Author: Carlos Ponce

Podcast: Tech in Corporate Mobility

How organizations are utilizing technology enhancements to create efficiencies and compliance in corporate mobility.

Anand Diraviyam has over 15 years of experience in agile software development, technology transformation and product strategy.He joined Aires in 2008 and over the last 11 years held leadership positions of increasing responsibility as a Senior Project Manager, Applications Development Manager, and Director of Product Management.Anand led highly successful and award-winning teams that developed technology products with new capabilities for our clients and employees. He has earned numerous certifications, including the Certified Relocation Professional designation (CRP) from Worldwide ERC®, the Certified Software Quality Analyst designation, and the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) designation in Agile development techniques.

In his current role as Director of Strategic Technology Initiatives, Anand is responsible for identifying and validating new product opportunities, technology partnerships and developing the technology sales strategy

Podcast: Reinventing the hotel experience

Modular, plug-in, micro-hotel as the key that unlocks a whole new market niche.

Mikhail Krymov (CEO) Co-founded Sleepbox in 2016 with Peter Chambers (COO) after meeting through an M.I.T fellowship program. Mikhail comes from an extensive background in architecture and design. He first experimented with the concept of Sleepbox when he was Chief Architect and CEO of Arch Group in Moscow, Russia. He lead himself and the company to success by winning prestigious national and international awards. Krymov began developing the concept of Sleepbox in Moscow and opened a few locations to gain a deeper understanding of this untapped market. Krymov hopes that Sleepbox empowers individuals to travel more often and freely.

“Traveling is my passion. I have always felt that my home is not one city or country, but the world. I feel that for many people, including myself, traveling is a need, not a luxury. Without travel, I feel trapped and new experiences are the only cure.” – Mikhail Krymov

Podcast: Real Time Intelligence

Using technology for real-time travel risk intelligence in travel disruption.

John M. Rose, Global Intelligence, Insurance & Risk Expert at Altour, possesses 33 years of subject matter experience, with 22 of those years as a C-Suite Executive in the Insurance, Assistance and Intelligence industries. John has expertise in, P&L Responsibilit, business development, strategic planning, operations, international expansion and Management of Global Offices, mergers & acquisitions, development and implementation of global business plans.

Building Something Amazing is about the Journey

A Conversation with Duke Chung, CEO @ TravelBank, at GBTA 2019.

Let’s Build Something Cool…

This is a good example of an early days dorm-room beginnings story before hitting it big. 

Back in 2001, right after the dot com boom, Duke Chung very modestly started his career as a tech entrepreneur creating a company called Parature, which meant ‘paradigm of the future’. “We didn’t really know what dot com really meant at the time. We just wanted to build something amazing,” Duke stated. 

And build it they did! 

As his endeavors in tech evolved, he ended up becoming part of giant Microsoft. At Microsoft he built a CRM platform focused on becoming part of Microsoft’s Cloud strategy. “I am proud of having been part of Microsoft’s journey to becoming a cloud-first technology company.”

Sowing the Seeds

“When I got into this business and moved to San Francisco, I asked my old customers what they used to manage expenses in travel”, Duke said. “Many of them were small businesses, and while there are some fragmented expense management products out there, almost nobody has a travel focused program for SMBs.” 

Duke smelled opportunity to solve a problem. He went on to ask his customers: “If you could have anything how would you want to help effectively keep track of all of your travel expenses, what would it look like?” To which customers responded: “If you could build a really modern experience for our users, to get up and running very quickly for travel, we would use it.” Duke continues: “As I would leave their offices after listening to their feedback, they would grab me and add: oh by the way, if you could add expense management for everything, that’s exactly what every small business needs.” Those were the seeds that gave birth to TravelBank.

Grassroots Decisions

During our conversation with Duke, we touched on the way that the company is driven, what sort of guiding principles lie behind its success. Duke made it clear how important it was for him to follow a grassroots-type of approach. “My first company was focused on bringing to market top down solutions. That’s how it was 15 years ago, someone at the top made a buying decision for a tool and then forced everyone to use it.” Duke continues “But in today’s world, what’s changed, particularly in the Silicon Valley culture, is this whole bottom-up democratization of making decisions. Employees now have a voice, because they have the same access to these products as the decision makers. So why not let your employees, who are the ones helping you be more productive, get involved in the process? Even better, why not make them part of the decision-making process?”

