Epi 17: Rethink Travel Management for Your Corporation – Meagen Eisenberg, CMO of TripActions

JC: Well, welcome everybody to another episode of The Future of Biz Tech. I’m your host JC Granger, and I am here with Meagen Eisenberg, the CMO of TripActions.

JC: Meagen, thank you so much for coming on. Tell us a little bit about yourself and the company.

Meagen: Thank you for having me, definitely excited to be on. I am the CMO at TripActions. We are a full travel management and expense platform. We’ve got about 4000 customers global, around the world. It’s been a crazy, wild year of course, with COVID and us being in business travel, but we’ve launched about 40 new product enhancements and major releases so we’ve been busy as a team, building. I’m based out of the Bay Area, I’ve been here about two years. I’ve been in marketing over 20, and in Tech and love it. I love what we’re trying to do.

JC: Yeah, a fellow marketer. You’re in my head there. I’ve been doing it for about 20 years also, myself. What part of the Bay Area are you in right now?

Meagen: Right now, I’m in our Palo Alto office.

JC: I grew up out there. Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose, that whole little trifecta. Awesome.

JC: Let’s talk about that, though. You’re on the travel side. I see two sides of this. I see one is you guys obviously have been pretty affected by COVID, but it sounds like that has either A, forced a change for you guys to keep working. Or B, given you time to say, “Well, we might as well go work on all these other cool, new features.” Let’s talk about that. How has that affected your company? And then, maybe just the industry in general. It sounds obvious how it’s affected them. But I’m curious to see, how did you guys pivot to correct for that?

Meagen: Yeah, we’re still very much a full travel platform.

Meagen: One thing, though, is we had launched a product called TripActions Liquid, which is our payment and expense management, it’s a corporate card, there’s a virtual card, in February, about a week before everything shut down. So one thing we found is that the second largest spend at most companies is T&E, and 70% of that spend tends to be travel, but there’s a 30% of spend that’s not. So think about everyone setting up their at-home offices, buying software, doing marketing spend, digital paid search, you can do all of that on a corporate card and be able to much easier run the expenses on that, and do reconciliation. It accelerated that product greatly this year, because of the need for all these remote workers to be able to do payments and expensing.

Meagen: The other thing, as far as what’s happening in the industry, certainly we went from really being the best experience in business travel, to traveler safety and cost control. The tone shifted in the environment, it was very much around duty of care. We’ve built out a lot of features and enhancements around and emphasis on duty of care, a lot around cleanliness standards. When you think about travel, you want to make sure that’s a safe, secure, clean … What are the hotel’s hygiene practices? How about the airlines? Understanding that.

Meagen: Sustainability was big before, but is going to be even bigger as we get back to traveling. So making sure that we have carbon footprint, and a bunch of information in that, that people care about when they’re booking travel, whether they’re going to take a train or a plane. Which plane? What’s the most efficient way and lowest carbon footprint? And then, even ways to offset it, so a lot of work in that area.

Meagen: And, just a lot more dashboards for travel managers, trying to make sure they have visibility of where travelers are, where they’re going. We built out COVID dashboards that show reproduction numbers in the location you’re in and where you’re going, what are all the rules, waivers that people would want to know, quarantine information. That is now directly within the booking tool.

Meagen: The other thing that came about this year was unused travel credits. Think of the tens of millions of dollars in airline credits, when you start canceling en masse and companies need to manage that. Our customers, we not only made it very easy for them to run reports and track all their unused credits, now we auto apply it for the users as you book your next trip.

JC: Oh, okay.

Meagen: It automatically pulled in my credit. I had some personal credit, because I use our product for personal travel, and I had business credit. It auto applied, and then it deducted it from the cost, I was booking through United. Very easy. How was that a year and a half ago? I had to go find my email with the credit, I had to find that little code, I had to enter the code. I had to do it within a year, it was very complex. So we’ve taken a lot of the complexity out for our customers.

JC: Well, that’s huge. I’ve had to cancel a lot of trips recently, too, in this last year. Just like what you said, I have to literally keep the email unread.

Meagen: I was doing the same.

JC: Yeah, because I was paranoid that I’d lose it. When you lose the code you’re like, “Now what?”

Meagen: Yeah.

