Expense software runs in the Singh family.
Back in 1993, Steve Singh and his brother Raj Singh helped launch Concur, the Bellevue, Wash.-based travel expense giant that sold to SAP for $8.3 billion in 2014.
Now Steve Singh — along with his son Naveen and nephew Nikhil — is helping lead a Seattle-area startup called Center that just unveiled its expense management technology aimed at mid-market companies.
Center got off the ground several years ago with a next-generation corporate credit card that featured a built-in touchscreen and battery.
But the startup pivoted a year-and-a-half ago and is now putting more focus on its artificial intelligence-powered software that automates much of the expense reporting process.
“We saw an opportunity to do away with the expense report altogether and streamline the entire process, from the point of spend all the way through to the accounting system,” said Naveen Singh, who leads the company as CEO.
Center still offers a traditional Visa corporate credit card issued by the Central Bank of Kansas City and designed to be used with its software. The company makes money from both software licensing fees and revenue from credit card transactions.
Center is certainly similar to Concur. Both companies offer solutions for employee expense management.
But Center is targeting customers that have 50 to 1,000 employees and a small finance team that may be bogged down by manual inefficient expense processing tasks.
“They don’t really have the traditional travel manager or dedicated staff accountants to go manage their Concur relationship and program,” Naveen Singh said. “So because of that, you need a different approach to actually monitor employee spending and optimize it.”
Steve Singh is not involved in the day-to-day operations of Center, but is the company’s executive chairman and sole investor. The former Docker CEO recently joined Madrona Venture Group as managing director.
Steve Singh’s wife, Heather Singh, is the company’s chief marketing officer.
Naveen Singh said he feels fortunate to have so much exposure to business strategy growing up around Concur. His godfather is Mike Hilton, the other Concur co-founder who now leads Seattle healthcare startup Accolade with Raj Singh.
Naveen — who interned at Concur, as did his cousin and Center co-founder Nikhil Singh — said some of the most important lessons learned are the need to innovate around specific customer problems and to build a great team.
“A huge driver behind the desire to build a business is to build it together with group of people who you really care about, and to collectively build the kind of place you want to work at for 20 or 30 years,” the CEO said. “That’s what those guys were able to do with their team at Concur, and that’s a huge part of what we’re trying to do here at Center as well.”
Center originally began in 2014 as a company called TouchstoneID. The 42-person startup has offices in Bellevue, Wash. and Minneapolis, Minn.