Taking business travel to the next level: Interview with TravelPerk co-founder and CEO Avi Meir

Founded in 2015, Barcelona-based TravelPerk allows companies to book business trips for their employees in 10 minutes – a process which previously could take hours. On its platform, companies can search, book, and manage trips, while automating spending limits and travel policies – saving time and cutting travel costs for businesses by more than 20%.

TravelPerk already counts big names like Uber and Transferwise among its customers, and with its latest 38 million Series C funding round raised in October 2018, the startup is well-positioned to bring its next generation business travel booking platform worldwide. We spoke to Avi Meir, co-founder and CEO of TravelPerk, who will be speaking at the EU-Startups Summit next May. Until then, here are his thoughts on business travel, Barcelona and the future of TravelPerk.

In 2015 you co-founded TravelPerk as a booking and management platform to simplify business travel. Three years later and having raised €65 million in funding, where does TravelPerk stand?

In the last five years, VCs have invested over $1 billion in travel companies. This year, in particular, has seen an uptick, with money pouring in. I mean, we have raised two rounds this year alone totaling €57 million. We’ve been at this for three years now, so we had a head start. This year we were named the fastest growing SaaS company in Europe (#5 globally) by Saas100, and more recently an industry leader by review site G2Crowd. Our focus is on building a scalable product, growing our team, building a better UX, and ultimately providing an awesome experience for everyone involved in business travel. Our plan is to tackle Europe, and continue to spearhead the revolution here. Then we will take on the US. We’re at the forefront of the business travel revolution, offering a service that simply didn’t exist before. And our unique features place us ahead of all our competitors.

“Our rockstar quality is our amazing team”

In what ways does TravelPerk simplify the business travel booking process?

Our all-in-one platform covers the whole travel management process. Everything from booking to reporting – cutting down on time and increasing savings. Managers no longer have to choose between old-school travel agents or unmanaged chaos. People just don’t need physical travel agents anymore. It sounds obvious, but they book online. Travel agents have become clunky and expensive. They’re service-based and not tech-based, so they charge higher fees. And then, the alternative of letting travellers book however and whatever they’d like is usually inefficient and an invoicing nightmare. With TravelPerk, companies can customise spending limits and automate travel policies easily, and allow travellers to self-book according to their own preferences. It’s really a team-wide impact. Everyone saves time without sacrificing control or flexibility. Plus, support is outsourced to our 24/7 team. It’s a full circle.

Over the years TravelPerk has managed to build a solid customer base, with clients including Typeform, TransferWise, and Hotjar. What is the winning feature of TravelPerk?

Anyone involved in business travel can relate to the pain immediately. It’s not a problem we have to convince people of. But what makes TravelPerk the go-to solution for solving that problem is that we’ve built a tool that simplifies and centralises travel for the entire team, travellers and finance people alike. It’s a team-wide impact. We provide them with the world’s largest travel inventory and 24/7 support. We’ve invested in these services since the very beginning. We’ve had to make hard choices, like holding off on an app or choosing against a trendy chatbot. Instead we invested in the unsexy stuff – the infrastructure. What use is a shiny interface if you can’t rely on the booking to go through, or for help with an inevitable travel issue? We want our users to trust that TravelPerk just works.

TravelPerk was named as one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies in Europe. What would you say is TravelPerk’s biggest achievement so far?

Our rockstar quality is our amazing team – whether they’re picking up the phone for a client in crisis or dedicating time to understanding their needs so we can implement the right features. Even our marketing team, which is sharing customer stories or sending them little, personalised gifts. Since the beginning, we’ve been really picky about who we bring on board. The team is self-motivated and everyone is an expert in their respective field. What these guys don’t know, they learn. They’re dedicated to their crafts. It’s why I dedicate so much of my time to hiring – like 60%, actually.

Just a month ago, TravelPerk raised $44 million in Series C funding. What is next in line for TravelPerk?

We’ve got big plans. With the spotlight on the industry, now more than ever, we’ve gotta keep up the pace. That means continuing our aggressive scaling in hiring, client acquisition… all across the board. More specifically, deepening our focus on serving the traveller. We started by building the necessary business functions for the office team. Now, we’re investing in support, in our mobile app, and always, always deepening our inventory across verticals (like our newest, trains) to better serve the traveller’s needs. We’ve also just opened new offices in London and Berlin, with Amsterdam and Paris likely to come next. Then we plan to open in totally new markets – but we’re not sharing where publicly yet.

You have chosen Barcelona as your headquarters. What are the perks of building your startup in a city like that?

Well, it was kind of happenstance to start. My wife and I were already here because of my Master’s, and then our two kids were born here, so we wanted to stay. It worked for my co-founder, Javier Suarez, and his partner too. Barcelona and its startup ecosystem have changed a lot in the last 10 years. The number of tech startups, especially internationally recognised ones, has grown, with companies like Typeform, Badi and Glovo. We have a network of support in the community with solid relationships. It’s fun to be a part of the energy. I mean, Barcelona kind of sells itself. It’s easy to attract and retain talent here. It’s an amazing city and has a really nice balance of professional opportunities, and also a great quality of life.

As a serial entrepreneur, you have an extensive background in the travel/booking sphere with Hotel Ninjas and Budgetplaces.com. How has the industry changed in the last decade and where is it headed?

What’s happened in other industries – like what Slack did for internal comms or Asana did for project management – is finally coming to business travel. Why is it harder to book a work trip than your own vacation? It shouldn’t be. People expect consumer-grade at the office, too. Leisure travel had its own revolution years ago. Now, with the massive investments of 2018, it’s clear business travel is next… something we bet on three years ago. I mean, it’s a $1.5 trillion market, virtually untapped. Recent developments in tech are making it possible. Just five years ago, it was too complicated for any startup or legacy tool to develop an OTA (online travel agency) system for businesses. Things have changed. New startups are entering the field and building the technology needed to overcome the complexity. There’s a narrowing gap between consumer and enterprise software. And the industry giants haven’t been able to keep up with expectations. The antiquated annual release won’t cut it anymore. You need to be shipping fixes and new releases on a near hourly basis. Ultimately, SaaS, in general, is modernizing the way companies do business. In the old world of selling software, you would sell a suite to C-level exec. Now the end user – in our case the travel manager or traveller – can get started immediately, it’s how we get our foot in the door.

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