5 Minutes with Richard Donaldson
What is it that makes some start-ups a success? Molly Haynes talked to Silicon Valley veteran, eBay alumni and Head of Supply Chain Platform Innovation & Strategy at 6Fusion, Richard Donaldson, on his behind-the-scenes career in tech, and why the timing couldn’t be better for Requis–Advisian Digital’s online surplus marketplace and buying platform.
How did your career in Silicon Valley begin?
I moved to Silicon Valley in 1997 and started my career in investment banking right at the height of the internet bubble. I was in corporate finance, focussing on media and communications in technology. Back then it was like the Wild West – all you had to have was dot.com in your name and people would be throwing money at you. The internet was new. Email was very new. It was a crazy, crazy time.
In 2000, I jumped into my first start-up – a technology company doing local area networking for small to mid-sized business. I was pulled in like everyone else at the promise of this cool new thing and it was my early introduction to networking – putting together technology to enable communications to our office.
What was the reality of your first start-up like?
It was amazing. I was on the front line. The CEO was incredibly proud of the fact that he didn’t have a business plan. He raised $20 million and we blew through $20 million in about 18 months. We were a very early version of Geek Squad. Too early, it turned out and we didn’t survive, but we learned a lot along the way including that you can’t just spend money, you have to earn it, too. It was a pivotal experience for me and made me passionate about building companies, and because it was a small company, I got to be part of the whole operation – not just the business development I was hired to do. I got to do everything from hooking up networks to troubleshooting for clients. It was a really great panoply of things to do.
How did you end up going from start-ups to eBay?
After the 2011 economic crisis, I bounced around a bit but eventually ended up working with a company that managed data centers and focused on what the back end of the internet really runs on – infrastructure. I was then tempted to join eBay by a friend of mine from the data center industry who was already there.
How did you first come up with the idea of an online procurement marketplace?
During my time at eBay, we were going through a large tech refresh and I had to get rid of about 15,000 servers, and I naively looked around and thought, ‘We have 15,000 servers to get rid of, we should list them on eBay.’ And the response was, ‘We don’t do that.’
That seemed crazy. Here was a company that had changed how consumers buy and sell together, yet we were not changing the way we buy and sell from our vendor communities or sell to our disposition communities. So we created a very early version of Requis in the procurement platform for our own consumption and called it Commercial Direct.
Where does WorleyParsons and Advisian Digital fit into your journey?
During that time, Bradley Andrews, Alan Dunning and Vincenzo Nici came to see eBay to ask whether we could make WorleyParsons’ procurement process more efficient by building an oil & gas marketplace. At first the differences seemed too great, but when you peel back the covers, you realize that it’s still the same RFPs for equipment, it’s just it’s for valves and pipes instead of servers. And when you think about it like that, what about other industries such as aviation or medical? That’s when I got really excited and realized there was an even bigger opportunity, and I left eBay to pursue this idea with the company’s blessing.
And so Requis was born?
In a way, yes. Brad, Vincenzo, Alan and I spent three days in a room whiteboarding the idea of what Requis – the procurement platform might look like. We looked at the original eBay idea – Commercial Direct – and tried to create another vertical market while also trying to really understand what it means to buy and sell within the oil and gas industry.
As we started to pay attention to the workflow, we realized that all these industries and all these verticals follow nearly the same protocols and processes. We also realized that essentially, businesses are doing one of three things in supply chain – they’re either buying something, operating it or selling it. They have teams buying stuff and operating it, but when it comes to getting rid of it, they were potentially giving away hundreds of millions of dollars by not actively managing their disposition process. What you see today on Requis.com is the third or fourth version of the initial platform we developed.
“Procurement transparency and optimization –
that to me sums up Requis”
What were the challenges in the beginning?
We wanted to create something that had the familiarity of eBay or Amazon so that people recognized it, were happy to adopt it as a ‘new’ thing, and able to interact easily with it, but ultimately it couldn’t be the same. After all, the way that consumers and procurement professionals buy and sell is entirely different. eBay doesn’t allow you to add multiple items in one go, upload supporting certification that can be downloaded easily and manage assets in multiple ways. We had to be mindful that Requis should get procurement professionals on the track of supply chain efficiency without disrupting their jobs, and at the same time provide transparency across the whole eco system.
Why would people use Requis over other options?
For buyers, it’s the transparency on what you’re buying – we remove the uncertainty. It’s all certified and you know where it’s come from but it’s a fraction of the market price. From a selling point of view, it’s a win/win situation in that companies were going to be getting rid of this stuff anyway, often at a big loss. Requis can help companies get five, 10 or 20 times more than what they’re used to. It’s the same with spares – we ask our customers why they have spares the way they do. Are they over purchasing or provisioning due to lack of data? Through Requis, customers can begin to fully understand their excess and surplus and how they can optimize that.
Do you think the timing is right for Requis?
I remember the early days of the internet in Silicon Valley, people were trying things that the public weren’t ready for, such as online food delivery companies, and they were failing. Can you imagine a world without an online food delivery company now? I think that if we’d tried to launch Requis 10 years ago, it wouldn’t have worked because no one was seeking that solution. Now I think that customers are actually seeking the solution we are offering. I may be biased but I do think we’ve timed this one right, just like when Amazon Fresh came along years after those first failed food ventures, people were ready.
What’s the future of Requis?
The vision for Requis does not just end with oil and gas. It doesn’t end with buying and selling. The vision is to become the central nexus for all activity in creating any product or disposing of any product – efficiently managing the lifecycle of the assets that run the business. We would like to be able to track an asset from birth to death on Requis. I also hope that it will make an ecological impact as we improve the efficiency of lifecycle management. By tracking assets more accurately and providing the visibility to where they are and where they can be used, I think you can potentially reuse things over and over again.
Aside from the obvious ‘marketplace’ description, can you sum Requis up in one sentence?
For me, it has to be ‘Procurement transparency and optimization’. That to me is what we were trying to create from those very early days when we realized something was missing.