“I’m not sure if our business would have been able to survive without the COL, the Corona Bridging Loan, from the government,” says Jeroen van Velzen. “Just because our revenues are down doesn’t mean that we can stop supporting our customers. We have made commitments that we want and need to respect.”
As co-founder and CEO of Roadmap, a Delft-based scale-up that helps corporate travelers make the most out of their business trips, Jeroen has seen his business turned on its head in the past months. Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak put the brakes on the travel industry, he has had to make tough decisions on how to keep the company afloat - from shrinking his team to accommodate the dip in revenues, to continuing to provide customers with the best service possible.
A business set up for growth comes to a (near) standstill
Roadmap came about a few years back, in 2015, when Jeroen and co-founders Markus Emmer and Koen Bavinck decided to bring innovation to corporate travel. The reason for that was that “the travel industry did not really care about travelers”, as they put it.
On a consumer level, it was doing a good job keeping up with new technologies. Platforms like Booking.com and Airbnb made it rather easy for individual travelers to book and prepare for their holiday. Yet, when it came to corporate travel, the industry was still using very old technology.
At first glance, traveling may seem quite straightforward: You have a destination, you book a flight, reserve a hotel room, you’re done. “At the back of it, though, there is one big hairball of systems, players and details to keep track of and manage. And traveling for work felt like the 1980s again,” Jeroen says.
So they decided to consumerize the corporate side of travel.
They launched Roadmap in the US, with the goal of enhancing the travel experience for business travelers in order to drive enterprise value. Starting out across the ocean was a logical choice, as ”there are seven to eight times more people traveling for work in the US than in Europe,” Jeroen says. And it was the right choice, too.
Within a year, the then-startup had signed several big customers, including Microsoft and Pfizer, and was working hard to put in place the all-in-one mobile travel platform they all needed. Fast forward to 2019 and they had a successful funding round behind them as well as several industry experts onboard. They also grew the corporate side of their business by over 100%.
There was nothing but sunshine, future growth and a move to the US on the horizon. Until COVID-19 happened and it turned those plans upside down.
Keep calm and carry on, with help from the government
“In a matter of weeks, we went from full speed ahead to full speed backwards,” Jeroen says. That is something that he and the rest of his team have had to adjust to, without much time to think about it.
While Roadmap offers a full service to a number of corporate clients, it makes a big part of its revenues through transactions. “Some of our corporate customers pay per travel transaction, or booking, and we also have a lighter-weight version of our corporate platform that we sell to travel agents,” he explains.
“From one month to the next, we went from roughly 20,000 bookings per day to 500. That was harsh.”
As a result, Jeroen has had to make some tough decisions. Knowing that the current situation would cause more than just a short-term dip, he had to bring the team from over 30 people down to 24. “We had scaled the team for future growth and now we had to shrink it for future shrinkage.” The three co-founders all took a cut to their salaries as well to help the business stay financially viable.
And still that wasn’t going to be enough. Jeroen knew that they had to resort to governmental support to keep the company going. “When the government introduced the Corona Bridge Loan (COL), we knew that we had to go for it. It was intended exactly for the case we were in.”
The COL is a measure that the Dutch government has put in place to help startups, scale-ups and innovative SMEs get the financial support that they need as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Roadmap is one of those companies, and they qualified for a loan in the range between 250,000 and 500,000 euros.
“This loan serves exactly the purpose we need,” Jeroen says. “It builds a bridge for us until we’re able to get back on track. It is helping us stay afloat.”
Looking towards the future in times of uncertainty
As an experienced entrepreneur, Jeroen knows how important it is to keep the business going in times like these. No one can really see what the future holds - and especially for the travel industry, so it is crucial for a company like Roadmap to keep an open conversation with its customers and prospects.
“We’re currently talking to our customers about how they plan to approach travel from now on and we want to rebuild our solution based on that,” Jeroen says. “We’re shifting our resources to cater to, what we call, COVID-class travel. It’s not business class, it’s not economy class, but COVID-class.”
So far, Roadmap’s main focus has been on helping corporate travelers be as productive as possible during business trips. Yet, an additional topic may soon take priority.
“We will need to focus on, what we call, traveler anxiety management,” Jeroen says. In other words, the team will need to ensure that stakeholders in the chain, such as hotels and car rental companies, are managing a healthy and safe environment for travelers. Only then will people have a peace of mind when it comes to traveling for work.
From this point onward, it is up to the team of Roadmap to make the best out of a tough situation. Close collaboration with their customers will be the single, most important way forward - and that is something that Jeroen sees as an opportunity. It is an opportunity made largely possible by the timely financial support of the government. It is an opportunity to shape Roadmap into the product that the industry needs, right here and right now.