triggers their buying habits is different than what triggers the buying habits in the UK.
Sean Delaney: You know, things like risk are really important, managing risks are really important in the US, not quite as strong in the UK. Making savings is a really important...hard dollar savings in the UK is a big deal. And then you start going into some of the Nordics, and process and risks become a big deal ,because the cost of labor in places like Sweden and in some of the Nordic countries is higher—similar in France as well—so process management becomes a big deal. And that's when actually, the platform becomes a bigger, bigger benefit. I've been able to make decisions across an organization, by application is really important in France. So, these are quite complexed. Yet, they still need to solve business problems, so it's different. Risk in the U.S.; it's process in France and Southern Europe; it's risk and savings in the UK, and it's risk and process in places like the Nordics.
Dawn Tiura: So, risk leads in the U.S.—this is my naivety. Is it because savings has been out there as the buzzword for the last 20 years, and therefore the savings have already—the low hanging fruit has already been garnered? Or is it because the U.S. has been so heavily regulated?
Sean Delaney: I think it's both of those, in fact. I mean there's a lot of regulation in the U.S., but there is everywhere. But I think there's more of an awareness of the impact of not managing risk here, which has not necessary got the same high attention inside the UK.
Dawn Tiura: Interesting. So, any commonalities coming from the retail buying and the world of fashion to the world that you're in now? And obviously you're on the other side, you're a provider, you're not the buy side any longer. Any commonalities, anything you've learnt from your years of retail?
Sean Delaney: Yeah, I think there's definitely some commonalities. One of the things—first things I learnt in retail is ‘less is more’, and I see that day in day out in the renders landscape all the time. Sometimes we try and, you said it earlier on, we try and do too many things at once, and sometimes when we just concentrate on less we can do a lot better. That's what customers want to see. I have a good understanding what customers want; having been a buyer, you get to understand the logic behind what they're asking, and I tend to be able to figure that out fairly quickly. Often customers are articulating a problem and they're not seeing the root cause of the problem, whereas I kind of—can understand it better and solve it better. And I think I'm very…in terms of the sales cycle, talking to customers or try to be empathetic but also demonstrate a good, how should I say it, candor, that's it, sorry, I lost the word there. Candor is really important with customers, I feel, and if we can't fix all these needs, then we need...what's really important from our perspective as vendors to be able to say that.
Dawn Tiura: When you're a buyer, does the reason that you appreciate when you think that candor needs to be in the conversation...is that because when you're a buyer you needed the candor to make a buying decision, and then now you appreciate more from the sell side?
Sean Delaney: Yes, correct. I think candor's really important, because there's a large degree of personal credibility that buyers are putting on the line when they're selecting a vendor, and so that needs to be understood as a seller, and we need to make sure that we don't break that trust. So, that's our role, we need to make sure that we're realistic with our abilities and make sure we communicate that to customers.
Sean Delaney: But I really do think that there's one area that's totally underdone right now, particularly in the U.S., I'm seeing is performance management, supply performance management. I think what we've done is we've taken out costs, and we're going to go probably for a period of inflationary—inflationary period, now—and we need to start thinking about performance management. A lot of conferences I go to it’s only touched on, but it's such a fascinating area which's got loads of growth, and there's loads of ways we can improve supply performance which actually impacts our bottom line, and also protects us from the risks in the supply chain as well.
Dawn Tiura: And I tell you, that's one of our huge focuses, third-party risk management. If you're not managing from a risk perspective, but you're missing so many opportunities. But also, it gives you an opportunity to collaborate, to get closer to your providers and your suppliers, and the ability to drive change through that closeness. But when you mention candor, and you started back in the early days, with reverse auctions and the catalog days. Back then, the vendors would tell you "Yes" to anything you ask them. "Can you do this?", "Yes."; "Can you fly to the moon?", "Yes."; "Can I take 15 passengers?", "Yes." The answer was yes, and then they would go back to their offices and try and say "Now you need to engineer it, I just sold it." So, I do think the way you express the candor now, I think it is so necessary because so many people burn bridges in the early 2000s by over-promising an under-delivering. So, I think that trust is so important today that when a buy side person asks a sell side person,"Can you do it?", and you say "Yes," you actually mean it. And you mean it because it's already there. And I think that's a big differentiator between some providers out there in the marketplace versus others, wouldn't you agree?
