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Jan 22, 2021

What I’ve Learned in 12 Months at TripActions

Gary Luton

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I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe you create your own awareness of things around you by continually exploring and being curious.

That’s why—one year ago—I joined TripActions as the SVP of Customer Success, after a nearly 13-year career at Salesforce.

It wasn’t a no-brainer. I was blessed to have been a part of the hyper-growth of Salesforce, which took me from the UK to Asia for 10 years and then on to San Francisco. I have incredible memories from all that we accomplished.

But I saw how TripActions was redefining the corporate travel and spend management industry, an industry with some well-known large legacy players that hasn’t changed much in decades. And after a year here, not only have I discovered some uncanny similarities with Salesforce, but I can clearly state that my move was a great one.

The Backstory

Before joining Salesforce in 2007, I worked for several consulting firms, witnessing how complex and costly it was to install and maintain enterprise software. But I also saw that most customers wanted the same thing: process digitization, cost control, robust security, and fast deployment times. Marc Benioff, of course, spotted the opportunity and created the category of cloud computing requiring “no software” with subscription pricing; it helped move CRM and eventually many other business processes to the cloud.

We were on a mission at Salesforce, and one by one, customers understood the value, moved to use Salesforce, and then never looked back. It wasn’t always easy though, and it’s worth remembering that in 2007, Salesforce was still relatively small (despite being a publicly traded company), with 1,800 employees and about $500M in annual revenue. It was like David and Goliath up against Oracle and SAP.

Then 2008 came along and brought the financial crisis. Our prospects and customers were under pressure to reduce costs, make IT spend more predictable, and be agile. This was a breakaway moment for Salesforce, and the people who questioned cloud computing suddenly saw the benefit of the new model.

So where does TripActions fit into this? When I ran global operations for the Customer Success Group at Salesforce, one of my biggest headaches was managing the travel and expense budget. It was a major part of the P&L, yet it was hard to accurately manage or predict spend using traditional tools. Everything was very manual. As we investigated solutions, I quickly realized this was a problem across the industry—and people seemed to accept it.

Similarly, most travel management companies use multiple products from different vendors to provide a service (e.g. different booking tools and different expense software), and when you combine that with out-of-date technology, this was clearly an industry ripe for change.

Enter TripActions

I wasn’t looking to leave Salesforce, but I was enamored by the vision and passion of the TripActions’ founders, Ariel Cohen and Ilan Twig, to simplify business travel and spend management. Though TripActions was smaller than Salesforce was in 2007, it had a similar momentum and approach. TripActions was disrupting an industry by providing a single end-to-end technology platform that offered customers predictable costs, a new level of duty of care, and real-time expense management—all wrapped into a product that was customer- and traveler-focused.

For me, this was solving a pain I knew all too well—and was doing so in a similar way to how Salesforce did it with CRM software in 1999.

I joined TripActions in January 2020. Growth was ridiculous, and while any fast-growing company has challenges, it seemed like nothing was going to stop us. Our customers and investors loved what we were doing, and our employees were transforming an industry.

Disrupting the Disruption

I first heard of a virus in China in January. Having lived in Asia, this was not my first experience of coronaviruses and the impact they can have on people and economies. SARS and MERS had both been deadly and massively disruptive in Asia, but each was quickly contained. I assumed that COVID-19, as it is now known, would be much the same. How wrong I was.

By March 13, 2020, I started working from home like most people. I won’t try and compare the financial crisis of 2008 to the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the world, but what is similar is the massive shock it brought to peoples’ livelihoods and businesses all over the globe. COVID-19 has not left any part of society untouched, but it’s had a disproportionately negative impact on those people in the travel and services sector.

What I learned from 2008, however, is that these global disruptive events are often a catalyst for change, and some companies and technologies emerge from them stronger. In 2008, Salesforce grew market share with a predictable cost structure, strong security, and fast deployment. And in 2020/21, TripActions will do the same, for these six reasons:

  • It’s all about the user. Both companies are customer-obsessed; in fact, it’s written in both companies’ values. And I can say from first-hand experience that both live the “customer-first” mentality in everything they do. This leads to success: Both companies care more about customer outcomes and put more innovation into products and services to achieve that.
  • Constant innovation. Like Salesforce, TripActions offers a multi-tenant architecture that has allowed us to innovate incredibly quickly for the benefit of all our customers. In the past 12 months, we have provided hundreds of new features to our customers, from city-level policy controls to Trip Proposals. No matter how big or small your business, everyone benefits from this innovation—and it’s all included in the monthly subscription.
  • Simple pricing with no hidden fees. Salesforce defined the model of simple, transparent pricing for enterprise software. Similarly, TripActions provides clear platform and consumption pricing with no hidden costs. And as businesses get back on their feet, cost control is going to be more important than ever.
  • Easy to deploy. We used to say Salesforce was 5x quicker to deploy. TripActions, too, is fast to deploy, as it’s a single unified platform. Policy and expense controls, for example? Just point and click to customize. Easy deployment is going to be critical, as companies look to rip out legacy systems and digitally transform their travel and expense programs.
  • Real-time reporting. TripActions allows finance teams to see real-time T&E spend plus any other purchasing like spot payments or light procurement. And the ability for real-time controls empowers finance and travel teams to make decisions quickly and accurately.
  • Security. Security was as critical to the success of Salesforce as it is for TripActions. But for us, it’s not just about securing the platform—it’s also about the safety and security of employees. In March, many companies using traditional travel management tools struggled to know where their travelers were, where they had traveled, and where they were going next. With TripActions, our customers can see that information in real time, allowing much quicker policy decisions. And that’s going to be essential as we come out of the pandemic.

We know that people will eventually return to business travel. If daily video conferencing has told us anything, it’s that we hate sitting in front of screens all the time. We know that the best human connections and relationships are built face-to-face. We know that companies need control of their travel and expense programs more urgently than ever.

And what I’ve learned in the last 12 months is that TripActions is by far the best solution for our customers to do just that.

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