ProcureTech caught up with Costas Xyloyiannis, CEO and Co-founder of HICX, the Supplier Experience Management platform.
During our conversation, Costas shared thoughts on supplier experience management, domain expertise, touchless supplier management, relentless focus, growing a business AND a team, trust…Shazam and penicillin.
1. What is HICX’s mission?
Our mission has evolved. It’s been 20 years in the making but I think we’re on an exciting journey now where we’re creating the supplier experience management platform.
There’s a great analogy between HR and the employee where companies now recognise that positive employee experiences create more value because you have happier staff. You can apply the same logic to your suppliers – and this is something we’ve been seeing in the market – so large companies are actively thinking about how they can set their suppliers up to do their best work. It can be complex to do business with large companies and there’s a view now, particularly within FMCG, that you can provide significant value if you focus on managing that supplier experience.
2. What is your USP? How do you differentiate yourself?
Getting control of your supplier data and delivering a great supplier experience are not easy things to do and many get caught out because the devil truly is in the detail. Our USP is really that we are supplier domain experts.
“Our USP is really that we are supplier domain experts.”
We understand the complexity and the reality of technology in very large organisations, and we know how to work with it; we’ve been doing this successfully for many years, for example, Baker Hughes recently went live in less than 12 months, which compares very favourably to most master data projects which typically take two to three years. So domain knowledge is one USP. And that knowledge starts with the principles of Master Data Management (MDM) – data is the foundation.
We like to say that we’re sitting at the intersection of three major technology areas…1. multi-domain MDM, 2. the low code / no code platforms and 3. the end to end procurement suites. In reality, to do what we’re doing, you need a combination of the tech and experience of all of these. The alternative to a single platform like HICX is for customers to cobble together a homemade solution and we think this is a poor use of time and effort.
3. What have been the key decision points or milestones on your journey so far?
Well, that depends on how far back we go but our journey is not the traditional one.
We set up HICX when I was 20 and we were still at university. So for us, there was a lot of learning which others would have made before they got into business. As for highlights, the first thing you realize is you can’t be a service business as that doesn’t scale – at least that was our view. So we quickly pivoted away from consultancy and services to bring a software product to market. There were some big learnings back then, such as deciding what you want to do or understanding what it is to be a product company vs a service company, but the main thing for us is focus.
I think focus has always been hardest to get right. Deciding what not to do too is key. It’s very easy to get pulled into doing a lot of things based on what the market is doing, based on what the customers would like you to do as well. So this relentless focus on finding something which is unique, that’s been the toughest but also what drives the most success for us.
“relentless focus on finding something which is unique,
that’s been the toughest but also what drives the most success for us”.
In terms of technical challenges, there have been plenty because while flexibility is great for meeting customer requirements, it can also be hard to scale and maintain. That’s the reason many tech companies don’t offer much flexibility, they go for repeatability instead. So there’s been significant technological challenges along the way to creating the platform we have today.
4. Excellent, it sounds like you’re in the right place now, with the low-code-no-code platform in place as well. How much of that journey has been influenced by customers and what do you look for in terms of the perfect customer?
The platform was heavily influenced by customers but for different reasons. In the early days, it was influenced because no large company is standardized so you had to be able to adapt very quickly. To make that work as a small company we had to develop our low-code and no-code capabilities just to be efficient. So that’s how it started, innovation was also born out of a practical business need.
I don’t know that there is a perfect customer. Perfect is a strong word, I think we’re not a ‘perfect supplier’! An ideal customer for us is one that has prior experience with a P2P suite or with another similar platform, and this is very common these days. People that have been through this are good because they already understand the difficulties of using a transactional system to address a data problem. They ask very interesting and challenging questions which is great for us because we know HICX is unique in the market in terms of being able to solve these issues.
‘Perfect’ customers see procurement or supplier management as an end-to-end activity. When they are just procurement focused we probably wouldn’t spend too much time with them because that is a bit immature, siloed, focusing on setting up a function to manage spend. As procurement matures it becomes a lot more cross-functional and you start to have a much broader mandate, then you realize that managing the supplier is not just about the Procurement department. You have quality, you have end customers, it touches every single stakeholder. And HICX is unique because we are focused on that end-to-end and not just as a ‘procurement tool’ per see. We are there for all these other functions that touch suppliers as well which affects the supplier experience overall.
“We are there for all these other functions that touch suppliers
as well which affects the supplier experience overall.”
5. What are the foundations of a great team?
Team…that’s been an interesting one, which for me, has evolved over the years. In the early days of a business, you can’t apply the concept of really building a team because you don’t have money to get the team that you want. I think every team has to have true foundations, and for me, I would argue there’s only trust, which everything is built upon. The most important thing, amongst any high performing team, is development of trust, which for me is something that has to be nurtured.
“The most important thing, amongst any high performing team, is the development of trust.”
Over time, it’s not just something you show, but you’ll really feel the confidence over time, and then accountability. You have to be able to rely on your team members when they take ownership and have accountability.
The final point I would make is about listening and the context for me here is that teams work well when everyone is there to learn. So having that ability to listen and an attitude of learning from one another. Teams work well when everyone is there to learn.
