Steve Hafner on 20 years at Kayak: “The innovation is not over but”

Steve Hafner on 20 years at Kayak: “The innovation is not over but”

Steve Hafner on 20 years at Kayak: “The innovation is not over but”

It has been 20 years since Steve Hafner and Paul English co-founded Kayak, and twenty years later it is arduous to say which is extra exceptional: How a lot journey has modified since
2004 – or that Hafner remains to be championing innovation as the corporate’s one and solely CEO.

In a far-ranging dialog from the cabin of his boat in Miami Seashore, Hafner spoke of how an itinerant childhood formed his worldview; his pleasure for the potential of synthetic intelligence and bringing the identical insights and innovation to enterprise
journey as Kayak did for customers; the keys to preserving a startup tradition even at an organization that will be sufficiently old to vote; and why not even a journey government as proficient as his good friend and former companion has succeeded in making a “Kayak killer.”

If there’s one takeaway from the 18-minute dialog, it is this: Hafner is not accomplished. Requested what he hopes the subsequent 20 years brings, for himself and for Kayak,
he mentioned, “I am hopeful that they convey as a lot innovation as the primary 20, if no more so.”

Watch the total dialog beneath or scroll all the way down to learn an edited model of the change with time stamps or hearken to the audio-only model in
PhocusWire’s In Phocus podcast.

CEO Highlight – Steve Hafner of Kayak

We’re talking as Kayak marks 20 years of enterprise. Excited about how a lot journey has modified over these twenty years makes it appear even longer — and Kayak is accountable for lots of that change. As you wish to say, innovation is in Kayak’s DNA. So inform
us, with all that’s totally different about journey at this time, what stands out essentially the most to you, each for good and for unhealthy?

(0:58) I can really feel these 20 years. Twenty years is a very long time, however yeah, Kayak was based to be modern, to be the upstart within the class. And it has been a very enjoyable experience, and the innovation is not over but.

We have seen the primary migration from offline bookings to on-line web sites after which from on-line web sites to cellular apps … and now we have this new know-how referred to as AI. I believe we’re one of many first websites to leap on that, and I believe it may be
an extremely transformative know-how for the class.

I believe there’s much more cool stuff coming when it comes to talking to clever brokers to do all the pieces you wish to do and, hopefully, with the ability to get [through] the airport with facial recognition, etcetera, and never having to scrounge for paper
or boarding passes, even when it’s in your cellphone. There’s much more stuff to come back.


Twenty years is a very long time, however … it has been a very enjoyable experience, and the innovation is not over but.

Steve Hafner – Kayak

I don’t assume it’s a stretch to say you had been fated to be in journey. I imply, you had been born in Peru and lived in additional international locations as a baby than most People see in a lifetime. I’ve heard you speak about how the world can be a greater place if extra individuals
may dwell in several international locations. Are you able to elaborate on that?

(2:34) On the time I used to be rising up, I didn’t recognize that shifting round loads was truly going to form my profession and my worldview, however it did.

And now I believe much more people would profit from seeing the world as a result of there’s plenty of alternative ways to … downside resolve on the earth, and no nation and no a part of any nation’s obtained an ideal deal with or monopoly on good concepts. So if you transfer
round loads it makes you a greater individual, and it makes you a greater world citizen. And I believe it makes you extra empathetic and extra open to different methods of doing this.

So ending up in journey, for me, was nice as a result of not solely did I like to make use of the product loads, so I had options for a number of the friction factors I noticed, but in addition it helps me be ok with serving to individuals get round to different locations and develop the worldviews.

We had been talking of innovation being in Kayak’s DNA. I do know you’re taking pleasure in Kayak shortly adapting to new applied sciences. What’s the supply for that ethos?

