[From the Breakout Growth Podcast with Sean Ellis]
Breakout Growth at its Best
TripActions is the travel management platform disrupting the 1.5 trillion corporate travel industry. It is a booking tool and travel agency all in one, and it is helping its more than 3000 clients control and manage their travel expenses while providing world-class experiences for traveling employees.
Incumbent corporate travel solutions serving enterprise today were built on travel management models developed 25 years ago. TripActions came into the market less than five years ago, and that has given the company the ability to approach travel management from a new and fresh perspective.
TripActions is now a $4+ billion company, and in just the past 10 months its customer base has grown 50% from 2000 to more than 3000 clients. During those same 10 months, the company’s team size has tripled and they now employ over 1000 people. The marketing team alone grew fivefold from 10 to 50 members last year.
What is driving this almost perfect example of breakout growth? How is its growth process working to support the engine of growth TripActions has created? And how is the company able to manage and lead its teams through this expansion? In this growth study, we will deep dive into TripActions success story to answer these questions.
Product/Market Fit Across Key Stakeholders
Travel management services like Egencia and Concur were built pre-iPhone, whereas TripActions was developed in a mobile-first world. This is especially meaningful for travelers in motion, where pulling out a laptop in the middle of an airport versus interacting with a mobile app can be the difference between catching a flight and a nightmare experience. Even though the decision-makers TripActions’ must reach are CFOs, procurement directors, or travel administrators, the company fundamentally understands that their B2B opportunity is actually driven by the traveler experience.
TripActions has taken a traveler-first approach with the idea that a better traveler experience works to the benefit of both the traveler and the client relationship. A single booking fee for every trip regardless of changes, free customer support (phone and chat), and an integrated experience where Lyft and Uber options are proactively offered in-app during travel ensure great travel experiences, and those delighted travelers have a viral effect
TripActions has about a 90% adoption rate for its platform once it is purchased by a company. As the second-largest controllable expense for most companies, CFO’s and administrative staff look to travel management platforms to control these costs, but if adoption is only around 50% then the effects of these services on the bottom line are limited. By focusing on creating great travel experiences TripActions ensures that companies are able to fully realize the potential cost savings from the platform, who in some cases are spending over $100 million a year on employee travel.
When the platform is being used by the vast majority of a company’s traveling employees the company gets the benefit of better transparency and reporting. This, in turn, helps the parties responsible for travel expenses to negotiate better rates with vendors (TripActions helps in this process too). With better overall control, TripActions customers report up to 34% saving on lodging alone. This symbiotic relationship between the traveler experiences the administrative management experience has driven the incredibly strong product/market fit propelling TripActions’ success.
Building a Growth Process to Support Breakout Growth
To storm an established market, disruptive organizations must work to quickly turn product/market fit into growth while legacy competitors struggle to change. TripActions has accomplished this by creating a culture of high tempo testing and optimization, which they keep on track with a Northstar metric that quantifiably and actionably rallies the entire company around the mission.
Total Bookings under Management (TBUM) is this metric and it ties seamlessly to the mission of providing a first-rate travel platform that controls and manages expenses for company administration while supporting every aspect of a traveler’s booking needs and experience. Every team can then focus their experimentation around efforts that ladder up to this core metric of growth.
Whether it is a product team initiative to create new functionality that allows travelers to change flights in the app, or a customer success team experiment designed to help customers reconcile travel expenses more efficiently, every effort is designed to move the TBUM metric up and to the right. Other sub metrics like Net Promoter Score and customer satisfaction rates are, of course, tracked and measured, but ultimately if efforts to move these sub metrics are successful, they are reflected in Northstar metric gains.
The marketing team supports all of the teams by focusing on strategies and tactics that drive awareness, purchase, and use. Through their own experimentation processes, this team is able to amplify the successes achieved by product, customer success, customer support, etc. to drive awareness for the value the company is bringing to enterprise clients and their travelers.
