SAP's gain is the travel industry's loss as it will likely lose a strong advocate for travel startup innovation. Concur was unique among travel operators in bankrolling innovation among travel startups, whether it had a direct tie-in to business travel or not.
Concur Technologies, the travel and expense and business travel technology company, was a jewel of the travel industry.
But, with the announcement that the enterprise software and cloud-computing giant SAP plans on acquiring Concur for $8.3 billion, it is somewhat appropriate to look at Concur and its innovation mojo in the past tense.
What is clear is that Concur’s championing of the Perfect Trip, and innovation across a broad swath of travel startups with investments engineered through its $150 million Perfect Trip Fund, will be a victim of broader priorities, and the acquisition itself as Concur gets absorbed into the SAP HANA analytics and application platform.
Sure, the acquisition will be an efficient way for Concur to scale its business outside the U.S. and to sell its business travel solutions to the couple hundred thousand SAP customers across the globe that don’t already use Concur.
But it’s also apparent that SAP will be making it a priority to sell its business enterprise solutions to Concur customers, as well.
Will Concur, which supposedly will keep much of its independence under its new corporate parent, be able to hone its evangelical bent when it comes to advocating with words, dollars, and actions for the spurring of innovation across wide portions of the travel startup spectrum?
Consider some of Concur’s investment beneficiaries over the last few years: Taxi Magic (now rebranded as Curb), Yapta, EVA, Room77, Table 8, Trover, Cleartrip, Nor1, Buuteeq, Visage, StayNTouch, and others.
Concur has also been a disruptive force in travel management with its open-booking solution, TripLink.
Just a few weeks ago, Concur CEO Steve Singh detailed his vision to Skift about the Perfect Trip and why Concur has backed it with investments:
“You are going to find that every one of these investments is fundamentally around enabling every element of what we call the perfect trip. At first blush they seem very diverse in investments. Take out a piece of paper and make an outline if I could, what would my trip experience look like. And I’ve tried to paint that picture a few times in public formats.
“Say I’d like to book a trip from Seattle to San Francisco. And then I want my phone to make a recommendation on hotels based upon my pattern, based upon my company policy. If my flight is delayed, I shouldn’t have to pick up my phone and call somebody to change flights. Why can’t there be a recommendation pushed right into my app, saying here are the three options within your policy, here are the three options outside your policy. Which one would you like?
“When the plane lands, why can’t I start the check-in process for the hotel. The technologies needed to that are in part there, and in part they have to be invested in. And some of them we actually invested in. Then when I am walking from the jetway, why can’t I get a push notification that says would you like me to set up a car? And after the car has been arranged, then that transaction goes into the expense report.
“So how do you define the Perfect Trip? There is a lot of technology out there that is enabled today, but there are several that still need to be built. And so we actually invested not just in the companies that you named, but we invested in a great company called buuteeq. What buuteeq was doing was building out the marketing services and the central reservations services for hotels. Most of these today are legacy systems. They are not easy to customize, they are not easy for personalization.”
It is difficult to imagine Singh and Concur having the freedom and wherewithal to continue such advocacy under the SAP banner. And, besides, Concur management will have its hands full over the next few years just getting its bearings within the SAP framework.
SAP CEO Bill McDermott is saying all the right things about the Concur acquisition, explaining that Concur will be operated independently, that its management is expected to join SAP, but he is quick to point out that the future of the business is to create one cloud platform “with HANA at its core.”
While the $8.3 billion price tag for Concur will stir enthusiasm among travel startups about the potential for huge exits, it is important to keep in mind that SAP is only paying a 20% premium over Concur’s closing stock price on September 17 while the Priceline Group shelled out a 46% premium in its $2.6 billion acquisition of OpenTable a few months ago.
For the record, in a letter to Concur employees, Singh states: “Envisioning a world of perfect things — the Perfect Trip, the Perfect Invoice, and the Perfect Expense Report. We’re going to continue pursuing that vision, and we’ll do so with the resources and commitment of a company that has made a big bet on our future.”
But, as one Concur investor tells Skift: “The history of M&A suggests that it is less likely that a realization of the vision will occur.”
Concur’s advocacy for travel startup innovation will likely get lost amidst SAP’s larger priorities.
Not everyone agrees. Rich Barton, currently executive chairman of Zillow, and chairman of Glassdoor and Trover, which has been a beneficiary of Concur funding, says “Concur is a jewel. And their platform strategy is smart and compelling. The Perfect Trip Fund supports their platform strategy beautifully. Any owner can see that.”
Time — and SAP — will tell.
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Photo credit: Concur CEO Steve Singh. Concur Technologies