David Barrett Travel Expensify

With the faithful sidekick, Lemony, of course! Photo by Robert Chen

Every year, I spend 1-2 months overseas, with probably a trip every month in between. In the last four weeks alone, I spoke at conferences in Norway and Tunisia, before heading to Portugal with the team for our 2014 Offshore. Currently, I’m writing this on a 30-hour journey from Portugal to SFO — which due to the miracle of timezones, happens in a mere 16 hours.

With all this movement, you can say that I’ve had my fair share of both delightful and horrifying experiences in business travel. Along the way, I’ve developed some core nuggets of knowledge that I live by, and I’m passing them along to the next travel-savvy entrepreneur (aka YOU). 

1) Pack Light

Obvious advice, but I mean, really light.  Buy the smallest suitcase you can — if it has wheels, it’s too big.  I travel with a bag slightly larger than a tennis racquet case.  Aim to travel light enough that you can carry everything with you at all times — to the conference, to dinner, to the meetings, everywhere.  It’s a business trip after all, and to make the most of it you need to be out shaking hands, not ferrying back and forth to your hotel room.

2) Get a Spare Battery

I carry a ChugPlug for my MacBook Air and USB charger for my phone, both of which I use them all the time.  Even if there are outlets where you’re going (and why take that chance?), it’s never cool to fumble with cords at the start and end of a meeting, or be stuck huddled around a conference’s lone “charging station”.  The technology to go cordless exists and is readily available, so enjoy it!

3) Use Modern Tools

We are living in a golden era of great services for business travelers, such as Clear for skipping security lines, Uber for getting where you need to go, Expensify for scanning receipts and managing your itinerary, Airbnb for feeling like home while on the road, Gogo wireless for staying connected in the air, etc.  Make a point to really give them a shot, even if it means developing new habits to go with them.

4) Learn Four Key Phrases

You don't need to go all out, just learn a few key phrases

You don’t need to go all out, just learn a few key phrases

Wherever you go, learn how to say “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, and “one”.  If you’ve got those down, you can say “Excuse me, one cappuccino please? Thank you!”  It’s not at all productive because odds are they speak your language far better than you speak theirs, but there’s something very satisfying about having a full interaction in another language — even if it’s as insignificant as ordering coffee.

5) Treat Yourself

Even on the best of days, business travel pretty much sucks.  It’s a strange combination of incredible stress: discovering your flight is delayed and you must sit in an uncomfortable chair for hours, awaiting the privilege of sitting in a different uncomfortable chair for hours more, followed by a sterile hotel in a town you don’t have time to explore, a single long-shot meeting that will probably amount to nothing, and then the whole thing over in reverse.  It’s not a fundamentally glamorous endeavor, so take your luxuries where you can.  Even if it’s just you, go to a steak house and order a nice bottle of wine.  Splurge for an overpriced movie.  Go down to the lobby bar for a nightcap and order top shelf.  You deserve it.
Have you tried any of these tips yourself? Want to share some advice or fun stories from your travels? Write to us in the comments below!

You just started your new job and you want to make a good impression.  You’ve been working at the same job for years and want more responsibility.  In either case, how do you step up your game and make a difference?  What can you do to get yourself noticed?

Set a Goal

Not a career goal, a life goal.  A goal so big you likely can’t ever fully realize it even with a lifetime of effort, but something you genuinely want to devote your life to trying.  Figure out how to make your current role into a powerful stepping stone on the long and often murky path to however you personally define success.

The bigger your goal and the more you can align your position to achieve it, the more naturally motivated you will be to work hard, resist distraction, and keep finding ways to move forward even when everyone else would have given up.  This will all have an immediately noticeable impact on your job performance even if you keep it secret.  But, if your boss is any good, his or her goal is to help you succeed in your life’s ambition. So, do them a favor and figure out what that is and then tell them so they can help steer your career in that direction.