Simple Company Mantra

Silicon Valley has  a culture that is very alluring. We asked Duke what the culture was like at TravelBank. Duke responded: “I have learned so much over the last few years while building a company here. Expectations are very high in the Bay Area, because of so many innovative technology companies. Competing for talent is extraordinarily difficult. That forced us to really think about the type of people we want for our team, and the type of culture we want to welcome them into. We discovered that we really want folks who are self-sufficient and need no direction. Duke said that they have a simple mantra: “Do the things that other people aren’t doing. If you see something that needs to be done, you should just go and do it.”

A Great Company is Like Great Food

As the conversation came to an end, we asked Duke, as we routinely do on DojoLIVE, to share some final words of wisdom with us, particularly aimed at young tech entrepreneurs who are just starting out. Duke responded: “You can’t give up. Don’t give up. This can be a very long journey and I think that should be the expectation. Think long term. It takes time to build something amazing. Think of this as a crock pot. It takes time to cook great food as opposed to microwaving frozen food.” 

The Future of Event Management

A Conversation with René Proske, CEO @ Proske, at GBTA 2019.

Strategy First

A third-generation tech entrepreneur, René Proske met with us at GBTA to talk about his journey and strategy behind the success of Proske, a German-based event management company that produces expert SMMPs and seamlessly flawless events.  The company boasts creativity as one of its major driving forces. During our conversation, René mentioned that they never implement anything just for the sake of it. They always place an emphasis on strategy first.

A Family-Driven Company

René knows travel. He was a travel agent during the early stages of his professional career. He honed his knowledge of the travel space working in business travel, then did some marketing for a large financial services company before taking over as the third generation of the family-owned company. “My wife is actually pregnant with the fourth generation, so we’re working on having four generations at Proske running this business,” said René. During the course of our conversation, he stressed how important it was for him to keep both his company and family glued together, guided by the right set of values like trust, closeness and caring for one another.

Delivering Value

Since its inception the company has focused on delivering value for marketing-driven organizations, always focused in the meetings and events industry.  Although the company is not a travel tech company per se, travel is always a big aspect of meetings and events. That is why Proske is part of the Radius Networks.

How Tech Helped Proske Evolve

Technology has indeed played a major role in the company’s growth. René highlighted that in helping companies source meeting venues, they focus on the creative aspects, like content, design, graphics, audio, visuals and marketing communications, with special attention on how to get content to the end user. This is where technology comes in. René is keenly aware, first-hand, of the benefits of implementing technology in companies that have been around for decades.

René said: “There are two sides to technology, on the one hand, it makes event management more efficient, by using it for booking travel, getting people from A to B, requesting proposals for hotels… all of that is automated and saves our customers time”. He continued: “On the other hand, you have technology that is used in marketing. When I go to an event, I have an app that prevents me from needing a printed syllabus – that is convenient.”  

Proske is now using tech like augmented reality, VR, as means to present and show the customer what a space would look like for planning purposes, without the need to leave the comfort of the customer’s office. We asked René  how that is changing the landscape of the meetings and events industry, to which he responded: “In 5 to 10 years none of the manual work will be necessary, allowing us to focus on the communication and marketing itself. Sending out Excel spreadsheets, and power points will be a thing of the past.”

From Corporate to Family

As we approached the end of our conversation with René, we asked him what sort of lessons he has learned as someone who moved from the corporate world to a family-owned business. René responded: “I learned that if I want to be a good leader, I need to help people grow, this in the end will push me and the company to grow as well.” René also told us that he felt that if you micro-manage people, that’s a problem. He believes that the business needs to get to a point where it can operate without him. “We have a great trust culture. I don’t need to check everything. People are empowered, and as such they produce value because they want to. This allows me to focus on the strategic aspects of our company.”

