$9 billion travel tech firm Navan on track to hit profitability this year and ‘not far’ from IPO, CEO says

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TripActions CEO Ariel Cohen
TripActions

The boss of travel and expense management platform Navan told CNBC he’s preparing the company to get its business into shape for an eventual initial public offering this year, in another sign leaders of privately-held startups are getting more optimistic about their prospects in the public markets.

Asked about when Navan would choose to go public, the firm’s CEO and co-founder Ariel Cohen said the company is close to reaching that milestone. “We can see the signals,” he said, adding that Navan has been adjusting its leadership structure and making changes to its board in a signal of maturity.

Last month saw Navan announce the return of Rich Liu, formerly Navan’s chief revenue officer and “an expert on scaling companies from seed to IPO and beyond,” to the business as CEO of Navan Travel, the company’s travel division.

Amy Butte, the former chief financial officer of the New York Stock Exchange who oversaw the U.S. exchange operator’s transition to a public company in 2006, was also appointed to Navan’s board of directors as audit committee chair.

“I don’t want to give a date,” Cohen told CNBC, adding that he’s not even told his own family a date for when he expects Navan to go public — let alone his board and Navan employees. “At the end of the day, there are things that are out of my control.”

“The market can collapse. There are elections in the U.S. There are wars. So I never actually promise things to people if I don’t know that the delivery is in my control,” he added.

While Cohen wouldn’t commit to a date for Navan’s eventual IPO, he said the business was “not far” from being ready for a stock market listing. The company is on track to become cash-flow positive and achieve profitability for the first time this year, he said.

“The timing will need to include several things,” he said. “Today, in this market, to be public, you need to be profitable. We are not far from that, but we are not there. We’re going to be there this year. And it’s not easy to do it while you’re growing fast.”

Cohen said he’s also keeping a wary eye on the market — but added that although, previously, investors would have seen a company like his as dependent on buoyant market sentiment surrounding technology, today he sees the firm as “mature enough” to go public independent of the market backdrop.

Navan is now growing revenues by around 40% on average, according to Cohen, with the company’s fintech business seeing faster growth (100%) than its travel business (30%).

Founded in 2015 as TripActions, Navan began life as a travel management platform for businesses, seeking to provide a smoother experience to travel agents and incumbent players like American Express, BCD Travel, and SAP Concur. The company counts the likes of Unilever and Christie’s as clients.

The firm subsequently expanded into expensing and payments with solutions for automating linking credit cards to a single platform and automating expenses.

Navan is backed by major investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Coatue, Goldman Sachs, and Lightspeed. Navan has raised more than $1.5 billion in venture funding to date and was last valued at $9.2 billion. It competes with Spanish startup TravelPerk, which was most recently valued at $1.4 billion.

Navan introduced a big evolution of that product last year with the arrival of Navan Connect, a new expensing product.

Most corporate card startups, like Brex and Ramp, offer users their own branded corporate smart cards. But Navan’s Connect feature, which it’s rolled out in partnership with Citi, lets businesses offer automated expense management and reconciliation without having to change corporate card provider.

Like other tech firms, Navan has been making a big investment into artificial intelligence. The company rolled out its own AI personal assistant, called Ava, last year. The tool uses generative AI to help travelers, travel admins, and finance managers make travel plans and budget effectively.

Ava — which stands for automated virtual assistant — now processes around 150,000 monthly chats, more than 35% of which are managed to completion as of April 2024, according to Navan.

Cohen said Navan is planning to roll out an even more personalized version of Ava’s AI assistant, which can generate travel plans for someone based on their past behavior, to even greater accuracy in six months’ time.

Navan was named on the 2024 edition of CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list.

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