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Q&A: Dennis Vilović, Founder, Trooptravel

Trooptravel at Tech Crunch in San Francisco

BBT caught up with Dennis Vilovic (pictured, left), founder of Trooptravel, which won the Business Travel Disrupt Award 2018 at the Business Travel Awards

Why did you apply for a Disrupt Launchpad stand at Business Travel Show?
When we came across the Disrupt Launchpad at the Business Travel Show, we had just finished a transition from a consumer to a corporate offering. For us, the Launchpad was a perfect opportunity to test the reaction and interest of the industry on our offering.

At what stage were you in the business?    
When we applied, we were at a very early stage. We had just released our proof of concept focusing on corporate travel and we were still trying to figure out the details of how the service will be once it launches.

Tell us a bit about your business.
Imagine you have to find a meeting location for a group coming from different starting locations which is cost effective, easy to reach, safe to travel to, within travel policy, with a low carbon footprint, and has ideally an office and maybe some nice things to do for the travellers. This is what we are doing. We use Big Data and machine learning to find optimal meeting locations for corporate groups and events based on your specific requirements.

How did being at the Business Travel Show help?
Being at the show created massive value for us. Independently of winning the Disrupt Award, we received a huge amount of inputs and feedback on our product. Looking at our first commercial clients, most of them are actually contacts we made at the Business Travel Show in 2018. In addition, we met Johnny Thorsen, a well-respected expert in the business travel industry, at the show for the first time and he is now one of our key strategic advisors. Without us being at the show, we would not be where we are today.  

Tell us about the process of entering, being shortlisted for and then winning the Disrupt Award. What did it mean to you to win?
Passing through each of the steps of the Disrupt Award has been a huge success for us. In the end, we were a very young start-up with no name in the industry and we managed to compete with well-established companies.

Getting shortlisted was an especially huge achievement because it depended purely on a public vote and we did not have a big crowd of followers which we could have activated. Being crowned the winner took us totally by surprise. It was an amazing recognition from the industry and ignited an amazing journey so far.

How have things progressed – product and business wise – since you were at the show in February?
At lot has happened since February. We launched our alpha version of the platform in June, tested it with 22 global clients covering almost 700,000 employees and incorporated all their input into the commercial version, which we are launching at the Business Travel Show in 2019. We are currently rolling out our pre-launch with a selected number of early adopters on our first commercial agreements. Finally, we have managed to build a name in the industry.  

What advice would you give to travel start-ups?
I don’t think we can stress enough the importance of engaging early with your potential corporate customers. Having run a free pilot with a focus on learning from the users helped us to enhance the platform massively, build trust with our users and finally get the first commercial agreements in place.

It has been an incredible experience for us on how open and helpful key travel buyers are to start-ups. There is a huge need for innovation on many aspects of business travel and buyers are really keen on seeing more innovative solutions in the market. Thus, our experience so far has been that they are generally open to provide feedback or make meaningful introductions. And this is of key importance for a start-up.

Why should they apply for a Disrupt Launchpad stand?
The Disrupt Launchpad is a great opportunity to showcase innovative solutions and to engage potential customers in discussions on your product. We cannot stress enough the amount of valuable feedback and insights we got from showcasing our concept at the show.

What will it mean to you to come back to the show in 2019 and be on the main show floor with the other big suppliers?
We are very much looking forward to coming back in 2019 and this time being part of the main show floor. We will officially launch our commercial product at the show in February and we can’t think of a better forum for this. In addition, it will be a great opportunity to meet in person with a lot of our friends and partners which we have made over the last year.

What do you think business travel will look like in 2022?
I think that, in the last two years, we have seen a lot of innovation and disruption coming into the industry. We believe that this is just the start of a huge trend of changing the way we look at business travel. Whether it is the way we travel (eg supersonic flights, autonomous driving, hyperloops, airport handling) or the way we look at managing business travel. Technology will replace (and improve) a lot of services which are currently done by human beings. In short, travel will be faster and more comfortable.

And what will booking business travel look like by then?
Technology (eg Big Data combined with AI) will take the decisions on when to travel, where and how. Travel platforms will aggregate data feeds from CRM systems, individual traveller profiles, events calendars and manage business travel for us. Corporates will consider business travel not as a cost anymore but as a value. Finally, the real value a business trip is creating becomes measurable and can be planned for through big data analysis and that will be the moment we don’t need travel policies anymore. Does this sound exciting? For us, yes! 

Applications for the 2019 Disrupt Launchpad at the Business Travel Show (20-21 February) are open until Monday, 3 December 2018. It is open to business travel start-ups that are three years old or younger. Up to ten businesses will be provided with a free stand at the event, as well as an entry into the Business Travel Disrupt Awards. The top five start-ups chosen by an open vote will go on to compete in a live pitching session at the show, with the winner to be chosen by a panel of judges. To apply for the Disrupt Launchpad, visit businesstravelshow.com/whats-on/disrupt-awards/disrupt-information

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