Expensify founder and CEO David Barrett has a different approach to brainstorming than most leaders: every year, he takes his entire company on a month-long trip to an exotic destination.This year, it was Vietnam.
The 11-person team left from San Francisco on staggered dates in October.
There, they traveled, partied, bonded, tried to get work done despite shoddy Internet connections, and brainstormed about company and personal goals.
Barrett was a backpacker before he got into business, and once spent a year travelling the world. The startup-travel tradition started at peer-to-peer technology company Red Swoosh, where he worked as an engineering manager. (Red Swoosh was bought by Akamai and Barrett was canned after criticising Warner Music, a big Akamai customer.)
In 2009, he and a few other former Red Swoosh employees started Expensify, which is an online service for filing corporate expense reports, including a nifty feature for scanning receipts directly from a mobile phone.
Right away, he swept the company away to Turkey, which is still his favourite destination.
“It’s such a fun country. It’s beautiful, the food is wonderful, it’s such an ancient place. Plus the company was just getting started out, things were really clicking at that time.”
The tradition has continued every year, and Barrett believes it helps everybody be more creative. “You’re 14 hours off your time zone, it’s a fun trip, everyone’s jet lagged, the Internet’s painfully slow or non-existent, and there’s all this chaos going on around you….It’s a jarring experience, and that causes a whole bunch of conversations to happen that you wouldn’t normally take the time to do.”
He also said that travelling to developing-world destinations also saves money — it’s a “ridiculously cheap” way of getting everybody to focus and work hard on a particular problem in a setting where everything costs only a few bucks a day.
Back when the tradition started 6 years ago, “There’s nothing about our office that [was] particularly good,” says Barrett.
Other trips included the Philippines last year, and Mexico, India, and Thailand when he was at Red Swoosh.
The tradition seems to be working: Expensify has been on a “hockey stick” growth curve ever since late 2009, and now has more than 650,000 users at more than 90,000 companies, processing more than $2 million in expenses every day.
It’s not profitable yet, but it is collecting revenue and is aiming for a “steady 10% month on month improvement” across the board.