Ilan Twig – Co-Founder and CTO – TripActions – 4 of 4 – Halcyon Days
14 Minutes of SaaS Transcript
Ilan Twig: When I worked for HP, there was no goal and everything was certain. And I’m just thinking about it right now. But that was the reality back then. That’s why I was a walking dead. At least for me, I need to have something to aim for. And I need to wake up in the morning knowing that I need to solve something. I need to challenge myself with something. Be true to yourself … because when you start masking it with whatever bullshit, the chances that something good will come out of it is so low … it’s zero actually.
Stephen Cummins: Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS! The show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS scale-ups!
In this, episode 110 of 14 Minutes of SaaS, the last in our 4-part series with Ilan Twigg, we’ll learn how Ilan needs to solve problems and discover things all the time. It took him time to realise it, but at the age of 46 he has grown to crave uncertainty and hard targets. We get some great advice for entrepreneurs, and we explore a little more of the motivations, ideas, and business model behind TripActions.
Ilan Twig: Because what we do, we apply a lot of learnings on the data. So if you run a search for flight, you’ll get five, six, seven hundred results. What we managed to do using using a lot of data that we have and machine learning … we managed to narrow it down … those 500 results to 10. And in 94 percent of the cases, you will book one of these 10. So in 94 percent of the cases, I can just give you 10 results. That’s it. You don’t need to filter. Don’t need to sort. You don’t need to re-run the search. You just pick one of the … and it’s interesting … the first results …
Stephen Cummins: And there’s a lot of human repetition in that.
Ilan Twig: Yes!
Stephen Cummins: I mean, I’m very efficient at booking itineraries, but I’m still super inefficient compared to what I could be if my computer could remember all the stuff it needs to remember about me.
Ilan Twig: Exactly! And you know I was against machine, not against … But I’m like “machine learning will not prove any value”. That was my assumption. But when we thought about, you know, how can we sort the results in a way that would make sense to the traveler. And then I put myself in the shoes of a traveler. And I fly let’s say, you know, this airline or the other airline. And I started with domestic flights. It’s not that complicated to predict what would be relevant for you. And then I said, “OK, if I can predict pretty accurately … it was like I think 70 to 80 percent of the time you would end up booking one of the first 10 resorts that I curated to you. It was personalised. So I knew your clubs and your age and your seniority and a bunch of stuff. But in the end, it was hardcoded. Then I thought, you know, if there is a way to dynamically change it and fine-tune it for you. Fine tuning based on what’s available. Fine-tune it based on things that do change. It will be fantastic. I could optimise it. But, you know, I don’t want to change the program every day or five times a day. So I’m like, “Okay, this could be a great opportunity to apply machine learning.”
Stephen Cummins: Better to train the machine.
Ilan Twig: Better to train the machine.
Stephen Cummins: Because the machine then can learn from everybody else as opposed to everybody else training the machine.
Ilan Twig: Exactly! And so when we used that, we immediately saw like a 10 percent improvement. That was a year ago, a year and half ago today. It’s like this is what we use. So all of our sorting is driven by machine learning. And it’s, as I said, ninety five point … ninety four percent of the cases. You do not need to see more than 10 results.
Stephen Cummins: And the beauty is you’re data rich.
Ilan Twig: Yes!
Stephen Cummins: You have massive data. So the learnings are not only personal, the learnings are fundamental and can be predictive. And can improve the ability to do that. So there’s just layers of advantages.
Ilan Twig: Now it’s just like, you know, it’s like a good real estate investment. You know. It gets better and better over time. It appreciates. We onboard new customers globally. The system learn more and more. And, you know, now we see, like the move from 70 percent accuracy to 90 percent took maybe two months … two or three months. But then it moves from 90 to 91, 91 to 92. These took way, way more time. So would I. But it keeps going up. So now it’s at 94 percent. And obviously we don’t invest anything. So it’s just feeding more data. We recalculate the model A I think twice a month.
Stephen Cummins: So you figured out the model. You figured out the single most important part of your business in many senses. But you’ve taken on 250 million at a valuation I believe of four billion … which is an 8.33 percent stake in your business, which is a phenomenal valuation.
Ilan Twig: Yeah!
