20VC TravelPerk’s Avi Meir on Why 2021 Will Be A Record Year For Business Travel, The 3 Priorities For All Founders During COVID, What VCs Can Do To Really Support Their Founders In A Recession



In a revealing conversation on "20 Minutes VC," host Harry Stebbings interviews Avi Meer, the CEO of TravelPerk, about the current state of business travel amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Avi shares his journey from a young coder to a successful entrepreneur, his company's swift transition to remote work, and his views on the cautious approach to lockdowns. Advocating for a balanced response, Avi emphasizes the importance of assessing the economic and societal costs of continued restrictions. He predicts a resurgence in business travel in 2021, with domestic travel leading the recovery, and highlights the need for flexibility and adaptation in the travel industry. The discussion also touches on the support startups need from VCs during crises, with Avi commending the proactive backing from investors like LocalGlobe. Finally, Avi envisions TravelPerk becoming the leading business travel platform within five years, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Travel Perk and Avi Meer

  • Avi Meer is the founder and CEO of Travel Perk, a travel management platform.
  • Travel Perk aims to improve business travel by integrating leisure and corporate travel smoothly.
  • Avi has raised over $134 million from investors like DST, Spark Capital, Felix Capital, and Hardcore.
  • Prior to Travel Perk, Avi co-founded Hotel Ninjas, which was acquired by Booking.com.
  • He has experience managing large teams, particularly in product and marketing roles.

"I'm delighted to welcome back to the show a friend and former guest, Avi Meer, founder and CEO at Travel Perk, the travel management platform that combines the best of leisure and corporate travel into one smooth experience."

This quote introduces Avi Meer and his company, Travel Perk, highlighting its mission to streamline business travel.

Avi Meer's Background and Entry into Startups

  • Avi Meer's entry into the startup world was by accident.
  • He has been passionate about computers, coding, and systems from a young age.
  • Avi transitioned from coding to building and managing teams.
  • He lived in Barcelona for over a decade, originally from Israel.
  • Avi's previous venture, Hotel Ninjas, was a SaaS for hotel management, sold to Booking.com in 2014.
  • Travel Perk was founded with the mission to improve the business travel experience.

"I started coding when I was very young, even younger than you, Harry. And yeah, I was passionate about understanding systems and hacking in the old sense of the word, meaning understanding how system works and then finding creative ways of getting the system to do something that wasn't meant to do."

This quote describes Avi's early interest in coding and systems, which later evolved into entrepreneurship.

Mission Statement of Travel Perk

  • Avi believes that effective mission statements are opinionated.
  • Travel Perk's mission is to fix the problems associated with business travel.

"The two sentences speech behind travel perk is business travel sucks and we're here to fix it."

The quote succinctly captures the mission statement of Travel Perk, highlighting its purpose to improve business travel.

Impact of COVID-19 on Travel and Remote Work

  • COVID-19 has significantly impacted the travel industry.
  • Travel Perk transitioned to remote work before it was mandated in Spain.
  • Avi initially supported lockdowns due to the uncertainty surrounding the virus.
  • He emphasizes the need to balance the costs of lockdowns with the risks.

"Back in beginning of March, we closed all offices down and moved to be fully remote."

This quote explains Travel Perk's proactive response to the COVID-19 outbreak by shifting to remote work early on.

Avi Meer's Perspective on Lockdowns and Reopening

  • Avi Meer initially agreed with the lockdown but now advocates for a reassessment of its impact.
  • He points out that many jobs cannot be performed remotely.
  • Avi emphasizes the need for open discussions about the consequences of continued lockdowns.
  • He believes that society must understand the trade-offs between known and unknown risks.

"We have to choose between something that is a known bad versus an unknown potential bad."

The quote emphasizes the difficult decisions society faces when dealing with the pandemic and the need to weigh different risks.

Government Response to the Pandemic

  • Avi Meer suggests a Swedish-like approach as a potential compromise.
  • He values the freedom to take risks and the importance of personal responsibility.
  • Avi is critical of politicizing the pandemic and believes it should be addressed as a societal issue.

"Part of being a free person is taking risks sometimes and acknowledging that you take a risk and understanding that and being okay with it."

This quote reflects Avi's belief in personal freedom and responsibility when it comes to navigating risks, including health risks during the pandemic.

Balance Between Protection and Freedom

  • Avi Meir discusses the balance between protecting vulnerable populations and preserving individual freedoms during the pandemic.
  • He criticizes overly restrictive measures that impinge on personal freedoms and dignity.
  • Avi Meir favors the Swedish approach to managing the pandemic at the time of the conversation.
  • He advocates for allowing low-risk individuals, particularly those under 45 without preexisting conditions, to return to work.
  • Emphasizes the importance of following safety guidelines without enforcing unnecessary restrictions.