6. How do you bring trust, ownership, accountability and learning to life at HICX?
One of the things we did was to document this. So, for example, we came up with what we call the HICX handbook. It was my co-founder’s idea and was about adopting tech practices from unicorns in the tech space, for example, this idea of a handbook to scale. We started to realize ‘you’ve got to document all these things, which started with documenting our values, traits of what it meant to be HICX etc. We tried to codify what we already had established in the early years because you’re right, we’ve added a lot of headcount very quickly, especially in the last 18 months. Just in 2021, we’ve added 25 people already!
7. What’s the vision for HICX going forward? What does HICX look like in five years’ time?
We believe strongly in the need for simplicity around supplier data and information, and how that flows. We have a broader vision for supply chain, but what you can expect to see is that we’re going to drive more standardization. We still see some gaps in people really embracing digital, let’s say, from an autonomous procurement point of view and still struggling with easily ‘identifying’ suppliers.
“We believe strongly in the need for simplicity around supplier data and information, and how that flows.”
At the core of what we are enabling is simplifying that. Imagine in five years’ time that you can onboard a supplier touchless, without a human intervention, but being 100% confident that it is not fraudulent for instance. Customers come to us and they spend time on these activities and laborious processes just to say this supplier, they’re not fraudulent.
8. What does it take to make that happen for you?
We have some ideas which we can’t yet share, but to give you an easier analogy of what liberalizes the consumer space, imagine your mobile phone. You call up your takeaway or whoever. Immediately, they know that it’s Lance, they know where you live, they know that you love curries. How do they know? Because they have a really easy identifier for you, your mobile number. You can send payments and all types of activities. It’s so simple and that revolutionized the way things were happening in the mobile world.
On the B2B side, there isn’t something that simple. It’s painful to validate the identification of a company, and that is surprising. We have some ideas on how to standardize that in a scalable way because, for example, DUNS numbers are not scalable. This standardization is what needs to happen. So much data enables you to be able to do that, in terms of creating a unique identity for individual businesses, doing it in a way that scales because our view is that the existing solutions don’t scale because they’re all closed.
This is going to be the game changer, and a foundation of what we will be doing over the coming years. We’re definitely looking to drive a true roadmap around supplier experience management as a category going forward and in the short term.
9. What’s the team doing for the planet? Are you involved in doing good?
“a core activity is around enabling customers
through sustainability programs and their initiatives”
Obviously, a core activity is around enabling customers through sustainability programs and their initiatives because all these programs run on data, right? So indirectly we’re of course contributing massively to big sustainability initiatives for some very large companies in the world.
It’s huge and it’s vastly important. It’s how we got our foray in this space 20 years ago. The CEO of Novartis ended up on the UN Global Compact, and the Chief Procurement Officer had to support it. They had a supply chain of 150,000 suppliers and they realized they didn’t have the supplier sustainability data! So this journey of sustainability was a trigger point for us.
INSTANT COSTAS INSPIRATION
1. What’s your favourite blog or book?
I’m a big start-up geek. I really enjoyed ‘The Hard Things About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz. He is a well-known VC funder, and it’s great to get a real insight into a CEO’s life and the start-up world, what it’s like and some of those real tough decisions. I’m also a big fan of ‘The Saastr Podcast’ when I go running.
2. Who would you see as an inspirational leader?
I think someone who has impressed me has been Satya Nadella. My co-founder and I have talked about what he did at Microsoft and with Linux was pretty transformational in terms of his approach to reinventing them. I find that very, very inspiring.
3. Do you have a favourite app? Or piece of technology?
Being a tech geek, I’m not massively into apps but if you ask me my favourite one, I would say Shazam is the one I find most useful for music, as it goes well with Spotify. I like to find out new tunes and then obviously you want to add them on Spotify.
4. What is your favourite cocktail?
That one’s easy: a Penicillin is my favourite cocktail, I think it was invented at Milk & Honey, a cocktail bar in London. Once Covid is done, let’s head to Milk & Honey in Soho.
5. How else do you celebrate success, apart from having a Penicillin at Milk & Honey?
Well, I think that highly depends on the context of celebration. If we talk about our business, work and team, I think the right way to celebrate, is finding a way to spend time with those that helped make the success great. Doing whatever that group would enjoy, so it could be going out for drinks and cocktails, it could be dinner, but spending that time as a team. That’s how I enjoy celebrating the success: with the team, which makes it happen in a fun kind of non-work way.
“That’s how I enjoy celebrating the success: with the team”
1. The future is all about supplier experience – management and domain expertise
2. Relentlessly focus on your USP, and on saying no to non-USP activities
3. Perfect customers go beyond procurement to involve the full supply chain
4. The most important thing, for any high performing team, is the development of trust
5. Imagine in five years’ time, touchless supplier onboarding, without human intervention, with 100% confidence
6. Always celebrate success with the team
HICX helps Global 5000 companies to organise and optimize their supplier data and the supplier experience. The HICX Supplier Experience Management platform enables businesses with thousands of suppliers to efficiently on-board and manage the end-to-end lifecycle of all suppliers and to ensure a single version of supplier data truth.
Some of the world’s largest companies, in a wide range of industries, trust HICX for the management of their supplier data; these include BAE Systems, Mondelez, Baker Hughes and EDF Energy. Visit www.hicx.com
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