After the coronavirus pandemic severely curbed business travel, executives at Lola.com, a provider of software for management of business travel, decided this spring to aggressively forge ahead with an idea that had been percolating for months.
On Oct. 28, the Boston-based startup unveiled that idea — a new product called Lola Spend. The real-time technology enables companies to better manage expenses against departmental budgets. Lola boasts that its new offering reduces reliance on spreadsheets, erases the need for expense reports and, perhaps most importantly, keeps budgets in line.
Paul English, co-founder and chief technology officer of Lola, stressed that his company isn’t abandoning business travel management. Rather, it’s merely placing the new expense management platform alongside its existing Lola Travel platform.
English credits a couple of customers with sparking the Lola Spend concept. They were pleased with Lola Travel and inquired about extra functionality for management of travel expenses and budgets, he said. Internal brainstorming around that idea began in the summer of 2019.
Lola accelerated and broadened the concept in March when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and business travel tapered off dramatically. Now, Lola Spend encompasses all corporate expenses, not just travel expenses. Since this spring, about half of Lola’s workforce, now at 67 employees, has been working on Lola Spend and the other half on Lola Travel, according to English.
English, co-founder of travel search engine Kayak.com, said a handful of existing Lola Travel customers have been beta-testing Lola Spend. Now, the 5-year-old startup is rolling out Lola Spend to all current and prospective customers — typically companies with 50 to 500 employees. Initially, the Lola Spend desktop and mobile apps are being made available at no cost.
Lola Spend allows a corporate finance team to establish budgets for each group within the company, and then gives managers of those budgets the ability to control expenses by category, team and individual employee. English said Lola Spend integrates with QuickBooks, NetSuite and other accounting software products.
At the heart of Lola Spend is a smart credit card that updates in real time to keep charges within preset spending limits and categories. For instance, Lola Spend might cap the marketing team’s monthly spending on the Google Ads platform, might permit stays at all hotels except high-end properties or might block the purchase of a $300 bottle of wine at a bar. Lola Spend even offers the capability to quickly dial back spending in certain categories when the company must trim expenses.
“Each company will deploy these rules the way they want to. Some companies will be more strict than others,” English said. “But ultimately we want to give the CFOs maximum power and flexibility so they can run their budgets the way they want to run their budgets.”
Stripe and Visa are Lola’s partners on the Lola-branded corporate credit card. Stripe introduced virtual and physical corporate cards in September 2019.
“We might bring on some other card issuers early next year, but we chose Stripe first just because they’re an incredibly developer-friendly company. They have a really slick platform,” English said. “We’ve been working pretty closely with the Stripe team, because we are one of the early adopters of their platform, and I could not be happier with it.”
Lola is able to pursue this product extension thanks to its cash cushion. At its current burn rate, the startup has enough money in the bank to last about 18 months, English said. In March 2019, the startup raised $37 million in a Series C round led by General Catalyst and Accel, with participation from CRV, Tenaya Capital and GV.
“We were lucky that we raised a bunch of money last year,” English said. “As travel is coming back — and it is starting to come back — and we get some traction with our products, we should have no problem raising another round sometime next year, say in mid-2021.”
Lola declines to divulge revenue and customer figures.
“Let’s just say 2019 was an explosive growth year for us. We’re doing really well,” English said.