‘Everyone has at least one online music and one travel idea in them’, according to Gareth Williams, Chief Executive of Skyscanner speaking this morning at the latest Travel Weekly Business breakfast held at Google Uk HQ in Holborn. Although most of these end up in the graveyard, Gareth’s travel idea in 2003, Skyscanner, has flourished, and recently raised secondary investment from US PE investors Sequoia Capital, valuing the business at US$800m. Sequoia join the Company’s original backers and largest investors, Scottish Equity Partners, who must congratulate themselves daily on their foresight in investing £2.5m into the business in April 2008.
Skyscanner has grown more than 100% year on year for the past four years. It more than doubled its staff last year and will double staff again to 500 over the next year. Its mobile app has been downloaded over 25million times and its web site attracts over 25million unique users a month.
The concept for the business, which originally provided metasearch for flights but has now extended to find the best prices for car rentals and hotels, was born out of programmer Gareth’s frustration in trying to book the cheapest flight available to the Alps in 2001. As a result, he “spent a week writing a tool that would save me half an hour.” And so a business was born.
Gareth has overseen the growth and expansion of the business domestically and internationally and now sees himself primarily as the promoter and protector of the Company’s culture and ethos, as the scale it has achieved means in his view that no one person can be seen as sacred.
International expansion, Gareth said, was originally achieved with inspiration from a previous Livingstone client, TravelJigsaw (now part of priceline.com), who he had heard employed international students from a local language school in Manchester to answer enquiries from overseas calls rather than set up an overseas office network. However, the Company now has six offices around the world, including Edinburgh, Barcelona, Beijing, Glasgow, Singapore and an North/South America hub in Miami that opened in the summer of 2013.
Quite a story to date and I for one would be interested to hear Gareth Williams’ online music idea!