JC: Then, I’d forget, too. I canceled so many different trips, that I literally forgot that I had credit. For example, I use Amex a lot, so I go through their dashboard. Now, they’re pretty good at showing you what you have, through Delta, United, or whatever. And that’s nice, you can click on it and whatnot. But again, I wouldn’t realize I had it until I got in there. And then sometimes, again, if I lost the email, you might always be paranoid about that. I just thought that’s really interesting that you guys did that. And again, sometimes it takes these crazy events to force that innovation, because there’s nothing temporary about the benefit of what you just did there. That’s something that’ll be good after COVID, too.

Meagen: Yeah. Also, we’ve built it where it’s very easy for new customers to import all of their credits and users, and to be able to auto apply that so they don’t lose access to that and the credits, because it’s a big expense item that they need to be able to track and leverage.

JC: Does it sync up with all the different types? Again, does it sync up with American Express, where it’ll automatically go in there and pull that information out into your dashboard, so I don’t have to go to two, three different things? How does it work?

Meagen: No. Well, if you became a customer of TripActions, we would load that information into our platform. We’re not an integration tool into Amex, we would take that information and load it.

JC: So you have more of a personal touch, then. Tell us, how does that work then. I was on your website, it made it sound like I had a personal travel assistant kind of thing. Maybe walk us, the audience and myself, through how that is different than just something syncing up.

Meagen: Yeah. If you think about it, we are a full booking tool and TMC. We have travel, global travel agents, all around the world, that all are looking at the same platform, same data.

JC: Can you tell the audience what TMC is, for those who don’t know?

Meagen: Yeah, it’s a travel management company. It’s like an Amex GBT, or a BCD, someone who books tickets, can service, cancel, change, all of that. Our agents actually work on a tool called Travelzen, which is on the exact same platform that you use for booking. We’re six years old, born after the iPhone, so we are created and designed around your expected customer experience with your phone. I can book on a laptop, I can book on my phone, I can chat with an agent on the phone, I can text with the agent on a phone, or I can do it all on my own, full service. So once I book something, if I need to cancel it, I can go in and cancel. If I need to change it, I can do it within our platform and phone, or I can work with an agent on it.

Meagen: So the beautiful side of it is … Prior to TripActions, I’d used several of the legacy players. If I needed to make a change or cancellation, or let’s say my flight got canceled, what are your options? Well, you can go wait in line, at the airline. Or, you can call an agent. For us, you have all those options, but now you also have the ability to do it yourself, or chat with the agent. And, you can do it over wifi. I can be landing to make a connection, find out while I’m in-flight that my next flight is changed or canceled. I can be texting with an agent saying, “Hey, I got this alert that this is canceled. Can you book me on the next one?” They’ll respond back, “Yes, I’ve got you booked.” They know who I am.

Meagen: If you call in, first you have to wait for someone to pick up. Then, you have to say who I am, they have to figure out your policy, find out what trip you’re on. On TripActions, we already know all of that because it’s associated to your app on your phone and who you are, and we have duty-of-care, and it’s all on one platform.

JC: So I don’t have to go through all those security questions every time?

Meagen: That’s right.

JC: When I usually call Amex for example, they already verified. The fact that I’m even talking to them at all, they already know it’s me.

Meagen: That’s right. The other thing with Liquid, which I love … I’ve been a Liquid user before we launched it in February, about a year and a half. When I travel to London, Amsterdam, all of that, I have the corporate card. I can go get a coffee, go get lunch, go get dinner, I don’t have to keep the receipts. It automatically pulls in the information, reconciles it on the backend for finance, and submits the expense. It’s this whole concept of not having expense management for the traveler, or for finance. Because finance, at the end of every month, “Get all your expenses in, turn in your receipts.” You don’t have to do that anymore, because you’ve booked it on our platform and you used our payment card which is on our platform, it’s reconciling it already.

Meagen: We talk a lot about no expenses, and no expense reports.

JC: So you’re actually saving time for three different people. The person actually taking the travel, the people who have to reconcile on the backend, and then probably their managers. Because usually managers are the ones who have to usually go, review, approve, don’t approve, whatever, and then pass on to finance. That’s a lot. You think about how much money that costs companies, that’s a big deal.

