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Shane Corstorphine is General Manager of the Americas region at Skyscanner, overseeing the travel search company’s accelerated growth in the region.  

In his previous role as Chief Financial Officer, Shane was instrumental in Skyscanner’s  latest investment round of $192m in January this year, as well as earlier investment from Sequoia Capital.  Shane joined Skyscanner is 2012 and has seen Skyscanner grow from 140 employees in two offices to a global organization of ten offices and over 800 employees.  Shane previously ran his own startup and was also Director of Performance for Barclays Bank.

You can follow him on Twitter: @shanecousto

He will be live on April 6 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which he will answer as many questions as possible.

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi Shane,

    Thanks so much for joining us!

    Really interested in hearing what you think are the most important aspects of culture, team and process when it comes to approaching growth. What has worked well for Skyscanner? Any lessons you've learned from the growth of 140 to 800 employees?

    Looking forward to learning more.

    Cheers,

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Dani,

      Great to be part of this AMA and thanks to all for joining.

      Great to hear from you and a fantastic question to kick off with.

      1) If you're happy for me to do so, I'm going to focus on moving to a growth org (as opposed to building one) and then cover the lessons learnt in subsequent post.

      I think a starting point is to understand that a multi-market growth org can't be built overnight.

      That means your starting point is building a culture that amongst many other things is very comfortable with change and a team of individuals with Growth mindsets (Carol Dweck def'n rather than Growth Hacking mindset).

      A few years ago we had a large multi-market multi-channel marketing function at Skyscanner.

      We now have team of individuals who are super analytical T-shaped growth hackers for each market as well as SMEs for channels that can help enable individuals to develop.

      That's been a massive leap and not a straight forward journey. If we didn't have a culture that first and foremost accepts change then we couldn't have made this work.

      Even with the right culture, change is still really hard. Even the best people go through the change curve starting with denial and then confusion before finally acceptance and problem solving. So we had to build a training and support framework to go with this - coupled with a ton of behavioral work and comms.

      6 Share
      • SC

        Shane Corstorphine

        about 2 years ago #

        2) When we look at lessons learned there are many and more we're still working through

        I think one key area was we knew we needed to become T-shaped but weren't crystal clear on why. In hindsight we should have spent more time communicating why to the teams to help them go on this journey.

        Skyscanner operates across a huge number of markets and we have squads that focus on individual markets. A squad can easily be T-shaped by being made up of a series of channel specialists who operate together in an agile way.

        But the real reason for each individual in the squad being T-shaped is down to Product market fit and the maturity of the product in a given market.

        To bring this to life, we may not have all the right partners on the site for Skyscanner in a given market. As a result activation and retention will be poor and if deals are new then revenue may be too. So ROI will be poor and it may take 6 months to fix this. If you have a channel specialist for something like SEM then they will be twiddling their thumbs for 6 months whilst the unpaid specialists bust a gut trying to increase traffic to enable more partners to join to network to improve PMF.

        Market PMF is changing the whole time. New competitors. Economic/ macro factors. A partner comes off our site. A new partner comes on. A global shift to mobile. etc etc. The squad needs to be highly flexible to be able to ALL focus on the right channels based on PMF at that moment in time. Therefore the squad needs to ALL be T-shaped.

        I don't think we truly understood this when we first embarked on the journey and therefore we didn't articulate it clearly as a future vision. All in that makes it hard for people to embrace the journey if they don't understand Why in the first place

        4 Share
      • SC

        Shane Corstorphine

        about 2 years ago #

        3) in terms of scaling from 100 people to 850 people this has been quite a journey!

        Of huge importance is maintaining the caliber of people you bring in. We have a super robust hiring process which means there are times we go slower than we'd like.

        But the upside is amazing.

        When I worked in banking, if something wasn't happening, the default position was someone was failing/ we had a performance issue.

        At Skyscanner, when something isn't progressing, the default is that we have a system issue and we'll dig into TOC instead. A performance issue would be the last place we'd look rather than the first.

        Another thing I think is of great importance is ensuring that people understand that, at that level of growth, your title can be going backwards and yet you're still progressing. This is really hard (and involves drawing a lot of triangles..).

