Late last year, Navan gained an integral new member of the team.
Kelly Soderlund, Navan Senior Director of Communications, joined Navan with a wealth of experience in the travel space and a desire to craft the future of travel and payments as the world shifted in real-time.
Kelly started her career working for the innovative travel startup Hipmunk and built a reputation for digging through the company’s search and booking data to find nuggets of information that were rarely reported in the media. She continued to grow and built Hipmunk’s content, social, and press strategy before Hipmunk was acquired by SAP Concur. Kelly learned firsthand how legacy corporate travel operates and was excited when the chance came to join Navan and help craft a new way of traveling for business. We sat down with Kelly to learn more about her experience as a storyteller and industry veteran and how her new role at Navan will help the company craft the future of business travel and payments.
Navan: Tell us a bit about your background.
Kelly Soderlund: I don't come from a traditional PR background in any way, shape, or form. I've never done agency work and, in a lot of ways, I think that that's a boon because I'm not tied to the traditional ways of doing things.
Over the years, I have picked up a lot of that stuff and that's good to know, but the fact of the matter is that I think of myself more as someone who has had to be scrappy and think about things differently. I love being creative, exploring new ways of thinking, and looking at things with fresh eyes to innovate. There's nothing that excites me more.
Navan: Why Navan?
Kelly Soderlund: I love this question! There was so much alignment. I’ve been watching Navan for years and always appreciated what Navan was doing. I always thought, ‘This company is really smart. The content is smart. The Navan Academy is smart. The press decisions are smart.’ It was clear that Navan wasn’t afraid to move fast or look at this industry, which has such a long history that can be complicated and interconnected with a fresh pair of eyes. It felt so new and exciting and something that I wanted to be a part of.
I remember reading an article at the start of the pandemic about the biggest regret of an industry organization’s leadership during 2008: the company contracted instead of taking a chance and expanding its market share. It really struck a chord with me, because I feel that’s the type of person I am and I related with that desire to turn a challenge into an opportunity. Navan has that same mindset, which felt like a natural fit for me.
Navan: What were your thoughts around joining a travel company during COVID?
Kelly Soderlund: There’s never been a better opportunity for Navan. I don’t think the pundits are correct that business travel is dead. Knowing what I know about this industry and knowing what I know about people, we're going to find our way back to connecting in person in a safe and sustainable way.
I know that travel is going to return, and I want to be with a company that believes that, too; even more so, a company that is working to help facilitate that in a way that puts travelers first. If we’ve learned anything during this pandemic, there is no replacement for human connection. We all have video conference fatigue, and we’re itching to see each other again.
I am also pretty bullish on the idea that hybrid remote work will create more work travel opportunities in the near term. When you have a distributed workforce, those teams are going to want to get together once or twice a quarter. These could be teams that never really traveled before at all.
The salespeople are going to continue to travel, and the C-suite is going to continue to travel. So we’re looking at which conferences can be held virtually and whether they want to be held virtually. It's going to be interesting to see how it all shapes out, but I'm here for it, a thousand percent.
Navan: What stories are you excited to tell?
Kelly Soderlund: I'm very excited to tell stories about this new normal that we're coming into and using data to really show what’s happening. I'm excited to find ways that we can talk about how spend has evolved post-pandemic and what people are expensing now. I'm excited to figure out where people go when the world opens and how it affects local tourism.
But I'm most excited to talk about the innovation that is coming out of our shop. I think the team here is smart, forward-thinking, and thoughtful. When I look at some of the product demos, I always think, “I wouldn't have thought of that, and that's so cool that they did." I've been around travel companies for so long, but I'm always blown away by how consumer-friendly, and innovative Navan is.
Navan is designed for travelers, but it doesn’t forget the fact that travel managers and businesses are the ones propelling this movement — and the ones who are ultimately responsible for these employees. We're doing everything we can to provide all those different users with real-time data and the tools they need to make informed decisions. I think that that's really (and I hate this word) empowering for our customers (and I love that).
Navan: What about the culture at Navan drew you in or continues to surprise you?
Kelly Soderlund: There's a desire to get culture right, and I appreciate that. There’s also a culture that celebrates hard work, which I appreciate because I am a hard worker and like working with others who take their work seriously. I love that Navan takes DE&I seriously, and I love working with Shaka Senghor on the initiatives we’re doing at Navan.
I also think drive is important, meaning everyone at Navan believes we can re-imagine this industry in a way that makes more sense for travel and companies. There is something really exciting about disruption and looking at an industry with fresh eyes to do things differently.
Navan: What are you excited about moving into the fintech space and working with finance publications to tell the story of Navan Expense?
Kelly Soderlund: I hopped on the consumer-facing fintech train in 2019 with Affirm and aligned with leveraging technology to democratize payments. It’s been something that I’ve watched for years. It’s similar to travel in that banking, and payments are a legacy industry where things can now be done differently.
I feel like a lot of the more antiquated industries are starting to internalize that they’re not necessarily operating at the pace they should be, leaving them ripe for innovation. There's nothing that thrills me more than finding newer, better ways to solve problems. Navan does this in the travel and expense vertical. We’re taking these two industries with all of these historical legacy rules attached to them and reworking them in a way that actually works better and faster — providing better data. It just makes businesses work more efficiently, and that’s so attractive to me.
Favorite work destination: New York
Favorite leisure destinations: Hawaii & India
Preferred airline seat: Aisle
Travel hack: Always bring a portable charger/ brick and blanket scarf for the plane (I’m a mom, so I often take redeyes). Take advantage of lounges. I also really love alternate airports, because I’m able to get in and out quickly; plus, they’ve got more regional charm.
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