Speaker Spotlight: Gareth Williams


Gareth Williams is CEO and co-founder of Skyscanner, a leading global travel search site offering an unbiased, comprehensive and free flight search service as well as online comparisons for hotels and car hire. Gareth’s love for computers began at the age of 11 when, together with his father, he learnt assembly language on the BBC micro site. It was this early interest in how programming that led him to pursue his career in computing. He went on to study Maths and Computer Science at the University of Manchester.

In his early career years working as a programmer for hire, Gareth became frustrated that it was so difficult to find cheap ways to travel to visit his brother in the French Alps. It was this frustration that led to a pub brainstorming session with friends Bonamy Grimes and Barry Smith, and from there, Skyscanner was created.

Skyscanner began life as a single Excel spread sheet, and one idea: a site that compares flight prices for every single commercial airline in the world. Skyscanner began to grow by word of mouth and as visits to the site rose exponentially, the three decided to give up their day jobs.  They launched the Skyscanner website in 2003.

Skyscanner now receives over 40m unique monthly visitors, and its multi-award winning mobile apps have been downloaded over 35 million times. It is Scotland’s first $1bn internet economy business, and the company employs over 600 staff in nine offices across the world. Gareth kindly answered some questions for us ahead of his talk at this years Turing Festival, here's what he had to say..

How do you retain company culture while scaling a team?  

 We have 9 offices across the world, so working at scale, we’re very aware of the importance of working together collaboratively, regardless of location, and have a number of ways we do this. Recruiting the right sort of people who share the same passion for the business is a really important factor. Our offices across the world are kitted out in the same way – colourful floors, open plan, lots of areas for informal meetings. We’ve kept the start-up  vibe and relaxed company culture across these. Equally, we’re a global company but we keep a very local outlook - we adapt our approach depending on the market, and that’s been key to our success.  

 What are the toughest lessons that you have learned?

 Time can barely be wasted in the communication of vision and strategy. Instead of leading by demonstration, I could have done more to lead by inspiration and provided an environment that encouraged management and leadership. I've learnt a huge amount from our COO, Mark Logan in that regard. 

It’s very common in early stage start-ups; you’re almost entirely focused on execution. The danger is you get to a certain size, and not everybody understands what you’re trying to achieve. Recognising that point earlier rather than later would have been really helpful forSkyscanner. 

 How do you ensure staff remain passionate and interested?

Chiefly, we make sure we have the right policies and the right people, so we can maintain a rewarding, fun and positive workplace. As an example, we're firm believers in flexible working; at Skyscanner we’re all accountable for our own performance and deliver our responsibilities to a high standard. We place a high level of trust in staff, and the office is very relaxed. We’ve kept that start-up feel, because we work in a very collaborative environment, and we encourage sharing of knowledge and innovation.