How Brex uses Brex
How to book travel and manage spend for your next sales kickoff.
How Brex uses Brex
How to book travel and manage spend for your next sales kickoff.
By the numbers
230 plane trips to Palm Springs booked using Brex travel.
2,471 expenses charged and categorized.
Attendees from three countries and 15 U.S. states.
Business travel is back.
Through 2020 and beyond, many companies went fully remote for the first time, or expanded their remote work programs to include nearly all of their employees. But now that employees can more safely gather at conferences, offsites, and company meetings, the importance of these events can’t be overstated. People can once again meet face-to-face, get to know each other beyond a screen, and grow their camaraderie, all of which help them to work together more effectively.
However, the process of budgeting for corporate events and travel — and reconciling expenses after the fact — is painstaking for accounting and finance teams, in addition to the hurdles around booking travel, venues, and amenities for event managers. In the interest of conducting more in-person meetings and coworking events now and in the future, how can a company make the booking and budgeting process easier from end to end?
Tackling common travel expense challenges.
We at Brex have built a better way, and we are excited to tell you how we put it to the ultimate test — in February, our sales and marketing organizations gathered in Palm Springs for BrexRev, our first-ever in-person sales kickoff meeting. To launch this annual event, we employed our very own Empower platform, an all-in-one stack of global cards, expense management, reimbursements, and Brex travel to book, expense, and manage the entire experience.
To tell the story of our challenges, successes, and lessons learned, we went straight to the source, two of the leaders responsible for executing the BrexRev event: Karen DeFini, Chief of Staff for Sales and Revenue, and Paige Evanich, Senior Manager of Employee Experience Programs.
“Sales kickoff has always been a very important part of the sales year; it’s when we get everyone together, showcase new products and new services, and have them focus on the direction and initiatives that we want to work on for the year,” Karen says. “But the biggest part of it is creating an emotional connection with your team because most people are working remotely now.”
That’s where Paige comes in. “My team manages the entire offsites program and our remote connection strategy, and then leads any of the employee programs around recognition,” she says. In the last 18 months, Paige’s team has organized 150 team offsites, from leadership summits to cross-functional events and everything in between, all with the goal of being intentional about connecting groups in person and building some togetherness into our remote work strategies.
With so many moving parts involved with in-person events like BrexRev, it was critical to Paige and Karen that our teams could:
Easily book compliant travel
Flexibly manage their itineraries from anywhere
Stay on budget with real-time visibility into expenses
Speed up reconciliation
Revving up with Brex travel.
Planning for BrexRev began in October of 2022 and took roughly eight weeks. In the past, our sales kickoffs and major team meetings had been conducted over video calls. “This is the first time that we've really rallied our teams and gotten them together for an official sales kickoff,” Karen says. “And as time went on, we discovered it might be a really good opportunity to have some of our cross-functional partners join us. It grew to about 250 attendees by the time all was said and done.”
For previous events, before we launched Brex travel or Empower, the process was less transparent, and lacked control over the booking and spending experience. “When we held our first offsites about a year and a half ago, we had a 10-page policy doc, and we basically were telling people to use their Brex card to book on Google Flights,” says Paige. “We had zero visibility.” It wasn’t always clear whether employees had booked their flights correctly, whether it was at a reasonable cost, or whether anyone had canceled their trips or experienced travel disruptions.
“That was really good that we were able to have that visibility, and people were compliant and didn't take advantage of the system. With Amex or other cards, you just don't have that kind of visibility.”
— Karen DeFini, Chief of Staff for Sales and Revenue at Brex
Today, With Brex Empower, policies are embedded everywhere spend happens, from flight and hotel booking to on-trip expenses. Managers are able to see their teams’ expenses against the specific travel budget. They could also see who has confirmed their attendance and who’s waiting, as well as who has booked flights and who hasn’t — all in a single dashboard. Plus, any communication happens right in the Brex platform with comments and messaging.
“We were able to monitor that activity really well through the Brex app, and we actually didn't have any incidents that were major,” Karen adds. “So, that was really good that we were able to have that visibility, and people were compliant and didn't take advantage of the system. With Amex or other cards, you just don't have that kind of visibility.”
Furthermore, employees booking on Brex travel have access to unbiased global inventory, and can choose flights based on their preferences (as long as they're in policy). Brex travel offers a global flight selection from a wide range of providers. Our flight policy for BrexRev was that any trip under six hours required a certain cabin class, but if the flight time is more than six hours, employees were permitted to upgrade to premium economy. This helps with travel program adoption and ensures that attendees could book flights that worked best for their individual needs, and not have to look elsewhere to find the perfect itinerary.
In the event that someone books a trip out of policy, it immediately gets flagged to Paige’s team to review. “If I did not reject the booking within 24 hours, then it just books,” she says. “We call it a ‘soft approval,’ and we like the soft approval because travel is more time sensitive. This is something that's really awesome about what we’ve created — it's leaning into what Empower is really about because we have built in all the compliance levers within the Brex travel booking flow.”
Budgeting made easy for big events.
Travel and booking aside, when it came to budgeting for the event and how employees would be spending, Empower made that faster and smoother, too. Karen’s and Paige’s teams had one large pool of funds to draw from, but they didn’t want individual employees to be able to see that lump sum, instead opting to create nested budgets that teams could draw from for each expense, like flights, dinners, drinks, lunches, and rideshares. “We know we have the compliance levers built out,” Paige says, “which is a way better experience for managers and then also a better experience for employees, too, because it just shows you trust them.”
Furthermore, it’s a better experience for finance and accounting. Because spending drew from the proper budgets and many receipts are automatically generated, it means less work for employees on the front end and an easier time reconciling spend for accountants on the back end.
“Having run kickoffs at previous companies like Concur, it would have taken me probably a day or two to do my entire expense report, and I don't think I've spent any time at all on an expense report,” Karen says. “It's been amazing, it truly has. It was unbelievably fast and easy compared to what I would’ve had to go through otherwise.”
“Empower budgets allow for a more seamless review experience on the accounting side,” says Adrienne Klamt, Accounting Manager at Brex. “We knew expenses booked to the BrexRev budget were in policy, and because all the nested budgets rolled up to the same parent, we could apply a bulk rule for the GL classification all at once.”
Some best practices for your own events.
Based on what we’ve learned from our own sales kickoff, Karen and Paige have some best practices to share that can help you execute your future company events with Brex:
Generate virtual cards for specific vendors or recurring subscriptions, so that you can easily identify where that spending is coming from, reconcile it quickly, or close out the virtual card if needed.
Create one primary budget for event planners, then customize each nested budget in ways that make the most sense for departments, teams, or even individuals.
Give every employee an incidentals budget that they can use for hotel holds and other unintended charges so they can be monitored in real time.
Close out nested budgets after the event is over so no more spending can be applied to them, and so that reconciling spending is faster and easier.
Skip the complex vendor onboarding process by paying vendors directly using budgets attached to a Brex card.