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COVID-19 bruised TripActions’ business. It chose to innovate.

If nobody's booking business flights through your startup, why not help people pay for their corporate takeout instead?

COVID-19 bruised TripActions’ business. It chose to innovate.

TripActions had to confront a world with far less travel.

Photo: TripActions

TripActions was a fast-growing startup that helped clients manage their business travel when the pandemic hit early last year. Now, almost a year later, it's also helping businesses with their work-from-home expenses.

Chief financial officer Thomas Tuchscherer compared what happened last spring to being in a speeding car that was forced off a cliff — a terrifying experience shared by most travel industry companies hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

"All of a sudden the ground vanishes, so you're flying off in this car that's not supposed to fly," he told Protocol. "It was scary while the car was up in the air, not knowing how to land it. But it forced us to focus and invest in areas that really mattered."

A major area the startup focused on as COVID-19 took hold is TripActions Liquid, a line of credit it launched last February to help clients finance their business travel. On Thursday, the company said it's expanding the service to cover a broader range of expenses at a time when business travel is still largely down.

While TripActions Liquid was mainly used to pay for clients' flights, hotels and car rental expenses when it first launched, clients can now also use the service to pay for non-travel business needs that are more relevant in the era of remote work, general manager Michael Sindicich said.

"The type of spend shifted," he told Protocol. "You're not spending on travel as much, but you're still spending on a lot of other business areas ... A lot of it is for digital advertising, it's software spend, it's work-from-home furniture. You see a lot of DoorDash. You see, now that we're just coming off the holidays, a lot of gifts to employees."

Sindicich said the startup is "leveraging a lot of fintech and different tools" to enhance the ability of businesses to manage their expenses. TripActions Liquid, for instance, uses AI to quickly approve expenses and process payments.

Tuchscherer said the decision to expand TripActions Liquid to cover expenses beyond travel was also "driven by a natural expansion to capture more spend, and also to become more strategic" to clients' finance teams, including the CFO.

"If you're only truly present we can only talk about travel, you may be speaking only with the travel managers," he said. By expanding to other expenses, "you move up the finance stack and you start speaking with more strategic financial employees, including controllers, including CFOs."

TripActions launched the line of credit in February 2020 with $500 million in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank, Goldman Sachs and Comerica. Initially, it was geared toward making it faster and more convenient for businesses to use the TripActions travel management platform.

But then the COVID crisis caused travel bookings to plummet by as much as 90% last spring. TripActions was forced to cut costs, including a major round of layoffs, Tuchscherer said.

"We had to take the very difficult decision of letting go about a quarter of the company back in March," he said.

The company has started to bounce back as some business travel also resumed. It also began expanding the scope of TripActions Liquid, which has become the startup's fastest-growing business.

Meanwhile, investor interest has also remained strong. In June 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the company, which had raised $250 million the previous year at a $4 billion valuation, raised another $125 million from investors led by Greenoaks Capital, boosting its total tally to $600 million. The new valuation will be set when TripActions goes public, Tuchscherer said. He declined to set a timeline for the company's IPO.

Jonah Crane, a partner at the fintech-focused investment firm Klaros Group, said TripActions' decision to expand its financing business shows how startups can tweak their business model, especially during a crisis.

"It's a good example of that broader trend where a company will often start getting traction in solving one problem for your customers and then say, 'Hey, we can also, we can also help you with this other thing,'" he told Protocol.

The metaverse is coming, and Robinhood's IPO is here

Plus, what we learned from Big Tech's big quarter.

Image: Roblox

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: First, a few takeaways from another blockbuster quarter in the tech industry. Then, Janko Roettgers joins the show to discuss Big Tech's obsession with the metaverse and the platform war that seems inevitable. Finally, Ben Pimentel talks about Robinhood's IPO, and the company's crazy route to the public markets.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.

Facebook wants to be like Snapchat

Facebook is looking to make posts disappear, Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, and more patents from Big Tech.

Facebook has ephemeral posts on its mind.

Image: Protocol

Welcome to another week of Big Tech patents. Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, Amazon wants to make voice assistants more intelligent, Microsoft wants to make scheduling meetings more convenient, and a ton more.

As always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

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