"The Swedish approach seems to be the right one... If you're below 45 and healthy, your risk seems to be pretty low... I would not force anybody. But if you choose to do so, you should be allowed to go back to work and you should try and follow as much as you can the guidelines for social distancing and keeping things safe."

The quote explains Avi Meir's support for the Swedish model of pandemic management, which he sees as a balance between protecting the vulnerable and maintaining personal freedoms for low-risk individuals.

Misuse of Resources and Common Sense

  • Avi Meir criticizes the misuse of public resources, such as police using a helicopter to chase a lone camper.
  • He calls for the use of common sense in enforcing pandemic-related measures.
  • Suggests that people inherently do not want to put themselves at risk and can be trusted to act responsibly.

"Why are our tax money being used to chase a guy camping in the middle of nowhere?... Use common sense. Let people go back to work, encourage people to understand the risk."

This quote criticizes the perceived overreach and unnecessary use of resources by authorities during the pandemic, advocating for more sensible approaches based on trust in the public's judgment.

Flattening the Curve Misconceptions

  • Avi Meir clarifies misconceptions about the goal of flattening the curve.
  • He explains that flattening the curve is about delaying infections to manage healthcare system capacity, not preventing them entirely.
  • Emphasizes the need for public understanding of the strategy behind pandemic measures.

"Flattening the curve means that the surface below the curve still is the same. You just delay... It's not about not getting it, it's about delaying it."

The quote highlights the actual purpose of flattening the curve, which is to spread out infections over time to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems, rather than stopping the spread entirely.

Unprecedented Impact on Travel Industry

  • Avi Meir discusses the unique challenges faced by the travel industry during the pandemic.
  • He contrasts current events with past crises like SARS and 9/11, noting the simultaneous demand and supply shock.
  • Acknowledges the high level of uncertainty and the need for the travel industry to adapt.

"We've never seen, so it never happened... We're talking about demand going probably below 5% globally for travel right now... We have a huge degree of uncertainty."

The quote emphasizes the unprecedented nature of the pandemic's impact on travel, with a near-total collapse in demand and significant uncertainty about the future.

Capital Allocation and Operational Strategy

  • Avi Meir reflects on the importance of capital allocation for CEOs, especially during times of uncertainty.
  • He shares his approach to managing resources at his company, TravelPerk, during the crisis.
  • The strategy involves buying time to make informed decisions and investing in areas like training.
  • Avi Meir expresses confidence in the future growth of business travel post-pandemic.

"My first approach was... let's buy ourselves some time and understand what's going on... We are allocating capital to training for customer care... I'm willing to bet that business travel will grow in 2021, not based to 2020. Based on 2019."

The quote outlines Avi Meir's strategic approach to capital allocation, focusing on preserving company strength and preparing for recovery, while expressing optimism about future growth in business travel.

Advice for Founders with Idle Workforce

  • Avi Meir discloses his company's action plan during the pandemic without prior approval.
  • He prioritizes company survival and cash preservation.
  • Advises other founders to focus on emerging strong post-crisis, without making overly deep cuts that could hinder recovery.
  • Emphasizes the importance of cash as a priority for businesses with reduced revenue.

"First priority for us as a business is to survive... Number two priority for us is to emerge strong after this crisis... Cash should be the number one priority."

This quote reveals Avi Meir's priorities for his business during the pandemic, which include survival and the strategic use of resources to ensure the company is well-positioned for the aftermath.

Cost Management and Prioritization

  • Avi Meir discusses the importance of cost management during crisis periods.
  • The first priority is to preserve cash, ensuring the company's survival.
  • The second priority is to make careful cuts without harming the company's core strength.
  • The third priority is to find opportunities within the crisis, such as investing in the product and inventory.

"between cutting into fat or cutting the muscle and definitely not cutting the bone, right. So we want to emerge strong after that."

This quote emphasizes the delicate balance in cost-cutting measures, aiming to avoid damaging the company's fundamental capabilities.

"But if you have no cash, priority number one prevails. Right? So if you have no cash, you have to find a way to get the Runway."

Here, Avi highlights the utmost importance of liquidity and the need to secure financial runway to continue operations.

Leadership and Communication in Crisis

  • Transparency is key in Avi Meir's approach to leadership during uncertain times.
  • He advises against trying to be overly protective and instead advocates for honesty with team members.
  • Avi suggests that sharing struggles and challenges can lead to better solutions from the team.
  • Keeping a journal is recommended as a way to reflect on decisions and thoughts during the crisis.

"Let's be as transparent as possible. It's not a family. Right. And if you have to use a cliche, the family one, I like sports team one."

Avi Meir contrasts the idea of a company as a family with that of a sports team, where tough decisions and clear communication are necessary.

"So having a very transparent communication, sharing the challenges, sharing what you're struggling with."

The quote highlights the importance of open communication about difficulties faced by the leader, which can foster a supportive environment.