Meagen: A lot of time. And, because it’s all on one platform, the policies are what really matter, they’re in there. You can set policies on your cards where you only turn them on when you’re on a business trip, so you’re not worried about fraud on corporate cards when people aren’t traveling. Since you booked travel on our platform, we know when you’re traveling, so we know when it makes sense to spend.

JC: Got it.

Meagen: The other thing is it hooks into your calendar. So if I go and have dinner with five people or 20 people, normally I would have to take a picture of the receipt, and then divide it against and load all the attendees. It will automatically pull in those that are on the calendar, and divide out the number by the people on the calendar.

JC: Okay.

Meagen: It’s integrated, you don’t need all these different systems. It just makes it so much easier for the traveler when they’re out on business, expensing. It can also set thresholds. It can set thresholds on meals, it can say, “No alcohol before five o’clock.” It could say, “No bottles of alcohol over $100.” You can get at the very lowest level, a meta level of spend, if you want. Or, you can have all the freedom of the world. Or you could say, “We do want receipts if it’s over $75.” Then, if it’s over $75 it texts me. It says, “Please load receipt.” I take a picture, it loads it in, reconciles it, I’m done.

JC: Wow, okay.

Meagen: All of that is a lot easier than the old fashioned way of running your expense reports.

JC: How do you guys charge? I guess, the second part of that question is how do you charge? And then also, that means who is this for? For example, is your price points at a point where it’s listen, this is probably best for companies that are doing a lot of travel, that have over 100 employees, or something like that. Or are you, “Hey, even if you’re not traveling that often, you can sign up for it and it only bills you when you use it.” Just, how does that work? What type of companies is this actually suited for?

Meagen: Yeah. We have clients commercial, mid-market, up to enterprise. I would say you would want at least 150 people at the company, to leverage that.

Meagen: Liquid does not have to be used just for travel, it can be used for any expensing. It could be used for shipping, it could be used for home office equipment, marketing spend, so there is a lot of different ways that you can use the card. Some people just use us for virtual, where it’s when they book flights and hotels, it’s running on a virtual card on the background. And others actually deploy corporate cards, physical cards, that their travelers or their employees can use. It just depends on how you want to set it up.

Meagen: But, you also don’t have to buy the travel component. You could just use it for expense management, or spend management, really.

JC: Sure. Okay. Now, to the marketing side. This is my favorite part, actually, and you’ve been doing this a long time. What are you guys doing for marketing right now? How are you guys getting the word out about TripActions? And then, what kind of advice would you give to listeners, as far as if they have a company that’s either similar, or they’re looking for advice? What have you guys been doing to keep your name out there, especially during all these crazy times right now?

Meagen: Yeah. I mean, marketers have definitely had to change. I would say, coming into COVID 40% of your budget was typically in events and in-person situations. And actually, a lot of pipeline and relationships were built that way. Now with COVID, of course we can’t go in-person yet, I think we’ll be out there in June or July. But, it’s a lot of going online, it’s digital, it’s paid search, it’s webinars. A lot of office hours, creating a lot of content.

Meagen: So the team’s been heavy on content, we launched a community where people can come and ask questions. Questions about COVID, business travel, credits, waivers, reproduction numbers, you name it. We have a thriving community now, because of all the questions and stuff that came up. We launched an academy. A lot of times, people will go back and redefine their roles during recessions or even depressions, and they’ll go and get certifications, so we launched a travel manager’s certification, 25 courses.

JC: Wow!

Meagen: We did about two a week, and there’s a certification at the end, targeting travel managers, procurement, finance. We built a lot since April, we built a ton of content there. We see about half our customers taking it, and half of the people registering for courses, over 11,000 I think, are prospects. It’s been a great way to become a trusted resource for travel managers and prospects, that are trying to learn what’s this new world look like. What should policy look like? How do we deliver duty of care? All the things and questions that are even more important than ever, now that we have COVID, and dealing with the pandemic, and keeping our employees and travelers safe. Content has been huge for us. Half the focus is on content.

Meagen: And then, trying to be creative in this environment. It’s a big ocean, you’ve got to go fishing. What’s the lure that we’re going to use? First, you’ve got to find out where are the fish, where are they going for information. And then, what kind of bait am I using to go get them? A lot of that, it’s creating the right content and then dropping it in the right environment. Is it Wall Street Journal, is it Business Insider, is it some online community, BTN? Wherever travel managers and CFOs are, getting in front of them. And then, making sure that we enable the field.

