The venture capital-backed startup basket of the economy is a bit unsettled at the moment but that’s where card and business software firm Brex puts most of its eggs. It’s now competing for that market with a business travel service backed by Spotnana.
Available to users of Brex’s Empower platform, Brex Travel offers desktop and mobile app bookings with support from Spotnana agents. It complements Brex’s cards, expense management, receipt capture and approvals tools. Clients pay per-trip fees, which Brex shares with Spotnana along with any supplier revenue.
“You can easily see the right policy on the mobile app at the time of booking, and we automate receipt collection, memos and approvals on trips,” according to a press statement. Trips are associated with “customized” budgets in the interface.
“The best way to manage travel cost is not necessarily reducing the budget by 5 percent here or staying in worse hotels,” said Henrique Dubugras, co-founder and co-CEO of Brex, during a Monday interview. “Really, it’s about less trips. Giving managers accountability and saying, ‘This is your total budget, use it as you see fit,’ makes people pick and choose which trips are going to be higher ROI for the company. Some other tools may have had budgets, but it wasn’t all-encompassing of all your T&E costs. There was always something missing. With this, you can have all of it. Booked outside Brex Travel? That also gets captured in the budget. Restaurants, Ubers … everything is captured realtime in one place.”
The travel service is available for points of sale in “several” countries, said Spotnana founder and CEO Sarosh Waghmar. The company is growing that number as it achieves accreditation and licensing in more markets. Brex can bill clients in different currencies. Empower is supported in more than 120 countries. “So even if we don’t have the point of sale in that country, but they want to pay in that country and allocate back to that entity, we can do that for them,” said Dubugras.
Brex itself uses the travel service, along with GoGuardian, Miso Robotics, FMX and Satellite Healthcare. Other Empower clients include Coinbase, DoorDash, Indeed and SeatGeek.
Brex and Spotnana share revenue from customer fees, which are negotiable based on volume. Client fees cover all forms of customer service with no distinction between communication means — online and offline, both during and after business hours. The execs made a point to say travel inventory was not “impacted” by commissions, which Brex and Spotnana share. “When travel is the main business, a little more commissions from the airlines or hotels to bias the inventory — because they know corporate travelers are not super price sensitive — makes a huge difference in the [profit and loss statement],” said Dubugras. “We’re trying to give it all back to the customer, not bias, and give you all the inventory.”
In Brex, Spotnana has an ally whose fintech rivals include Expensify, Navan and Ramp. Center, which shares a chairman with Spotnana in Steve Singh of Madrona Venture Group, also competes in the space.
Brex provides virtual and plastic cards on the Mastercard network issued by Emigrant Bank and Fifth Third Bank. It serves “tens of thousands” of enterprises and startups. Last summer, Brex drew a bright line between small businesses and “funded” startups when it announced it would end service for many of the former. It now describes itself as a provider for “startups, scaled companies and e-commerce brands.”
Asked to explain how Brex differed from Navan, which also offers payment and expense, Dubugras said, “Brex is used for your overall spend, not just T&E. So for someone like Navan, 100 percent of the use cases are T&E-only. People use Brex for department spend, to pay vendors, to do off-sites, to do employee benefits, stipends. … It’s kind of all-encompassing. So it’s not, ‘This is your T&E app, but then this other app is for work-from-home stipends, and then this other one is for procurement.’ T&E is a piece of it, but we have a lot more that goes into the app as well.”
U.S. Bancorp-owned TravelBank also works with Brex. “TravelBank is our partner for rewards redemption,” said Dubugras. “We’re evaluating the details of if and how that will continue or not.”
According to a TravelBank statement attributed to its CEO and co-founder, Duke Chung, “For the last few years, we’ve enjoyed providing Brex an innovative travel platform to help their corporate customers book flights and hotels. After being acquired by U.S. Bancorp – with its robust corporate card program and our work together delivering all-in-one travel, expense management and payment solutions – it made sense for both companies to evolve their respective business models.”
Brex is Spotnana’s second platform client revealed in as many weeks, the first being a new travel management company started by corporate travel veteran Mark Walton.