Avi Meir is a travel industry distributor. His first start-up, HotelNinjas, achieved such rapid growth and popularity, it was bought up by Booking.com within just two years of launch. Having tested the waters with the leisure industry, Meir is now bringing his talents to the business travel sector with TravelPerk, a start-up that provides travel and expense management services for businesses.
Now in its 6th year of trading, TravelPerk is one of the few travel businesses to have not just survived the COVID pandemic, but to have thrived during it. Find out more about the CEO driving its success as we reveal ten things you didn’t know about Avi Meir.
1. He spent 5 years in the army
Like all Israeli citizens, Meir was called upon to serve national duty when he came of age. Having always been interested in tech (he started coding at the age of just 12), he managed to land a role as a software developer for the army’s intelligence unit, something which later opened up the doors to him becoming a special forces team sergeant.
In total, Meir served with the army for five years. He’s since described it as one of the most extreme environments he’s ever experienced, as well as the one that taught him to push himself to the limits as both an individual and a team player the most. “Looking back it’s amazing to think I was only 18,” he’s said to Elite Global.
“The elite units are designed to push you to your limit and then push you even further teaching you that you can achieve anything and deal with everything. It’s a great mentality to acquire but getting to that place is incredibly hard.”
2. His first job was at Charles de Gaulle Airport
After five years with the army, Meir had done his national duty and was ready for his next challenge. He found it in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Although his position in operational management didn’t let him explore his interest in tech, it did at least allow him to discover another passion: the travel world.
At that time, it was a world that, according to Meir at least, was in urgent need of modernization. From that point on, he began bouncing around ideas for ways he could initiate that modernization process by tapping into his lifelong passion for tech.
3. He had his first startup idea at university
After deciding his ideas for modernizing the travel world indicated a future in entrepreneurship, Meir applied for business school. After getting into IESE, it didn’t take long for him to come up with the idea for his first company. In 2012, he launched HotelNinjas, an online management software provider for hotels.
To say it was a hit would be an understatement. Within two years, he’d sold the business to Booking.com. To attract the interest of one of the biggest names in the leisure industry was remarkable, and while Meir hadn’t initially planned on selling the company so soon, in the end, it was a no-brainer. With the sale completed, Meir started looking for his next challenge. He found it in the business travel sector.
4. He founded TravelPerk in 2015
After selling HotelNinjas to Booking.com, Meir set to work disrupting the business travel sector. In 2015, he founded TravelPerk. Like HotelNinjas before it, Meir’s latest project enjoyed huge success almost overnight. In the subsequent years, it continued to expand rapidly. By 2019, its initial workforce had doubled. By 2020, it had opened its first office in the US, and by 2021, it had acquired over $130 million in funding.
5. His downfall is forgetting about the big picture
Three years after the launch of TravePerk, Meir faced his first major crisis. The business had grown exponentially – the workforce, however, had not. With more customers than his account managers could handle, Meir was forced to face up to the fact that he’d focused too much on the detail, and not enough on the bigger picture.
“Technical people like myself can see people and culture stuff as uninteresting and tend to underinvest in it at the beginning, but they can become the biggest pain points for scaling,” he’s since admitted. The experience did, however, leave him with a valuable piece of advice to pass onto other aspiring entrepreneurs. “Focus on the areas you find boring because these are the areas where things will go wrong,” he advises. “Use data and tools to get information on these areas in the same way as you do your product.”
6. He wants to revolutionize business travel
Meir might not want to reinvent the wheel, but he does want to reinvent business travel. He decided to form TravelPerk as a way of tackling the inefficiencies and unnecessary expenses that have plagued the segment for years. By creating a complete business travel management platform that brings all the elements of the process into one place, he believes he has created a new standard for companies that engage in business travel.
7. He’s all about company culture
When other businesses were cutting their staff by 30 percent and introducing 4 day weeks during the first wave of the Covid pandemic, Meir held fast. Rather than downsizing his workforce, he re-educated it instead, retraining sales personal in customer service when bookings were being canceled and retraining customer service in sales when those bookings began to be rearranged.
His decision, he says, all comes down to the importance that company culture plays at TravelPerk. Having overlooked the importance of staff and culture in the early years of the business, Meir has no intention of making the same mistake again. He now spends over half his time on hiring so he can build a team infused with the values that underpin TravelPerk’s success.
8. He thinks COVID has been good for business
The Covid pandemic may have devasted lives and economies, but a few businesses managed to survive, prosper, and even come out of the experience stronger than ever. TravelPerk is one of them. in an interview with Sifted, Meir explained how Covid had actually been good for business.
“I certainly wouldn’t choose a pandemic to operate in, but we’ve tried to get the best out of it, considering we didn’t have a choice,” he said. “We’re emerging stronger, having invested in our product and actually grew our customer base 60% over the past year.”
9. He thinks 2021 will be a record year for travel
Travel may have been off the table for a long time now, but Meir anticipates that as soon as conditions allow, business travel will be back bigger and better than ever before. Speaking to EU-Startups, he explained how, in his opinion, people will now value human connection and real-life meetings more than ever. “I can’t see companies having a remote-only policy when it comes to meetings,” he says. “The projections for business travel in 2019 were that business travel was going to rise and I still believe this to be true—we’ve just experienced a delay.”
10. He’s a linguist
Having lived in three countries, Meir has become something of a linguist. According to his bio on Capital on Stage, he speaks English, French, Spanish, and Hebrew, with just a touch of Klingon on the side.
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