Meagen: And really, this year becoming a multi-product company. I think for us, we’ve got a pretty good brand around travel. We’ve got over 4000 customers, we’ve gone up-market, we have a lot more enterprise clients joining. But, they know us as travel. So what can we do to make sure they really know we actually are fintech as well? We’re a payments platform, and we’ve got this product called TripActions Liquid, this is how you can leverage it and use it, and the value prop. You know, it’s the finance audience, so getting those two together. So thinking a lot about what does that mean for our brand? How do we express that? How does that come across in our ads? And then, enabling the sales team and our customer success managers as they’re working with their customers, making sure they’re aware of how we can make their lives easier with our Liquid platform.

JC: That’s actually pretty amazing, that you guys really got creative to figure out how to survive through an event that, essentially, obliterated your industry. It’s interesting. There’s a book that I’m writing right now called Crisis Marketing.

Meagen: Yeah, I love it.

JC: How to survive and thrive during pandemics, bubble bursts, corporate scandals, things like that.

Meagen: Yeah.

JC: Because as you know, marketing has to change when you get a drastic event that changes the market, or changes financially, or just even the ability to do what you do. Nobody called this. Nobody said, “Hey, let’s insulate our travel company in case there’s a worldwide pandemic and no one’s traveling.” That’s not a thought, and no one can be blamed for that.

JC: But, you guys did a fantastic job at pivoting. And saying, “Okay, all that went away. So, what can we do to keep this afloat?” I might end up reaching out to you as a case study for that, while I’m writing it, if you don’t mind. You guys are a perfect example of what I was trying to talk about, of how to make that pivot, make those hard choices, and come up with new things, also, to reinvent yourself a little bit. I think that’s really cool.

Meagen: Happy to talk through that.

JC: Yeah. Yeah, well I guess we’ll do it for the next one.

JC: This is called The Future of Biz Tech for a reason. My first question is, what’s coming down the pipeline for TripActions? What’s the sneak peek of maybe the features or directions you guys are going, that the audience can hear now, so they know what to expect in the future from you guys?

Meagen: Yeah. A lot of discussions around the future of work. And, what does this mean, this work-from-home, work remote, mobility? What are businesses going to need, how does it change the environment? Right now, I’m in an office. Will we continue to stay in offices? Or, will we go to a hub-spoke model, where periodically, monthly, quarterly, you bring your entire company together? So, we’re doing a lot of innovation and work in our product around meetings and events. And what does that mean?

Meagen: If you imagine that world, we actually think people will end up traveling more. If you don’t have everyone in the office working together, day in day out, water cooler, bonding, aligning, you’re going to need to communicate more than ever, align objectives, and still bring people together. It may even be more expensive to bring them together when everyone’s remote, than having them all in an office, we’ll see.

Meagen: We need to create those tools and provide that. Where, let’s say you want to bring together and they’re spread out across the United States, or even spread out across Europe. Okay, should I have an Atlanta, Dallas, or New York? You’ll be able to go in our tool, put those cities in, and load the employees you want to all meet. It knows of course, because they’ve got employee data, where their location is. It knows all the inventory on the hotels, the meeting space that’s available at those hotels, the cost for airplane. We run all the dynamic pricing, the cost for flights, the room block, everything. We’ll spit out, “Hey, this is the cost to have it in Dallas, Atlanta, or New York.” You can decide what you want to do, put it in, and it’ll distribute invites to everyone to go book their travel.

Meagen: How much easier would meetings and events be, if we did that? The team is busy working on that, and bringing that future of work. We have an amazing product and engineering team, that has done a brilliant job, really going through COVID and delivering the needs of our customers around all the dashboards, and duty of care, and visibility, and all that stuff. It’s just amazing to see them tackle now what we believe the future of work to be, to provide for customers and future customers. And then, just to support our partners in the airlines and the hotels. They’re doing a lot of work around making sure they’ve got a safe environment for meetings and events, and bringing people together.

JC: That’s amazing, what you guys are doing. Now the second part of that question is, where do you see the travel industry, as far as what you guys do with software and whatnot? Where do you see the whole industry going in the next, let’s say, five years? There’s where you guys are going. But, what do you see from all this, if you had to fast forward? What do you think is coming down the pipeline, overall?

