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Launched in 2003, leading global travel search site Skyscanner uses its proprietary technology to connect people directly to the global travel industry. The Edinburgh-headquartered business offers independent booking and planning on a range of flight, hotel and car hire options free of charge to more than 50 million people every month.

“The idea was born from my own frustrations at having to search multiple sites to find the best flights to visit my brother in the Alps,” says Skyscanner Founder and CEO Gareth Williams. “From there, I created a simple few lines of code and showed my idea to Skyscanner’s two other founders, Bonamy Grimes and Barry Smith. We worked on it in our spare time and in 2003 officially launched the site.”

The founders created a single website that could collect, collate and compare prices for every commercial flight in the world. The concept was an immediate hit and grew rapidly by word of mouth, with thousands using the prototype version. They continued to bootstrap the business until 2008, when they received a £2.5 million investment from Scottish Equity Partners.

Since then, with over 800 employees based at offices in Barcelona, Beijing, Budapest, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Miami, Shenzhen, Singapore and Sofia, Skyscanner has become a truly globalised business with products in over 30 languages and 70 currencies. Its highly-rated free mobile app has been downloaded over 40 million times and more recently, the business has attracted new investors such as Sequoia, Artemis, Baillie Gifford, Khazanah, Vitruvian Partners and Yahoo! JAPAN.

“We’re a high growth business but we’ve continued to act like a start up,” explains Gareth. “Start-ups are lean, they’re agile, they’re innovative -- all things we seek to be. As you grow, this can be difficult to sustain, but we’ve worked hard to ensure that we do.”

Skyscanner uses a ‘squads’ and ‘tribe’ operational model, whereby most people are part of a squad that typically comprises up to seven people. The squads work as mini start-ups within the business and are also part of larger tribes. It is a model that allows for great efficiency, agility and rapid delivery, says Gareth.

Central to the model is a strong business culture that had been nurtured to create a workspace that is rewarding, fun and positive. The business has a relatively flat structure in which each individual is accountable for their own performance and responsibilities, but also offered flexibility in the way they work.

“We place a high level of trust in staff so the office is very relaxed,” says Gareth. “We’ve really kept that start-up feel and have a collaborative environment that encourages knowledge sharing and innovation. You could say our office expresses what we want our company to feel like. There’s no grey carpet, and no stultifying air of gloom. When people visit from more traditional companies, they often comment on our good atmosphere.”

With rapid growth has also come the challenge of recruiting and retaining the top tech talent.

“Our employees are the lifeblood of our business, and about half of them are engineers,” he explains. “If we’re working to build world-class travel tech solutions then we need equally world-class talent in our business to achieve this. That’s why we make sure our colleagues can continue to learn and stretch their abilities and have the tools they need to advance their careers.”

In the years ahead, Skyscanner will remain focused on global expansion and on bringing highly innovative, world-class products to the market, especially for mobile devices, which already account for more than 60% of its visitors and 42% of conversions.

The business recently became the first travel search company to pioneer an artificial intelligence voice search tool for Amazon’s Alexa and Facebook Messenger Bot. It has also announced a group search service with Skype, and celebrated the first ticket sold using new NDC capabilities, a data transmission standard, with British Airways.

“There are so many opportunities,” says Gareth. “Our aim has always been to make travel search as easy as possible, and that remains our goal. We’ll continue to work hard to transform the quality of the travel booking and planning, and growing at the accelerated pace we’ve enjoyed in the past.”