For most of the past two years, the pandemic has put a damper on business travel of almost every kind. This has dampened investor enthusiasm for travel and expense (T&E) startups, predictably, whose expertise lies in building software for travel and other forms of expense. But as the appetite for in-person events and interactions returns to what it once was, T&E is once again becoming a category of interest.
Case in point: Itilite, a Bengaluru, India-based company that develops T&E software, today announced that it has raised $29 million in a Series C funding round co-led by Tiger Global and existing investor Dharana Capital with participation from Matrix Partners and Tenacity Ventures. In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO Mayank Kukreja said the product will be earmarked for “aggressive expansion[ing] in North America through product innovation, sales and marketing, and partnership development.
“Like [former] road warriors who have spent more than 200 nights a year on the road on business trips, and as consultants who have worked with organizations around the world to help them balance the cost and experience of employees, [we] realized that business travel and the systems supporting it were inefficient and flawed,” Kukreja, who co-founded Itilite with Anish Khadiya in 2017, told this reporter via email. “The massive dissonance between personal and professional travel processes presented an interesting opportunity. Even as personal travel became increasingly transparent and “digital,” business travel was still plagued by laborious manual processes, murky approval structures, and a paucity of effective cost controls. Thus, Itilite was born.
Prior to launching Itilite, Kukreja spent just over four years as an engagement manager at McKinsey before accepting an offer at Myntra, an e-commerce fashion retailer based in Bangaluru, India. Khadiya also worked at McKinsey as Head of Engagement before joining Myntra as Director of Strategy and Planning.
With Itilite, which is designed to integrate with existing enterprise systems, Kukreja and Khadiya sought to create a service that could automate T&E processes by giving travelers personalized options informed by their preferences and past searches. For example, Itilite can automatically create expense reports based on travel data and prompt employees to file them. The product also incentivizes employees to make “cost-conscious” choices when traveling by offering small rewards in return.
“AI and machine learning have always been at the heart of our product… [it helps users] book more efficiently in terms of cost and time,” Kukreja said. “Today, with most systems, businesses have to choose between an easy-to-use system or one with controls. The goal of our product is to provide a blend of mainstream experience and enterprise-grade control.
Itilite also offers built-in fraud prevention tools that leverage AI to detect submission errors. This is a required feature, depending on what survey data you believe. Expense firm T&E Certify found in a 2014 analysis that companies lost $30,000 each due to expense fraud reports, such as mischaracterized expenses, fictitious expenses, overstated expenses, and multiple reimbursements.
The T&E space — which could be worth $17.4 billion by 2027, according to Grand View Research — is teeming with competitors, including Concur, TripActions and Expensify. (IDC recently estimated that in 2018, Concur held more than half of the overall T&E market.) But Kukreja says Itilite has more than 300 customers ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups in the United States and India. Although he declined to share revenue figures, he said travel bookings on Itilite’s service were up 200% from pre-pandemic figures, while the acquisition rate of company customers had tripled.
“We are adding customers at a faster rate than ever. It also indicates that business travel has seen a strong recovery and will continue to increase in the coming months,” Kukreja said, adding that Itilite plans to double its workforce by 300 this year. “For many of our clients, we help their teams in all geographies create a seamless T&E experience.”
To date, Itilite has raised $47 million in venture capital.