Meagen: Yeah, definitely enhanced duty of care. It’s no longer going to be an option, whether you use your booking tool or not, companies are going to need to know where employees are. You can’t go rogue and book just anything, you’re going to have to book on the tool, there’s going to be approval flows, health flows. I think there’s going to be health passports. There’s a lot of good work going in the area of making sure you can track your vaccines, and show proof of vaccine, so all of that in order to travel safely. You see the airlines right now, for international, mandating testing. How do you track that?

Meagen: I also think you can’t do global conferences over Zoom, you just can’t. The future, we’re going to get together with people, we’re going to need to meet in-person. I think you don’t sell big software deals, also. Selling $1 million without someone is only going to go for so long. As soon as your competitor meets with them and builds a relationship, they’re going to get that deal. I think, clearly in the next five years, we’re back out on the road, we’re meeting. It’s going to look a little different, we’re going to have some maybe tracking in health and vaccines, we’re going to be mandating tools of where you need to book travel. Cleanliness standards are definitely going to be front and center.

Meagen: I think we’re still going to be having meals and dinner, because there’s nothing more enjoyable than sharing a meal with someone and getting to know them.

JC: Food is happiness.

Meagen: Yes. People may not shake hands, I don’t know, but I think they’re still going to get together. Maybe we’re going to see masks for a while, I don’t know.

Meagen: I think sustainability is huge. It was always huge in Europe, I think it’s getting even bigger in the US. So globally, that is going to be something we care about, and how we offset carbon offsetting, and whether we take a train versus a plane on these shorter distances, I think you’ll see more of that. And, making sure we show those offerings.

Meagen: I had mentioned, obviously, the digital health passports.

JC: Yeah. I think that one, right there, I think is something that most people have not considered that absolutely will end up happening, because this is going to be that after action report. After this is all done, let’s say in the next year and a half, it’ll be everything looking back, hindsight. And saying, “How do we prevent this for the next one?” We were caught pretty off guard on this one, but I think that digital health passport, like you’re saying, I think that’s absolutely coming down the pipeline. That’ll probably be not just commercially, that’ll probably be something very my by the governments, which can be good and bad. But, at least there will be a standardization to it, which then can flow downstream into corporations where you guys have set guidelines, you know the base foundation that you have to build into the app is, and then the rest of the information flows.

JC: Are there going to be problems with it? Yeah. But, I absolutely agree with you, that the health passport digitally … Interestingly enough, the health passport digitally might actually end up helping regular passports go in a more digital fashion. None of this it’s going to take me six months to renew my passport, and I have a flight in two months.

Meagen: Yes.

JC: I think it’s going to end up forcing, there’s going to be ripple affects from this COVID stuff. It’s like microwave came from the NASA program.

Meagen: Yeah.

JC: Something completely random, how to heat your food in 10 seconds, came out of launching a spaceship to the moon. I think we’re going to see a lot of those. I completely agree with you, and I think that’s a really cool thing to be working on and to think about.

JC: Listen, thank you so much for coming on the show, and telling the audience about yourself, about the company, and specifically and especially, the future of where you see things going. Well how about this, is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would be a benefit to the audience to hear?

Meagen: Yeah. I think the most important thing is we had to focus, when the crisis hit, we had to focus on what do our customers need, product market fit, cost control, and our employees. I think that applies to almost anything, as you’re running a business, is keep focused on what your customers need, make sure you’ve got product market fit, that’s what you’re building. Keep innovating, to keep top of mind. Obviously, we need to always be more efficient and control our costs. And, employees matter, and our health matters, and our mental health matters.

JC: Yeah, that’s fantastic. How can people reach out to you or the company, if they really love what you’re doing here, and they’re listening and they want to try and engage with you guys?

Meagen: Yeah. Tripaction.com is our website, we’ve got a lot of ways to connect us on there. You can follow us at @tripactions on our Twitter handle, and we are on Facebook and LinkedIn, and everything else. I’m on all those platforms as well, at @meisenberg.

JC: Awesome. Well listen, thank you so much for being on the show. And, I look forward to hopefully a follow-up conversation, maybe using you guys as a case study for the book.

Meagen: Great. I thank you for having me on.

JC: Thanks, Meagen. Bye, bye.

Meagen: Bye.

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