        You may have joined as Head of X with a team of 4. That team has now grown to 50 in a year. There's a pretty good chance that you don't have the tools needed to deal with a team of 50 as it's very different from a team of 4. There's also a pretty good chance that most of your development is 'on the job' in how to deal with this. At some point, it is better for your long term development to take a subset of that bigger group and have only 10 and do a great job with them and with your own development than hanging on with 50.

        I think people find this very hard to grasp and it's best to start communicating 'this will happen' to the whole company long before it does so that people look out for it and support it rather than fight it.

        I could cover a load more on this but had best move on! Great question!

        4 Share
  • MD

    Mike Dudas

    about 2 years ago #

    What are some of the ways that you are able to optimize mobile travel booking flows?

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Mike, Great to hear from you and thanks for the question.

      It's interesting that when posed with this question I now immediately think about three areas. Off site/up funnel - on site/app - down stream/with partners.

      The travel booking flow on mobile runs through all of these.

      1) Upfunnel

      We're not doing enough here I suspect. Mobile is a great opportunity to be much more impactful on the inspiration phase.

      There are mature channels to optimise for (eg AMP) and then there are new channels appearing weekly and we need to build an org that can deal with that.

      We're working on more ways to allow users to start their booking funnel before they even reach the site/app - such as our facebook adverts are all now priced. There's other things we're testing too and I guess the best way to summarise the objective is 'seeking up funnel activation-lite'.

      2) On the site itself I suspect we're similar to others in how we optimise flows. We run more than 1,000 AB tests a month at Skyscanner all of which helps streamline this flow.
      Where Growth is playing a much more active role is in surfacing the right content, product or feature to the user at the right time to move them down the booking flow in the right way for them. There's a number of tools we use to do this albeit I think we can still get a lot better.

      2 Share
      • SC

        Shane Corstorphine

        about 2 years ago #

        3) On how people move between Skyscanner and partners there's a heap of stuff we're testing. Our conceptual view was published last week in our white paper. https://partners.skyscanner.net/future-of-airline-distribution

        Fundamentally, we believe that the hand off from meta to partner isn't a great experience and particularly on a mobile device. Furthermore the complexity of content (unbundling of existing travel purchases plus lots of new things to think about) is increasing as screen size is decreasing. This is a major issue for travel.

        So there's a content issue and then there's an experience issue. We don't own the partner experience and this can be a challenge for the traveler. For instance we had one partner in Asia that had more than 40 fields to be filled in on a mobile device to buy a ticket. That's horrible!

        So we do things like flag partners with mobile optimised site as well as working with partners to make sure they understand how they're performing vs what is expected. This is a key objective of our commercial teams (who are as focused on product experience as they are on revenue).

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 2 years ago #

        1,000 AB tests a month!!!
        That's insane
        Can you talk more about the processes/workflows/tools that enable this amazing output?

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi Shane! Thrilled to have you here today!

    What are the biggest challenges so far you've encountered with the bot implementation at Skyscanner? As a related question, what challenges do you think the travel industry in general faces with bots? Are you seeing any promising implementations from anyone in the space that point to what the future might look like (other than Skyscanner of course :))?

    Cheers!

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Javier,

      Great to have a Bot question. I have a pretty contrarian view here.

      I see bot as an example of the evolution of referral. It's a new way of people engaging with Skyscanner content but it's still a referral to our platform/content.

      I think the number of growth channels are going to multiply at pace now as voice, bot etc all start to take hold There will be an adoption phase but it's definitely coming.

      Bot is a nice entry point for this journey for both consumer and tech companies and allows us to improve our AI and algorithms but voice is more likely to be the future (just look at the number of travel bookings now happening by voice in China).

      As a result Bot uptake generally is growing but still fairly limited. If we're disciplined in how we think about PMF then this correlates. The experience isn't good enough yet for it to be seeing exponential growth. That's going to take time.

      Despite that, solving unstructured queries will continue to be the future and this is a great way to start learning!

  • JP

    John Phamvan

    about 2 years ago #

    Hey Shane
    In cases where there are many competitors with similar offerings, people will gravitate to brands they like for whatever reason.
    So what do you think it takes to create an emotionally engaging brand?
    Could you offer any practical steps people could implement to get started in that direction?

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi John,

      Great question and something we under invest in at Skyscanner. Fundamentally we believe in PMF and probably neglect Customer Discovery and insights more than we should (outside of an AB testing environment).