Words of Wisdom

As we often do on DojoLIVE, we ask our guests to share some final words of wisdom at the end of the conversation, René said: “Keep humble. If you’re too proud and you think too much of yourself, it will come back to you. If you are humble, you will always look for the next thing. If you’re too proud, or think that you have it all figured out, that’s when people will overtake you left, right and center.”

Making Travel Fair for Businesses with FairFly

A Conversation with Aviel Siman-Tov, Co-founder and CEO @ FairFly, at GBTA 2019.

Coffee is Always a Good Start

An Israeli ex-military. A Degree in Business and Law. A Zell Entrepreneurship Program participant. A coffee lover. Among these and many other traits, Aviel Siman-Tov is the successful Co-Founder and CEO of FairFly, a traveltech software platform that enables users to enjoy full transparency over their companies’ air spend, by making sure they always get the fairest deal possible. 

We had a conversation with Aviel during GBTA, and asked him to elaborate on his background and company. Aviel said that the company came into existence after brainstorming on how to best create value for business travelers, among four co-founders enjoying their coffee and chatting about travel experiences. One of those co-founders is Uri Levine who co-founded Waze, acquired by Google for $1.2B. FairFly was designed and built specifically for globally active multinational corporations. We asked Aviel what FairFly did, and he said that “the platform provides clarity to Fortune 500 travel managers, finance executives and procurement professionals across the globe and delivers direct, measurable and effortless savings”.

Behind The Scenes

We also asked Aviel what sort of magic happens behind the scenes, technology and otherwise. “In order to make [any company] possible, you need to find a problem and fall in love with it” he responded. In the case of FairFly, the problem that Aviel and his team found (and fell in love with) 5 years ago, was booking travel and discovering you overspent after the fact. Then, after finding the big problem, which is 90% of the process, they went on to build a great team to produce a solution that could be marketed globall. Aviel continued by sharing the news to find the best developers, product, sales and marketing folks around. In addition, Aviel highlighted that “being fair with your clients is putting them at the center […] there’s nothing more important than the client.”

The Guiding Principles

As a tech company, Aviel very strongly stressed that running a successful company is not just about the tech, but also about the atmosphere, the air that the teammates breath in the workplace. “We believe that life is short. As such, we defined FairFly as the best working place we ever had, and the best working place there will ever be.” Aviel was very emphatic to the fact that the company exists to create value, but also to take care of its team members. “Team members are family, and we take care of them as such,” he stated.

Final Words of Wisdom

When we were about to wrap up our conversation, we asked Aviel what words of wisdom he would be willing to share with those pondering the idea of becoming tech entrepreneurs. Aviel said: “It’s all about having a mission. We are on a mission to bring transparency to the problem of airfare volatility, and redefine corporate travel with automated cost savings solutions that provide value for both buyers and suppliers.”

Redefining Business Travel Through Technology

A Conversation with Mike Cameron, CEO of Christopherson Business Travel at GBTA 2019.

Business Travel: Six Decades in the Making

Embarking on a business endeavor in tech is not an easy task, particularly at the early stages. Having been in business for more than sixty years, since 1953, is not only proof of undoubtedly solid foundations, since it involves overlapping of generations in the fast-paced world of technology, but also a ride that has been enjoyed by this husband and wife team of entrepreneurs.

To tell us the full story, we enjoyed a nice chat with Mike Cameron, CEO at Christopherson Business Travel, a travel company that delivers client-focused, tech-savvy business travel management services driven by a rather unique mission: connecting people.

Small Beginnings

Now a family-owned business led by a husband-and-wife team, Christopherson Business Travel started very small. When asked about its early stages, Mike said that he and his wife bought the company 29 years ago, and have since grown it to 6 brands, generating $680 million dollars with a 480 members team.

“We’ve had quite a good ride for the last 29 years”, Mike mentioned.

The Company’s Raison d’Etre

“When we purchased the company, we decided that we would focus on one thing and one thing only, and would strive to be better at it than anyone else” Mike stated. The company decided to start a technology division in 2005, and built a platform called AirPortal. AirPortal is a very robust platform connecting 4 GDSs, Worldspan, Apollo, Sabre, and Amadeus. “When we build this platform”, Mike said, “we decided that our focus would be the travel manager”. Mike made it clear that at some point, he noticed that the Internet was coming of age, and since mobile apps were not a “thing” yet, they saw the need to focus on the travel manager, something that has  been a common thread in the case of all the tools being built by CBT.

