Who can be a better Co-founder than your own friend? Girish Nair and Suraj Nair had no inkling that a mere introduction by a common acquaintance would evolve into an entrepreneurial dream.
Hailing from the corporate travel and aviation industry, both often talked about how to redefine the relationship between airlines and travel agencies in the country. One day Suraj presented the concept of airfare audits and analytics to Girish. The duo soon decided to build a corporate travel analytics product and launched TravelSpends in August 2014 to help organisations reduce the cost of travel.
The company offers services like travel audits, analytics, and aviation and travel consulting. Their travel audit process reviews bookings made and identifies gaps in the system to reconcile expenses and refunds credited across payment cycles.
Travel Analytics services interpret travel patterns and help bring down overall business travel costs. Its travel consultants analyse the implications of corporate travel data and reveal past travel behavior, users’ preferred suppliers, airlines, agencies, car rentals, and hotels.
In 2008, when they first met, Girish was heading Jet Airways’ South India Commercial function, while Suraj was the head of Strategy, Planning, and Airline Contracting for Thomas Cook, India.
“Our friendship moved from strength to strength with our passion for the travel and aviation business. We used to have long discussions on our common interests in the field of data science and analytics,” says Girish, who graduated in statistics and operations research from Mumbai University before completing a management degree from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management studies (NMIMS), Mumbai.
Their dream is to make TravelSpends the “Accenture” or “McKinsey” of corporate travel by filling the gap between enterprises, airlines, airports, and corporate travelers. To scale up to the next level, they convinced Rishikesha T. Krishnan, director of strategic management at the IIM Indore, who held a specialisation in travel technology to join them as an advisor.
"I knew Rishikesha when he was one of the frequent flyer members in Jet Airways. His interest in aviation made us close and we became good friends. When we started business, he agreed to come on our advisory board," says Girish.
The team then managed to raise a seed fund of $ 50,000. Meanwhile, with the help of their friends in the advertising business, they decided to christen their product Tripnomics’- economics of a trip. Girish’s wife Dipti Nair played a supportive role in fine-tuning and structuring the content for the website. Kannan build the IT framework and architecture to develop products for enterprise customers. Vinita, Suraj’s wife, who holds a Masters in Computer Application qualification worked with Kannan to overcome all the product development challenges.
Ankit Jain, a friend of Girish and a Chartered Accountant joined TravelSpends as head of Finance and Business Intelligence.
Client acquisition phase
For a startup, signing up enterprise customers is always a challenge and so it was for TravelSpends. But their hard work paid off and they managed to sell their idea to 15 customers including Fortune 500 companies.
Within just 20 months of its launch, TravelSpends built more than four products catering to airlines, airports, large enterprise customers and MSMEs. Its core airfare analytics product “Tripnomics” has analysed more than 150,000 trips and identified over $2 million worth savings.
“We have already implemented our product in India, South Africa, Singapore, and the Middle East,” says Suraj, a graduate in marketing from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda. He also holds a diploma in Business Management from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.
TravelSpends’ ‘Mind Technology’ delivers support with real-time air fare audits, analytics, hotel audits, review of airline contracts, hotel contracts, forex contracts, car rentals, and other ancillary support services to optimise travel costs. It supports airlines and airports with analytics tools to bring in efficiency in their business intelligence and strategic functions.
The company works with customers on a monthly retainer fee as an extension of their corporate finance, internal audit and procurement team. This retainer fee will include diagnostics, consulting, and real-time audits. According to Girish, TravelSpends reduces the overall travel cost of corporates by 5 to 19 per cent.
Market potential of corporate travel
The Global corporate travel market is valued at $1.3 trillion, whereas the Indian market is currently valued at $32 billion and is estimated to grow at a rate of 11.5 per cent CAGR till 2020. According to a study by FICCI and KPMG, India is poised to become the third-largest aviation market by 2020 after the US and China.
India is yet to witness any startup (except TravelSpends) in the travel audit services space; however, globally, the domain has a number of players such as Topaz International (Washington), Travel Team Consulting (South Carolina), FareAudit (Connecticut), UCSF (San Francisco), and Duma Travel (Johannesburg).
As none have a presence in India, TravelSpends seems to be enjoying the lion’s share in the market. But there is a possibility that India’s potential corporate travel market may invite any of these companies thereby jeopardising the growth pace of TravelSpends.
With a team of 15 employees, TravelSpends has achieved a topline of around $150,000 and aims to touch $600,000 in 2016-17. It has witnessed a growth rate of 160 per cent in the last four quarter of operations.
By the end of this year, they are expecting to increase their employee strength to 26, and set up office in Singapore to cater to corporate travel markets like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.