For most of the past two years, the pandemic has put the kibosh on nearly all types of business trips. This has dampened the enthusiasm of investors in travel and expense (T&E) startups, predictably, whose expertise lies in creating software for travel and other forms of expense. But as the hunger for in-person events and interactions returns to what it once was, T&E is once again becoming a category of interest.
Example: Itilite, a Bengaluru, India-based T&E software development company, today announced it has raised $29 million in a Series C round co-led by Tiger Global and existing investor Dharana Capital with participation from Matrix Partners and Tenacity Ventures. In an interview with MovieUpdates, CEO Mayank Kukreja said the proceeds will be spent on “aggressively expanding[ing] in North America through product innovation, sales and marketing and partnership development.”
“If [former] road warriors who travel more than 200 nights a year for business travel, and as consultants who have worked with organizations around the world to help them balance costs and employee experience, [we] realized that business travel and the systems that supported it were inefficient and flawed,” Kukreja, who co-founded Itilite with Anish Khadiya in 2017, told this reporter via email. “The enormous dissonance between personal and business travel processes presented an interesting opportunity. Even as personal travel became more seamless and ‘digital’, business travel was still plagued by laborious manual processes, mysterious approval structures and the lack of effective cost control. Thus Itilite was born.”
Before starting Itilite, Kukreja worked as an engagement manager at McKinsey for a little over four years before accepting an offer at Myntra, a Bangaluru, India-based e-commerce fashion retailer. Khadiya also worked at McKinsey as an engagement manager before joining Myntra as director of strategy and planning.
With Itilite, which is designed to integrate with existing business systems, Kukreja and Khadiya sought to build a service that could automate T&E processes by providing travelers with personalized options based on their preferences and previous searches. For example, Itilite can automatically create expense reports based on travel data and encourage employees to submit them. The product also encourages employees to make “cost-conscious” choices when they travel by offering small rewards in return.
“AI and machine learning have always been at the heart of our product… [it helps users] more efficient booking in terms of cost and time,” said Kukreja. “Today, with most systems, businesses have to choose between an easy-to-use system or a system with controls. The goal of our product is to provide a blend of consumer experience and enterprise level control.”
Itilite also features built-in fraud prevention tools that use AI to detect submission errors. That’s a required feature, depending on what research data you think. T&E expense firm Certify found in a 2014 analysis that companies lost $30,000 each because of expense fraud reports, such as mischaracterized expenses, fictitious expenses, overspending, and multiple reimbursements.
The T&E space — which could be $17.4 billion by 2027, according to Grand View Research — is full of competitors, including Concur, TripActions and Expensify. (IDC recently estimated that as of 2018, Concur controlled more than half of the total T&E market.) But Kukreja claims Itilite has more than 300 customers, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups in the US and India. Though he declined to share revenue figures, he said travel bookings on Itilite’s service increased 200% from pre-pandemic numbers, while the company’s customer acquisition rate tripled.
“We’re adding customers at a faster clip than ever. This also indicates that business travel has made a strong recovery and will continue to rise in the coming months,” said Kukreja, adding that Itilite plans to double its workforce of 300 this year. “For many of our customers, we support their teams. in all regions to create a seamless T&E experience.”
To date, Itilite has raised $47 million in venture capital.