What Makes CBT Unique

When asked about what he thought made CBT unique, Mike highlighted the fact that 98% of their client pool is comprised of travelers, but the other 2%, those who work behind-the-scenes, like travel managers, procurement, finance, planners and coordinators, among many other active players that make things happen, are left behind. Mike said that it was easy – and even tempting – to focus on the first 98%, since that’s where all the “action” is, so the company decided to serve this small percentage, this incredibly key yet sometimes invisible 2%  as one of its main differentiators in the marketplace.

Value People, Create Value

As the time to wrap up the conversation approached, we asked Mike what drove the branding vision for CBT, what sort of values have been infused into this amazing travel tech company. Without hesitation, Mike responded, “value people and create value”. In closing, Mike shared with us that at some point he and his wife, as a team, were asked what they thought made them so successful, Mike stated, “…build a service or a product that is unique, objectively and quantifiably competitive, that is not a cliché and that is not claimed by the competition.”  This is how business travel through technology is redefined time and again. That’s the secret sauce of a successful travel technology company or product: by creating value, in every imaginable way, and in a sincere and objective manner.

Pain-Free Travel

A Conversation with Daniel Finkel, VP Booking Experience and Supplier Strategy at TripActions at GBTA 2019.

Travel is not always pain-free and enjoyable as a merry-go-round ride. Many companies are well aware of this and are keen to the idea of finding a better way. A way to take the pain out of business travel, so that road warriors need not worry about how to get there, but can concentrate on what they will be doing there, fully focused.

To elaborate on this, we had a conversation with Daniel Finkel, VP of Booking Experience and Supplier Strategy at TripActions, a business travel platform whose offering boasts a broad inventory and a personalized intuitive user interface, making booking travel seamlessly easy.

A bit of background…

“I have always been in the travel industry in some way, shape or form. I started my career in the aerospace industry working in technology, air traffic control and airport operations. Daniel also spent 7 years as part of Expedia’s online travel team, working in a variety of roles across air, lodging and media, strategic operations, to mention just a few. This gave Daniel a unique vantage point to get a good grasp of what he calls a “two-sided marketplace”, allowing him to drive value to both sides.

The Glue that keeps it all together

During our conversation with Daniel, he mentioned that “the glue that puts it all together” is basically teamwork, following a customer-centric approach, which constitutes the very foundation that enabled TripActions to become a full-service corporate operations company. TripActions’ main objective is making sure that users have the best experience possible through an intense focus on personalization. Daniel highlighted the fact that the entire platform is built on really robust machine learning and AI, in a way that ensures users have a travel experience that actually makes sense for them. This is one of the items that makes TripActions unique.

The Value Proposition

When asked about their value proposition, Daniel mentioned that they “think differently”, having shifted the focus from purely focused on corporations to actually looking at the traveler’s most pressing needs and wants. “Our team and technology is all built in-house, allowing us to offer a really nice, highly satisfying experience for travelers, because it is super-personalized.” 

People, Ideas and Businesses

At the end of our conversation, it became evident that TripActions has indeed become one of the most highly sought after global business travel platforms that empowers companies and travelers alike and pushed them forward. Daniel is convinced that “nothing can truly replicate the value of being there face-to-face”. This is the very reason why TripActions has embarked on a mission to boost and foster the in-person connections that move people, ideas and businesses up and away, in a seamless, pain-free fashion.

Finding a Parking Spot

Interview with Ron Rich, CIO The Parking Spot at GTBA 2019.

Airport parking? No worries. We’ve got you covered.

As if air travel was not complicated enough nowadays, sometimes just thinking of the parking hassles and headaches that come with it make us wonder if we should take the bus or train instead. Luckily, there’s The Parking Spot, which is much more than just a space to park your car. TPS focuses on hospitality and customer service, making it easy, comfortable and affordable to get a superior airport parking experience. Founded in 1998, The Parking Spot is the leading near-airport parking company in the United States with 39 locations at 23 airports.