(3:49) I believe everybody at Kayak — we have about 970 individuals right here on the firm now — basically, we’re … all very curious individuals. We’re all dissatisfied with the established order, and we’re all keen to check out new applied sciences and new developments
and say, ‘How can we configure them to make Kayak companies higher?’ Lots of people say that is a startup tradition. I am not so positive as a result of we’re not a startup anymore. I believe it is some corporations have that esprit de corps and people sorts of insights
and curious individuals, and others do not. And we have been blessed to have them.

With regard to a few of these improvements, in March Kayak unveiled a picture recognition software that may supply worth comparisons from a screenshot
of a flight itinerary from any website. It’s a cool software. I’m questioning: How are customers responding?

(5:02) They’re utilizing it. I imply, it is early days, proper? But it surely was that to make use of a journey website, you’d must go to the journey website, work together with the search type, submit a question after which get the outcomes again. Now with AI you’ll be able to truly use your
cellphone … and for those who can simply take a snapshot of a journey website outcomes [page] and even write down an itinerary on a chunk of paper and take an image of that, ship it to Kayak and we’ll offer you outcomes. And never solely that, however you’ll be able to arrange fare alerts
proper from the response we get.

Increasingly, what cell telephones are enabling and what AI is enabling is individuals with the ability to do stuff asynchronously, which means you do not have to … go to a journey company and see an individual to make a reserving. Then we moved it offline. Then you definitely needed to go
to an internet site. Now you’ll be able to truly use pictures. It’s superior. I believe the subsequent step is utilizing voice. … With AI, I believe that suggestions loop goes to make it so a lot better, so you’ll be able to truly simply speak and get a consequence set again.

Kayak for Enterprise is one other current innovation. You talked with us about that some on the Phocuswright Convention in November if you shared that Tripadvisor was amongst your new shoppers. What’s the most recent on Kayak for Enterprise?

(6:46) Look, we have been on the client aspect at Kayak for 20 years. We have been on the enterprise aspect now for less than three years. And the identical insights and innovation we delivered to the buyer aspect, we’re bringing to the enterprise aspect, and we’re doing that
in partnership with two different nice corporations. One is Blockskye, who’s a know-how vendor, and the opposite is PwC

And what we have designed there’s a product that goes direct to the airways and to sure OTAs for provide, for fare enhancements, would not require bank cards or bank card charges, would not require expense stories for the customers of that and is agnostic
when it comes to who touches the ticket and does the customer support. … So it has been a enjoyable experience thus far. We’re solely three years in, so we’ve obtained a methods to go.

Since you’re so large on innovation, I’m curious: How would you characterize Kayak’s use of generative AI to your inside operations at this time versus a 12 months in the past? And what’s your prediction for the longer term concerning generative AI in journey?

(8:44) I believe it may be a recreation changer when it comes to [eliminating] the mundane work that so many people do. Our advertising and marketing crew, for instance, is utilizing GenAI to jot down press releases, to jot down copy, to generate pictures and movies. Our website positioning crew is doing
the identical. Once we’re doing content material snippets for motels, we will use AI to jot down related summaries for that. …

I believe all that work goes to make the standard of the output from the parents that we’ve at Kayak a lot, a lot better. I don’t assume it’s going to switch jobs, not less than at Kayak, as a result of we don’t have an enormous customer support crew. If you’re on [a]
customer support crew, you higher get good at utilizing AI since you wish to be extra environment friendly, so that you don’t get changed.


The [metasearch] class is wholesome. One participant, Google, attracting the lion’s share of development. … However that doesn’t imply Kayak will not be wholesome. … We have at all times needed to be one of the best, and we nonetheless are one of the best.

Steve Hafner – Kayak

Between Google and loyalty applications and social media, it’s been robust for metasearch websites to carry on to their former share of promoting income. What do you see as the longer term for metasearch?

(10:39) Yeah, it’s why I get this query loads, like metasearch has peaked or one thing like that. It hasn’t in any respect. Customers have this inherent need to cross store and journey. Why? As a result of costs are totally different, primarily based on the place you go, and choices
totally different. So you are not going to belief American Airways to indicate you the bottom Delta fare. You understand you are not going to belief to indicate you all of the non-hotel lodging all through there. You wish to cross store, and metasearch websites
allow you to do this very simply.

