Concur Pushes Business Travel Technology with Venture Investments
Since Concur busted out a $150 million corporate venture capital fund last November, the travel expense management company has backed nine startups—including three investments announced this week—in a bid to accelerate technology development in the business travel industry.
The Redmond, WA-based company is backing StayNTouch, which raised $1.6 million from Concur and Acceleprise, to build a cloud-based communications platform to connect hotel staff and guests on mobile devices; and two Seattle-area companies, Yapta, the airfare tracker, which we noted Tuesday; and Trover, the Rich Barton-backed platform for travel photography.
That last one may seem a bit counter-intuitive for a company focused on business travel. But Mike Hilton, Concur’s executive vice president in charge of strategy and product, says it’s indicative of the ways his company sees business travel changing.
Hilton, who co-founded the company nearly 20 years ago with brothers Steve and Rajeev Singh, says the Concur Perfect Trip Fund aims to support new applications that leverage mobile, social, cloud computing, and big data—all of which are transforming business travel.
“There is an amazing amount of innovation happening in the market… a lot of which we would never have gotten to on our own,” he says.
The Perfect Trip Fund does have targets for investment return, but Hilton says these are secondary to the broader goals of advancing the industry at large—particularly the part of it that plays in the company’s T&E Cloud, a platform for providing apps, services, and data, to business travelers and suppliers.
The fund’s name is a reference to Concur’s aspiration for business travel that is centered on the traveler, who would return home with something more positive to say than the common road-warrior tales of missed flights, bad food, and uncomfortable hotel rooms. Technology has a big role to play in the would-be perfect trip.
Mobile, in particular, is having a bigger impact on business travel than any other broad technology advancement Concur has seen, Hilton says. Keep in mind that the company started with software to replace the paper matrices, pencils, erasers, and calculators commonly used to report expenses circa 1993, and has evolved its offering through the arrival and spread of the Internet, software-as-a-service, and cloud computing.
Mobile is “overtaking every part of the lifecycle of business trips. Planning, booking, even transacting, all of your in-trip experience, and then all of the stuff you want to do when you get home in order to get reimbursed—every piece of that business trip is being transformed through smartphones and these mobile apps,” Hilton says.
Earlier Perfect Trip Fund investments include Taxi Magic, mobile applications for ground transportation; Evature, natural-language search for online travel; buuteeq, cloud-based digital marketing for hotels, based in Seattle; Room 77, a hotel search engine; Cleartrip, travel site for the Indian market; and Nor1, software to help hotels and resorts up sell to guests.
And then there’s Trover. Hilton says a major consumerization trend is displacing the old “command and control” model in business travel, in which companies set their policies and employees simply had to follow procedure. That’s going away, thanks to a vast array of travel choices and mobile apps available to consumers—almost 50,000 in the Apple App Store alone—as well as the work travel suppliers have done to attract and retain individual customers.
“Travelers are having a much bigger voice in how business travel happens now,” Hilton says. “We’re advocating a strategy of embracing these trends.”
That means reconciling consumer behavior with the fundamental needs of corporate travel management: visibility to where employees are travelling and control over how they spend the company’s money.
“We think Trover is very interesting on the social side of all of this behavior,” he says.
Trover’s $2.5 million funding was led by Concur (NASDAQ: CNQR) with participation from existing investors General Catalyst Partners, Benchmark Capital, co-founder Barton, and other angel investors.
Trover’s offering could lead to more personalized travel experiences through things like social recommendations. It could add functions or content to Concur’s own mobile apps, Hilton says. But he also acknowledges it’s not clear at present exactly what the fit may be. “That’s OK with us,” he adds.