Opinion.

Travel AI startup CEO reveals all on Amex acquisition

Swapnil Shinde, Co-Founder and CEO of personal travel assistant app Mezi, shares his experiences of the company’s recent acquisition by American Express, and how its product will be used to automate travel and concierge platforms

by Swapnil Shinde, Co-Founder and CEO, Mezi

Topic: Innovation Leadership Trends

Click. Takeaway

  • Mezi – founded in 2015 – was acquired by American Express at the end of January 2018
  • Amex consumers currently use the concierge service over the phone. The acquisition of Mezi aims to open up a whole new channel (the chatbot) for consumers to access Amex, and improve the guest experience
  • Swapnil’s biggest tip to other startups or people who want to explore ideas in areas in which they don’t necessarily have the experience is, “don’t worry, because it might not matter. If you’re focused on solving the consumers’ problem, you’re on the right path”.

Playing to your strengths and trusting them is the most important thing in driving a successful business. When we started Mezi in 2015, we had no travel expertise in the team, even though we were creating a personal travel assistant.

This lack of industry expertise actually worked to our advantage. Instead of thinking of the pitfalls as a travel expert might have done, we simply put ourselves in the shoes of a consumer and set out to address the pain points consumers felt while booking travel. This gave us the opportunity to think outside the box and build a technology platform that was easy to use.

[A] lack of industry expertise actually worked to our advantage

When we eventually hired our first travel expert, Johnny Thorsen, in 2017, he was stunned that we had built Mezi with no travel expertise. He joined our team because what we had created was so unique, and I think that our lack of expertise was key to this success. My biggest tip to other startups or people who want to explore ideas in areas in which they don’t necessarily have the experience is, don’t worry, because it might not matter. If you’re focused on solving the consumers’ problem, you’re on the right path.

Striking a deal

As founders, our aim was to ensure Mezi exists over a lifetime. We had a good relationship with Amex, having launched AskAmex in 2016. We had been in acquisition talks with Amex throughout the later part of 2017. The deal materialised in late December and the papers were finalised at the end of January 2018.

Mezi iPhones 1

Mezi’s main aim is to have a seamless integration into Amex’s travel and concierge services

It was a no-brainer for us. The two companies complement each other well; Amex has created a gold standard when it comes to their Platinum Card Concierge, but until now, it was all human based, over the phone. What Mezi offers is an Artificial Intelligence-powered concierge service that tries to understand consumers and gets better the more they use it. It has a wealth of resources that we now have access to. By joining forces, we now have access to millions of card users, and therefore we have more opportunity to improve our AI technology. With Amex’s backing, we are able to focus on making Mezi big.

Our main focus is to have a seamless integration into Amex’s travel and concierge services

Our main focus is to have a seamless integration into Amex’s travel and concierge services. Currently, its consumers use the concierge service over the phone. Mezi opens up a whole new channel (the chatbot) for consumers to access Amex, with the aim of improving guest experience. Our mobile chatbot interface and machine learning algorithms will be used to automate travel and concierge platforms.

With this, Amex will be able to scale support to its staff, so they can handle additional requests and eliminate redundant conversations, thereby improving the card member experience. It means that the same number of agents who used to serve 100,000 card members will actually serve 500,000 card members without making any changes.

Business as usual

While we are now a wholly owned subsidiary of Amex we will still continue to operate as we have. The day-to-day operations will remain the same, and we are lucky in that it wants us to continue growing as a startup. One of the great things about the acquisition is that it is easier for us to achieve our aim to gracefully grow our team, and scale the Mezi platform quickly over the next two to four years.

We are still working on our roadmap for Mezi post-acquisition, but we know we want to invest more in our AI and machine-learning technology so the platform continues to get better. Our goal is to increase the automation process we have; we want to get to an 80% response rate (we currently operate at 60% automation) within the next year.

This acquisition opens up significant opportunities for other players

We hope the acquisition will have a very positive impact on the travel industry as a whole. Mezi was the first big story in the AI-assisted travel space, and we have been in pole position when it comes to chatbots and AI in travel. This acquisition opens up significant opportunities for other players, and encourages other startups to do things that are ahead of the curve. Investors will be more excited to invest in this sort of technology, and it could inspire other companies to use AI technology.

The acquisition has been a fantastic outcome, and we are very excited to be part of the American Express family. I will take a break later this summer, but at the moment I want to make sure everything falls into place and plan for the future. I’m just enjoying the excitement right now!

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Swapnil Shinde is CEO and Co-Founder at Mezi

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