I was fascinated to read NetSuite’s announcement last week that Billy Bean had been appointed to the company’s board of directors. If you have been living on Mars for the last decade, Bean is the general manager of a pretty fair baseball team, the Oakland A’s. If that was Bean’s only calling card, the appointment to the board of a software company would seem quirky at best, but Bean’s major contribution to the game has been his focus on statistical analysis that produces winning baseball teams in a “hit ‘em where they ain’t” philosophy.
The noted business writer Michael Lewis chronicled some of Bean’s approaches in a best selling book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” which caught the attention of a lot of business people who understand that Bean’s ways of analyzing his business are largely transferable to the general business world.
Most people would agree that Bean is a game changer, one of those people who see the world differently than their contemporaries and because they do, they can cause great changes while leveraging their insights against the status quo.
Of course it remains to be seen how much influence Bean can have from a seat on the board of directors. After all, the company is already dominated by some pretty powerful personalities like Larry Ellison. Maybe drafting Bean was Ellison’s way of saying that NetSuite can access disruptive innovation talent. Since Bean is also a NetSuite customer you can bet he is not simply on the board to polish his or the company’s credentials. This will be worth keeping an eye on.
Meanwhile, the original disruptive talent in the software business, Marc Benioff, is still going strong at Salesforce.com and he runs the company as well as his board. As the disruptive innovation we call SaaS or on-demand continues to reel out we’ll see more niches opening up and we might actually see less competition between companies, at least for a time, as the space between them increases. For example, although other companies say they are in the platform business, it’s really only Salesforce that has done much—actually a lot more than others—at putting the new platform market on its feet.
The bulk of the SaaS competition might be in CRM right now, but the green field is the platform. Or, another way of looking at it—CRM might be “Moneyball” but the “Field of Dreams” is now the platform.