Be a Force Multiplier

There is no such thing as a long-term career path that involves you remaining as an individual contributor forever.  The most important skills you will ever develop involve collaborating with those around you to achieve more as a team than the sum of what you can each achieve alone.
  1. Be the person that keeps the meeting focused on the topic at hand.  Write down decisions as they happen, and email them out when done — along with a photo of the whiteboard.
  2. Master the art of being able to argue both sides of the topic to the satisfaction of all involved, demonstrating you are making a real effort to remain objective in your recommendations.
  3. Speak up for the silent majority whenever you see a vocal minority hijacking the discussion or taking it in unproductive directions.  Don’t ask permission or wait to be told, just start doing it.  Your boss will definitely notice.

Be a Carbon Fuel Rod

Keep calm and be awesome

You heard right.

When everybody else is dramatically melting down around you in the heat of the moment, be the one who absorbs and neutralizes the anxiety of your peers, rather than reflecting and magnifying it.  Separate the smoke from the fire and get everybody calmly focused on proactive, realistic solutions.  Remind people forcefully about the many supposed problems that don’t actually exist.  A huge amount of your boss’s time is spent unwinding needless anxiety from unnecessarily high amounts of workplace drama, and your help here will be extremely appreciated.

Employers are looking for the best of the best, and those people tend to exude ambition, collaboration, and focus.  Stepping up and helping your boss is a surefire way to make the case that yes, you are the one they need and can’t live without. At Expensify, we love it when candidates exhibit any, if not all, of these traits because honestly, there is so much to do and we just need to Get Shit Done.
Interested in our GSD mentality? We’re hiring! Drop us a note and get in touch or email jobs@expensify.com.

It’s that time of year again – the team is working hard from Portugal on the offshore and if history has taught us anything, that means it’s time for the design department to bring you a lil’ visual refresh. This time around, we’ve tackled the way we display tables, including a revamped Expenses and Reports list, and we’ve given our Approval Mode selector a complete makeover too.

Old Expenses Table

Out with the old…

New Expenses Table

…and in with dat new new.

Let’s Start With The Tables

We’ve made some pretty significant strides in the past couple of years in terms of our UI, but the expenses list and reports list haven’t really changed much. We wanted to not only make the tables easier to read and look at for users, but also to make them easier to style and control for our engineers as well. Rather than bloating our base table class, we’ve now got a whole slew of helper classes to keep our CSS much cleaner. Semantically, it’s now easier for engineers to pass these helper classes through to the table object to add certain effects to the table such as draggability, hoverability, selectability, and more.

The reports list got a lot of love too, making it easier for admins and employees alike to scan through reports regardless of the length of report titles, email addresses, and policy names. Colored borders on each row help communicate the report status, and new report type icons make it clear that you are looking at a report or an invoice (and down the road – a trip and more!).

New reports list.

The new reports list.

New report table.

Tables in reports need love, too.

What Up, New Approval Mode Selector

From our support agents, we realized that a number of users were confused about how to change the default Approval Mode in a policy. It wasn’t obvious that there were a number of options to choose from, or even how to choose another option in the first place. To solve this, we made a much more visual selector that clearly shows which option you have enabled, and which options you have to choose from.

Old approval mode selector

How do I change approval modes…?

New approval mode selector

There we go.

We hope you like the new changes, and we’re always open to hearing your feedback! If improving a product that millions of people use to make their life easier is your cup of tea, then head over to our jobs page because we’re hiring too.

Submit to Concur

Submit to Concur, easy as 1, 2, 3!

You might have read the news that our friends at Concur have just sold to SAP, a global enterprise powerhouse.

This is great for nearly everybody: SAP, Concur shareholders, and especially for us.  As for Concur customers… well the future just got a bit cloudier (and not in a good way).  They probably feel locked into a long-term contract with a company whose focus has suddenly shifted away from their needs, and I’m sure that doesn’t feel great.  Expensify exists to help people feel great about their expense reports, so in light of the news we’re offering a very special deal:

If you’re currently a Concur customer, switch to Expensify now and PAY NOTHING for the duration of your Concur contract.

If that’s one year, ten years, or a thousand years — no problem.  There’s no need to stick it out to the end: you can switch today without stressing over the sunk cost.  If you or anyone you know are using Concur and feeling uncertain about the future, please write to concur@expensify.com and we’ll get you set up.