Sean Delaney: I totally agree, because I've been in those shoes, and I know exactly what it's like when you're over-promised things. In retail, it was critical because I was expecting products to be on the floor for a certain product launch, and it wasn't available in all the stores because the vendor over-promised on deliveries. So, these things are that your personal credibility is on the line. And I get that, I totally get that.
Dawn Tiura: Yes. So, global trends...so obviously SIG has started off in North America, but we have become a global association. So we see certain trends, but what would you say are the trends that you're seeing in sourcing procurement?
Sean Delaney: I'm seeing, I mentioned earlier on, I'm seeing a lot more interest—it's kind of fledging in interest in supply performance management. I think people are recognizing that it's a need, but not necessarily embracing it just yet or just seen the value in it. In that area, what's really important is to align the goals of suppliers with the goals of the business. I don't see a lot of that at the moment, so what we'll end up doing in this...inside of the organization, we knew we would reward people for the wrong behavior, or behavior that's contrary to the corporate goals, you're not going to gel the team together. And I think I see a lot of that—the supplier communication from buyer to supplier is sending out mixed messages. So, I think supplier performance management’s got some way to go. I'm really interested in what's happening with AI, artificial intelligence. I think artificial intelligence is going to be fascinating in spend analysis. I don't know if it's going to be...at this point if it's commercially viable, to weave into spend analysis problems that I see all the time in client bases, so AI I think has got a good five, six, maybe even ten years of growth in spend.
Dawn Tiura: I agree.
Sean Delaney: And obviously that plays into risk as well, pulling all these data, all these data points together in one place is going to be huge in supply change, I think. Blockchain on payments, on the downstream side, I don't know where that's going to...I know that I'm not an expert in that area, but I know there's growth. I'm listening to lots of chat around this area, I think that's going to be fascinating as well. It may end up reducing costs, transaction costs. I don't know yet, but I'm certainly seeing that. And then finally, I see more in the needs, in fact. I see supply change is going to be impacted by self-driving vehicles, some of the things that Amazon are doing on trying deliveries, that's going to just completely turn logistics upside down. And so, all these things are going to impact procurement in different ways.
Dawn Tiura: I agree. Hey Sean, do you golf by any chance?
Sean Delaney: Badly, yes.
Dawn Tiura: Well, you should've golfed with us at our last summit because just to prove the point, we had drone delivery of six packs of beer on the golf course to the golfers.
Sean Delaney: Yeah, I like that idea.
Dawn Tiura: Just trying to show people that it's here, it's now, it's technology, granted you don't necessarily need your beer delivered that's way, but it is changing the transportation. The 3D printing is changing the way that some things might get delivered, so I'm glad that you're recognizing the same things that we are at SIG—that technology is changing so dramatically, and that you sound so upbeat about it, not beaten down, and that's the exciting part. We have so much change coming at us and as long as we embrace it, and think ‘what if’ rather than oh no, what else can we do with it, and what if we can do this with it? The world of possibilities is really exciting to me these days.
Sean Delaney: I totally agree. I think supply chain is a fascinating area, I've been in it now since '97, something like that? So, I love it. I love it and I kind of still get excited by the fact that when someone asks me what I do, and I tell them and they glaze over, I then realize that there's still a future for me too!
Dawn Tiura: I agree. It's not the best cocktail conversation because I get all excited, and like "oh my gosh, I'm in sourcing, and it's so exciting", and they go "uh I need to go refill my drink," and they leave me. So I get that. But anytime you want to talk about and get excited, you can pick up the phone and call me, because I'd love to talk about it with you, anytime, any day.
Sean Delaney: Great, thanks.
Dawn Tiura: So, I just want to thank you. So right now, folks, I am wrapping up with Sean Delaney, Vice President of sales at Determine. And if you don't know Determine, you need to get to know Determine; it's a great company, it's the combination of IASTA, Selectica into a company called Determine; three world class applications on a common platform. And Sean, as you can tell by his accent, is a London transplant who put himself right in the middle of Midwest in Indianapolis. So, at the next upcoming summit, or at one of our get-togethers, please reach out, look for Sean, look for his team and Sean, thank you for a delightful time on the podcast series.
Sean Delaney: Thanks for inviting me. I've loved it, thanks Dawn.
Dawn Tiura: I've enjoyed it. So folks, I look forward to hearing you and having you join us on our upcoming podcast series, and if you'd like to nominate anyone to be on it, please reach out and let me know. But with that, I'm going to wrap this up. This is Dawn Tiura from Sourcing Industry Group, or SIG, and I look forward to just hearing you and seeing you at an upcoming event. Take care, bye-bye.