STARTUP STAGE: Trip Approve wants to streamline business travel management – PhocusWire


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Trip Approve

Trip Approve is a
subscription service for companies to access low rates, understand where they
employees are, manage spending and ensure compliance to policies and
procedures. 

Founded in May by a 20-year
travel veteran, Trip Approve is currently self-funded and working to attract
new customers so it can generate more revenue as business travel resumes.

What is your 30-second
pitch to investors?

What’s holding organizations back from shopping the open
market for travel services is their ability to track the whereabouts of their travelers,
manage travel expenditure and ensure compliance to policy and procedures. We
have built a travel management platform that thrives in the open market while
providing organizations the control they need to independently manage and
locate travelers, reduce costs and manage their travel programs more
efficiently. 

website

https://www.tripapprove.com/

Describe both the business and technology aspects of your
startup. 

Business – We are a self-funded organization, and we need to make money
to exist. We run a very lean organization, and any profits we generate from the
business are reinvested back into the development of our technology for the
betterment of our customers. The entire team sits within a startup community
based in Melbourne (Stone and Chalk) when we are not in a COVID-enforced
shutdown. We use the plentiful resources and ideas available through the
community to extend our network and contacts to pursue opportunities for the
business.

Technology – We are an open-source house. Python and Vue.js are the core
languages used within our development stack and our infrastructure sits within
AWS. Simple, clean and functional workflows are the major considerations when
we are planning and developing our user interface. The customer experience is
everything – if we need to provide training so people can use our products then
we have developed a lemon. A lot of our design principles are driven by what
the major tech companies are doing in the market, therefore, we adopt a lot of
their ideas into our products and services. 

Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,
Threats) analysis of the company. 

  • Strengths – The company CEO and founder (Simon Crunden) started out
    booking travel at Flight Centre and ended up as senior executive at HRG running
    its Australian client management team. For the past 12 years, he has been consulting
    with large government, education and corporate organizations helping them
    implement better travel management programs. His knowledge of the corporate
    travel from a seller’s and buyer’s perspective is critical to the development
    of platforms that work for our customers. All of the developers within the team
    are full stack and have the ability to switch from front and back end
    seamlessly. Being a small team, they communicate well, ask lots of questions
    (before they stuff something up), come up with ideas on how to do things better
    and help each other to solve problems. We develop platforms from the ground up
    so we have total control of how the code works. We have unbelievable access to
    our customers and most of them are intricately involved in the design of the
    concepts that drives the development of our platforms. We have access to a
    great network through Stone and Chalk (and they do everything within their
    power to help us succeed). 
  • Weaknesses – We are a small team so our resources are limited (that said,
    we have built a groundbreaking travel planning and approval platform within a
    matter of months). We don’t have the marketing budgets (or millions of dollars
    in investment) of many of our competitors. We are still building our business
    network, which we need to help us grow the business. It will take time to get
    the people we need to make this happen. 
  • Opportunities – We are not building a platform that funnels people into a
    GDS-driven booking platform. We are truly independent of any major travel
    management company platform, so once a traveler has their trip approved, they
    can book wherever they need to in order to complete their travel in the most
    efficient and effective way.
  • Threats – There will be people that will replicate what we do and talk
    up a good story and get people to invest millions of dollars into the
    development of a similar platform. Partnering with the wrong people (i.e.
    people that don’t understand what we are doing). 
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What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate
from both the customer and the industry perspective? 