Alternatively, if you’re convinced the company will never switch, we whipped up something this weekend for you too: we call it “Submit to Concur.”  To enable, just sign in to https://expensify.com, click Settings > Connections > Concur, and enter your Concur username/password.  Create your next report using Expensify as normal— including our cutting-edge mobile app and industry-first SmartScan technology — and when you submit we’ll connect via the Concur API, upload the receipts, and create the report for you.  So whether you’re in charge or not, there’s no reason to suffer through to the bitter end: you can make the switch to Expensify by yourself, today, without waiting for the rest of your company.

Regardless, it’s a great new day for the industry.  Congratulations to Steve Singh at Concur; it was a fantastic run.  We’ll take it from here!

This post was originally sent out as a newsletter to our users. To sign up for Expensify, visit http://use.expensify.com/. Questions, comments, concerns? Feel free to drop us a note in the comments section below!

At lunch with the Tunisian Minister of Technology, M. Tawfik Jelassi, at the International Innovation Summit of 2014, the topic of the day was: how do you bootstrap a startup ecosystem?

Don’t Reinvent What’s Already Been Done

To be clear, the question isn’t “How do you recreate Silicon Valley?” I think Alberto Sillitti (Free University of Bolzano, Italy) has answered that question best: Silicon Valley simply cannot be replicated. It is the unique product of 100 years of risk, return, and reinvestment, starting with vacuum tubes and leading to the present. Silicon Valley is a petri dish of large corporations, startups, and industry/university partnerships, concentrated into a 100 km strip of land, and fueled by a global base of private investors. The conditions that created Silicon Valley exist nowhere else in the world, and probably never will again.

But as enviable a proposition as that might be, recreating Silicon Valley is also not necessary; just as there’s no need to reinvent electricity or the internet, bootstrapping a startup ecosystem isn’t about starting from scratch. It’s about starting from today, and all that today has to offer. With that in mind, here are three ideas gleaned over multiple days of discussion with government ministers, corporate giants, university professors, and local entrepreneurs about how it might be done in Tunisia, or anywhere else in the world.

1. Evangelize The Fact That Local Success is Possible

Expensify: How to Bootstrap a Startup Ecosystem

Don’t need a map when everything you have is already here

Wherever you are, you’re there due to the generations of entrepreneurs that came before you. Many of them are probably still there, and countless more are surely in the wings, ready to take off. But it’s likely they don’t know each other, meaning few will have have personally seen someone truly succeed – a critical moment in any entrepreneur’s life to prove that success isn’t a mirage, a miracle, or a luxury enjoyed only by unknown geniuses on the other side of the world. Rather, success is the inevitable result of sustained hard work and repeated failure. Create a community that recognizes and celebrates local success, and that exists to spread knowledge about best practices for success in your local region.

Set the wheels in motion: Create a monthly dinner series where you identify one prominent local entrepreneur to come and tell their “origin story”. Not the “exit story” about how great it is to have succeed, but rather the story of the hard times before success, and how they got through. Keep it very private and intimate — 10-20 seats, hosted at an unreasonably nice restaurant that most entrepreneurs will never go to otherwise. The limited attendance not only controls cost, but also creates an exclusivity that makes tickets extremely sought after. Accumulate a database of potential local entrepreneurs and actively curate the list to invite the best and brightest: it needs to be an extremely “talent dense” meeting for people to walk away impressed. Have an open application process so anybody can apply for a ticket, and then seed the database by canvassing all local universities to identify their top students, as well as asking business leaders for their rising star employees. Once started, focus on nominations. Make a point to have a good mix at every dinner of vocal and enthusiastic people from past dinners, as well as new people who have never come before. Aim to make the event so interesting and so exclusive that every local entrepreneur looks forward to their invitation with anticipation. Once a year, invite everybody in the database to an annual entrepreneurship conference full of the best local and a select group of global speakers.

2. Eliminate Barriers to Global Investment in Local Startups

Expensify: How to Bootstrap a Startup Ecosystem

Work on a streamlined process that works for everyone. Photo credit: Financial Times

Most discussion on global investment seems to focus on very large, abstract issues like trade agreements, import tariffs, and other issues that only really matter to enormous multinational corporations. The barriers that affect startups are quite different and generally much more mundane. Make a point to talk to the smallest of entrepreneurs — the lone individuals with an idea and enthusiasm but no idea where to start — and give them a clear roadmap from zero to success.

