May 10, 2019

Entrepreneurial Alumnus Thejo Kote Launches Integrated Spend Management Startup

In April 2019, Thejo Kote, MIMS ’11, publicly launched his startup Airbase, a spend management platform. The launch comes after raising $7 million in Series-A funding, led by First Round Capital.

Kote founded Airbase in 2016 with the goal of consolidating various spend management functions in one place through comprehensive accounting software.

Airbase is not Kote’s first entrepreneurial endeavor. As an I School student in 2009, Kote founded the social enterprise NextDrop, which originated as his MIMS final project. This project addressed the problem of unpredictable water sources for households by providing accurate and timely information about local piped water delivery in India. NextDrop received multiple awards, including the Clinton Global Initiative Award for Global Service and the Knight News Challenge Prize, and was recognized as the Dr. James R. Chen Award-winning MIMS Final Project in 2011.

Kote shared that this project was a culmination of his learning at the I School, which gave him a well-rounded education that allowed him to build a meaningful project from the ground up.

As a founder who has to do a lot of varied things, the I School gave me an appreciation for many different disciplines. I think it made me a better creator of products, and in turn, helped the companies I started to be more successful.

 

“The I School had a big role to play in helping me grow into somebody who could create high-quality products and take them to market,” Kote said. “As a founder who has to do a lot of varied things, the I School gave me an appreciation for many different disciplines. I think it made me a better creator of products, and in turn, helped the companies I started to be more successful.”

Kote’s education at the I School allowed him to gain an understanding of a variety of subject matters beyond his original expertise. This helped him create better products, and, he said, understand exactly the type of people he needed to hire in order to build a great team around an idea:

“I came to the I School with a very specific goal of broadening my horizons. I was a very focused engineer and my worldview was that of an engineer, but all the interesting stuff happens in the middle. That’s where all the interesting learning also happens. I came to the I School because of that kind of curriculum, forcing you to study law, policy, and all the social sciences.”

These skills allowed Kote to found his first company much earlier than he anticipated. In 2013, Kote founded Automatic, a connected car assistant that syncs driving data with a smartphone, with fellow MIMS alumnus Ljuba (Miljkovic) Youngblom, MIMS ’10. Automatic was acquired by SiriusXM for over $100 million in 2017.

“I’ve always been a big believer in the power of technology to have a positive impact on the world,” Kote said. “When you are building technology products, they have that inherent scalability and leverage. The whole process of creating something new, doing something that didn’t exist before, and having a positive impact on the world that way has always been very attractive to me.”

The whole process of creating something new, doing something that didn’t exist before, and having a positive impact on the world that way has always been very attractive to me.

As he scaled Automatic, Kote struggled with the available spend management tools. Existing options were a variety of tools for the different tasks that finance teams perform, like pre-approval spending and reimbursements. This experience inspired the idea for Airbase: to change the way spend management is done so companies can grow more efficiently.

The solution that Kote came up with was to create a single integrated platform for spend management that allows for more transparency and control. With Airbase, finance teams can easily see money flow within their company through the centralized system. This, in turn, leads to more informed financial decisions for the company and better predictions for growth.

Airbase is an integrated spend management platform. Source airbase.io.

Despite a recent public launch, Airbase already hosts an impressive portfolio of customers, including Gusto, Getaround, Doximity, Affinity, and more, that have successfully used their platform. Airbase hopes to expand this portfolio with its launch to achieve its goal of revolutionizing spend management.

“Our journey for the next few years is to figure out the different aspects of the company,” Kote explained, “scaling up, sales operations, demand generation, and getting the product into as many hands as possible. The journey goes on, but we’re still early on in the Airbase journey.”

To other I Schoolers looking to go into entrepreneurship, Kote advised: “Just do it. If you believe that you are solving an actual problem and you’re passionate about it, and you would do it without the money — then take the leap. I would totally encourage everybody who can do it, to do it.”

Last updated:

May 10, 2019