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50 Smartest Companies of the Year 2022

Airbase – Facilitating Company Growth and Success with Its Comprehensive Spend Management Platform

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“Airbase goes beyond this with a comprehensive system that automates a multitude of previously disjointed workflows into a unified platform for all non-payroll spend — cards, accounts payable, and expense reimbursements.”

Airbase is an all-in-one spend management platform that helps companies with their financial control and visibility. The company brings three products into one system: all-inclusive accounts payable automation, software-enabled corporate cards, and simplified employee expense reimbursements.

Airbase was founded in 2017 and has raised $101M in venture funding from leading VC firms, including Bain Capital Ventures, First Round Capital, and AMEX Ventures, and individuals, including the former CFO at NetSuite and Co-founder of Okta. As a result, Airbase has gone on to become the world’s leading spend management platform.

Thejo Kote, CEO of Airbase, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review on how his company is helping finance teams build great companies.

Interview Highlights

Q. What was the motivation behind starting Airbase?

I started Airbase, at least in part, as a response to something I saw too much of while running my first company: well-educated, knowledgeable people sacrificing vast amounts of their time doing low-value work. My talented finance team got bogged down in the chaos of approvals, time-consuming reimbursements, and repetitive manual bookkeeping tasks. What’s more, inefficient processes and inadequate tools meant that I was unable to get an on-demand, real-time view of what we were spending as a company.

As I learned more, I realized that the status quo for AP in small to early-enterprise companies is broken and that the disparate systems for operating a business’s transactions were relics of technical limitations that no longer existed. Using the design-thinking concepts that are central to our product design approach at Airbase, we have taken a holistic view of the entire process and developed a deep understanding of our users’ needs to solve the problem.

Spend management is a different way of thinking about spending company money. It frees up time from manual tasks and provides the tools for finance and accounting professionals to contribute insights, analysis, and strategic thinking, making them more valuable to their companies. An important innovation whose time has come.

Q. How are you helping finance teams build companies?

Modern companies must deal with a proliferation of payment methods and card networks. It’s been an unfortunate status quo that has led to the unnecessary predicament of siloed AP solutions and manual processes, which modern spend management rectifies. These systems have been failing employees, managers, and leaders — especially finance teams — for far too long, all leading to a lack of visibility and control over company spending, difficulty managing and adjusting budgets, and delays in getting the books closed.

Modern spend management has its roots in improved access to digital payment mechanisms. And at Airbase it has grown out of an approach to problem-solving called design thinking that works to break with old patterns called schemas that bias solutions toward incrementalism.

At its core, design thinking revolves around developing a deep understanding of the people for whom we’re designing products or services.

Q. What does innovation mean to Airbase?

Great innovations improve the way we do things. They also change the way we think. Airbase’s spend management is one such advance. The spend management platform automates control and booking processes for payables by integrating its software into the payment motion — pre-approvals, limit settings, and automatic booking to the general ledger for corporate card purchases, for example. But Airbase goes beyond this with a comprehensive system that automates a multitude of previously disjointed workflows into a unified platform for all non-payroll spend — cards, accounts payable, and expense reimbursements. The Airbase innovation includes a breadth and depth of features, customizations, and complex payment handling to approve, book, and report all spending in real-time. The results are far-reaching and transformational. Processes are simplified, better data is more widely available, low-value manual work is eliminated, a healthy spend culture is established, and visibility and control are ensured. We call it spendlightenment.

Q. How is Airbase unique? What differentiates you from others in the space?

Airbase is the only comprehensive spend management platform for early-stage to early-enterprise companies. While others are beginning to follow in our footsteps, Airbase continues to offer unmatched depth and breadth of features, plus flexibility on choices for implementation, from one to many aspects of the product. Unlike our competitors, we offer various card options, including Airbase, AMEX, and Silicon Valley Bank cards that run on our platform. Airbase users often note our ability to “think like accountants” in our workflow designs, while our intuitive, friendly user interface is more pleasant and easier to use than the others.

Q. Could you tell us about the work culture at Airbase?

Airbase is a remote-first company and believes that strong company culture is essential. Our values serve as operating principles to help everyone align their approach to everything we do. We believe that a positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances workforce retention. Job satisfaction, collaboration, and work performance are all enhanced. And most importantly, a positive work culture reduces stress on employees to promote their best work.

We also understand the importance of taking a break and life outside work. That’s why we offer a monthly day of rest, where everyone in the company gets a day off on the first Friday of every month. Not only that, but with our flexible paid time off program, staff can get the time they need to rest, recuperate, and spend time with friends and family.

Q. What does the road ahead look like for Airbase? Do you have anything new coming up?

The future looks bright for Airbase!

The company recently celebrated its first virtual conference — Off the Ledger LIVE! — featured a host of industry experts and a keynote from special guest Chef José Andrés. The event was hugely successful and helped generate some powerful topics for finance and accounting professionals.

Airbase was also recognized by The Stevie® Awards as a Silver winner in The 20th annual American Business Awards® for Most Innovative Tech Company. The American Business Awards is the premier accolade for excellence in U.S. business, honoring organizations of all sizes and industries.

You can expect Airbase will continue to double down on its mission to empower accounting and finance teams to manage their non-payroll spending and allow them to focus their time on activities of higher value. Through consistent approval workflows, accounting automation, and real-time reporting, we are giving accounting and finance teams the tools they need to manage their businesses today and in the future.

Get in touch with us: www.airbase.com

Thejo Kote | Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Thejo realized he needed to move to the epicenter of the tech startup world after his first company’s software thrived in India but ultimately failed to break through globally. This was around the time of Twitter’s meteoric rise, and he couldn’t help comparing his company’s performance! So he chose to pick himself up and go again, and his decision to move to the United States, get a master’s degree from UC Berkeley, and then start another company in 2011 proved to be the right one.

Automatic, which he co-founded, was sold to SiriusXM for $110M. Thejo’s experience at Automatic revealed that widespread inefficiencies of accounting and finance in small to mid-market companies could curtail growth. The most inefficient area he saw was non-payroll spending — no one had designed a fully articulated, consolidated software solution to fix this broken process. So he did by starting Airbase.

“Unlike our competitors, we offer a variety of card options, including Airbase, AMEX, and Silicon Valley Bank cards that run on our platform.”