Ask a fintech founder: Oded Zehavi, Mesh Payments
On simplifying corporate expenses and relieving T&E frustration with advanced AI
Business travel nearly halted during the pandemic, creating a shift in the industry — from travel and entertainment (T&E) as king of the expense space, to a somewhat lesser player in a world of distributed teams and virtual work.
As this shift was happening, Oded Zehavi, an industry veteran with years in global payments, from major players to emerging fintechs, witnessed a change in the way companies were thinking about expense management. Artificial intelligence (AI) became a viable tool for streamlining T&E and “the tedious process of receipt collection” in the same way consumer payments were becoming essentially seamless.
“There is 100 percent frustration from the current state of corporate travel expenses,” says Zehavi, now CEO and cofounder of Mesh Payments.
“With very simple examples, we’re able to open minds and help companies see that maybe the time has come to think about transitioning from what they do today.”
Here, Zehavi talks about how Mesh is solving expense management challenges through automation, data collection and real-time expense reporting — ultimately saving employees time and companies money.
What is your elevator pitch for Mesh Payments?
Zehavi: Mesh Payments is a travel and expense management platform. We help global enterprises have better control and visibility of their expenses. Our platform combines offline and online problem management with AI-based expense management, all combined with a global corporate cloud program. This enables us to really bring delight and new experiences for employees.
What problem were you trying to solve when you started the company?
Zehavi: Before COVID, most of the expense space was related to T&E; how quickly you can collect receipts and how much manpower you need to do that. Now, any company, even smaller ones, have become distributed and many of them have also become global. Many corporate services also moved to the cloud. This was really driving organizations to revive their CFO stack, which really created a huge buzz around expense management and next-generation corporate cards. We were there when it started and we’re really riding that trend.
What makes Mesh unique from other travel expense platforms?
Zehavi: Our corporate card infrastructure is tightly integrated with the expense management system. That means every time you use our corporate card, the data about the payment is being transferred to the system in real time. Most modern points of sale can simply transmit the receipt to our platform automatically without the need to print it and scan it. For most of our customers, before they leave their business lunch, their transaction is linked to a receipt, which is tagged with the right corporate expense category and eliminates the need for traditional expense reporting — something most employees hate.
What trends are you seeing in T&E that are going to impact your business?
Zehavi: There has been a shift in power between travel management companies and online travel agencies, because of the buying power that consumer travel has given them. Many organizations are trying to find ways to have a managed travel service in their local country with the cost benefit of booking in a consumer-based online travel agency. This is driving companies to rethink how they'll manage their travel and expenses going forward.
How has your partnership with Visa made an impact on your business?
Zehavi: Our technology is based on the core capabilities of the Visa corporate card and we have multi-currency support so we leverage all of the latest and greatest capabilities that the Visa network has to offer. The relationship was fruitful from day one and I expect it will continue going forward.
What's one thing you wish you knew five years ago when you started Mesh?
Zehavi: One of the things we discovered as we started to talk with bigger companies is that they don't look at expense management as a one-size-fits-all problem. Each company has a different attitude and mostly different teams that handle what we call spend categories, meaning travel and expense usually is handled by one team. Procurement might be handled by a different team. These big enterprises are trying to solve specific contextual expense challenges. We allow them to choose to use us as a full stack or integrate us to an existing stack or to an existing layer in the organization. That's very important, especially to these bigger companies.
What is your idea of success for Mesh?
Zehavi: We believe that we can transform the way enterprises operate. Many of these old enterprises are still using technology that was built 20 years ago. Getting more of these Fortune 500 companies that historically haven’t changed the way they operate to consider us really excites us — and many of them are already starting to transform their fundamental stack.
What keeps you up at night? What challenges are you facing right now?
Zehavi: What really keeps me awake at night is the fact that the CFO stack is so broken. We have almost infinite requests from customers to do so many things. As a young company, we need to really choose what we should do first and what we should delay as we don't have unlimited resources. For me, how to focus and what will maximize the value we bring to our customer is something that is becoming harder as our customer base is growing and as people believe we can solve more and more problems for them in the CFO area.
What's one word that describes your life as an entrepreneur?
Zehavi: Tenacious. I'm a payment geek. That's what I've done for most of my career. And everything that we do is built on that notion.
What excites you about the future of payments?
Zehavi: The future of payments is about converging payments with data and automation that really makes the payment experience so that people don't have to think about it. That's something that has really progressed on the consumer side. The corporate space has been much slower in transitioning. I think the future of corporate payments is really to eliminate the need for corporations to think about the payment itself.
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