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Insteract aims to disrupt corporate travel desks by using AI to plan business travel

Vishal Krishna
7th Mar 2018
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Insteract is going after a $1.6 billion global market and wants to make business trip planning smart, efficient, and easy for everyone involved. Also on the agenda, ensuring that companies optimise travel spends.

At a glance:

Company: Insteract

Founded in: 2015

Founders: Anandkumar Chandran, Kiran Balimane, and Balaji Ramakrishnan.

Headquarters: Bengaluru

What do they solve: They make travel of a corporate smarter with machine learning and cloud-based services.

Funding: Seed funded $250,000

Sector: Software-as-a-service

At a time when travel has become smart, the travel desk of every large organisation seems to be stuck in the same rut. C-Suite leaders get booked into top hotels, and with the best airlines, while for the rest of the employees, bookings and travel get together to create a nightmare. Multiple email exchanges between the travel desk, the human resources team, and an individual employee mean travel isn’t something the average employee looks forward to.

Enter Bengaluru-based Insteract, which was founded in July 2015 by three friends - Anandkumar Chandran, Kiran Balimane, and Balaji Ramakrishnan.

Insteract offers personalised, relevant, and cost-effective travel options to the business traveller by comparing and sourcing lowest relevant options from the market, as per a traveller’s preferences and business rule.

The Insteract founding team (from left to right) Srinivasa Margabandhu, Anandkumar Chandran, Balaji Ramakrishnan, and  Kiran Balimane.

The idea came when the founders were working at Verchaska (of which Balaji was the founder), which was building legacy software, on-premise solutions, for the global travel industry. They quit the company in 2015, and started Insteract. The trio has a strong educational background to rely on - Balaji and Anandkumar studied at Stanford, while Kiran is from IIT-Bombay.

“After spending 15 years as entrepreneurs in one company, there is always this yearning to do the next thing. We found this opportunity while looking at corporate travel policies, which are cumbersome and outdated,” says Balaji, Co-founder of Insteract.

The three co-founders seeded the company with $250,000 and began to build a company that centralises a company’s travel data, and provides analytics, benchmarking, and guidance to influence employees to make better travel decisions that save money, and comply with their company’s travel policy. They spent six months building the product; it was launched in January 2016, and went live with 45 corporate customers.

At its core, Insteract aims to make travel planning smart and transparent for businesses.

Insteract has three reference clients - Chimera, Ansrsouce, and TPRF Software - but the startup did not want to disclose revenues as yet.

The opportunity for Insteract

“The premise was to make corporates work better with their travel vendors, and stop the back and forth that happens while booking the entire journey for an employee,” Balaji says.

Currently, most corporate teams use vendors to plan the lowest fares, flights, and hotels, confirming and managing risks. On top of this, the organisation has a travel desk that creates a loosely defined travel policy, and there are multiple email exchanges between several parties to make this work.

“The world today needs an experience like consumer apps, which the corporate world can learn from, where the experience is personalised,” Balaji says. He adds that companies do a great job in structured processes, but they are not smart and adaptive to the employee’s business requirements on this front.

Insteract’s product is a cloud-based platform and they call it a virtual travel desk for companies. Based on an employee’s previous travel data, the platform helps curate the next travel experience. This system uses all the travel data stored in the company, and the tieups that it has with multiple vendors, hotels, and airline companies.

In a nutshell, here’s what Insteract offers:

  • The software calculates the lowest cost for the trip quickly and visualises the options, saving costs for the company.
  • The options are sorted based on data and done quickly so that the employee and the company agree upon the requested trip.
  • It also helps companies capture their spend data (itineraries, reports, statements, and benchmark and improve by identifying policy elements that work and those that need to be changed for bigger savings and compliance.

The competition for the company includes SAP Concur. Other global companies like American Express Global Business Travel, Apptricity, AvidXchange, Basware, Certify, Chrome River Technologies, Coupa Software, and DATABASICS are also in the market. According to IDC, the Travel and Expense market (T&E) market reached $1.6 billion in 2017, of which Concur owns 54 percent.

Insteract is mobile friendly and uses Machine Learning to present real-time information rather than give static dashboards. The business model for the company is based on annual pricing for insights and technology, and also a charge based on the number of employees that use the technology.

V Ganapathy, CEO of Axilor Ventures, believes that solving corporate business problems is “key to a startup’s success and they have to ensure that they have long-term contracts”.

The opportunity is large, and the entrepreneurs from Insteract can make a dent in the legacy software application industry, which has dominated corporate travel for 30 years. They already have paying customers, and are hoping to grow in the next couple of years so that when companies think business travel, they think Insteract.

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