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Valued at over 1 billion USD. 40 million downloads of its app. Nearly 800 employees. What’s the secret of global travel site Skyscanner’s success?

Inside the Skyscanner office

Founded in Edinburgh in 2003, Skyscanner was launched after co-founder Gareth Williams and two friends set out to solve a single travel problem.

Gareth was struggling to find the cheapest flight from any London airport to any airport in the Alps. Faced with the frustration of using a multitude of different search sites, he realised quickly the problem must be one shared by many others. Williams had a vision for a single website that would collect, collate and compare prices for every commercial flight in the world.

Today, Skyscanner’s free mobile apps have been downloaded over 40 million times and are available in over 30 languages and 70 currencies.

A supportive tech community

Beginning life in Gareth’s spare room before moving to offices in the city’s historic Leith district, Skyscanner is now based at Quartermile – a key location for Edinburgh's burgeoning tech sector.

Gareth is quick to praise the city’s supportive tech scene. He says: “When we set up, being a tech company in Edinburgh was quite unusual and a little lonely. Now the tech community is really prospering, and there’s a wonderfully supportive environment.

Edinburgh’s a place where groups will happily share learnings, failures and successes. There’s a thriving meet-up and event scene, with a strong feeling of ‘the more start-ups, the better’.” 

Global success attracts global investors

Since its launch, Skyscanner has grown significantly, and now compares flights, hotels and car hire. It has seen seven years of double digit growth, and in 2016 it welcomed £128 million investment from five new partners. Other investors include Silicon Valley’s Sequoia Capital and Scottish Equity Partners.

Skyscanner grew revenues 28% in 2015 to £120 million, and saw a 49% increase in gross bookings to $11.2 billion. The Americas saw a 55% increase in visitors, more than doubling in the USA.

The Asia Pacific region also saw impressive jump in numbers, with visitors increasing by 48% last year. This includes Japan, the third largest travel market in the world, where Skyscanner and Yahoo! JAPAN established a new joint venture, Skyscanner Japan, in July 2105. Skyscanner also saw a 67% increase in Chinese visitors and a doubling of mobile visits.

Keeping ahead of the pack

“The tech scene in Scotland is one where fellow companies will eagerly share learnings and their experience, and I love the approach of ‘the more start-ups, the better’.”

Gareth Williams, co-founder of Skyscanner

Part of that success is accredited to the company’s relentless focus on new technology. Its investment in mobile technology has paid off handsomely in new and repeat users.

In 2016, visitors grew 60% and now represent 59% of total visitors, up 7% in just 12 months.

Skyscanner has also been at the forefront of conversational travel search, releasing chat bots with both Facebook Messenger and Skype. Chat bots offer something revolutionary by bringing travel search within the very platforms users are already using.

Staff satisfaction key to success

Skyscanner continues to hire across its office network to fuel the company’s growth across the world.

Gareth says: “As we continue to grow (and recruit) at an accelerated pace, retaining staff is really important to us. We work to build world-class travel tech solutions and we need equally world-class talent in our business to achieve that. We’ve won awards for our innovation in engagement of staff, much of which is down to a culture of personal growth.

“To retain staff you need to ensure that as they continue to learn, you stretch their abilities and give them the tools to advance their career. Employees, regardless of seniority, should have ownership of their role and their own responsibilities, and regularly look at their goals and ambitions in the short and long term.

“In a recent staff survey, 95% of our employees felt that their job is interesting and challenging. That was one of the top three things our staff love best about working here, alongside the people they work with and the work/life balance and flexibility we provide.”

A high quality of life

For the Skyscanner team in Scotland, part of the attraction is the high quality of life on offer.

Gareth says: “Our team is made up of over 50 nationalities, employing over 250 people in our Edinburgh headquarters and almost 800 people globally across ten offices. We’ve won a number of workplace awards, including HR Network’s ‘Best Workplace of the Year’ and were named 6th in the Sunday Times Best Companies survey.

“In that same survey, our employees are more excited about where the organisation is going than the staff of any other firm. Ensuring staff love what they do and love Skyscanner as a place to work is really important to us, and me personally. This ethos really helps in terms of recruiting, as we offer interesting, challenging work in a fast-paced business where employees have a sense of ownership and flexibility.”

Right place, right people

For any tech company to stay ahead of the pack, it has to find, recruit, and retain the very best graduates.

Gareth says: “We find Scotland’s universities to be a brilliant source of talent. For more senior roles, it’s important to set a company apart. I’m a former coder, so I know the most exciting thing for someone like me is an interesting technical challenge, which we can offer in spades.

“As a city, Edinburgh is a very desirable place to live - it is compact, with so much green space and a continuous schedule of events, festivals and more. Plus there is a growing community of many fellow software engineers."

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