There are two kinds of business travelers: those who have a secretary or service to make their trips hands-free and those who hate the software available to book their trips.
That is what Minneapolis startup Travel Labs found in doing research and interviews in preparation for launching the business, said Parker Schlank, its co-founder and chief executive.
It made him and his colleagues rethink how the business should be built.
At first, Schlank said, he envisioned the business as an application to take the work out of travel expenses. He hopes the expense tool will still become part of the business down the road.
But first, the team — which includes co-founder Brandon Bokinskie — decided it needed to address the void between the types of business travelers.
The idea was to make the travel booking as hands-off as possible. That saves the business traveler valuable time — and saves the employer money because trips will be booked in a more cost-efficient manner.
The result is the app Tempore, which is Latin for time, Schlank said.
After customers input their travel preferences and other information such as travel patterns and payment methods into the app, as soon as they put “out of town business meeting” and a destination into their Outlook calendar, Tempore spits out an itinerary.
If the customers like the flights, hotel and rental car bookings, they hit “OK” and Travel Labs books it. If they want changes, they edit the itinerary.
So far, Travel Labs has signed up 19 small companies and 1,000 individuals for the beta version of Tempore. The company has been building the app while part of the Beta accelerator program that provides office space and mentoring for Minnesota-based startups.
The company also announced last week it has raised $500,000 in pre-seed funding — $100,000 more than it sought — from angel investors.
The funding not only will fund the ramp-up of Tempore, it also will likely enable Travel Labs to increase its development staff, Schlank said. Right now, it contracts with eight professionals beyond its small core team.
Eventually, Travel Labs would like to expand Tempore’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to include “natural language processing” so customers can use Alexa or Siri, he said. The idea is that someone could tell a Google Assistant or Echo, “I am traveling to New York on Thursday. Book my usual,” and the app would produce the same type of itinerary that the Outlook version does now.
Other areas Travel Labs has in its sights: developing the app so it’s a one-stop shop for travelers. Customers would be able to OK boarding passes, check hotel points or look up pertinent information about the city where they are staying — “everything to make on-the-road time easier,” Schlank said.
Once those pieces are in place, it would make sense to build up the expense functions because all the information needed to fill out expense forms would already be within the person’s profile on the app, he said.
The whole company concept comes from Schlank’s vision to make traveling a bit more romantic again.
His father was a U.S. Air Force pilot, and the family moved to Minnesota when he got a job with Northwest Airlines.
“That’s really where my love for travel started,” Schlank said.
After graduating from St. Thomas Academy and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, Schlank started working for national agency Travel Leaders in Plymouth. Before he left to start Travel Labs, he was the vice president for consulting and analytics.
He said he loved Travel Leaders but always had a desire to start his own company, and he thought he hit the right idea with Travel Labs.
“I always thought, how do I round myself so I can get myself to the point where I can start my own company?” he said.
Ramping up the company, though, taught him that having the skills and knowing how to use them are two different things, he said.
“It’s eye-opening,” he said. “You think you are equipped with all the skills, then you actually have to do the fundraising.”
That’s where being in the Beta accelerator or other environments that help fill the gaps are an advantage to a new company, he said.
Several trend reports for business travel mention AI as a much-needed area of improvement. Travel technology, the reports say, has not advanced much beyond 1990s levels.
Travel Labs will make its money in much the same way as traditional travel agencies, by collecting commissions from the airlines, hotels or rental car companies it recommends to customers.
It has competitors in the field, but the largest of them currently controls only 15 percent of the market, the company said.