How business travel management startup ITILITE survived the pandemic and doubled its customers

In January 2020, on a day when India witnessed its first case of COVID-19, entrepreneur Mayank Kukreja signed a term sheet to raise $13 million in a Series B round, led by Greenoaks Capital and Vy Capital.

“It’s going to be tough, but we’ll get through it,” he recalls the conversation he had with investors.

The following months proved particularly difficult for Mayank and Anish Khadiya, who were raising funds for their business travel and expense management startup. Itilitisas the world entered a full-scale lockdown.

Overnight, the government banned all movement except for essential activities. This was a blow to ITILITE, which helps companies manage business travel through its software-as-a-service platform.

“It was not a good time for the travel industry,” Mayank acknowledges. However, the ITILITE team was optimistic that travel would return.

“March, April and May 2020 were a bit uncertain, but it became clear very quickly after the first wave that businesses would be traveling again,” he says.

A few months later, that’s what happened. People were working remotely, but not entirely, and companies started planning travel.

Mayank says sales and account management teams are a big part of travel. “Our salespeople, all the companies we talk to…their salespeople…all of them were eager to get back into the (travel) role,” he says.

The founders believed that “six months, 12 months, 24 months, no matter how long it takes, companies will travel again”. And they were right.

Today, ITILITE claims to deliver “over 30% cost savings, 40% financial productivity improvement, and 60% employee satisfaction for businesses.”

How it all began ?

Founded in 2017, ITILITE provides a travel and expense management platform for businesses to manage their travel bookings and reimbursements.

“When traveling for work, most companies in India will have to call or email a travel office and then there will be an exchange of emails. Something will be booked then,” Mayank says.

After their trip, employees must file invoices and obtain reimbursements.

He realized this was very different from personal travel, where you can access an app and book flights and hotels in minutes.

This became ITILITE’s problem statement: “How do you bring this? [personal travel] experience in booking a business trip? »

Mayank believed that managing business travel and expenses didn’t need to be tedious. He decided to create a technology platform that would allow employees to make business travel reservations, get approvals and request reimbursements.

Around 150 companies had signed up with ITILITE before COVID-19 hit the world. Employees of these customers could register, select flights, hotels, buses or trains, in the same way that reservations are made on a consumer platform.

The platform also allows the manager to get analytics on the team members.

ITILITE can register and prepare new customers in a day or two, taking into account their individual requirements and policies.

Growth amid the pandemic

ITILITE charges its customers for each booking – a variable cost model where it charges a certain fee instead of a fixed fee each month.

“Our income dropped significantly, but luckily we weren’t short of money and could focus on the long term,” says Mayank.

The co-founders interact regularly with their clients and their team. “We never thought about survival or things like that; we would put our heads down and build,” says Mayank.

Customer interactions revealed additional reach for their product.

On the one hand, travel rules were more complicated than before, which meant that companies could not rely on one person to manage all their business travel bookings and often turned to digital platforms that offered a range of services.

This is where ITILITE came in.

He also promised to help reduce the fixed cost of paying for a travel bureau, which employed 20-30 people.

“Now, as we stand on the other side of the first and second waves of COVID-19, there are more opportunities with businesses working from home. Employees are now present in different cities, which means complicated arrangements for travel and company travel, which could be handled easily by digital tools,” says Mayank.

Three months after the end of the second wave, the start-up of business travel has managed to reach pre-COVID-19 levels. ITILITE says it has retained around 95% of its pre-pandemic customers and added another 150 in the months since travel opened.

It currently serves over 320 clients in India, USA, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Clients include Automation Anywhere, BYJU’S and Intellect Design, with ITILITE claiming to have doubled booking volumes and staff numbers each month over the past six months. “But the difference is that our customer base is now 5 times bigger,” says Mayank.

In April this year, Itilitie raised $29 million in a Series C round led by Tiger Global and Dharana Capital.

ITILITE claims to have increased its revenue fivefold since its Series B in 2020. The company did not disclose specific numbers.

However, according to the latest documents available from the Registrar of Companies, ITILITE had reported revenue of Rs 19.6 crore in the financial year 2020.

At the time of funding, Tarun Davda, Managing Director of Matrix India, said, “ITILITE has demonstrated remarkable evolution and expansion over the past five years, and we have been privileged to witness their growth journey from the first days. They have combined outstanding product with meticulous execution and established themselves as a top player in the T&E sector in India.

“The recent revival of the travel industry [has led to] unprecedented interest in automating the T&E process, and ITILITE is well positioned to meet this increased demand,” he added.

Travel seems to be coming back, but an April 2022 report from Deloitte says “business travel remains below 50% of pre-pandemic spending and faces a more complex prognosis than leisure travel.”

ITILITE is in competition with the corporate offers of Thomas Cook, Yatra, MakeMyTripand others, who are also counting on the growth of the sector.

“After two difficult years, there is now an external dynamic,” says Mayank. “The goal in India is to achieve market leadership and increase the number of customers in the United States by 4 to 5 times.”

Edited by Teja Lele Desai