How business travel management startup ITILITE survived the pandemic and doubled its customers
In January 2020, on a day when India witnessed its first COVID-19 case, entrepreneur Mayank Kukreja signed a term sheet to raise $13 million in a Series B round, led by Greenoaks Capital and Vy Capital.
“This is going to be hard, but we'll get through it,” he recalls the chat he had with the investors.
The next few months turned out to be particularly tough for Mayank and Anish Khadiya, who were raising the funds for their business travel and expense management startup, as the world went into a full-scale lockdown.
Overnight, the government banned any movement except for essential activities. This was a big blow for ITILITE, which helps businesses manage corporate travel through its software-as-a-service platform.
“It was not a great time for the travel industry,” Mayank acknowledges. However, ITILITE'S team was optimistic, and believed travel would come back.
“March, April, and May 2020 were a little uncertain, but it became clear very quickly after the first wave that companies would travel again,” he says.
A few months on, that’s what happened. People were working remotely, but not entirely, and companies began planning some travel.
Mayank says sales and account management teams comprise a large part of travel. “Our salespeople, any company we speak to…their salespeople…all were itching to go back to the (travel) role,” he says.
The founders believed that “six months, 12 months, 24 months, whatever time it takes, companies will travel again”. And they were right.
Today, ITILITE claims to deliver “more than 30 percent cost savings, 40 percent improvement in finance productivity, and 60 percent higher employee delight to businesses”.
How did it all begin?
Founded in 2017, ITILITE provides a travel and expense management platform to businesses to manage their travel bookings and reimbursements.
“When you travel for work, most companies in India will have to call or email a travel desk and then there'll be an email back and forth. Something will be booked then,” Mayank says.
After their travel, employees have to file bills and get reimbursements.
He realised that it was starkly different from personal travel, where you can go to an app and book flights and hotels in minutes.
This became ITILITE’s problem statement: “How do you bring that [personal travel] experience to a business travel booking?”
Mayank believed that travel and expense management for corporations did not need to be cumbersome. He decided to build a technology platform that would let employees make bookings for business travel, get approval, and seek reimbursements.
About 150 enterprises had signed up with ITILITE before COVID-19 struck the world. Employees of these clients could sign up, select flights, hotels, buses or trains, similar to how bookings are made on a consumer platform.
The platform also allows the manager to get analytics on team members.
ITILITE can get new customers signed up and ready in a day or two, accounting for their individual requirements and policies.
Growth amid the pandemic
ITILITE charges its customers for every booking—a variable cost model in which it gets a certain fee instead of a fixed fee every month.
“Our revenue did go down drastically, but fortunately we were not running out of money and could focus on the long term,” Mayank says.
The co-founders regularly engaged with their customers and their team. “We were never thinking of survival or things like that; we were putting our heads down and building,” Mayank says.
Customer interactions revealed additional scope for their product.
For one, travel rules were more complicated than earlier, which meant companies could not rely on one person to handle all their bookings for business travel and often switched to digital platforms that offered a range of services.
This is where ITILITE came in.
It also promised to help reduce the fixed cost of paying a travel desk, which employed 20-30 people.
“Now, as we stand on the other side of first and second COVID-19 waves, there are more opportunities with companies working from home. Employees are now present in different cities, which implies complicated arrangements for company offsites and corporate travels, which could be managed easily by digital tools,” Mayank says.
Three months after the second wave subsided, the business travel startup managed to reach pre-COVID-19 levels. ITILITE claims to have retained about 95 percent of its pre-pandemic customers, and added another 150 in the months after travel opened up.
It presently serves more than 320 clients in India, the US, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia.
The customers include the likes of Automation Anywhere, BYJU’S, and Intellect Design, with ITILITE claiming to have been doubling every month in booking volumes and employee size in the last six months. “But the difference is our customer base is now 5X larger customers,” Mayank says.
In April this year, Itilitie raised $29 million in Series C round led by Tiger Global and Dharana Capital.
ITILITE claims to have grown 5X in terms of revenue since its Series B round in 2020. The company did not divulge specific numbers.
However, according to the latest available filings with the Registrar of Companies, ITILITE had reported a revenue of Rs 19.6 crore in FY20.
At the time of funding, Tarun Davda, Managing Director, Matrix India, said: “ITILITE has demonstrated remarkable evolution and expansion over the last five years, and we’ve been privileged to witness their growth journey from the early days. They have combined a stellar product with meticulous execution and have established themselves as a leading player in the T&E sector in India.”
“The recent revival of the travel industry [has led to] unprecedented interest in automating the T&E process, and ITILITE is well positioned to cater to this increased demand,” he added.
Travel seems to be coming back, but an April 2022 report by Deloitte says, “Corporate travel remains below 50 percent of pre-pandemic spend and faces a more complex prognosis than leisure travel.”
ITILITE competes with corporate offerings made by Thomas Cook, Yatra,, and others, which are also counting on growth in the sector.
“After two years, which were tough, there is external momentum now,” Mayank says. “The goal in India is to get to market leadership, and grow 4-5X in terms of number of customers in the US.”