Inside TravelPerk: a Look at Europe’s Fastest Scaling SaaS Startup

TravelPerk is one of the most talked-about Barcelona startups of all time – with good reason.

The company was founded at the start of 2015 by co-founders Avi Meir and Javier Suárez to provide a solution to the tiresome process of booking and managing business travel. Since then, they’ve been named the fastest growing SaaS startup in Europe and rated the #1 travel management software, with 99% of users rating TravelPerk 4/5 or 5/5 stars.

2018 was a big year for them. In April, they raised $21m in Series B, only to move on to the next round and bag $44m in October. They tripled their team, passing the critical threshold of 150 and hitting 185 in total. They kicked off their European expansion and opened new offices in London and Berlin. New product features include the launch of trains on their platform, something highly requested by customers.

One of the 20 companies on our Barcelona startups to watch in 2019 list, TravelPerk has the reputation of a customer-focused company and an awesome place to work. They are very proud of their amazing team, the level of talent they’ve rallied to their mission and the company culture they’ve managed to maintain.

But what is it about TravelPerk that enables them to grow at breakneck speed, without losing what makes them unique?

We wanted to know more. So we visited the TravelPerk office and probed into their everyday life, trying to find out how they manage to hire the best talent and preserve their company culture as they grow and expand.

We figured that the best place to start would be with the stories of the individuals that make up the team – many of them expats who uprooted their lives to come to Barcelona and join TravelPerk. We wanted to see their faces and hear their thoughts.

We spoke with Nadine Spencer, Customer Experience Specialist; Chris Roy, Lead Product Designer; and Elisa Llera, Communications Manager who shared with us their personal journeys and gave us some great insight into what it’s like to be a part of the TravelPerk family.

Taking ownership

Nadine moved to Barcelona from London, where she worked in the startup industry running accelerator programs and coworking spaces. She came to Spain looking for a change and has found her place at TravelPerk – but it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

“I was interested in becoming a Product Owner, so after I met the TravelPerk team at a meetup, I asked them if they would take me on as a junior. And they said no! At the time, they really needed people that could hit the ground running and didn’t have time to train anyone.”

But she persevered.

“I found out they had a position open for an intern. When I came in to talk to them, they could see that I was ready to give it my all and that I wouldn’t need much hand holding. The original plan was to do an internship of 6 months, but after 2 months on the job, I was offered a full-time position.”

Nadine Spencer

Nadine quickly started to take ownership of different projects – and all of a sudden, she found herself in a cross-functional role where her coworkers would come to her for updates on a daily basis. She went from a Product Intern to a Product Adoption focus to Customer Experience Specialist.

“My story is pretty reflective of how things work here at TravelPerk. If people are willing to take responsibility and own something, it’s given to them straight away. Even if it’s risky, even if that person is going to make a few mistakes, they just trust you with it,” Nadine says.

This level of trust and the respect for willing to take responsibility speaks to the quality of talent that TravelPerk has been able to attract, according to Elisa. “It’s been amazing to watch us triple in size just this year, and the quality of talent we hire hasn’t diluted in any way. Nor has the company culture,” she says.

Which brings us to our next point.

From startup to scaleup: preserving the mentality

Nadine moved to Barcelona with the clear intention of wanting to work at a tech startup.

But is this what she expected? Is TravelPerk even a startup?

“Looking back on my experience in London, I wouldn’t describe TravelPerk as a startup. For me, the massive differentiator is that when we do things, we do them properly from step one. That’s not what you’re meant to do when you’re bootstrapping. You’re meant to do things as cheaply as you can with the biggest impact. Whereas here, when we make decisions, we look for solutions that last, and we invest more money and research into them. The true essence of a startup is hustle: do whatever you can to validate your product and get it out there. The TravelPerk experience is a bit more mature, which is why we’re calling ourselves a scale-up now. And I like that because it can be exhausting to always do everything halfway,” Nadine explains.

However, both Nadine and Elisa agree that any company that has ever been a startup – or identified as one – keeps certain mentalities.

“The mentality of a startup – that sheer focus, all-hands-on-deck, eye-watering speed – is part of our DNA. That’s always going to be how we work,” Elisa states.

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At a recent Startup Grind event, CPO and Co-Founder Javier Suárez described the team as “extremely ambitious, driven and focused.” He also pointed out that they all listen to each other very carefully – which becomes very apparent even in the short time we spend with them.

According to Nadine, maintaining that startup mentality hasn’t been difficult for TravelPerk.

“I think it comes naturally because we specifically hire people that work that way. It’s really difficult to hire people that have worked in a big corporation setting: it can be hard for them to get out of that mindset,” she says.

TravelPerk over the years

Chris has been with TravelPerk since almost the beginning. He joined them in December 2015 after nearly 3 years working at Skyscanner, the travel metasearch engine based in Scotland. He’s had the chance to witness the growth of TravelPerk first-hand: he was there for the highs and lows of the first year in the life of a startup, and now he’s there to experience the same company in a more mature stage.

“I always felt like I missed out on that period of excitement at Skyscanner – they were already 200 people when I joined them. So even though it was a big risk for me to move here and start working for a startup that was only just preparing for a funding round, it was a great experience,” he recounts.

Chris Roy

When asked about how he’s seen his role within the company change, Chris replies:

“As the company grows and more people join, you definitely get more and more focused. In the beginning, we all had to do a bit of everything. It was an amazing learning opportunity. Now we are much more focused, we have more defined roles.”

But, just as Elisa and Nadine pointed out, the mentality remains the same.

“We never just sit and feel comfortable. There is always a feeling of ‘we’re just scratching the surface’. There are always things that can be improved. What we’ve decided to do as a product is huge, and the potential is massive. It’s also very difficult, that why not many people do what we do,” Chris tells us.

TravelPerk has achieved a range of small successes throughout the years. Chris highlights one of the first ones that made a major difference.

“Before we raised our first round of funding, we only had a handful of customers, and one of them, a company in Singapore, was very important for us. We had a really close relationship with them. But we almost lost them a few weeks before securing the funding round, because the product was not doing exactly what they wanted. We did everything we could to get them back on board. Once they made it clear to us exactly what was missing, we started working on it full speed, day and night. Every couple of hours we would send them updates on features – and in the end, they were actually really impressed with us. That was a huge success,” he recounts.

Other than that early milestone, Chris considers the TravelPerk team as one of the company’s major successes.

“I think that’s one of the hardest things to achieve,” he says.

Since TravelPerk now has offices in London and Berlin, infusing them with the culture that they have so carefully maintained in the Barcelona office will be one of their main challenges.

“There is only so much you can do. Each of those offices will grow their own culture, because the people you find there, the people that are attracted to those cities are different people. We have to find a balance between a level of control and a level of accepting that there will be differences. But as long as the underlying values are shared, we’re not going to have any problems.” Chris concludes.

Elisa Llera

According to Elisa, TravelPerk has been very conscious about spreading their culture throughout their offices. “It’s a matter of transplanting a few key people who have experienced the culture in the Barcelona office firsthand, and giving them the decision-making power to find people with the same mentality,” she says.

Future plans

2019 is looking like yet another exciting year for TravelPerk.

Elisa expects the TravelPerk team to double in size. They’re moving into a brand new office in Barcelona – 4 floors in Torre Agbar! – that will reunite the entire team that had been temporarily spread across 3 offices because of outgrowing their HQ.

Their platform already boasts the world’s largest travel inventory, which they’re planning to deepen even further. They’ll be growing their trains feature, launching their mobile app and doing everything to support the traveller on the go.

We wish them all the best and we’re convinced that we’ll receive a whole host of great news from them in 2019!

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