Pro-tip: Hire a prominent Silicon Valley law firm – with a name every investor would recognize worldwide – to come up with a legal corporate structure that addresses the common concerns of an investor while meeting the needs of local entrepreneurs. There are a huge range of small, arbitrary issues that few people seriously care about but just need to be decided: where is the company incorporated (possibly in multiple jurisdictions), which corporate entity owns which types of assets, how to employees get paid, how investors are protected, who gets what in the event of failure, and how is everything split up when there is a success.

Work with that law firm to boil this down into a streamlined, repeatable process, and then promote this legal structure to every VC you can find, everywhere in the world. Negotiate a deal with that law firm to represent your region’s startups at a highly discounted rate (because it’s been so standardized) – possibly even subsidized to help offset the enormous legal expenses that cripple a small startup. Make sure the structure has genuine teeth that are enforced aggressively against startups who attempt to commit fraud against foreign investors: even a few bad apples can ruin the entire initiative, so demonstrate up front that you are not just an advocate for the local entrepreneur, but also a local representative of the foreign investor.

3. Create incentives for people to stay

Support your local rockstars.

Support your local rock stars.

The key risk if you succeed with (1) and (2) is that Silicon Valley will instantly poach your best entrepreneurs; rather than invest in a remote entity, they’ll immediately move the team to Silicon Valley. A sustainable startup ecosystem requires entrepreneurs to succeed locally and stick around to mentor new entrepreneurs, invest in local startups, and become serial local entrepreneurs in their own right. This is likely the most difficult of the three, and failure here is likely what keeps most burgeoning startup ecosystems from taking off.

Set the wheels in motion: Make your successful entrepreneurs rock stars. If they left and succeeded elsewhere, give them a hero’s welcome and encourage them to come home. Invite them to meet government ministers and foreign dignitaries or have them on stage at key functions, including not just the annual entrepreneur conference outlined in (1) but also at local fairs and holiday festivals. Give them positions as guest lecturers at universities, put them on local TV, and give them a monthly column in a local newspaper. Very little of this actually costs money, but all of it is something nearly impossible to obtain in Silicon Valley due to the sheer scale of the ecosystem. Local entrepreneurs should be seen as a national treasure to be nurtured and celebrated.

Granted, some might question whether it makes sense to celebrate an app developer more than a fireman, but the question at hand is how to encourage more startups and not more firemen. Whether or not it’s fair is open to debate, but I wager a country that does elevate entrepreneurs to national hero status will have more entrepreneurs that a country that doesn’t.

These are just three of what I’m sure are countless possible ways to bootstrap a startup ecosystem. Some of the ideas are crazy. But part of being a startup is being a little crazy — if it were safe and obvious, someone would have done it already. Really, every city and country in the world is its own startup. If you want your city-startup to attract more entrepreneurs, it needs to act like an entrepreneur itself.

A mobile app is a necessity for any company trying to make it in the big league. At Expensify, we’ve built apps for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone – and even had a Palm Pre app too, when it mattered.

Compared to mobile web usage, mobile app browsing time has increased by 6% from 2013 to 2014. It’s no wonder that companies are vying for a mobile user’s attention by building a native app. Developing a mobile app isn’t easy, but avoiding these three common misconceptions can drastically increase your reach and adaptability.

Expensify mobile app development on Android and iOS

We know iOS is shiny and beautiful, but don’t forget about Android!

1) iOS is Enough

If you’re making a consumer product for individuals, then you might be right: iOS users install more apps, and use them more reliably. If you’re selling a business app – especially one used in groups – then you absolutely need *at least* an Android app, and you might consider BlackBerry and Windows Phone as well.  Because even if most of your target audience is on iOS, there is the idea of the “tyranny of the straggler”; if one key person in the group needs something other than iOS, that person will push the whole group over to an app that supports everyone.

