Concur’s Raj Singh on the Emerging Mobile Scene and Where He Sees the Company Going in the Next Five Years (Part 2)
For Raj Singh, the co-founder, president, and chief operating officer of Redmond, WA-based Concur, a travel and expense reporting software developer, the recipe for success has involved jumping on trends as they are in the making. In 2002 and 2003, this meant getting on board the software-as-a-service-industry. Today it means staying relevant by embracing another game-changing trend—mobile.
Yesterday we published the first half of my conversation with Raj, where he talked about Concur’s 17-year history and how they’ve grown to be a veteran mid-size company in the Seattle tech scene. In the second half of our conversation, Raj dives into how the company has changed over the last two decades, why he thinks mobile is the future of tech (for the record, during our interview Raj joked, “I carry a Droid and an iPhone, so that makes me doubly geeky I think!”), and where he sees Concur going in the next five years. Here are some of the highlights:
X: You’ve touched on the big shifts that the company had made over the years. In 1993 when Concur started, you had a very different vision for the company than you do now. Has Concur stayed true to elements of its original design, or has the company truly shifted to something completely new in the last 17 years?
RS: I think there’s two parts to the answer. The first is we’re pretty true to the idea that the travel and expense business problem is the one we want to solve, and things that touch on those problems—we also solve problems for employee invoices. But ultimately we’re really tied around this core idea that there are some business problems that touch employees that we want to solve—travel and expense being the first and biggest. And so we’ve grown over the years, both by delivering that solution, but also by growing globally. Today we do business in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America and obviously all around America. Growing globally has been a huge growth area for us over the last several years.
The second is we’ve expanded into different market segments. If you checked in on us 10 years ago, we were really only selling to the biggest companies in the world. Today we sign more deals with small companies than we do with big companies. And what we launched three months ago, something called Concur Breeze, which was really for small businesses, companies with one to five or 10 employees. And that’s another area where we think there’s great growth.
And this final point that you raised is a really interesting one, and it’s mobility. What happens today is that with business travel, the first thing that you do when you get off a plane when you travel is you turn on your cell phone, and you check your e-mail and you do all of the things that you have to do when you’re preparing to travel, where Concur has always done a really good job in the past. We have a travel booking tool that helps you plan your travel. And we’ve done a great job of helping them when they come back from the trip, because we’ve got an expense reporting tool that does that for them and makes that really easy for them.
But when they were on the trip, there was nothing we could do to help them. And today all of that has changed. You’ve got really smart phones with location-based services. I know everything about that person’s itinerary because Concur helped create that itinerary. So we know where they’re going. We know what they’re planning to do. We know what their schedule looks like. We can provide them value-added services using our mobile applications to help the traveler make the business travel part of the process easy as well. And that’s clearly brand new. That’s not something we could have done 10 years ago, or even five years ago, because the technology didn’t exist on that platform level from a mobile perspective. So we get to think about a whole bunch of new things that we get to do for travelers that we didn’t get to think about before.
One of the cool ones—you use an iPhone right?—have you ever downloaded an app called Taxi Magic?
X: No, but I’ve heard of it.
RS: You have to download Taxi Magic, because it’s pretty cool. Concur owns a part of that company. It’s a classic business travel problem. You land at the airport and you want to get a cab. So what you can do with Taxi Magic is you can book the cab, it’ll show up where you are, and you can actually pay for the cab from your iPhone. Without pulling out any cash, you’ll pay for the cab. And it’s pretty cool because the first time you do it the taxi cab driver’s display will ding and it’ll say he’s been paid, and that will automatically float through to your expense report. So you don’t have to fill it out on your expense report. It just shows up. That application is one of the top downloaded travel apps on the app store for Apple. It’s also got a Droid application, it’s got a BlackBerry application as well. You could imagine that same story for restaurant applications. We can book restaurant reservations online. Can we get that data electronically so I can fill your expense report for you automatically? Yeah, you probably can, and it’s something that we’re working on right now. You can imagine that same story for the rest of the business travel sector. So because mobile is available now and we know that the innovation curve on mobile is so significant, we think here’s some incredible things we can do to make an employee’s life a lot easier when they are on the road, and to really take the process of filling out the expense report completely away from them. They won’t have to do anything. And we think that’s very, very soon.
X: I know that Oracle and SAP are some big global companies that deal with similar software for business management. Are there smaller upstarts targeting the same small-business clientele as Concur? Who is the competition and what makes Concur different?
RS: Of course, yes. There are always going to be some businesses out there trying to compete—and to use your word, upstarts—who are out there trying to acquire the customer. So here’s what I think is really unique, and this is what I think is the fun part of Concur and why we’re all still here 17 years later. We’re still nimble enough to be able to make on the fly, really innovative changes to what we deliver in order to meet the clients’ needs, but we’re big enough to be able to really apply real resources to solve those problems. And so that means that we can deliver really incredible innovation in any given marketplace. And so think about that small business traveler or that small business employee. Today we’ve got applications that are available on every mobile platform to deliver so that they can actually do things like we talked about in terms of how they manage their expense report. We can deliver integration with applications like Taxi Magic because we’re big enough to take investments in businesses like those to deliver the integration required in order to make that work. We can also deliver a Concur Breeze application that is fully functional and is really leveraging a platform that was built with an understanding of how some of the more complicated businesses in the world did their expense reporting, but done in a really simple way so that it could be configured and built in 10 minutes and that you could pretrial for 30, 60, 90 days.
And so what do we think is unique? We think clearly the fact that we’ve got 10,000 clients and 7 million employees who use the software every day teaches us a lot about the way that this is supposed to work.
Due to time constraints, the last follow-up question was answered via e-mail.
X: With all the changes the company has gone through in the last 17 years, where do you see the team in the next five? I’m sure you, your brother and Mike still plan to be on-board, as you’ve been all along. But do you anticipate a shift in the company? Say a larger emphasis on mobile, or an expansion of your global market?
RS: There are several areas that Concur will be focusing on down the road. Obviously, given the recent Concur Breeze announcement, we’ll continue to focus on the SMB (small-to-mid-sized business) market. The emerging business market represents roughly one-third of the U.S. work force and roughly 40 percent of the global workforce, a significant market opportunity.
Mobile will also be a key strategy for us moving forward. I remain bullish about the current level of innovation associated with mobile and feel that mobility will take industry innovation to a new level by building on the cloud.
Finally, we’ll continue to focus on our global presence, building on our partnerships with international corporate travel leaders such as American Express and Amadeus, to extend the Concur platform and provide customers around the world more choice and enhanced value.