“Let your passion guide you “– says R.Ram Raj Karthick, Entrepreneur & Founder, Curio.
Curio today is one of the most advanced corporate travel platforms in the world, unique for it’s coverage of the entire corporate travel cycle.
Karthick’s biggest motivation for becoming an entrepreneur came from the desire to select challenges and develop innovative solutions for a living.He spent the early years of his career working for large IT services organizations. Once he saw the potential for major and disruptive innovation in the corporate travel space and he decided to learn more about the travel domain and even invested in a travel agency to get some hands-on insight into the dynamics of the industry.
CURIO COMMITMENT TO INNOVATION
As a sales person for IT products and services during the early 2000s he watched his clients first adapt and then innovate their businesses to ride the wave of innovation spawned by the rapid evolution in Information & Communication technologies. For Karthick there is something magical about innovation and way it changes people’s lives. He is a veteran of the Travel and Hospitality Industry. Even as ERPs completely revolutionized other corporate functions such Finance and Supply Chain he could see Corporate Travel & Expense management being left behind. The solutions for this space were neither leveraging all the technology available nor delivering enough business impact. So there was clearly a gap in the market. As a frequent traveler he had a firsthand experience of the challenges travelers face and the impact it has on their productivity. This gave a very clear vision for what a truly innovative T&E management solution needed to deliver. As an account manager much of his effort went into managing expectations and covering up for the gaps. For Karthick, an admirer of Steve Jobs the maxim that came to mind was “The customer doesn’t know what they want until you’ve shown them”.Karthick felt the only way to do that was becoming an entrepreneur and building his own solution.
Curio’s growth was initially slow and steady. During their early stages the focus was to find strategic clients that bought into their vision and would help them drive the product development process. More recently Curio has crossed a threshold in terms of functionality and engineering and the sales growth has gone up quite a bit. The team has also grown in line with that. Karthick says “I have been very focused on hiring right fit people. People that buy into our vision and bring a lot of passion to their jobs. My biggest responsibility has been building a team and a culture that makes achieving our vision a possibility. But as the leader of a start-up you wear multiple hats. The most important ability is being able to switch between roles”.
Disruptive innovation is always a challenge. Curio’s vision was always to cater to and automate every aspect of T&E Management. Today Automation is a buzzword and most companies see it as inevitable. But when Curio team was starting out this wasn’t the case and they were ahead of the curve. Today they are in the same place with AI, which despite the hype remains a nascent technology. To build a solution as comprehensive and advanced as Curio while technology keeps evolving is a challenge in and of itself. The technology roadmap evolves even before the first your product is fully built and your roadmap itself needs to be agile.
The second big challenge is the level of disruption a solution like Curio creates. When a client implements Curio it changes the KPI for multiple roles. This change is highly empowering for every role from Travel Managers, who can now drive travel policy evolution, to Finance to Travelers but it is a challenging transition that clients approach with care.
“We’ve overcome this challenge by making Curio extremely user friendly and working with clients beyond the technology to drive user adoption and evolution” – Karthick.
Finding people that understand both Travel and IT is a challenge. But pretty much every person that does can’t help but fall for Karthick’s vision. That is how the Curio team originally came together. Today the deep understanding of Travel & Expense that every person at Curio has is their biggest strength. Curio is a very tightly knit team and they keep learning from each other. The commitment of the entire team has to innovation and creating value is a major reason they have come this far together.
But a commitment to building the best solution can be a weakness as much as it is strength.
“While your clients love your commitment to delivering value it hurts your profitability in the short term. This in turn makes it harder for you to compete with larger competitors, particularly solutions owned by software giants that can leverage their market share for other products to drive sales for their T&E products. Our decision to fund ourselves to retain the integrity of our vision and stay focused on profitability has now started paying off in spades” asserts Karthick.
A REALISTIC WORK LIFE – BALANCE
“Family plays a huge role in an entrepreneur’s life. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely path. I am extremely passionate about Curio and this makes it easy to get ecstatic over small successes or depressed over small failures. My family and their support keep my feet on the ground. Curio has been a 24 x 7 job for me which can make things hard on my family. I’m very lucky to have a family that understands how important Curio is to me and has made adjustments to make sure we have a great family life” speaks Karthick. His kids are a constant source of inspiration. The way they are curious about everything as they discover the world is extremely refreshing. The Curio team is like a family. “I’m a hands-on father and so homework, meals etc. are often my responsibility. With my schedule being what it is my kids and some of my colleagues’ kids have virtually grown up at Curio. This environment we’ve fostered has allowed us all to maintain a balance. They say it takes a village to raise a kid and I think at Curio we’ve become that village” says Karthick.
CURIO’S PRODUCTS & SERVICES
Curio’s offers customers an eponymous platform that supports and optimizes every step of the Travel & Expense Management cycle. Curio is unique in the way it delivers real time visibility, maximum traveler comfort and major cost savings all at the same time. Cost considerations and traveler comfort have traditionally been considered opposing pressures. Trailblazers in T&E Management have only recently started focusing on Travel ROI, driven by traveler productivity as opposed to T&E Costs. Curio has been ahead of this curve and delivers ROI straight out of the box. Curio is also unique amongst T&E players in the extent to which multiple technologies such as Aggregation, Automation and AI power a user interface so simple that users can forget about the tech and focus on using the application. Curio is probably the only comprehensive T&E solution that is disrupting corporate T&E management at the same level that portals like Yatra and MakeMyTrip have disrupted leisure travel.
“I’m as curious today as I was when I started my career. I stay on top of trends in my industry and beyond. You get to learn something new at every stage of your start-up and I am currently focused on scaling up my organization. This requires a different set of skills from those needed to build a great product, so that is the next stage in my personal evolution”- Karthick.