      Having said that, I think the brand follows the product which is why we're always testing minimal lovable product as opposed to MVP. The sum of these improvements, in theory, should make people emotional about our product and thus about our brand.

      Often (especially in travel) companies start with the brand and creating a perception that may or may not be true and then think about the product. I struggle with that approach.

      As for practical first steps, I'd start with a bunch of reading about MLP over MVP.

      Sorry not to be more use, we need to get better at this too! :(

  • DO

    Danielle Olivas

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi Shane,

    Thanks for joining us!

    From your experience at your own startup and with Skyscanner, what would you say are the top 3 lessons you've learned about fundraising that you wish you knew at the start?

    I'm looking forward to your reply.

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Love the question and think there is a real lack of information around on this.

      Big topic and conscious of time so in no particular order:

      1) Communicate with people months or even years before you need to raise - I used to send a printed flyer to any and all VCs that I ever spoke to with a hand written comp slip. I did it quarterly and maybe only had c10 highlights. It allows people to build awareness and to go on your journey before you need them to.

      2) Obsess about retention and building a sustainable business. If you need to perpetually raise then you're over a barrel from a negotiating POV. Aim to make $1 profit every month. Then the negotiation remains in your hands.

      3) Be very wary of pref shares. Every company journey is a roller-coaster. If you're a founder then you risk getting hit very hard if things dip for a bit. Better to take a slightly lower day 1 value than give in the prefs is my opinion (point 2 also helps with this negotiation).

      Hope that helps.

      3 Share
  • GH

    Glen Harper

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi Shane, thanks for being on the AMA today. I'm a big fan of Skyscanner. Can you talk about a particular growth experiment at Skyscanner that was either a really big win or one that provided a huge insight? Thanks,

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Glen,
      Thanks for the question. Desperately trying to think of a good one but in reality we've had really few silver bullets.

      We were quick to react when facebook mobile ads came around and that still remains the largest global success. I think we were driving more than 5m downloads a month for a while with a super cheap CPI.

      Other than that all I can think of is 100's of smaller experiments with varying degrees of success and certainly with a lot of hard work. Will come back to this if one jumps to mind though.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    about 2 years ago #

    Thank you for doing this AMA with us. Congratulations on all the success of Skyscanner! What was the opening in the market that you were able to fill as a relative latecomer to the online travel space?

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Sean.

      Many thanks for hosting me - very enjoyable and hopefully the odd useful nugget in there.

      The newcomer comment is pretty interesting as we're older than most others in travel tech and have been around since 2003 but not many people know that and it's quite interesting to reflect why.

      We built very slowly and in a sustainable way. So Skyscanner was built with only $6m of cash in (2008). This meant that we could always take a long term product first approach as opposed to a 'revenue at all costs' approach as others can be pushed into once they take on investment.

      The lack of funds meant the no.1 metric has always been retention (the proxy back then was repeat visitors in GA). We can't acquire in a sustainable way unless we retain. We can't retain unless the product is excellent.

      We realised we couldn't control the entire product experience unless we went direct to partners and so we spent 10 years building that platform.

      At small volumes this is nuts! Big fixed cost of engineering to solve this problem without much traffic.

      But at scale it's great. Same fixed cost despite significant growth. Skyscanner has been profitable since 2008.

      We were late to the US for sure - for better or worse.

      The decision came to either go East or go West. Our model suited the fragmented market in the East more so we opened Singapore in 2011 as office no.2.

      We opened Miami 3 years ago and we're building a great team who I'm super proud of.

      So we're finally here - better late than never :)

      We're all watching, reading and learning so please keep sharing. Very much looking forward to the conference next month!

      Thanks again for having me!

  • EB

    Eleanor Bennett

    about 2 years ago #

    What were the most important lessons that you learnt from running your own startup?

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Eleanor - many thanks for the great question.
      I think running a start-up is one of the best learning journeys that someone can go on. In fact, when someone says to me they're thinking about doing an MBA I often try and encourage them to run their own start-up for a while instead.

      One area to definitely call out is I learnt some pretty tough lessons around prioritization which have stood me in good stead ever since. Running a start-up is like a marathon of whack-a-mole that never stops. Even when you see your friends you're getting helpful feedback on your product - but also adding more moles onto your to-do list. That's fine for short term but a start-up will likely take some years to get traction and so your personal sustainability is essential.

