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“Culture Makes The Difference When Things Aren’t Going As Well As Planned” 5 Leadership Lessons with Dan Ruch

I had the pleasure to interview Dan Ruch, CEO and Founder of Rocketrip

What is your company backstory?

I am the founder and CEO of Rocketrip, a tech platform that’s changing the way companies and their employees approach spending decisions. As a business traveler myself, I knew first-hand how unconventional the process was, since normal price considerations don’t apply when you’re booking a trip with company money. Loyalty points and rewards can be incredibly effective at influencing our decisions, in travel especially.

I was interested in applying insights from behavioral science into a workplace setting, and aligning the interests of employees and employers. This helps create a strong emotional connection between a company and its employees similar to the affinity that the company’s customers have towards it.

I got the idea when I heard about what Google used internally to manage its own travel expense, which was giving employees budgets and letting them use the savings from that trip to spurge on their next. That’s a simple but powerful system for getting someone to think about spending more carefully.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you founded/began leading your company?

I always wanted Rocketrip to be spelled with one T. Simpler, more elegant. But of course, phonetically people spell it out with two “t’s” so owning that domain was important. In the early days, Rocketrip.com happened to be available for free, but Rockettrip.com was on sale for more than we could afford to pay. As we grew the company, we began negotiating with the owner of the domain to buy Rockettrip.com. He wanted to sell it for $50K, and we wanted to buy it for $5K. After months of back and forth and failed negotiation attempts, he eventually redirected Rockettrip.com to a pornography blog. Our customers that incorrectly typed in our name started complaining and this triggered a fairly expedited negotiation process. All it took was a cease and desist letter, a modest offer and the domain was ours.

So, what exactly does your company do?

Rocketrip uses material incentives to shift business travelers’ spending behavior. Our algorithms generate custom trip budgets for employees based on their company’s travel policy and available rates. Employees are motivated to spend under budget because they get to keep half the money they save.

Since employees have to book through an approved channel to earn rewards, Rocketrip promotes use of the TMC and booking tool, which is a key part of most large companies’ travel management systems. Rocketrip also provides visibility into spending made outside of the official channel. Before new clients join Rocketrip, we analyze a year’s worth of their travel expense data to determine exactly how employees are spending. Once we have this base mark, it’s possible to forecast how those spending patterns would change following implementation of an employee savings program.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

Rocketrip is a disruptive new approach in a slow-moving industry. Without a clear competitor, the drive to improve has to come from within. The most dangerous time for a startup is when it seems like it’s “figured it out,” so we emphasize the need for sustained curiosity, skepticism, and humility. What also makes Rocketrip stand out is that we use incentivizing rewards for being more financially and resourcefully cautious for employees and employers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My wife. She’s an incredible woman, but more importantly, an amazing mother to our 2-year-old son, Bodie. I couldn’t build Rocketrip without her unwavering support, and I definitely couldn’t do it and be a father at the same time. She’s an incredible force.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m a pay it forward person, and I genuinely like helping other entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. I make it a point to use my network to help those within it connect with each other. One of the chasms many early entrepreneurs have to cross in the early days is fundraising. I like introducing smart entrepreneurs to my board and other investors. Investors are always looking for deal flow, so it’s a unique opportunity to help both sides of the marketplace at once. There’s nothing more fun for me than to help other people out that are blazing their own trail — trying to put their own small dent in the universe.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?

  • It’s hard. Really hard. They tell you that. What they don’t tell you is that it actually gets harder as you scale.
  • It takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you think it will.
  • Culture makes the difference when things aren’t going as well as planned.
  • You tend to get very upset when you hear feedback that is true but you wish was false.
  • Great hires will 10X your business. Bad hires can slow you down by just as much.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I think Elon Musk is one of the most important people in our time. He is laying the foundation that will redefine so much about how we live our lives. The output of his work is awesome.

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