People in business throw the word “revolution” around haphazardly as a marketing term. It’s easy to say “This product is revolutionary” or “our service is revolutionary,” as part of a marketing campaign. In order for innovation to be truly revolutionary, it must bring about comprehensive change to the way people do something, and a better reality must be realized after the change is implemented.
Apple led such a revolution when they took on the music and content industry at the turn of the century. Although they weren’t the first MP3 player manufacturer, and iTunes wasn’t the first online platform for purchasing and listening to media. They certainly led a revolutionary shift in how people consumed media, creating an eco-system and solving multiple problems all at once. Long gone were the trips to the local record or video store to buy your favorite new album or rent that new movie. You also no longer needed to use different devices to access different types of media. You could watch one episode of a favorite TV show on your iPhone, rent a movie on your computer, listen to a book on your tablet or enjoy that power jam on your tiny iPod Shuffle while you exercise. No more worrying about the scratched CD or DVD because the kids got to it; and no more worrying about buying all of Season 5 of Seinfeld to watch the “Opposite” episode. You could consume media when you want it, where you want it, and how you want it.
Just when they finished upending the media industry, Apple turned their focus to revolutionizing the phone, a device that dated 100+ years back. Who doesn’t remember Steve Jobs’ legendary product launch in 2007, and his words “An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator” introducing the iPhone and what would become the standard by which phones and even modern-day computing devices would be measured. But Apple didn’t stop there. Sure, the iPhone was incredibly slick, but it wasn’t the first smart phone or only device on the market that sported a great UI. It was the Apple App Store that came with the iPhone, and later the iPad and even the Mac, that changed how people interacted with software and computing devices, and gave rise to a true software revolution. You can now be a kid in Slovakia or Chile, learn the Apple software development kit, come up with a fun or productive application that becomes an overnight hit. The ‘iRevolution’ has truly changed how we do things.
Enter Tesla in 2003, with serial entrepreneur and engineering juggernaut Elon Musk at the helm, to turn the auto industry upside down on its head, similar to how his previous venture, PayPal, upset the online financial payment system. This guy moonlights as a rocket scientist, as SpaceX’ CEO, with a dream of colonizing Mars; he seems to know what he’s saying when he uses “revolution” in his vernacular. When you think about it, people don’t talk about how many things Tesla has revolutionized in the whole auto industry. Building an electric car is just one piece, and an important one at that. After all, no other car manufacturer in the world, old or new, has managed to build an electric car with the range, acceleration, and full-featured functionality that Tesla’s Model S and its cross-over brother, the Model X, boast (the soon-to-be released and far less expensive youngest brother, the Model 3, is supposed to bring such allure once only available to those who could afford it, to the masses – 400,000 people have already put a deposit down to get it). That’s only where the revolution begins. Musk and company have approached everything with a new set of lenses, starting with the user experience.
Similarly to how you buy songs or movies online, you can design and buy your car from the comfort of your couch. You don’t have to deal with a cheesy car sales person or waste a Sunday afternoon waiting for the elusive ‘sales manager’ to negotiate a good deal. If you want to deal with a live person, the staff in the showroom are not paid on commission and the price is set, so you don’t have to worry about someone selling you a bill of goods. Simple. Once you get the car, for some of us geeks, getting software updates to get a bunch of new features or fix a problem seems like such a no-brainer. It happens daily on our iDevices and Androids. No one else in the auto industry does that. Who needs a massive recall to fix a problem when a solution could be pushed to the car computer overnight? Having a fully Internet-connected car makes so much sense. Having an app on your phone to completely control your car, even move it, is not just a cool feature; they’ve taken auto-parking to a whole new level; you don’t even have to be sitting in the damn car – no more trying to squeeze out of the door when you park in a tight spot or forgetting where you parked your car. Heck, you don’t even have to worry about losing your key; you can just use the app to do practically everything. And now Musk is making self-driving cars a reality, with a plan to fully automate the driving experience by the end of the decade. People tend to forget Tesla’s growing web of charging stations that’s starting to canvass the globe; soon, this network will become available to other auto manufacturers to leverage. Tesla is also trying to transcend being just a car company, getting into manufacturing battery systems to power households and ultimately upset another traditional model and industry.
It must have been so much fun to sit in a room with Jobs or Musk and their respective teams to ask: “What do you dislike about this experience, and how can we completely change it?”
This year, our company vCom, is celebrating our 15th anniversary. Oftentimes, those are the types of conversations we have had and questions we have tried to answer. We’ve been chipping away at how businesses buy, consume and manage telecommunications and technology services for a decade and a half.
We started off with the end-user experience. The service providers had built great networks but historically provided terrible service and error-laden bills. Every person we met, from C-level executives to IT managers, hated dealing with the telecom carriers. How often do you run across a service that’s universal and a problem that’s so ubiquitous and transcends industries? So we started by focusing on providing customers a mind-blowing customer service experience that has earned 95%+ customer sat year after year. Research estimated that 35% of telecom and related technology invoices had errors including, wrong charges charges for disconnected services, or charges for services that were never ordered. Not to mention that even for most experienced IT or Accounting professionals, carrier invoices seem like they are written in foreign languages. So we built a model where we could consolidate the billing of any carrier, any service and any location, replacing tens and sometimes hundreds of invoices with a single easy-to-read invoice, accessible via a simple yet powerful web portal designed with the user experience in mind. To top it off, we made the platform available on any browser and mobile device. Companies could manage their orders, tickets, invoices, inventory, across any provider, location or service, from the beach! We were fanatic about invoice accuracy, and automated any mundane task. We leveraged the buying power of all of our customers. Our experienced people negotiated better terms and pricing for our customers, and we armed them with tools to manage the service providers more efficiently. Last, we tackled the buying experience of technology. Think of it as doing to telecom and technology purchasing what Expedia and Travelocity did for the travel industry. Users no longer have to call an agent, a carrier or a service provider to shop for technology services, compare products or even read reviews. You can do that from the comfort of your couch or even from the beach – when you want it, where you want it, and how you want it. And when you’re ready, you press “order” and off you go.
Some of our managed services were offered by other Procure-to-Pay management firms who focused on Fortune 500 companies and charged tens of thousands of dollars per month for their software and professional services. We believed that any company should benefit from having more visibility and control, and have the ability to focus on their core business, while trusting that someone was watching their backs when it came to technology spend. So we took the traditional expense management model and turned it upside down on its head by subsidizing the software cost and giving access to our experts for free (don’t worry, unlike many a company who gives away services or software for free in order to gain market share, all the while burning through cash but counting on someday being acquired or going public; we’ve been profitable for the past 12 years). We then took what worked for the telecom space and applied it to mobile, collaboration and cloud spend management. This gave rise to our lifecycle management platform: One comprehensive platform for managing different categories of spend that businesses use (think Internet of Things, IT Assets, and down the road, energy, shipping, and many other logistics and categories of spend).
A fellow Senior Executive recently asked us: “Isn’t it about time you make some noise?” I agree that it’s time that the secret comes out, and we start to spread the word about our quiet revolution. Maybe we won’t be as big as Apple or have 400,000 ‘subscribers’ in 2-weeks’ time like Tesla. But we will save many a company from an archaic way of doing business, enabling them to focus on what they do best – their core competency. It’s a revolution against the status quo.
-Written by Sameer Hilal, Chief Operating Officer