Unimarket: A Dragon’s Den View by Jon Hansen

Posted on January 27, 2014


Editor’s Note: On December 10th, 2013 I had the opportunity to interview Year in the Life candidate Unimarket, a New Wave company that that helps clients to “maximize” their purchasing powerIn the post-show commentary, our Dragon’s Den (or Shark Tank if you prefer) panel of experts provide their take on the interview and offer advice to the company.  In today’s review I will provide my take on Unimarket;

Unimarket Logo Small

It is indeed a rare situation when, during a brief 30 minute conversation, you can so quickly establish a contextual reference point that is at once accurate and ubiquitous.  A single sentence that sums up perfectly, the nature of a business.

One might be inclined to suggest that reaching such a definite and definitive opinion after so short a time is bordering on jumping to a conclusion.  Normally this might be the case, however after my interview with Unimarket’s Daniel Perry, I have no such reservations

So what is that single sentence?  Do You Know Me?

For those of you who have perhaps been around the business world a little longer than you might care to admit, you will likely recognize the above tagline from the famous American Express commercials of yesteryear.

AMEX Commercial

Vintage 1978 “Do You Know Me” commercial with former US Treasurer, Francine Neff

Now you might be asking yourself at this point how does a New Wave Company in 2014 reflect the sentiments from a commercial that first aired 36 years ago.  Fair question, and one that I will be happy to answer.

As I re-listened to my interview with Perry in an effort to fill in a few memory gaps from our discussion in December, there were several key points that led me to the above association.

To start, and like the suggested establishment of an American Express business model, Unimarket’s founder Scott Blackwood first conceived the idea of what Perry called a “single instance, multi-tenant cloud-based solution” when he was getting his MBA degree nearly two decades ago.  In short, Unimarket’s platform is not new – which by the way doesn’t mean that it is not noteworthy.  I will touch on this point shortly.

This idea that originated so many years ago, then began to evolve into a viable model in 1997, when Blackwood started with Ernst & Young as the firm’s resident supply base expert.

When Blackwood left Ernst & Young to start Unimarket, the native New Zealander decided to test the market in his home country, before expanding to the United States with their first client in 2009.

Focusing almost exclusively on the higher ed market – Perry indicated that their target customers are community colleges, medium-sized universities and private institutions – the company has enjoyed some success in North America.  I say some success, because despite exceeding customer expectations, does anybody know Unimarket?  Now you can see the tie-in to American Express, or more specifically the credit card company’s famous members.

However unlike the American Express members, anonymity could eventually prove to be a significant problem for Unimarket.  Especially since they are one of the few companies who during the evolution from traditional enterprise applications to cloud-based on-demand solutions find themselves in the equivalent of no mans land.

In other words they did not meet the same fate as so many early disruptive innovators who, after running out of money and options, were relegated to becoming a footnote in the industry history books.  Conversely, they have not seemed to gain the critical traction that has catapulted others to the lofty heights associated with being a recognized player.

It is has if they have been frozen in a holding pattern at the crossroads of unlimited possibility and permanent anonymity.

What is interesting is that Unimarket’s solution is solid and the company’s service delivery and support on a par with the best in the industry.  In my estimation, there is no reason why they cannot become a dominant player.  But will they?

What happens in 2014 and beyond will depend on whether or not they can step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Be sure to check out our other Year in the Life Candidates as well as follow The Year in the Life 2014 Series on Twitter #YRiLife2014.