  • Access to the best deals – GDS is an expensive way for suppliers to distribute their
    products and services. The internet has provided suppliers with a low-cost
    method to allow customers to browse and book their products and services.
    Therefore, more often than not, customers will be able to source cheaper products
    and services online (direct or through an aggregator) than through their travel
    management company. This creates a tension between the customer and the travel
    management company as travelers cannot book travel products and services for
    rates that are equal to or lower than what they can buy online. This is the
    number one issue for most organizations, “How come I can get a better deal
    online?” Within Trip Approve, the traveler creates a trip plan, inclusive of
    destinations and travel dates and a budget. The data the customer needs to
    manage traveler risk, financial considerations, policy and procedures is
    controlled by the customer, therefore, once approved, the traveler can make the
    booking wherever they are able to find the best deal wherever that happens to
    be (i.e. travel management company, Booking.com, Expedia, Airbnb, etc.). 
  • Understand where their people are – The industry standard for tracking people is to link the
    trip to the closest airport within the travel itinerary. This is okay if the traveler
    is staying within proximity of the destination they are travelling to, or
    indeed, catching a flight to get to the destination. However, most people don’t
    just travel to an airport. Take the following itinerary as an example: August
    24, Melbourne to Milan (flight); August 27, Milan to Zurich (rail); September
    2, Zurich to Paris (rail); September 6, Paris to London (rail); September 10, London
    to Cambridge (rail); September 20, Cambridge to London (rail) to Melbourne
    (flight). A travel management company would be able to tell me the traveler
    flew to Milan on August 24 and out of London on September 20 but wouldn’t have
    any details on the rest of the itinerary. Trip Approve captures all of this
    information in the trip plan created by the traveler, so if there is an issue,
    the customer can track where the traveler is with a reasonable degree of
    accuracy. 
  • Manage expenditure – A traveler creates a budget with every trip plan they create
    within the platform. This provides the organization with a guide to the costs
    associated with the trip which then shows as a commitment against the traveler’s
    travel budget. When the traveler starts to purchase their flights,
    accommodation etc., the traveler associates the expense to the trip budget
    giving them a running update on how much they have spent to date. We have found
    this to be a great way for travelers to manage their expenditure and ensure
    they don’t go over their approved budget. Furthermore, the reporting linked to
    the application provides stakeholders (managers) up-to-the-minute reporting on
    the organization’s travel finances as budgets are created and expenses
    submitted. 
  • Compliance to policy and procedures – We configure the system to allow organizations to manage
    elements within their policy. For example, if a traveler requests to travel
    business class on a flight, the approver has the ability to approve (or
    decline) this request before the airfare is purchased. This is in contrast to
    reporting business class travel after the journey has been completed (which is
    the industry standard). Furthermore, Trip Approve has functionality to track
    private travel, which in some countries carries a tax liability to the organization
    that they want to avoid at all costs. We can also monitor travel to high risk
    destinations, enforce travelers to enter information critical to the management
    of the trip and the safety of the individual, for example, emergency contact
    details, host and in country contact details and accommodation details
    (especially important as statistically we know 22% over overnight stays are
    booked outside the preferred travel management company). 
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So you’ve got the product, now how will you get lots of
customers? 

We are running campaigns through social media to create
awareness of Trip Approve. We also have excellent networks within the
government and education sectors within Australia and New Zealand and we are
starting campaigns in markets including the United Kingdom. Furthermore, we
have over 2,500 organizations through our sister company Travel Analytics that
we can activate at any time through our travel management company channels.
Realistically it will take time for us to get the traction we need, but we are
well on the way to do this. The biggest challenge for us is getting people to
understand that we are not a booking tool, and we are not looking to get into
this space. There are literally thousands of options for people to book travel,
and we don’t need to add to an already cluttered market. However, if people
want the ability to book the open market, then we have the platform that allows
them to do this. 

Tell us what process you’ve gone through to establish a
genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market. 

Over the past 12 years Simon has worked for large companies,
state and federal government and the education sector helping them to manage
their travel more efficiently. His experience is that most organizations have a
limited understanding of how to manage and reduce their travel costs. They
spend thousands implementing onerous administrative processes, poorly designed
supplier programs, monitoring and compliance systems that result in little or
no reduction in costs and high levels of dissatisfaction among users. There
are six fundamentals to managing travel: planning, approval, booking, undertaking travel, expenditure, finalization and reporting

Most organizations focus on the booking process and perhaps
the expenditure part of the process but never will they focus on all of these
parts at once. We look at it differently, we focus on everything but the
booking process, therefore, if an organization uses Trip Approve to streamline
the planning, approval, traveler management (risk), expense and finalization
process then they are going to provide their people a great travel management
experience. 

