WorldMate CEO blog – Nadav Gur

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

WorldMate at NBTA 2007

Last week we came back from the 2007 National Business Travel Association show in Boston, where WorldMate Live was demonstrated to a couple hundred corporations, travel agents and other players in the travel space. WorldMate Live was greeted with an "A-ha" by most - it seems like the need and the solution are so clear and evident, some people are surprised this wasn't invented sooner. We also gained some in-depth knowledge of the related pains of travel managers - the people who need to re-accommodate all those travelers who missed their connections, don't know how to get to their hotel etc. Basic elements of WorldMate Live that we considered trivial are for them big time-savers. For us, that's great validation to what we're doing.

The National Business Travel Association is by nature focused more on travel developments than technology developments. It's a show where you see more versions of business class seats and models of limousines than software systems. It also seems like this is exactly what many attendees preferred and responded to. How this serves the companies that send them there I am not sure I understand. The equivalent in the technology space is sending your people to attend a trade show and getting a report that they saw great new keyboards, mice and USB adapters.

Travel is an industry that was fundamentally impacted by technology in the last decade. Internet technology facilitated direct distribution (a critical element of the low-fare airline model), online travel booking by travelers themselves (which reduces costs on the one hands - and compliance with corporate policies on the other) and informed travelers (making better operational decisions - good for the company, not necessarily for the agent). This totally changed the business of travel distribution and specifically corporate travel management. A new trend in the industry is the "procurementalization" of travel management, founded on the simple precept - "why should purchasing flight tickets be fundamentally different from purchasing office supplies, shipping services or catering services?". These trends are essentially driven by technology introduced by companies like Rearden Commerce and GetThere. WorldMate Live, through reducing the dependence on manual assistance (over the phone) to travelers is another example of cost-reduction and efficiency-improvement enabled by technology.

My point is that the modern day travel manager should seriously "get" technology, and be interested in it. Otherwise, as a corporation you will probably get the most comfy seats, but miss the fact that you can shave a significant percentage of your T&E costs - either by reducing direct costs, or by getting more out of each trip so that less trips are needed and more time can be spent actually working. Some of the travel managers we met at NBTA were exactly like that - clever, on-the-spot, business-oriented. These are the people who will make a difference for their companies.

And as for the people who attended in order to compare the business-class dinners at the top airlines? Well, I hope they work for the energy sector. Or government, for that matter. Someone else's government that is.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

iPhone musings

Well, I guess I'm very late. One thing about the iPhone and tech bloggers is it seems like if you haven't said or written about it, you just aren't one.

As someone who's seen a few ground-breaking product launches in this industry, I must say I'm not that impressed. Yes, it's a great product - for some. But cellphones are a one billion device per year industry. Theoretically, you can have five hundred handset models released into the market a year with the majority of them being successful and profitable. So what separates the iPhone from this pack? A kick-ass screen - yes. But that's not "Apple proprietary technology". Good industrial design - cool. Hype, well... The fact that Apple can stretch its brand successfully to a line of handsets is frankly less surprising than the fact Dolce & Gabbana can. Does that revolutionize the cellphone industry? Hardly.

What the iPhone definitely isn't is a good business tool. These rely mainly on messaging capabilities - secure push e-mail with strong text input capabilities. The iPhone's touch screen, great for zooming in on maps (assuming they're Google's) and viewing YouTube clips, is not text-entry friendly. The system also lacks of a robust push email solution, and the fact it's a closed platform lets no 3rd party contribute one, or any other horizontal application that cannot be delivered over a browser.

So - RIM has nothing to worry about. Neither do people like HTC, unless they see themselves as players in the gizmo space rather than business device makers. The iPhone's dent in the smartphone market (is it a smartphone? isn't a smartphone defined as a handset with an open OS?) will be limited to people who are actually media device consumers, not smartphone consumers. Yes, it's a big segment, and Nokia / Sony Ericsson / Motorola should take heed. But for now the iPhone will go no further than that sector.

.... Late addition - Dec. 14th 2008 ....

I am getting a lot of responses for this post still... I expect you may also want to read this subsequent post before commenting...