What started as a spreadsheet comparing a few airlines’ prices has grown into the biggest flight search engine in Europe. The three founders of Skyscanner explain how it became a £3.5m business
Gareth Williams I had always wanted to start my own business but it’s daunting getting your head round whether it’s going to work or not. It was quite a boon that there were three of us—we shared the tasks out. There were areas where I was pretty rubbish but the other guys could do. That was one major factor in making it work.
Barry Smith All three of us got involved with stuff we’d had experience of but some of it we hadn’t done before—running a company-type stuff—so some of it was pick a name out of a hat. We had no idea how we were going to generate revenue from it. None of us were working in the internet at that time.
Bonamy Grimes We didn’t think of it as an e-commerce business. Back then online advertising as a revenue stream wasn’t well established. Our aim was to create a marketplace for buying and selling flights—to represent every flight in the world. It was only just the start for Buzz, Go and Ryanair.
GW We grew organically from our own funds so the lessons we learnt were spread over the first few years rather than all at once.
BS As we started to learn more about how we would generate revenue, it started to come in. We thought, “If we can generate enough cash, which mirrors what we are earning per day as consultants, we’ve got to give it a go”.
BG I remember the first time I was introduced to somebody and they knew Skyscanner. That was a great feeling.
GW Our primary focus is to have better results than anyone else—a more accurate representation of routes and prices. We nearly trebled revenues over the last 12 months. We’ve doubled our headcount from 30 to 60 people.
BS I’m running a team of country managers hired to drive traffic acquisition from those markets that have been identified by us as huge opportunities but that we’re not even touching, or markets we should be doing better in. On the Russian side of things, we’ve quadrupled traffic in six months.
BG We’ve got a list of things we want to do as long as our arm. We’re keen to get our mobile product launched, so you can search for flights while you’re at the airport. We also want to integrate into social networks—travel and trip planning are very social things.
GW Our strategy is to concentrate on the European markets primarily. Nothing is ever complete—we expect to have to improve anything we’ve worked on before.
BS The issue that a lot of our US-focused peers have is that they try to apply a single approach to Europe, which would be a similar mistake as us trying to crack Asia by saying Japan is the same as China. We’re going to need people on board who will deliver per market, per channel. It’s gone down to a very granular level.
BG We’re all really hard workers and we’re never really satisfied. I think you’ve got to be like that to start a company.
GW We were friends before we started the business and I’m very proud of the fact that we remain friends. The combination of still being in business; all the founders still being in the business and remaining friends—often you get one or more of those but not all three.
BS Bon has the more level head between the three of us—it’s a good balance, I think.
BG Gareth has the vision—he pushes us, he’s the developer. Although Barry came from a technical background he’s got a very outgoing personality and is great at the commercial side of the business—making connections with people in the industry. I’m slightly more pragmatic. I look at what we’re going to do next and the steps to get there.
BS I’d say we’re the different ends of a triangle, personality wise, but we have a vision. We still have entrepreneurial roots. We don’t want to turn into this big corporate mess—everything we used to despise.