Startup Stories: Hugh Batley, Founder & Managing Director of TruTrip

TruTip founder, Hugh Batley, joins us on Startup Stories to talk about his startup journey, the inspiration behind launching TruTrip, and what the future holds.

by hao-nguyen on August 4, 2022

Hugh is the founder and managing director of TruTrip, a travel management company established in early 2019 to make business travel more accessible and straightforward for businesses, no matter its size. In 2020, worldwide border closures further underscored the need for safe, easy and stress-free travel.  

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Hey Hugh, thanks for joining us today for Startup Stories. To kick things off, can you tell us a little about TruTrip and what inspired you to launch in 2019?

Hi Hao, sure. Bringing people together, in real life, has so many benefits. Not just in business but in personal lives as well. Real-life relationships are, for the most part, deeper and more effective.  I don’t think we always thought of TruTrip like this, but out of the challenges from the pandemic and now, adding to the mix the challenges of inflation and the possibility of another global recession, we ultimately see this as our real mission: Bringing people together to do great things. 

But the experience of bringing people together seems to be very different across organisations. Most people have a significantly better experience booking travel through consumer channels than their company solution which is usually more expensive too. The experience for companies is also very different.  Many of the solutions available do not fully support companies in their travel-related objectives; which for us is odd when Travel and Expenses are both ranked as the second-highest controllable expense after salaries, and one of the core enablers of growth. 

Simply, TruTrip aims to solve these two issues for companies that also believe in the value of bringing people together. TruTrip started from our own similar pains – as both travellers and as company managers. Despite huge changes in the travel industry as a whole, we feel most people are still managing travel the same way as they did 20+ years ago and that the technology is there to really change that for the better. 

As a founding team, we started to get together in early 2019 to talk to others about these issues and started crafting the solution from there. The heavy initial build started in late 2019 with a public launch in Q1 2020 – not exactly optimal given the pandemic but we’ve built a solution for the current challenges in travel. 

Prior to TruTrip, what was your background and how has it shaped your vision for TruTrip?

I have had a pretty broad background; in engineering, consultancy and start-up.  In that path, I’ve travelled for business at all parts of the spectrum – from the traditional corporate TMC solution in BAE Systems, the premium travel service with McKinsey & Company and to the start-up through to SME stages with Lion & Lion.  I think from my experience, and based on our research, the demands of companies and travellers across the spectrum are somewhat consistent. The challenge for most companies is achieving those demands with the resources you have available.

I think our vision for TruTrip focuses on the SME segment – not that we are SME exclusive, but largely we think SMEs are the ones who have little choice today and yet collectively are a proportion of travellers. 

If anything, my background helps us connect to users from a broad cross-section of the company stage and industry. We try to avoid being overly “founder” orientated – our vision, strategy, and plans have to stand up outside of my experiences.  

The travel industry worldwide was hit hard in 2020 because of border closures from the pandemic. Many would view your decision to continue with TruTrip as unconventional or daring. Did the thought of pivoting TruTrip strike you?

I think it’s very fashionable to talk about pivoting – fashionable is not always good. We did massively change our plans but our core, bringing people together, has not changed.  As the impact of the pandemic became more clear, we found ourselves coming to three conclusions that support us holding the line: 

  1. Businesses need to travel. Businesses need to recover and impactful travel has to be a critical component for, not all, but many businesses. Travelling for business has shown to be a sound investment.  
  2. Businesses need help to travel now more than ever. Post-pandemic, businesses are feeling the pressure more than ever. Plus, the complexity to travel is potentially at its most complicated in history.
  3. We are in a great place to focus on this opportunity. In some ways, although the timing can sound terrible, we were actually lucky. We don’t have the legacy to maintain, we’ve not been through this pandemic with a huge overhead. The pandemic actually freed us all up to pretty much exclusively focus on the future of travel – that be it around traveller experience, or sustainability.

And as we’ve progressed, I think we’ve seen a lot of industry validation. We’ve seen record raises at record valuations for similar offerings in the US and Europe – not something you see in shrinking industries where the economics seem to be dwindling. 

We often hear that it takes the elusive X-factor to become an entrepreneur. Do you agree, and what would you say are your most defining traits?

I don’t think there is an elusive X-factor – I think there are many paths to the same goal. There are far too many variables in entrepreneurship to really draw conclusions and most causal hypotheses have ended up failing. From my perspective, I know there are thousands of very happy, very successful entrepreneurs who we never hear about and who don’t really fit the typical understanding of what a successful entrepreneur is.

But to become an entrepreneur, I think there has to be a minimum viable level of economic security. That minimum level will be very personal to the individual and their situation. On top of that, there has to be some specific drive to put yourself through that really tough 0-$100k revenue phase.

Being remote-first is very much a part of your company culture. Do you think that is at odds with TruTrip’s offering – connecting business people on a more impactful level through travel?

We believe in bringing people together – but that should be at the right time and place based on the reasons for getting together. We don’t particularly believe people need to sit in an office together all the time to get the same positives – hence, our remote model.  Companies like us would for sure find a platform like TruTrip useful to enable travel safely, economically, and impactfully whilst minimising our environmental impact. 

SMEs are your target market. Why should SMEs use a Travel Management Platform? 

Most business leaders would agree that they would be happy to use travel to enable their business to do great things. We’re helping companies do that. TruTrip offers great value fares, effective controls, on-demand support, powerful insights, the right tools and  customisations.

Our no fee service gives even those with minimal travel a reason to get excited.  But, for most of our clients, we say the best way to know is to give us a try.  

What do you think is in store for travel as a whole in 2022, and what’s your target for TruTrip in the next 3 years?

Mostly, 2022 is a recovery year for travel. Many providers are now looking to simplify journeys as well as restaff for the growing demand. Traditionally, recessions or even the threat of recessions have seen business travel reduce but I think on this occasion, coming from such a low base there is still plenty of recovery space. 

As for us, well, we’re making sure we keep our services at the top of our game. There are plenty of product innovations coming through on top of small tweaks to make the platform better.  The next three years are focused on becoming and maintaining a position as the go-to business travel platform of choice in Southeast Asia.

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