A couple of weeks ago, one of my top ten picks for a website all enterprise software folks should follow, PE Hub Wire, introduced me to another relatively new company that sounds fascinating, Exactbid.  This part of the blurb caught my attention (my emphasis added):

Tech-focused private equity firm Spectrum Equity is acquiring control of ExactBid, a private company that makes software for the commercial real estate sector, according to sources close to the matter.  More than 30 percent of U.S. commercial real estate appraisals are done through software owned by ExactBid called RIMS, which counts hundreds of banks as paying customers, according to its website.

Thirty percent of US commercial real estate appraisals is no small potatoes.  So I went to study the Exactbid site and that is when the Deja Vu started.

Exactbid’s flagship product, RIMS, is a workflow, RFP, and vendor management tool for banks and appraisal management companies.  RIMS helps these companies get appraisals done and perform due diligence on properties they are going to finance.  For those of you with e-sourcing and e-procurement experience, RIMS will remind you of any e-procurement and/or e-sourcing tool–simply with a vertical twist.

RIMS appears to have been originally designed, as many e-sourcing tools still are–to connect buyers to their suppliers in “cul-de-sacs”– meaning each buyer built its portal and invites its own known community of suppliers to interact with them via their portal.  Eventually, some sourcing software builders realized that:

  • Buyers might want to be able to search for suppliers they did not already know and
  • Suppliers hated having to log in to hundreds of buyer portals

In short, these software providers realized there was a network effect to be had in connecting all suppliers once to all of their buyers and vice versa–that is, becoming a multi-sided platform.  (Ariba is an interesting example, but that will the subject of a book some day!)

ExactBid’s history seems to reflect the exact same realization over a period of  about eight years.  From what I can gather, RIMS started in 2000 with a portal/ “cul-de-sac” approach and 2008, RIMSCentral was added to connect all of the RIMs buyers to all suppliers (appraisers and others) in one “bow-tie” like network.  Here’s a press release from 2008 (again with my emphasis added):

Using RIMS, authorized lender employees can order services from their approved consultants over the Internet using a standard browser. Lender staff can easily generate even the most complex requests for proposals (RFPs) and post them for bidding by approved contractors or choose to make direct awards for a specified service. In concert, RIMSCentral gives contractors the ability to view incoming opportunities, submit bids, accept awards and upload reports upon completion of the assignment — all in one easy-to-use but robust system.

Prior to RIMSCentral, consultants had to log into each lender’s RIMS workflow system separately,” explained Ed Jones, president of ExactBid. “RIMSCentral provides a single sign-on system for the service contractor community and lets them maintain their contact information, certifications, and other company information in a centralized location.”

The RIMSCentral contractor population can be searched by anyone seeking appraisals, environmental reports or similar services. Examples include law firms for probate or estate work, accounting firms, asset managers, lenders, borrowers, brokers and others who need to find such contractors organized by geographic region, service offerings and property-type specialty.

Image showing Exactbid's Multi-Sided Platform aspirations

This move to a network approach is a change in architecture and business model that many SaaS companies have to make when they want to become a true multi-sided platform. It is a hard change that takes time, cultural changes, and usually pricing changes.  In a true multi-sided platform,  there are new user interfaces to consider, new products to support, perhaps new customer bases to support and to bill.  It can be intimidating and daunting, but it can also be game-changing for employees, investors and the ecosystem.

Just looking at the ExactBid website, branding, etc. it seems that ExactBid is still making the transition.  I’m guessing the new owners, Spectrum Equity (who appear to have several platform businesses), see the potential and want to help ExactBid get the rest of the way there.

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