Personal Resilience and Productivity

  • Avi Meir discusses the importance of resilience and having a practical approach to problems.
  • He mentions the influence of stoicism on his mindset, focusing on what can be controlled.
  • Establishing a routine and work-life balance is crucial for mental health and productivity.
  • Avi shares his personal struggles and habits, emphasizing the need for authenticity.

"Staying positive, I think resilience plays a huge role here. And if you had resilience going into this thing, then it's easier for you."

This quote underscores the role of pre-existing resilience in coping with the crisis and the need to develop it if not already present.

"Just have a sane schedule, I would say, in terms of what you can fix and what you can't and what you should worry about or not."

Avi Meir advises on the significance of maintaining a healthy schedule and focusing on solvable problems.

Future of Business Travel

  • Avi Meir predicts changes in business travel post-crisis, with an initial focus on domestic travel.
  • He expects travel corridors to emerge, allowing movement between specific regions or countries.
  • Flexibility will become a key concern for business travelers due to potential fluctuations in travel restrictions.
  • Avi is optimistic about the recovery of business travel, predicting higher spending in 2021 compared to 2019.

"I think people will travel, and my prediction is that 2021 will be business travel, in 2021 will be higher, or the dollar amount will be higher than that of 2019."

Avi Meir expresses his bullish stance on the future of business travel, anticipating an overall increase in activity and spending.

"So domestic will come back first, is my guess. It's easier, right? It's easier to manage because the two ends of the trip are under the same, let's say, policy."

The quote suggests that domestic travel will recover more quickly than international travel due to simpler logistics and consistent policies within the same country.

Impact of COVID-19 on Travel Industry Dynamics

  • The pandemic has shifted travel preferences, favoring trains over flights due to the ability to maintain distance and ventilation.
  • Companies are adapting their products and strategies to align with these evolving travel patterns.
  • Flexibility has become a significant factor in travel arrangements.

I think you can distance more. Sometimes you can even open the window. The doors open every station. So trains will be bigger than flights at the beginning, during the period of domestic travel. And then flexibility would be a huge issue.

The quote emphasizes the practical advantages of train travel during the pandemic and highlights the increasing importance of flexibility in travel arrangements.

Financial Challenges for Travel Companies

  • The pandemic has led to financial difficulties for travel companies, with many struggling or going under.
  • Early-stage travel companies and those with high burn rates and low cash reserves are particularly vulnerable.
  • There is a lack of new investment in travel companies, and consolidation is unlikely due to financial struggles.

First money into travel company probably dead for a while. Companies wanted to raise the first round are struggling.

This quote indicates that new investments in travel startups are on hold and that companies seeking initial funding rounds are facing significant challenges.

Opportunities for Consolidation and Acquisition

  • Well-funded travel companies may find opportunities to acquire valuable assets at reasonable prices during the pandemic.
  • Companies are exploring consolidation as a strategy and looking for potential acquisitions.

We're definitely dealing with this. We're definitely looking more and more in that direction.

The speaker indicates that their company is actively considering acquisitions and consolidation opportunities as a strategic response to the market conditions.

Role of Venture Capital in Supporting Companies

  • Venture capital can play a critical role in supporting companies through uncertain times.
  • Founders value proactive and unconditional financial support from their investors.
  • The speaker recounts a positive experience with a VC firm that offered financial support without stipulations.

They just sent me an email. It was like a two sentence email. I should with them if they're okay for me to publish the screenshot. It's just amazing.

The quote describes a VC firm's gesture of support, which exemplifies the kind of investor backing that can help companies navigate crises.

The Importance of Investor-Founder Relationships

  • The speaker appreciates the loyalty and support from their VC firm during challenging times.
  • The relationship between investors and founders can be strengthened through gestures of trust and support.

Just fantastic. So the first thing visas should do, if they are able to and the company is good, is reach out and sign a check to their current portfolio.

The quote suggests that VCs should proactively offer financial support to their portfolio companies, especially those that are fundamentally strong but impacted by external crises.

Venture Capital Ecosystem Improvements

  • Founders seek more efficient ways to share information with potential investors.
  • The speaker suggests a streamlined process for data exchange to reduce time-consuming preliminary discussions.

So maybe finding a less time consuming way of doing that.

The quote calls for a more efficient method for sharing company information with VCs to save time for founders.

Personal Insights from Avi Meir

  • Avi Meir shares his current favorite book, which provides a distraction from the pandemic.
  • He identifies his superpower as being able to find and unite great talent, while his weakness is a desire to be liked.
  • Meir wishes for a more efficient venture capital process, suggesting a "Snapchat of data rooms" concept.
  • He discusses the first investors in his company, which included a group of angel investors from various countries.
  • Avi Meir envisions TravelPerk becoming the leading business travel platform globally within the next five years.

We probably will be the number one business travel platform globally in next five years.

This quote outlines Avi Meir's ambitious vision for TravelPerk's growth and market position in the coming years.

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