Stephen Cummins: And that’s partly because you’ve figured out something that is extremely valuable and getting more valuable by the second, improving its value. So … have you taken on that money primarily to scale the manpower you need to grow this spaceship? Because I presume that’s where a lot of it’s going. Why take take on so much? I mean, you could have got 125M for 4 point … It’s true.
Ilan Twig: Yeah it’s true. It’s true.
Stephen Cummins: So why 250?
Ilan Twig: First, my Dad told me that’s when I was a kid, “If you can’t get money, take it.” So that’s my Dad. But being a little bit less shallow … So the story was when we launched a product six months after inception, we started to have customers pre-alpha. So it was friends and then family and friends of investors and … But the thing is, you know, you use it to book your travel, and to travel with it. It needs to work. We were really appreciating of the fact that they used us. You know these first 10 customers. What we realized six months later when the product was way more mature. And way more complete. And we were ready for a launching it the GA, about a year after inception … we realized that … and I remember this moment that Ariel and I talked and he said “Not even a single customer left us from the pre-pre-alpha days. The product was so naked. So a bare bones. No one left us. And then we started to realise that we what we have has an amazing product-market fit. Like this product feeds the market unbelievably well.
So now I’m going back to your question. Three years after, it still happens. So we barely have churn. Now we slow down. But we used to grow up until a few months ago [at] twenty to twenty five percent month over month. And yeah, so in the early days the numbers were low. But now the numbers are huge. It’s in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And now it’s I would say 15 percent month over month.
Stephen Cummins: Still huge.
Ilan Twig: So now we are sitting … we have this product that customers really, really want. They wanted it because it creates real value. They’re willing to pay for it. They stay with it. The market is endless. We spoke about the size of the market. It’s endless. You know, you do not see the ceiling no matter what. So why don’t you put, like, you know, a lot of fuel and go for it, you know? So obviously, my co-founder and I, you know, we see this opportunity and we want to move fast. But it was also the investors that had to write the check in the end that saw the opportunity. And then we all said, you know, “Let’s move really fast. Let’s make sure that we are not blocked by anything. So this money gives us a lot of flexibility to do what it takes to move forward and, you know …
Stephen Cummins: Everything turns into a land grab eventually.
Ilan Twig: Yes
Stephen Cummins: It starts off with being unique, but eventually … because if you’re creating value and it’s out there invisible, others will want to do the same. And rightly so.
Ilan Twig: You want to expand globally, right? Open offices all over the world and hire people. It’s like … it’s expensive.
Stephen Cummins: And the real on-boarding today … I mean, Des Trayner, who’s a co-founder of Intercom, articulated it on the SaaS Monster stage actually … on the the stage here actually … He said that, you know, modern on-boarding is not getting people to decide that they’ll sign up, that they’ll pay those initial dollars …. because they’re not buying software.
Ilan Twig: Exactly.
Stephen Cummins: They’re paying a rental. Real on-boarding is the on-boarding of customers that you’re making successful to get real value … that are going to stay. And if you can show investors that that’s exactly what you’re on-boarding, even if at one point in time it’s nowhere near what it’s going to be in the future … If you can show that pattern, I think that’s a massive multiplier on your valuation.
Ilan Twig: Absolutely.
Stephen Cummins: What drives you in life?
Ilan Twig: I think the one thing that that keeps me awake is the mix of a goal and uncertainty. When I worked for HP, there was no goal and everything was certain. And I’m just thinking about it right now. But that was the reality back then. That’s why I was a walking dead. It was … At least for me, I need to have something to aim for. And I need to wake up in the morning. Knowing that I need to solve something. I need to challenge myself with something. I think that’s also in my personal life. It’s not just about TripActions or …
Stephen Cummins: Can I ask your age Ilan?
Ilan Twig: I’m going to be 46 at the end of the year. Actually next week.
Stephen Cummins: Yeah. You’re young. So you woke up and felt like the walking dead at a fairly young age of thirty nine. Yeah. And you’ve completely changed your life since that.
Ilan Twig: Yes. Even before that … it was before that … it was like thirty six, seven. And it’s something that I remember it so vividly. So is my co-founder. It’s … we are very different in many ways, but we are very similar in other ways.
Stephen Cummins: You’re philosophically similar, but you’re wired differently.
Ilan Twig: Yes. We … I definitely feel I am wired differently.
Stephen Cummins: You are. I had a chat with him yesterday.
