These ex-Yahoo executives want to shape the future of business travel with expense management startup Travelstop
A Certify report states that globally the average cost of business travel is a whopping $117.6 billion annually. It is one of the biggest expenses that any company looks to manage. Enter Travelstop, an AI-powered SaaS platform aimed at simplifying business travel and expense management for corporates in Asia.
The expense management startup provides easy-to-use tools that streamline the business travel booking process while automating expense reporting and providing meaningful insights. Travelstop offers three core product features: Travel, Expenses, and Insights, perfectly integrated to provide a seamless experience.
The Singapore-headquartered startup was founded in 2016 by ex-Yahoo executives Prashant Kirtane, Vijay Aggarwal, and Altaf Dhamani. The trio had in 2014 founded Travelmob, which was acquired by travel startup HomeAway, which was in turn acquired by Expedia in 2015.
Why start up again?
TravelMob was a vacation rentals marketplace focused on Asia. The co-founders had raised a seed round of $1 million from Jungle Ventures and Accel. After exiting the startup, they decided to build Travelstop late last year. In April, the platform raised seed funding of $1.2 million from SeedPlus, with participation from several travel industry veterans from Expedia and Yahoo.
On Wednesday, Travelstop raised $3 million pre-Series A funding led by Accel Partners. The round also saw participation from Strive (formerly GREE Ventures), and existing investor SeedPlus. As part of this new round, Accel’s Prashanth Prakash will be joining the company’s Board of Directors. The team plans to use the new funds to further invest in technology and to accelerate adoption of Travelstop across Asia.
Former Yahoo execs and Travelstop founders Altaf Dhamani, Prashant Kirtane, and Vijay Aggarwal had in 2014 also founded Travelmob, which was acquired by travel startup HomeAway.
“While at Travelmob and in all my previous roles, expense management was mostly a manual process, and the corporate travel tools we were using had not evolved for decades. The entire experience, right from managing business travel to expenses, was extremely frustrating. We used to spend an incredible amount of time doing repetitive and administrative work,” Prashant says.
Business models of these traditional corporate travel management companies have not evolved for decades. They give business owners no visibility on business travel and expense spending.
"So with our passion for building simple and elegant products, combined with our experience in Asia, we thought it was the right time to automate, modernise, and simplify the entire experience - from travel planning to expense reimbursements. Using technology, we want to help employers keep costs low, allow a degree of flexibility for business travel, and gather data and expenses — all in a single, easy-to-use interface,” Prashant says.
Travelstop has been built using next-generation server-less architecture that is fully managed in the cloud for automatic scaling. It uses continuous, supervised machine learning to improve the recommendations engine in the cloud.
What does it do?
The platform uses machine learning and AI-powered personalisation to make flight and hotel recommendations, allowing travellers to book within minutes.
“We learn from signals like frequently booked flights and hotels in a company, distance from office or event location, reviews, and personal preferences,” Prashant says.
It also offers features like ‘Book for Others’, allowing travel managers to be more productive, and invoice billing, allowing companies to pay a single invoice for all their travel bookings. The platform also allows employers to pre-approve a budget for business travel; with this, employees have greater autonomy and flexibility to book trips based on their preferences (for example: fly low-cost carrier, but stay in a five-star hotel).
“Employers can also set up an integrated travel policy if they want more control. Flight or hotel reservations that are not in line with the policy are flagged to improve compliance,” Prashant adds.
The platform also provides integrated tools to make expense reporting a breeze. Travelstop works with any type of business expenses (not just travel related). It also allows for streamlined approval workflows along with automated data flow into their accounting software, reducing errors and boosting productivity.
Travelstop’s data-driven insights can help reduce cost and expenditure. They allow reviewing of expenses by organisation, department, team, or at an individual level, to make better decisions for cost savings. It only charges for each active user, making it an affordable option.
The expense management space
“Broadly, we are focused on simplifying business travel and expense management for high-growth companies in Asia. The region is the largest business travel market in the world, comprising 40 percent of global business travel. By 2025, business travel spending in Asia will more than double and will make up half of the worldwide total. More than 80 percent of all business travel in Asia is unmanaged, and we are focused on delivering the best-in-class customer experience for business travel and expense management for corporates in Asia,” Prashant says.
Currently in their pre-revenue stage, Prashant says they do not charge any transaction or booking fees for any of the booking transactions on-platform. They plan to have a simple, easy-to-understand, and affordable SaaS fee per active user per month.
Business expense management is fast growing segment in the travel and fintech circuits. Currently, Delhi-based happay, founded in 2012, is operating in the space. It aims to make expense management cashless, paperless, and mobile-friendly by simplifying the entire expense management workflow, from recording of expenses to accounting. There also is Fyle, an automated expense management solution for businesses and individuals. It was launched in 2016 and has expanded its footprint to the US, Netherlands, and Singapore.
But Travelstop believes its platform stands apart. It has partnered with Traveloka, a leading travel technology company in Southeast Asia, to deliver the most extensive inventory of flights and hotels to business travellers in Asia.
The partnership is expected to roll out in the next few months, along with other core features such as 24x7 travel disruption management and hassle-free travel insurance. These additions are expected to allow Travelstop to target bigger businesses within the region.
Speaking on the investment, Prashanth Prakash, Partner at Accel says, “Travelstop is building a locally relevant solution for the millennial generation of business travellers. In less than a year, they’ve built a solid, category-defining business, and launched a world-class product that has been adopted by a growing number of companies and their employees. We are excited to join Travelstop on their mission to shape the future of business travel.”
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)