2) Cross Platform Layers Make Shitty Apps

It’s true that for the best user experience, native controls are critical; an HTML5 solution as almost never adequate. Most modern cross-platform layers wrap portable “business logic” with native controls, giving you the best of both worlds. In practice, as much as you’d love to spend all your time tweaking out the UI to make it smooth and glitzy, most of the complex logic that eats up all your development time actually has nothing to do with the UI. Writing your business logic in a way that can be shared across platforms prevents you from needing to re-write (and repeatedly debug) your most complex logic once for every platform.

3) You Don’t Need a Website

Mobile + Web = Love

False: Mobile + Web = Expansion

It’s called “mobile first” not because there is only a mobile app, because it’s just *first* – you still need “web second” for growth. This is because you depend on knowing your users’ email addresses, sending them messages, and giving them something to click through to. You need your users to invite friends and colleagues, and they need someplace to send them that is more powerful and engaging than a link to an app store. The most important feature you will ever build is the one that helps you sign up the next user: that’s the feature that ensures every new user is slightly easier than the one before; otherwise you’re facing a long hard slog for every single download.

What are some other common myths or misconceptions you’ve experienced regarding mobile app development? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Olá from Portugal!

We’re halfway through our first week in Lisbon, and oh, what a beautiful city it is!

Traveling abroad with an entire team is exciting, but it also requires a higher level of patience to work together as we’re all in a state of ebb and flow. To stay as productive and on task on the offshore as we are in the office, we follow these few simple guidelines.

Avoid Complex Solutions to Simple Problems

Expensify Morning Standup in Lisbon

Morning 10AM Standup in Lisbon

Aim for the simplest possible solution to the problem at hand. Think paper to-do lists, daily standup meetings, writing a priorities from scratch on a blank whiteboard and emailing out a photo, etc. Most productivity issues result not from inadequate tools, but from a lack of discipline.

In Portugal: We meet every morning at 10 AM in a central location near Baixa to go over larger-picture projects, questions, and other details that help us get the day started. Each person also sends a daily 10 AM email that lists our tasks for the day. Both practices improve accountability and focus within the team throughout the entire trip.

Tip: Start the day off with a team meeting to get everyone on the same page. Review goals and projects for the day, figure out a lunch location or other logistics, and identify then nip problems at the bud to prevent them from snowballing into something bigger later on.

Emphasize Project-Based Work

Portugal Working Team

Lots of cross-team collaboration going on here.

Nothing is more stressful than looking at a list of a thousand “must do” things that you’ll probably never get to. Not only that, but to-do lists only capture checklist tasks, not overarching, bigger vision goals. On the offshore, we focus our work around projects so that we have deliverables that can drastically improve our product by the end of the trip. Think fWOW projects, but on a larger, more ground-shaking (in the product sense) scale.

In Portugal: Because we’re Expensifying 24/7 on big trips like the Offshore, it’s the perfect time to get big things done, and especially in teams. Everyone in the company has a project to work on that can be ‘delivered’ at the end of the trip; in the past, projects have included a website and mobile redesign, SmartScan, and Expensify Trips, among others. This year, we’re focusing on real-time expense reports and travel.

Tip: Before the trip, create a list of the projects everyone is involved in and have periodic updates throughout the trip so that everyone will be on the same page. The check-ins lead to greater transparency in each project, so that the entire team can watch the project progress.

Stay Calm and Carry On

A major drain on productivity is needless drama in the workplace. Odds are, everybody around you is at least as busy as you (even if you don’t understand why), so resist the temptation to aggravate things further. You are not an island; just like others affect your productivity, you affect theirs. Take that responsibility seriously.

In Portugal: Being transparent about projects makes it easier to understand what other people are working on. As a result, we tend to be more mindful and considerate of each other’s time.

Tip: Schedule meetings in advance and set a clear agenda – this helps maximize efficiency in the meeting. Alternatively, travel from cafe to cafe and work with a group of people who would most likely be doing similar tasks or projects; that way, you’ll all be on the same page and won’t need to shift from one project mindset to another.

Have you ever worked remotely with an entire team, or participated in something similar to the offshore? Want to work with us? We’d love to hear your experiences!