Lola clearly made a good choice with this partnership, but it raises some questions. As the startup works with increasingly larger companies, in locations all around the world, how will its core product change?
A year after partnering with the largest travel management company in the world, American Express Global Business Travel, Lola is finally beginning to grow rapidly. That presents opportunities, along with some challenges.
Since the start of this year, the corporate travel management company has increased its head count from 60 to 100 employees and has more than doubled its engineering team since the fall. It plans to add 20 to 30 more employees by the end of this year.
What’s more, the company is gearing up to expand internationally, which it says will allow it to better support its larger clients with global travel needs.
“We’re continuing to add more features to support larger companies, and so we’re starting to do more things around policy management, reporting, and expenses,” said Paul English, Lola’s founder and chief technology officer and co-founder of metasearch giant Kayak. “We’re also beginning work on international, because it’s important, particularly for our larger customers who have options in multiple countries.”
This is one year down of a five-year exclusive deal with American Express Global Business Travel, based around a revenue-sharing arrangement. The deal also allows Amex GBT to purchase equity from Lola if the partnership proves lucrative.
At its launch in 2016, Lola originally served leisure travelers. Over time, the service pivoted to serve individual business travelers and then small enterprises. This recent partnership has helped connect it with even more businesses in an extremely crowded space. Plus, the startup recently raised $37 million in funding, which it plans to use to continue growing its staff.
Looking back at the company’s history, English admits he regrets some of the choices he made early on.
“The first year, it was a really simple app, it was just letting you chat with a travel agent,” he said. “I feel dumb that it took me a year to figure out the people who really need support are business travelers not leisure. That led to a pretty major pivot for us. And now business travel is core to everything we do, and biz travelers need and want and value really good customer service.”
As Lola has struggled to carve out a niche for itself in the crowded market of travel apps, it has focused on customer experience as a way to differentiate itself from its two main competitors, Travelperk and TripActions, as well as bigger players, such as Concur.
“I think the biggest most important thing is customer experience. And we have the proof of it — all the ratings and reviews. And we are the most highly rated app across almost every category,” said Lola CEO Mike Volpe.
With all this growth, one risk is scaling too fast. As the startup develops its technology, it wants to keep the simplicity people love, without loading up the service with too many different features.
“Paul has this philosophy that one of the main pillars of the project is to maintain simplicity as we add power,” said Volpe. “So don’t let the additional power and features we need to build for these larger companies, don’t let it make it over-complex. We have to be able to add that stuff without the product becoming overly complex.”
Lola plans to keep the majority of its customer service representatives, instead of replacing them with artificial intelligence and bots. Many of the technological improvements will be behind the scenes, aimed at increasing the speed and efficiency of customer service productivity skills.
“We want to be known for building something that is just really simple and really beautiful, and gives the user just what they need and nothing else,” he added.
Photo credit: Lola staff poses for a picture. The team has nearly doubled since the beginning of the year. Lola