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A light bulb moment—that’s how SmartProcure’s founder and CEO Jeffrey D. Rubenstein describes his business idea. There are millions of dollars and contracts that flow from government agencies, and yet he couldn’t find a service or database that offered a comprehensive view of which agencies used which services, and for how much.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a product or service that government agencies don't purchase,” Rubenstein says. “They buy everything from laptops to landscaping to lemonade.”
The Florida-based SmartProcure changes the game for market research when it comes to government contracts, but it’s not always an easy sale.
[pullquote showtweet="false" alignment="center"]Transparency in government is a hot button issue, especially in the last couple of years. Businesses, like individual citizens, continue to increase their expectations of transparency in government every day. [/pullquote]
“We believe government transactions should be transparent for the good of our citizens and the health of the largest competitive marketplace in the world,” Rubenstein says. But that doesn’t fit on a business card.
SmartProcure also allows the government agencies to request quotes and vet vendors, and businesses to generate leads and research the competition and bids on projects.
1. How do you describe your business?
SmartProcure is an online tool that searches a database of hundreds of millions of purchase orders from schools and local, state and federal government agencies. It shows businesses which agencies buy their goods and services, when they buy them, how much they pay and who their competitors are. Businesses no longer have to waste valuable time and money contacting every agency to see if they buy their products and then make their best guess at the pricing they should offer.
2. Why did you start your business?
SmartProcure was built to help the government save money and to help businesses grow. Local, state and federal government agencies spent $6.4 trillion a year on goods and services in Fiscal Year 2015, according to the website U.S. Government Spending. However, most businesses are not aware that almost 80 percent of what the government spends does not go out to bid, according to Onvia.
There are so many misconceptions about selling to the government. New technology and increased transparency have leveled the playing field for businesses that either want to or already do business with the government. It's an enormous opportunity for everyone from sole proprietors to large, multi-national companies to do business with the largest buyer of goods and services in the world.
Prior to SmartProcure, the cost of market research and competitor intelligence was prohibitive and the results were murky at best. Now they can rely on clear data that comes directly from the government.
3. What hurdles have you overcome?
Being first to market for any business has its challenges, and we have been no exception.
There are many good businesses that provide services that help vendors and contractors do business with the government, for example, RFP bid services, consultants and so on. However, there is no other company who does what we do—providing specific purchasing data directly from government purchase orders from all levels of government. So, brand messaging is a hurdle we continue to overcome everyday.
In addition, aggregating and normalizing this volume of data and making it easily searchable and actionable is an enormous undertaking. We currently have over 12,000 government agencies regularly contributing all of their purchase order data to our system. That's hundreds of millions of purchase orders that we extract every detail from: model and part numbers, quantities, pricing, agency and vendor contact info.
Agencies contribute over 2 million purchase orders a week to the system and the velocity increases daily. They are great challenges to have but, like a lot of rapidly growing companies, we wish there were a few more hours in the day. Fortunately, we have a really energetic, smart team and we have fun doing it.
4. When did you first realize your company was successful?
We grew really fast at SmartProcure so our first company picnic was big. That day, I felt like it was the first time since we started the business that I really looked up. All at once, I realized that there weren’t just 50 employees at SmartProcure but there were 50 families—kids, husbands, wives, friends and partners. There was so much talent and such a bond between our employees. For me, that was a moment. I felt really grateful.
5. How has the industry shifted since you began?
Transparency in government is a hot button issue, especially in the last couple of years. Businesses, like individual citizens, continue to increase their expectations of transparency in government every day. SmartProcure not only provides the information they need but gives them an efficient way turn down the noise in that enormous amount of data so it’s actionable for them. So it’s not so much the industry that has shifted, but what businesses expect in terms of government information and how it’s delivered that is changing.