A sit down with Jeremy Brown, Chief Technology Officer at Traveldoo
Traveldoo welcomed a new Chief Technology Officer at the back end of last year and his vision is bringing some exciting changes to the business. At a time when the industry is facing some of its biggest challenges, Jeremy Brown gave us some of his ideas and the road ahead.
How have you settled into your role?
My eight months at Traveldoo have gone by in a blur! There’s never been a dull moment that is for sure. I’m new to the travel industry so this has been a great learning experience. It takes a bit of time to orient yourself in a new role, new company and new industry. The team has certainly been very welcoming and patient with me, and we’re already doing great things together.
The challenges ahead of us are immense; we are now in the eye of a storm that is going to change the face of our industry forever. The novel coronavirus is the biggest challenge Traveldoo has faced in its 20-year history.
How has your background helped you tackle this, your latest challenge?
I have been a heavy business traveller and expense user for years. Many of the T&E solutions I’ve used have completely sucked! I even bought another expense app and wrote my own program to take the expenses from that app and enter it for me into the ugly ERP my company used. So, I guess it’s pretty cool to be building a Travel and Expense product that I would love to use.
I’ve always been an engineer; I love to solve problems; I’ve progressed from attempting to solve technical problems to people problems. Honestly technology is easy, but people problems are much harder to solve. I’ve devoted the last five years to solve the people + technology problem in one shape or form. Most recently helping Red Hat build its Open Innovation Labs in EMEA; we built a phenomenal team that built a consulting product which helps Red Hat’s customers transform the culture of their product teams.
In unpredictable times like these, there is only a few things you can lean on; your purpose, your values and being able to operate in chaos. We, like many others in our industry, face tough decisions every day at the moment and a key part of my role is helping our team lean on our shared purpose and principles.
I actually grew up all over the world and ended up going to eight different schools and we lived in many more homes as we moved around the world. Since then my itchy feet have taken me across the globe, including a sabbatical through Africa where my best friend and I started Cameroon’s first start-up incubator funded by our consulting business. These experiences of change, chaos and uncertainty have certainly prepared me for today!
What plans have you been putting in place and how are some of those shaping up?
As a team, our main priority is to provide better value to our customers and end-users. One of the first things we started to do when I came on board was to try to deliver value to our users faster by moving from quarterly or monthly releases, to a constant flow of daily releases with better value. This has had a spectacular impact for the end-user; for example, we had some bugs that were fixed but not released for two or even three months. That’s a thing of the past. Today, the team is regularly making same day fixes of issues we encounter that could impact our users. Of course, this isn’t just about bugs. We made this investment in our process so that we could also deliver new features faster than ever before.
We run a SaaS so all these changes are done while production traffic flows through our systems. Not only do we want to improve our ability to deliver our software faster to our end-users, but we want to do it in more reliably. Travel is particularly complex because you have all these suppliers that you connect to – any air, rail, hotel or car rental you make relies not only on us but on our suppliers as well. We have been investing heavily in our ability to know when we or our suppliers are down, and the resilience of our platform.
Perhaps most importantly though, we have had a great focus on communicating better with our customers. I’ve spent a lot of time with them and have really valued the feedback they’ve given me. I’ve encountered a bunch of people passionate in helping their business travellers and who believe in the power of people getting together. That has been a real privilege.
How has coronavirus impacted on Traveldoo?
Well, as a Travel and Expense business you can imagine that the impact has been huge. We went through this initial wave of chaos as our customers blocked travel to more and more destinations, and then tried to get their people home. Some travellers even left rental cars at closed borders; our TMC partners definitely had their hands full. Today, travel has ground to a virtual standstill. Lagging behind travel by a couple weeks we also saw a significant reduction in expenses being filed. We do invoice reconciliation as well and have seen the drop off there lag behind by a month.
In the middle of everything, it’s hard to properly evaluate the impact as yet; we are seemingly surrounded by devastation, but we can’t see the true damage of the storm yet.
After we got our customers home, we shifted our focus to our people as they adjusted to working from home during a pandemic. It’s certainly not the same as the remote work we normally do!
In our business we have initiated a number of streams of work in response. The Engineering team at Traveldoo has incorporated a number of improvements in our risk module which our customers have used to manage the current situation. Our key focus has been on better communication with business travellers and usability.
As the teams in France, UK and India have adjusted to the lockdown, we have actually found this to be quite a productive time in Engineering. With much less production traffic on our systems we have been able to pick up more tasks that have always been a little further down our to-do list. Most notably for our customers we have been working hard with our customer support team to knock down our support ticket backlog.
Will it change your vision for moving the business forward from a technological perspective at all?
No, I don’t think so. We have been investing in technology to allow us to respond to the changing needs of our customers and this hasn’t changed.
We have a strong vision of how we need to evolve and adopt emerging technologies. We want to be able to increase the speed with which we deliver value to our customers.
What this crisis has done has quickened our step and injected a sense of urgency into the work we do. In an uncertain world agility is a strength.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges ahead for customers?
It’s hard to predict, I think we are all trying to unravel this in real time. Second guessing the future is difficult. We don’t even know how long this will go on for and what the landscape will look like when this all ends.
What we know for sure is that managing expenditure efficiently has taken on an even greater importance – not only will you be weighing the cost of a business trip against a potential business outcome but now you have to factor in the health risk.
This is a very tough time for everyone in the industry. Our business travellers and expense users, travel managers, TMC partners and suppliers.
One of the highlights for me was the letter we got from one of our customers very early in the crisis saying they would stand in solidarity with us. They assured us that they would continue to partner and support us through the chaos.
To our partners, customers and users, I say ‘Thank you’, without your solidarity with us our future would contain even more uncertainty.