Smiles and Work: A look back at Lola in 2019By Mike Volpe
We added hundreds of customers, became the highest-rated corporate travel management app and won a slew of culture awards — and it’s just the beginning
We have a tradition at our company-wide meetings where I share a few things from the last month or so that are making me smile...and a few things that are making me work. Building an amazing business is a complicated process — one in which you’re often simultaneously hitting massive milestones and facing big obstacles.
Reflecting on the first half of 2019, I find myself confronting a macro version of this exercise. So much has changed for Lola since January 1st, I decided it was important to take stock of it all and what it means for the next few months for Lola.
What’s making me smile?
When we entered 2019, Lola was a completely different company. We were starting to find our footing in the corporate travel world, fresh off our new commercial partnership with American Express Global Business Travel, and we were just beginning to scale our company.
In the months since, there have been several important steps that have brought a smile to my face, incredibly optimistic about the company and product we’re building. I can’t list them all, but I’ll highlight a few of the big ones.
1. Our commercial partnership with American Express GBT is firing on all cylinders. When we initially signed the agreement with American Express GBT, there was so much to be excited about, but it was mostly theoretical. How could we leverage each other’s unique strengths — industry knowledge and massive inventory from GBT, beautiful software and world-class support from Lola — to make something incredibly powerful?
Well, nearly a year in, these theoretical advantages have become reality. We now have hundreds and hundreds of companies happily benefiting from the partnership, saving time and money on corporate travel. And there’s so much more our two organizations can do together!
2. Lola is helping hundreds and hundreds of growing companies streamline corporate travel. Before 2019, we were just starting to realize how many SMBs and other growing businesses needed help managing their travel programs. These companies needed lightweight, consumer-grade platforms to allow them to book travel efficiently, get support on the road, and have access to the same inventory and deals typically only available to much bigger companies.
I’m smiling a lot these days, because I know we’ve made huge strides in helping these companies. We’re the highest-rated corporate travel platform on the internet, with a perfect 5 out of 5 stars from Capterra. The vast majority of the hundreds and hundreds of new companies we’ve added since the beginning of 2019 are growing companies, and it makes me incredibly happy to know how much easier their lives are with Lola in their pockets and on their desktops. I mean, just look at what companies like Drift, Allego and Flywheel are saying about Lola!
3. Lola is a great place to work. Ok I saved the best smile-inducer for last: our culture. This one isn’t necessarily new — Paul English did a world-class job building an amazing culture well before I started, and certainly before 2019 — but Lola has really hit a new groove in the last 8 or so months. We were honored as a “Best Workplace” by Inc. and a “Best Place to Work” by the Boston Business Journal and many, many other culture-based recognitions. I want to make Lola into a huge success that simplifies corporate travel for thousands and thousands of customers. I want us to build a product that is held up as an example of elegance and power. But first and foremost I want to build a company with a strong culture and a happy team. And it makes me smile knowing that 2019 has been a huge year in that quest.
But, of course, it hasn’t always been easy.
What’s making me work?
Reading all this, you might be thinking: Wow sounds like 2019 has been a pretty amazing year for Lola — what more could they want? And it’s true! I’ve been doing a lot more smiling this year than I have any right to ask for.
But there’s still a lot of work to do. Here’s what’s been keeping me up at night about Lola’s big 2019 and what lies ahead.
1. Providing the best experience for our growing customer base. Adding hundreds and hundreds of customers in the first half of 2019 is a huge success, but it’s the beginning not the end of the journey. We’ve grown a lot this year — 400% in terms of new customers alone — and that means we need to make sure that growth is the kind we want. And this means providing a consistent, delightful experience for all our customers, whether they’re our first or our thousandth.
That requires creating a customer success program that gets people up and running fast, and makes sure they have the support they need whenever they need it. This is only going to get harder as we scale, so it is essential for us to lay the proper foundation as early as possible. And that is making me — and the whole team — work incredibly hard as we build a world-class customer success function that is every bit as intuitive and customized as our product.
2. Understanding what SMBs need for a perfect travel program. Growing businesses have unique needs and particular constraints. They need to move fast, they need predictable pricing and cost controls, and they need tools that help them operate more efficiently. They feel underserved by massive business software that’s not nearly as unique as they are. Every day we talk to people from these companies — whether they’re our customers, prospects or anything else — to understand their pain points and their needs.
That’s a lot harder than it sounds, because not all growing companies are the same, and their needs often evolve quickly. Ask two SMBs for their opinion about something and you’ll get three different answers. At least.
But it is Lola’s job to understand these needs, anticipate new ones, and create a product that allows these companies to thrive. User interviews, market research, surveys, customer advisory boards — these are all tactics we’re employing to build the best corporate travel management platform for growing companies — but it is a never-ending quest.
When you boil it down, 2019 has been a year of a lot of smiles and a lot of work. Overall, I am incredibly excited about what we’ve accomplished and very proud of my team for all the work they’ve put in. But the journey is just beginning. I can’t wait to see where we’ll be 6 months, a year, ten years from now.
I don’t know exactly what this will look like, but I know it will require a ton of work. But it will also cause a lot of smiling :)