Coupa Inspire EMEA 2019 London – Some thoughts

The Coupa EMEA roadshow rolled into London on Tuesday 5th November starting with a day dedicated to partners and existing customers. I arrived for the evening drinks session and enjoyed catching up with some familiar faces from the various consultancy partners who are regulars on the procurement technology events circuit.  It seems like we’ve seen a lot of each other in recent weeks with events like eWorld, Amazon’s ABX and SAP Ariba’s ValueX the week before this one.

The main event really got started on Wednesday and saw a big increase in numbers with around 1,500 delegates made up of Coupa employees, partners, customers, prospects and industry press.

First up in the morning was an excellent opening speech from CEO Rob Bernshteyn. He’s clearly comfortable on the big stage and his passion for the business is obvious to anyone.  A lot of people in the procurement technology sector talk about Coupa being acquired by a bigger organisation, and maybe one day they will, but in my opinion it’s hard to see him letting go of the reins any time soon. He talked about their 10 years of progress, “but this is only the beginning” and I think he’ll be in charge for a while yet. They seem bullish about their future, confident of strong financial performance and delivering further shareholder value, so are surely in no rush to sell.

The key takeaways from his session were:

  • The massive growth in spend through the Coupa platform in the last 12 months.
  • His vision for the Coupa community (see pics of some of his deck below) including collaboration using anonymised data across the customer base to provide outstanding spend analytics-driven insights.
  • Showcasing some great stories from pioneering Coupa customers – the “spend setters” as Coupa likes to call them.
  • Several examples of how the growing ecosystem of add on solutions (see the pic of sponsor/partners organisations below) are offering customers even greater value.

He also made a point of stressing that Coupa integrates with all the major ERP systems in the market, correcting what he clearly feels is a misconception.

He was followed on stage by the keynote speaker Rachel Botsman who gave a fascinating talk focusing on Trust.

Early in her presentation, Rachel asked the audience to chose to clap for one brand that you trust the most out of Uber, Facebook and Amazon.  No one clapped for Facebook and Amazon won despite decent support for Uber. She then made the point that we trust Amazon to get our shopping to us quickly, but do you trust them to pay their taxes? This opened up the subject of the context of trust. Next was the question “who do you trust the least out of Putin, Trump or Johnson”.  I found that very difficult to make a choice!

Rachel went on to talk about how she met the founders of Air BNB when they were still selling breakfast cereal to make ends meet as part of her research for a book. Unfortunately, she failed to convince her husband to invest in them, and appears to have mentioned it to him a few times since!!

Of course, she recognised that her husband raised the very valid point that people would be reluctant to trust strangers to rent rooms in their houses, but clearly she thought they had the recipe to overcome this risk and of course has since been proved right.

Her points around trust and its relationship to risk were fascinating and she did a great job of drawing some parallels with the world of spend management. In summary, her message was, if you want to get people to make changes, to move from the known to the unknown, you need to reduce the level of trust required to enable them to make them jump into a new way of doing things and to do that you have to reduce the perceived risk of doing so. Sounds obvious in principle and it’s hard to do it justice here, but it was a very enjoyable 45 minutes. I’d recommend that if you get the chance to see Rachel talk then take it.  Here’s her TED stuff.

After the break, there were the usual talks from consultants (KPMG & Accenture were first up) on their work with customers to adopt Coupa. I must admit I missed these as I’ve sat through several similar sessions in recent years. So I spent my time talking to various contacts from the partners, sponsors and delegates. As usual, it was fascinating for me to observe the dynamics of the exhibition hall, watching the incestuous world of the procurement consultants who all seemed to have worked with one another at some stage, usually at one of the big five.

The afternoon sessions gave customers and prospects the chance to attend sessions giving them in-depth details of various aspects of the Coupa platform and generally seemed well attended.

Unfortunately, I have other commitments on Thursday so can’t attend the final day but as I write this on the train back to Manchester I can reflect on a very enjoyable, informative 36 hours in London. It’s clear to me that Coupa are continually striving for excellence as evidenced by a commitment to a $55m investment in R&D next year. With the likes of SAP Ariba, Ivalua and Jaggaer all intent on achieving their own ambitious growth plans, the procurement profession is surely set to benefit from the competition which is driving innovation, better adoption and providing some great career opportunities for people in  the sector.

Surely it’s time for procurement to embrace the opportunities presented by all this great tech, develop its people with digital skills and start to deliver the next level of value to their stakeholders.

Here are a few more slides from the day.