16 | Business Travel News | October 2, 2017 www.businesstravelnews.com
I’d been very interested in the browser extension play space, as well as chatbots, so I started
digging around trying to work out: Is there an
application for travel that could be done in one or
both of those places that could add value without
doing customer service? I’ve spent time talking
to corporate travelers. The CEO, CFO, COO—
they all love corporate booking tools that restrict
access, and it’s very much a mandated program.
By the time I moved down the chain of command and got to the travelers, they didn’t really
care about compliance. They just wanted to book
where they thought was best, whether it was for
points or price or preference. Instead of reinventing a better mousetrap with the same limits, what
if we just embraced open booking and said, “You
can book on the OTAs or you can book with airlines directly, and we are going to guide you?”
How does the policy piece come in?
We use the browser extension to overlay data
Can the plug-in be used on any browser and
and guidance, which is where the name Shep
comes from; it’s sort of shepherding you to a
good decision and showing you what you should
or shouldn’t book. If I’m a traveler and I try to
book something that’s too expensive, it’s going
to say, “You’re spending more than you should.”
And I can tell it from a drop-down menu, “I need
to book this because it’s around the corner from
my meeting.” What [Shep does] is package up all
that information: who the traveler is, what site
they booked on, what the lowest price offered
was, the highest price, what the policy is, how
much the traveler is exceeding the policy by and
what the reason is. We send that as an alert to the
travel manager via email or Slack, and that allows
a switch in the way things are done in [small and
midsize enterprises]. Now, that booking can be
corrected within 24 hours, typically, instead of
[the traveler] being punished a month later when
the expense report is submitted. It gives autono-
my to the traveler and visibility to the higher-ups.
We’re in a closed beta using Chrome at the moment. And for us, we have to map to the HTML
on the sites [to scrape the data] and say, “This
[line of code corresponds to] price.” We’ve got 11
sites mapped and working. We started with the
[online travel agencies], and now we’re getting
some of the direct airlines. We’re using our early
customers to facilitate the mapping of these sites.
And is there a chatbot component coming?
We are working in the chatbot space, as well. It’s
more of a, “How much can I spend in Miami next
week” [kind of policy guidance], not a mini-TMC.
So travelers don’t have to dig out their handbook;
they can chat with the bot for a quick reference.
What size companies are you targeting?
We’re starting with SMEs, so companies that
have a policy, that have identified this as a
problem but they don’t have a tool or they’re
not willing to pay for a tool. For a smaller or
medium-size company, their travel policy is on
a wiki or at the bottom of the drawer, and it’s
just static and who knows who’s got the latest
version. There’s a lot of uncertainty into what
the rules are. We’re taking things from companies, often a physical or static thing, and we’re
bringing it to life so that it’s actionable and
trackable on OTAs and consumer sites. We’ve
talked to larger companies that spend $10
million dollars in travel, and they want us as a
sort of additive when there’s leakage from their
corporate booking sites. But for now, our early
customer launch is SMEs.
Austin-based startup Shep.travel, formerly known as Compl.ai, is a browser plug-in that facilitates
open bookings that fall within the guidelines of a company’s travel policy. CEO Daniel Senyard spoke
to BTN’s Julie Sickel about how the tool can help companies boost compliance.