The class may be very wholesome. One participant, Google, attracting the lion’s share of development, and that’s as a result of they’ve a very good product. And so they’re additionally larger up the meals chain. … However that doesn’t imply Kayak will not be wholesome. We even have by no means
supposed to be the largest [metasearch] website. We have at all times needed to be one of the best, and we nonetheless are one of the best. … We wish to say you snack on Google for journey costs, and also you ebook through Kayak since you get higher outcomes. And I believe that is true.

In case you had been launching a startup at this time, what wouldn’t it be for? What’s most “ripe for disruption” in journey?

(12:38) Oh, gosh! There’s so many locations of friction nonetheless within the journey ecosystem. … I nonetheless assume there’s room for brand spanking new airways, for brand spanking new lodge chains. To make use of new know-how, new technique of buyer acquisition. I’d begin there.

I believe the 2 most revolutionary corporations within the final 15 years have been Airbnb and Uber within the journey house. … It simply [takes] an ideal alchemy to achieve success. It’s a must to have an ideal concept. It’s a must to have an ideal crew. It’s a must to be very nicely
financed, and it’s a must to be fortunate. If you do not have all 4 of these issues, it may be tough.

I nonetheless assume [at] Kayak we’ve all 4 of these issues. So I’ll persist with Kayak versus beginning up one other firm and going after one thing else. However hats off to these entrepreneurs who’re courageous sufficient to go accomplish that.

I discussed The Phocuswright Convention. That’s after we first heard concerning the “Kayak killer.” When your Kayak co-founder Paul English joked on stage
whereas speaking up his newest enterprise, Deets, an app that gives suggestions primarily based on evaluations from a consumer’s buddies. So I’ve obtained to ask, what’s your overview of the Deets beta? You understand, I’m
going to wish a headline for this story. …

(14:27) You understand I really like Paul English, and he is obtained a knack for producing headlines. I am hopeful that his Deets enterprise is a hit. I do not assume it is any risk of being a Kayak killer. If Google could not kill us, Paul, English’s Deets is not going
to both.

Kayak founders Steve Hafner and Paul English at The Phocuswright Conference in November.

Kayak founders Steve Hafner and Paul English at The Phocuswright Convention in November.

We began the dialog speaking about your 20 years at Kayak. It appears applicable to finish on that observe. I gained’t ask you probably have any regrets – all of us do – however for those who may change one thing, what wouldn’t it be?

(15:10) Gosh. We had so many alternatives alongside the best way to develop extra aggressively than we did. … I want we had gambled slightly bit extra. I additionally want that Google hadn’t outbid us for ITA Software program as a result of we had been so shut to purchasing them. However we misplaced
that one. It will have been a special world if we have been in a position to pull that caper off.

No Google Flights, proper?

(15:51) Oh, there would have been ‘Google Flights: Powered by Kayak’!

Now let’s flip that query round: What are you most pleased with over that point?

(16:07) I am most pleased with constructing a profitable firm and having plenty of enjoyable alongside the best way and dealing with proficient individuals. Not everyone will get to expertise that success. Once more, it comes all the way down to these 4 components: an ideal concept, nice crew, nicely financed
after which luck. And the final one is definitely the toughest one to safe since you’ve obtained no management over it. So we’ve been very lucky to construct an ideal firm. … A number of our staff have gotten rich within the course of, and that’s very fulfilling

Lastly, what’s subsequent – for you and for Kayak? What are the subsequent 20 years going to deliver?

(16:51) I am hopeful that they convey as a lot innovation as the primary 20, if no more so. I hope the corporate stays curious and dissatisfied and modern. I hope our crew stays small and proficient as nicely. I hope the [profit and loss statement] is nice,
and I hope we get fortunate. However most significantly, I simply need everybody to benefit from the experience, as a result of the primary 20 years had been simply wonderful.”