Today during GBTA we had the opportunity to chat with Ron Rich, CIO of The Parking Spot, a company whose offering includes taking the luggage out of the travelers’ trunk for them, loading them into a shuttle, driving them to the airport, getting picked up at the airport, and handing them bottles of water. It’s all about removing the headaches out of airport parking and getting around.

The Journey

“Part of the journey that we’ve done, from a technology standpoint, we have developed every single product that we have since our inception 7 years ago”, says Ron. “One of my first projects was an RGPS systems, where we tracked shuttles throughout the airport, and it certainly had a huge operational impact in the company.”

During our conversation with Ron, it was obvious that TPS has strived to make the customer experience as smooth as possible. Recently, the company has seen greater adoption through the app, as customers become more mobile friendly. Their app is taking over with all the cool new features of a native app. 

The Customer Experience: Validating New Ideas

Rich mentioned that they use Net Promoter Scores to validate needs from customers for new features and functionalities. They surveying the customers, who are asked on a scale of 1 to 10, how highly they are  likely to recommend the app. TPS’ design and development team has based a lot of the improved features of the app based on such feedback.  

Culture and skills set

Before wrapping up, Rich made it clear that The Parking Spot places great focus on strong and sustainable company culture. “Once you find the right people, they might fit culturally into our company, but we also want to expand our culture”. He continues, “We have hired different people from all walks of life. Culture is just as important to us as skills set. If you don’t hold the culture piece, you’re going to end up losing”.

Podcast: Developing Data Literacy

How to build a culture of data and develop enterprise-wide role-specific data literacy.

Piyanka Jain is a leading expert in Data Literacy, Machine Learning, Data Science and Analytics. She is an Amazon bestselling author, a paid keynoter at conferences as well as contributor to Forbes, HBR, InsideHR, TDWI, Experian, Modern Workplace, Predictive Analytics World, etc. She is in the ‘2019 top 100 keynote speakers’ list by Databird. Her book ‘Behind Every Good Decision’ is Amazon #1 best seller in Data Mining.

Podcast: Adaptable Technology for Language Services

New technology that is revolutionizing language support and access to demographic data.

David Rhodes

David Rhodes, VP of Innovations at Akorbi, oversees the development, deployment, maintenance and operations of the various technologies used by Akorbi’s family of companies. Most notably, David’s team oversees the ADAPT platform.

Kenneth Anders

Kenneth (Ken) Anders, COO of Akorbi, has engaged in an array of character building and knowledge development roles from cryptographic intelligence with the U.S. military to executive roles within Fortune 500 companies such as Walt Disney, Raytheon and Misys Healthcare Systems to start up language service companies like CyraCom International.

Podcast: Beyond Crypto Currency: What is the business value of blockchain?

Blockchain provides infinite possibilities for business value creation. Are you ready to disrupt your competition or be disrupted?

Scott Mairs is the CEO of Blockchain Business Solutions. A proven technology and business executive with over 25 years in telecommunications, banking, insurance, private equity, risk management, and digital transformation, Scott has served in multiple C-level, Partner, Managing Director and other global leadership roles including Citibank, Bank of America, Sungard, and multiple IT and Strategic Advisory Consulting Firms.

Podcast: Reimagining the Travel Agent / Tour Operator Digital Relationship

Ben Block is a technology entrepreneur and business operator with vast experience in all things Internet. Ben has worked with early stage startups, mature private Internet companies as well as large public corporations.

In August 2016, Ben was named CEO of DH Enterprise & Associates, a New York based Internet travel company selling prepackaged leisure vacations through both the web and its call center. For the two years preceding his appointment as CEO, Ben served on DH’s Board of Directors, providing technical and management advice to the board and management team.

In 2014 Ben Co-Founded Bask Labs, a business focused on developing data driven solutions for the online food ordering space. He was responsible for driving the product and technical innovations the company brought to online food ordering through its personalization technology. Under Ben’s leadership, Bask built a content-based recommendation engine and an intelligent search engine. These two products led to the sale of Bask to GrubHub in 2016.

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