Meagen Eisenberg, TripActions Chief Marketing Officer says this about the growth process: “This is the fun part about marketing in growth . . . You are always testing . . . If we get too conservative we are not going to innovate and take the market." With that spirit, Eisenberg has led TripActions broad and innovative efforts to drive growth since joining the company nearly one year ago.
Growth Leadership Culture
Managing breakout growth is always a tall order, but when your goal is to “take” an enormous market, the challenge intensifies. TripActions founders, Ariel Cohen and Ilan Twig, did not come from the travel industry, and there was skepticism that they could disrupt this market, but what they did have was experience building effective organizations. Together they had built and sold StreamOnce, a business multimedia integration platform that was acquired by Jive Software.
Eisenberg explains, “Culture and value [at TripActions] are about raising the bar. If you are all rowing in the same direction, imagine how much faster you will get there? It starts at the top with leaders who are smart and work hard and stay humble.”
We have learned how core metrics align TripActions teams with the mission, and how that has helped the company capitalize on incredible product/market fit. When we dig deeper we can also see how a focus on organization and structure have sustained TripActions’ intense pace of growth.
Team Structure and Organization
Eisenberg’s marketing organization includes a product-marketing team, a growth team, a website systems team, a corporate communications team, communications and brand team, a PR team, a field & events team, and a customer-marketing team. Some of these teams work across the entire funnel, while others focus more on brand awareness or pipeline generation.
It is interesting to note that the growth team reports into marketing as opposed to the product organization, but in context this makes sense; the growth team focuses on demand generation, while other teams handle the heavy lifting of iterating the traveler experience.
The success of the organization depends on continuous collaboration between sales, marketing, product, and customer success teams. It is these relationships that keep “everyone rowing in the same direction”. For example, if the sales team finds that potential clients are hesitating to switch to TripActions because they fear the switchover process, the marketing team can develop messaging that highlights how a dedicated customer service manager can help manage this transition. This might include highlighting how clients like Branch and LetGo were able to transition from legacy solutions to TripActions in less than a week.
The field and events team can then showcase this messaging to decision-makers at the next GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) or CFO event, while the website team can highlight these points in the free demo funnel. This ability to share customer feedback knowledge from customer service managers and sales staff, and throughout the product and marketing organizations exemplifies how TripActions’ structure has been a key ingredient in the company’s success.
Other Drivers of Growth
The marketing team has continuously focused on finding and testing new channels to support and sustain growth, and buoyed by a strong brand, their omnichannel approach has yielded several successful growth levers. Paid search has been a consistent driver of growth, while organic efforts have also proven to be successful.
The PR team has been especially effective in the past year in driving inbound traffic growth through positive media coverage, as the field marketing team’s initiatives have helped the company reach decision-makers at industry events.
Although the corporate administrators who may make the purchasing decisions for TripActions’ services may not be active travelers themselves, referral loops are an important part of the TripActions growth engine. Great travel experiences turn into great stories, and this has driven a strong NPS score around 50, but more tangibly it has also led directly to new client acquisitions. TripActions has several examples of new client acquisitions that resulted when a new hire arrived at their new job and shared their positive TripActions experiences.
Eisenberg is quick to point out that when a TripActions’ customer support representative goes the extra mile to have a glass of wine delivered to a weary traveler’s hotel room after a canceled flight, it can have a positive long-tail effect on growth.
TripActions has become a $4+ billion business and disrupted a 1.5 trillion market by looking at the idea of a B2B travel management platform from a different vantage point. Incumbent platforms saw their end-users as CFOs looking to control costs, travel administrators focused on compliance, etc., but TripActions saw their end-users as humans, and shaped the business around delivering a great travel experience from the time a user books a trip to the moment they return to their home.
TripActions did not build this incredible travel experience at the expense of the administration experience, or vice versa. In fact, they saw these two experiences as uniquely coupled, and have used this approach to drive breakout growth.