      There is an art to creating a very clear framework for what you're doing and on a day to day basis being very focused on it. An added dimension is to then assess the bigger picture over a longer time-period so you don't wait too long to pivot (which is inevitable for any start up).

      I also learnt to break my day into 15 minute units to help me really attack the endless list of things to do.

      In terms of 'most important', there are loads that come with a start-up which sadly I can't cover here. Reading the lean start-up is a good start. Becoming financially sustainable as fast as possible (even if only $1 of profit) is another, avoid preference shares if you can, enjoy it, never be afraid to ask for help, be brutal about hiring (even if it feels like you're going too slow).....the list goes on.

      Great question!

      4 Share
  • JK

    Jesse Kedy

    about 2 years ago #

    I actually had one other question. Skyscanner is obviously a global product, and there are definitely efficiencies with managing the product centrally. At the same time, you guys are in so many markets that there's clearly an aspect of localization needed. I would assume that a ton of the company's growth is / will come from these markets. Would be curious to know how you link product with growth at the local level.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 2 years ago #

    Hey Shane - so cool to have you on!

    I read the recent paper on the future of airline distribution that Skyscanner put out: https://partners.skyscanner.net/future-of-airline-distribution.
    This was a fascinating read for sure.

    I was interested in - if you could share - about how you'll think about existing metasearch players and ones that are insignificant today (eg Facebook) from delivering the same branded storefront type experience as there doesn't appear to be an big barrier to this (at least as an outsider looking in.

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Anuj,

      Very quick answer here due to time I'm afraid.

      Great question and we do look at major platforms as potential threats. The underlying 'safety blanket' is that what we do is really hard and takes a lot of time. We have 1,200 contracts with partners - 100s of different APIs - different commercials etc and most importantly is the intelligence that goes on top of it to know what API to query and when. Otherwise our partners look to book ratios would tank and their costs go up through the roof.

      Amazon thought about moving into this space and quickly retreated. Google had to buy ITA. There's a bunch of IP that's very hard to replicate (thank fully - meaning I can still sleep at night).

  • MD

    Mark Anthony de Jesus

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi Shane.

    Thinking beyond the business Skyscanner is in, if there's one issue with travel that you wish someone could solve tomorrow, what would it be and why?

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Wow! That's a fab question.

      The macro response is 'trust'. Trust is fundamentally broken in travel. Which is terrible for such an emotive vertical.

      Offline travel agents exist largely due to this and I can't see it being resolved soon.

      I'd like to see networks effects driving more trust in the travel booking process. ie Users guiding users to make the right decision.

      4 Share
  • TN

    Tri Nguyen

    about 2 years ago #

    What has the experience been like, integrating a non-Chinese company into Ctrip? Clearly there must be cultural differences that impact work styles. What do you believe are the biggest challenges and opportunities where east meets west, so to speak?

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Tri,

      CTrip have been a really great partner for us. Travel is still fundamentally broken and we believe our journey is still just beginning. They're very happy for us to continue as we see best and support where we need it. That's a great partner to have.

      So we look at where we can both benefit from a product/tech POV mostly and there's a lot of exciting potential there.

      The other area I'm a big fan of is Chinese insights. In general I see China as a lead indicator for where the world is moving. Mobile, voice etc etc. If we can solve for China then we can solve for a lot of future product evolution.

  • UQ

    Umair Qureshi

    about 2 years ago #

    HI Shane,

    Thanks so much for your time.

    What measures should a company take to expand their Digital presence in that particular region when they don't have any physical presence?

    Thanks,
    Umair

    • SC

      Shane Corstorphine

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi Umair,

      We always start without a physical presence and only open a physical presence when there's a clear tipping point.

      Depending on your product there is probably a maturity ladder to winning in a new market. That might start with domain and translation. Then payments, content etc. A lot of this can be done without opening an office.

      We had 30 nationalities in the Edinburgh office before we opened our second office.

      We'd focus on Product market fit first and foremost as well unpaid traffic. We could do this for seed markets with an intern initially before we started any major investment. Keep attacking that and if you get it right then you'll see the market growth step up aggressively and that's the time to think about more investment - ie it should pull you.

  • PM

    Pierre Martinow

    about 2 years ago #

    How do you respond of uprising competition like kiwi.com?

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