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Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: Steve Singh, CEO of Concur (Part 5)

Posted on Sunday, May 13th 2012

SM: Interesting vision. Besides these kinds of convergences that you’re predicting, the mobile phone, the wallet and the security key, where else do you point young entrepreneurs or early stage entrepreneurs to look for opportunities?

SS: I think the other thing that’s critical is to say, hey, what business problems can I solve, on a mobile device, in a cloud computing model that were too expensive to solve prior to that? For example, just to give you a quick reference point on that, go back to a client server or Web server-based applications. You couldn’t cost-effectively deliver even expense management to a wide range of companies in a client server model. It’s just too expensive to deploy it, customize it and roll it out to all the different users within a company. You move to cloud computing and that becomes imminently cost effective and easy to deploy.  So, processes like travel booking and expense reporting weren’t even possible until you got to cloud computing. That same analogy has to be considered when you go to mobile computing. What are the things that you’d be able to automate or make easier that today are largely manual? What processes are made easier and cheaper because of mobile computing and cloud-based computing? There are literally thousands of examples around this.

You saw Instagram as a simple example of it, taking pictures and uploading them to your Facebook account. That’s the way you have to think about it. What things are largely un-automated today, whether it’s enterprise or consumer, and how can I think about them in the context of a mobile device?

SM: All right. Switching topics, I know you have been doing acquisitions as well. When you are looking at acquisitions, what is your organizing principle or how are you thinking about acquisitions right now?

SS: For Concur, we’re focused on travel and expense. So, any acquisitions that we do are squarely within the travel and expense market or markets that help advance the travel and expense market. For example, we invest in a company called Yapta, which does price assurance. It will track the tickets that you buy, and if you have an opportunity to re-purchase or refund that ticket and get a cheaper one, Yapta will alert you to it and tell you exactly how to get it done, or you can use Yapta’s service to actually get it refunded for you. Others are things like RideCharge, which has a great application called Taxi Magic, which allows you to book a taxi or sedan, GPS follow it from its current location to you, get in, pay using your cell phone, and it will automatically show up on the meter of the cab or sedan, showing that the rider paid this much for the fare and this much for the tip. And then it will automatically feed your expense report into Concur. So, we either acquire or invest in companies that advance the travel and expense marketplace on a go-forward basis both at a local level and a global level.

As an example on the global side, we are the largest investor today in a company called Cleartrip in India, which is the second largest OTA in India behind MakeMyTrip. What we love about this company is that this is an amazing organization that not only said, “Look, let me show you how to deliver a great experience to the end traveler as far as booking” but also went out and built the world’s largest content database for hotels and air for India. Cleartrip has a richer set of air and hotel content for India than any other company in the market. In fact, when you go out and say, look, I’d like to be able to book hotels in India to the extent that you can actually book it within a booking tool, you’re probably accessing Cleartrip’s content. These are the kinds of companies that we invest in.

SM: Are you going to start investing in or acquiring companies that in the travel content, vertical search or commerce space in the U.S. as well?

SS: I can’t speak to what we will do. I can speak to what we’re interested in, and we’re absolutely interested in content. We’re absolutely interested in commerce and absolutely interested in mobile. So, TripIt is another example of that. We look at TripIt as a company that at the time had about two million users of its free product, but was on an incredible growth trajectory to increase the number of TripIt users. In fact, today, less than a year later, it’s got five million users of its product. What’s amazing about TripIt is that it’s loved by the individual, and it’s an amazing opportunity to engage with an individual on a regular basis on his mobile device. Let’s drown on that for a second.

Think about the apps that you have. I’ll bet you can count on one or two hands the number of apps that you engage with on a regular basis. So, what was critical to us was to make sure that we have a real user engagement model on those mobile devices. Of course, if you’re filing or approving expenses, it makes sense to use our product on a mobile device. But if you’re on a business trip, managing your itinerary and engaging in that process was really being done in apps like TripIt. TripIt is clearly the leader there. So, we acquired this company. What’s been great is that we can now take the 30 million plus itineraries that we generate in any given month and if you have a TripIt account, we’ll feed it directly into TripIt.

We think this is an amazing place for us to start adding value, like linking to other services like the Avis car rental service or the Choice Hotels mobile applications. Just to give you an example on that. If you linked your TripIt account to your Avis account, when you book your air fare, Avis will automatically make an aggressive offer to you, saying, “Hey, look, we noticed that you’re going to be in San Francisco on this day. Would you like to rent a car from Avis? Here’s our special promotion just for you.”

SM: You’re going to do a promotion platform?

SS: We don’t look at it as a promotion platform. We want to make sure that whatever you get is relevant to what you would actually want to receive. What we don’t want to be is Groupon. We don’t want to give you so much information that you look at us and say, this is not a productive use of my time, or this is not respectful of our relationship.

SM: At the same time, from Avis’ point of view, you do offer a targeted opportunity for the company to place those promotions.

SS: Exceptionally targeted. But we ultimately control all the interactions with the end user based upon that user’s spend patterns and preferences and history. We want to make sure that anything that gets placed into either your mobile application or your Web applications that you interact with, it’s something that you wanted to be there.

SM: Yes. Cool, very cool. Anything else that you want to add in terms of trends, opportunities, points that you want to highlight?

SS: No, I think we’ve covered it. This is just an amazing time in computing. It’s rare that you see not just one or two big trends but three or four of them happening together.

SM: Very unusual times, absolutely. Very exciting times.

SS: Yes.

SM: Well, thank you, Steve. I’ve enjoyed talking with you.

SS: Thank you, Sramana. I’ve enjoyed it, too.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: Steve Singh, CEO of Concur
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