Serko: Eating the world, one hotel room at a time

What’s that? There's another New Zealand company taking digital world by storm?

What’s that? There's another New Zealand company taking digital world by storm?

Home-grown Kiwi tech firm Serko, which listed on the NZX last year, announced a major new deal with Expedia this week, with CEO Darrin Grafton branding the deal a “game-changer” in the industry.

“Expedia is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, brand name in online travel globally, and is universally recognised as a leader in the space,” says Grafton, speaking exclusively to Computerworld New Zealand.

“Expedia also own WOTIF, another local success story that Kiwis have had a love affair with for a number of years now.”

For Grafton, the deal with Serko is an “important one” because as for the first time, Expedia has agreed to offer their hotel inventory, under the Expedia and WOTIF mastheads, to a company that sits outside of its immediate family of brands, which include Travelocity, and Trivago.

“Like many industries worldwide, the world of accommodation booking is going through a transformation at the hands of a small group of very smart technology companies,” Grafton explains.

“Think about Uber, Spotify, Airbnb and Amazon - all new entrants into old markets that are radically changing the way that people access and buy products and services.”

For Grafton, in spearheading a rising Kiwi company, Serko is leading the charge to transform how businesses book business travel - a market that’s worth AU$25 billion in Australia alone.

“The highly innovative technology platform that Serko starting building back in 2013 has taken a few years to get right, but is now being noticed by some of the largest players in the world of travel,” Grafton adds.

“Today, Serko has the ability to sell services to more than two million people across Australasia, giving it a significant opportunity to change the way people buy both their business and ultimately their leisure travel.”

From booking a business trip on an iPhone to fully integrated expense reconciliation on the fly, Serko's vision for travel is “extremely powerful”, adds Grafton.

“Through the application of smart SaaS technology, we are taking the pain out of missed flights, receipt management, last-minute re-bookings and hidden fees,” he adds.

Grafton claims that clients can save as much as 20 percent on their travel budgets, which is significant given how much businesses spend on travel today.

Today, the Expedia deal itself is significant as it allows businesses to book Expedia’s extensive range of branded content, which is now typically available at a lower price than traditional suppliers, through Serko’s online corporate booking tool.

“With access to Expedia content corporates can make even greater savings and offer travellers a far wider choice of hotel accommodation,” Grafton adds.

While only listing 12 months ago, Serko has been quietly building to this point for the last eight years.

For those operating within it, travel is an insular industry built on networks and relationships, with founders Grafton and Bob Shaw, playing a very long game.

From day one, both recognised the possibility for software to disrupt the traditional travel supply chain, following a strategy similar to Marc Andreessen's philosophy that software will eat the world.

Andresson is a demigod in the US Venture Capital scene and was describing the inevitable takeover of the Uber's and Airbnb's of the world.

“Serko is part of a global trend where companies are using intelligently designed technology platforms to disrupt the way consumers find and consume everyday services,” Grafton adds.

“No industry will escape. Serko is what we call a high-growth company, which means it is over-investing in its technology and customer acquisition over profitability.”

So much so that the Parnell-based company is a company to watch, as they pursue an aggressive path to transforming travel for businesses.

And hey, they might just be one of the first Kiwi companies to join a wave of US companies that are, to use Andreessen's phrase, eating the world.

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