Ilan Twig: So, you know, so yeah, we are wired differently. But I don’t know what it was. Maybe the house that we grew up at. The house that I came from was with no means. And for me, it was always … I was chasing something. And I think I will forever have to keep chasing something. Same thing in my personal life. You know, I really wanted to play the piano and one day I just bought a piano. And today what I realise is I can play what I hear.
Stephen Cummins: That’s great.
Ilan Twig: And now I keep challenging myself more and more. So. There is one more dimension of me when I wake up in the morning that I challenge myself. And it’s an active thing in my life. Like it’s … I hear a song on the radio and I’m thinking, “How could I play it?” It’s a way of being.
Stephen Cummins: And when you play piano, when you play something you already know … Do you get ideas? Is there anything you do in your life that frees your mind up and tends to bring ideas?
Ilan Twig: There is no week that goes by without me playing the piano. There’s many weeks that I play every day. But there are days that I come back destroyed from work. Destroyed. And I would say I would play for three hours. It started when I was a kid. My Dad got me this tiny synthesizer. It’s like 30 centimeters. And I started to play with that. And it … I don’t know, I got hooked. I never had a piano in my life or any other instrument. Just as a kid. I had this thing. And then later on I got a piano. But it was all related to this tiny thing that my father got me. And I’m so thankful that he exposed me to that. But again, even there, it’s curiosity. I was curious about it. I was really curious about it! So I explored and explored.
It’s just like … I think you have the similar thing when it comes to languages. And probably other things as well. But when you have the curiosity, the sky’s the limit.
Stephen Cummins: I totally agree. Last question for you Ilan. For anyone thinking of moving into an entrepreneurial position or co-founding a company, what sort of advice would you give that person?
Ilan Twig: The thing is, you know, you can wake up and say, “Hey, I have this amazing idea” … and you kind of fall in love with it. There is a moment when you look in the mirror and you kind of know that it’s not the best idea … and then drop it. You know, like stay true to yourself. Find the guiding star … like the North Star for yourself … and stick to it all the time, no matter what. And it’s before raising money. It’s after raising money. It’s when you are a 60 million dollar valuation or five billion dollar valuation … stick to your North Star all the time. All the time. One example is when we just started, we could on-board a huge customer. Huge! And we decided not to be having this customer. It meant so much to us back then … to the company. But we were so not ready for this customer, which basically would have turned us from being a product company into being a contracting company. Building a product for our customer.
Stephen Cummins: You would be completely bent out of shape. It’s a common problem.
Ilan Twig: Yeah, it’s a common problem.
Stephen Cummins: And you resisted.
Ilan Twig: And we said “No”. And it was not even a dilemma. So I think, you know, if you always be true to yourself … if something does not go well … if you get a negative feedback, listen to it, look at it, be true to yourself. Because when you start masking it with whatever bullshit, the chances that something good will come out of it is so low … it’s zero actually. So be very confident. And you know, it takes time to come up with an idea in the right time. You know that could materialize into something beautiful. It just … It is rare, but if you if you keep looking you’ll find it. So don’t … don’t hold onto the first idea or the second that you think … you know, explore! But if you see that it’s not that … or the market is not big, drop it. You’ll find something else. I think it’s very important.
Stephen Cummins: So be as constant as a northern star. And do your best to be as self-aware and as open and honest with yourself and listen.
Ilan Twig: Yes. And be yourself. So don’t act as what you think people expect you to in this market. There’s a ton of pressure. Just be yourself. Stick to that. And that that’s where the beautiful things happen. You know, I think it’s really important.
Stephen Cummins: Absolutely. Be authentic. Thank you very much Ilan Twig for being on 14 Minutes of SaaS. Thanks so much.
Ilan Twig: It was a pleasure.
Stephen Cummins: In episode 111 of 14 Minutes of SaaS, we have a one episode interview with Capdesk CEO and Founder Christian Gabriel. Capdesk is a SaaS platform to help private companies manage equity with less headaches and greater accuracy. Founded in Copenhagen, it’s HQ’d in London and its employees are divided fairly equally between those 2 wonderful cities. And in this troubled age of Covid-19, they’ve just raised another 3M pounds sterling in the age of Covid-19.
Stephen Cummins: You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills, and to Ketsu for the music. Thanks also to Anders Getz for the transcript. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoyed the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series, and give the show a rating.