With the mission to facilitate company growth and success with a comprehensive spend management platform was born, Airbase Inc. Its innovative all-in-one spend management platform delivers more control, visibility, and automation to today’s finance teams than any other solution for small to midsize companies.
Airbase Inc. is being led by Krishna Panicker, VP of Product , whose professional career spans over two decades. He has contributed to many product managerial positions, specializing across the domains of computer software and IT & services, supporting ventures such as Skype, Blink, and Microsoft. Early in his professional career, Krishna took up the role of a Lead Product Manager at Skype. Krishna’s expertise and extensive experience in the product make him a compelling and inspiring world-class speaker. So far, Krishna’s speaking engagements have inspired countless product managers and entrepreneurs to multiply their impact on customers and drive growth.
In an interview with The Inc Magazine, Krishna has shared an insider the story of his leadership and how he is handling the business in this ever-competitive market?
So, let’s dive into the interview!
Throw some light on the journey of your company since its inception and its major products/services/offerings.
Great innovations improve the way we do things. They also change the way we think. Airbase’s spend management is one such advance. Spend management automates control and booking processes by integrating its software into the payment motion – for example, pre-approvals, limit settings, and automatic booking to the general ledger for corporate card purchases. But Airbase goes beyond with a comprehensive system that automates a multitude of previously disjointed workflows into a unified platform for all non-payroll spend-cards, accounts payable, 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.” We recently announced an investment from AMEX Ventures. The investment brought the total amount raised by the company to date to $101 million, including a $60 million Series B led by Menlo Ventures last year. Airbase has also recently announced an exciting new partnership with Silicon Valley Bank. 2022 has kicked off at a vigorous pace of acceleration for Airbase, with the company also being ranked the #1 spend management company across multiple categories on G2’s 2022 Best of Software Awards. Airbase believes it has the strongest vision and a more fully built-out product than others in the field like Brex and Ramp (who both received funding in recent times), Divvy (acquired by Bill.com last month to start building out their spend management platform), and Teamplay. The idea that spend management includes all company spending has been pioneered by Airbase, and others are racing to catch up. It’s going to be a compelling 12–18 months in this market!
Being a business leader, what difficulties and challenges do you face? What keeps you motivated?
One of the biggest challenges I faced took place quite early on in my career. I was making a rather significant transition to more executive roles from my traditional background of product management. I went from really understanding customer problems (which is still key to what I do) to mapping that to business outcomes and dealing with people – that was a huge change. Dealing with people is possibly the most challenging task one can do. It would be really easy if there weren’t any people involved, but it turns out there are! I had to understand what motivates people and align with that in mind. What keeps me motivated is aligning people’s goals with the company’s goals. I enjoy creating a working environment where staff finds their work fulfilling. That is my product now – the product team is the product itself. But I’m always trying to work and evolve to be the best I can be. And if people are happy and motivated and fulfilled in what they do, then I know I’m doing the right thing.
What innovations would you like to incorporate into your solutions to make them more efficient and sustainable?
I think the innovation, at least at my level, is not so much the solutions but actually in how we work. Ultimately, all the solutions come from the team. And setting up the right environment for the team to do their best work is the most critical innovation of them all. This is managed through constant process innovation and ensuring the team has everything it needs. I think that is very easy to underestimate. It’s not a case of:
“Hey! Go and do this!”
My philosophy is to make sure we’ve got the right people. How do we ensure we can get the right people in the team and have a safe environment for the team to work in? How do we ensure we remove blockers for the team? That is an area that I’m constantly looking at improving because if you get that right, you have good people in place – you are going to get great solutions.
How do you motivate your team to be innovative and productive at work?
In my experience, everyone wants to do their best work. That’s already there. The motivation, I think, comes from removing the barriers that are getting in the way of people doing that. But a lot of it comes down to two things. One is removing the obstacles, and the other is reminding them why we are doing this in the first place. And often, when people understand that context of what the customer’s most significant challenges are and that we’re trying to help our customers solve that problem – that’s what motivates people. Not to hit a bottom-line number for the business. Everyone’s a little different, but when they map that to the problems and why they’re solving them – I think that’s where the motivation comes in.
What is your opinion regarding the current landscape of the market your company caters to?
I’m only a few weeks into my new role, but everyone here is so passionate about this space. I wasn’t expecting fintech to be interesting, but it turns out this is a fascinating space because there’s a clear set of customers in mind. We’re solving a problem that offers so much value to customers through spend management. To be part of a company like Airbase, which is at the forefront of that redefinition, only adds to the challenge. I think it’s a fascinating time right now because there are so many players. I think finance has been an area significantly underserved historically by software companies – and now that’s changing.
How would you describe your journey as a business leader?
I think my journey has been very accidental. Most people in product harbor ambitions to be in this space early on in their careers, whereas I, more or less, fell into it. I have always had a passion for solving customer problems, and this is something I had from the early stages of my career. I stayed true to myself, worked hard, and the next thing I knew, I pretty much just ended up in product! As a business leader, I think I just took my chances when they fell my way. As I stayed in companies longer and proved myself, colleagues left, teams got switched around, and I was asked to take on more and more responsibility – that’s how I ended up managing the products. Then I managed the product team and ended up managing the design team. There was no real plan there. But I have found it consistently challenging. You have to keep facing the boundaries of your growth. You have to keep making sure you’re redefining what you’re doing and bringing the team up with you on that journey. Luckily, I enjoy that.
Where do you envision yourself and your company in the near future?
I think the space in which Airbase operates is super exciting. I think it’s growing, and it’s not about necessarily taking more of the pie. I think this whole pie is growing, and I believe what I see is a lot of SMBs starting to see the value in a spend management solution and having more control. And I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. I see this growth continuing. We’re primarily competing with the current status quo, which is a lack of control and taking too long to close your books. There’s a lot more to come.