US-based Accel backs familiar faces at startup Travelstop in US$3m round

US venture firm Accel is putting money behind business travel management startup Travelstop, reuniting the investor with alumni from vacation rentals platform Travelmob.

On Wednesday, Singapore-based Travelstop announced that it has raised US$3 million in a pre-Series A funding round led by Accel, which was a seed investor in Travelmob seven years ago. Travelstop is the brainchild of Travelmob's co-founder Prashant Kirtane and former executives Vijay Aggarwal and Altaf Dhamani, and was founded in 2017.

Travelmob had rejected a buyout offer from Airbnb shortly after launch in 2012. Travelmob was later sold to Airbnb competitor HomeAway in 2013, which was in turn sold to Expedia Group for US$3.9 billion two years later.

With Travelstop, Mr Kirtane and his team are tackling a different gap in the travel market - the sheer inefficiency of business travel, where employees manually claim for expenses and face long processing periods.

Travelstop's pre-Series A round was joined by Singapore venture firm Strive and existing investor SeedPlus. The startup previously raised US$1.2 million in seed funding last year from SeedPlus, alongside an undisclosed US travel-focused company and angel investors.

As part of Travelstop's latest round, Accel partner Prashanth Prakash will join the startup's board of directors. Mr Prakash had also led Accel's investment into Travelmob. 

The fresh funding will be deployed to improving the platform's technology, customer care and customer engagement efforts, Mr Kirtane told The Business Times. The startup hopes to ride on the trend of "high growth" businesses allowing employees to customise their flight and accommodation bookings.

"Young business travellers like to have a bit of flexibility; they may decide to travel in a low-cost airline, stay in a guesthouse and have (more expensive) meals. That's where business travel is moving towards… the unmanaged business travel space," he said, referring to how more businesses allow employees to customise their corporate travel without tapping an external agent. 

The idea of a one-stop business travel platform is not new. Travelstop is up against enterprise solutions like SAP's Concur and Egencia by Expedia. But the existing solutions do not cater to the needs of "high growth" companies looking for more customisable solutions, Mr Kirtane said. 

"They are very focused on supporting the larger-sized companies and the onboarding can take many days… What we are focused on is the smaller-sized companies where the needs and requirements are not at substantial (scale) and they are looking for an easy-to-use tool that can onboard employees in a matter of minutes," he added. 

Travelstop is creating "a locally relevant solution for the millennial generation of business travellers", said Accel's Mr Prakash in a press statement. "We are excited to join Travelstop on their mission to shape the future of business travel."

More than 1,000 companies, mostly startups and SMEs, have used Travelstop since launch, Mr Kirtane said, citing Singapore startups Carousell and Funding Societies as examples. Travelstop's target markets are Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

The platform is currently free-of-charge, but will kick off monetisation via a freemium model in the coming months. Under the paid package, Travelstop will charge companies a monthly subscription fee of US$10 per employee who is an active user. It will also offer customised plans for firms. 

Travelstop is building up its offerings to target more regional businesses. It is teaming up with Indonesian flight booking platform Traveloka to display the latter's inventory of flights and hotels to Travelstop users. The feature will be introduced in the coming months. Travelstop will also add other features, including round-the-clock travel disruption management and travel insurance. 

Moving ahead, Mr Kirtane is in no hurry to map out Travelstop's long-term plans. While Travelmob was acquired within a year of its founding, Mr Kirtane plans to build up Travelstop over a longer duration. The startup expects to raise its Series A round in the next 18 months.

"For Travelmob, we decided upon getting acquired because Airbnb... was coming in very aggressively into the market… With Travelstop, given that there are not many competitors in Asia and given our experience, we're in this for the long term. We think that we can build a huge business out of the corporate travel market in Asia," he said.