How and when will you make money?

Subscription services. Our pricing starts at $2.50 per active
profile and we make our money from people using the application. Therefore, we
need to develop a platform that people want to use, and this is critical to our
success. While there is a significant drop in travel at the moment, we are
focusing on getting customers signed up to the application and our revenues
will increase as people start to travel again. Furthermore, we don’t just rely
on flights and people are still moving around, just not always on aircraft (as
we can track road trips as easily as we can trips involving flights). 

What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the
founding team? 

Simon Crunden (founder and CEO) has been in the travel
industry for more than 20 years. He started out with Flight Centre booking
tropical holidays for people desperate to get away from a Melbourne winter. In
a matter of a few years, Simon moved into a sales role with Flight Centre
corporate division and was headhunted into a role at BTI where he ran a team of
client managers across Australia. After spending too much time away from a
small family, Simon quit and started a consulting company providing advice to
large corporate, government and university sector organizations on how to set
up travel programs. In 2015, Simon founded Travel Analytics a purpose built online
reporting tool that turned unstructured GDS and mid-office travel data into
dashboards that organizations used to understand how they spent their money on
travel products brought through their travel management company partners.
Travel Analytics grew from one subscriber to 2,500 subscribers over five years,
including Australia’s largest travel account, the Australian Government. In
early 2020, the largest university in Australia approached Simon to help them
reinvent their travel program after an internal review showed a number of gaps.
Simon agreed on one proviso – that he could build a platform that would allow
the customer to manage their travel program independently from the travel
management company. They agreed and we started to write our first line of code
in February this year, and we already have our first customer using the
platform. 

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Naresh Tripathi (CTO) Naresh Tripathi is an experienced CTO
with over 10 years within the travel industry. He has worked in B2C – retail
and B2B environments internationally and understands pain points that affect
large organizations trying to manage their travel program. He has led a small
team of developers that helped build Travel Analytics and Trip Approve. His
areas of expertise include high volume, high availability e-commerce and SaaS; technology and product innovation; scalable solutions architecture; product and commercial strategy; and cloud architecture and transformation.

How have you addressed diversity and inclusion within your
business?

We have a team of six made up of Australians, Indian,
Vietnamese and Singaporean. We also have two females on staff (including one
female developer who is a gun). We provide people opportunities based on merit
and their ability to do a job. We also work with student groups to provide them
opportunities to get real life experience working in a startup environment. 

What’s been the most difficult part of founding the business
so far? 

COVID-19. This has really dampened the appetite for organizations
to be thinking about how they can better manage their travel. Countless people
have contacted us to say can we chat in a few months’ time once we start to
travel again. The COVID-19 restrictions will ease off at some stage and people
will start to realize they need better processes in place to manage their
people movements and reduce costs. People will engage once people understand
what they can do with Trip Approve and how little it will cost them to roll it
out within their organizations. 

Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making
an impact – so why are you going to be one of lucky ones? 

We know the space extremely well and have been working
with organizations for over a decade and have been wanting to build something
like Trip Approve to better manage travel. Yes, there are applications like it
in the market, however, most of them have booking solutions attached to the end
of the process or they so over engineered people require a training course to
use them. We’re also in a community that provides plenty of
support to get out there and tells people about what we are doing and how it
will help change the way travel is managed. We’re also focusing on bringing
people into the business that will help us grow. We cannot do this by ourselves,
and it is important we have the right people onboard to make it happen.

A year from now, what state do you think your startup will
be in? 

We will have a number of customers using the application,
and we will have a full range of products and services that allow organizations
to manage their travel more efficiently than ever. We will also be leveraging
word of mouth extensively and organizations will see Trip Approve as being an
excellent alternative to traditional travel management services as we gain more
and more traction in the market. 

What is your end-game? (Going public, acquisition, growing
and staying private, etc.) 

We want to grow a business that people will want to partner
or invest in because they believe they can help us create a better space, solve
problems and make them money.

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