Growth Hacks: From 32 to 1,000+ Employees: My Growth Journey with Skyscanner

Growth Hacks: From 32 to 1,000+ Employees: My Growth Journey with Skyscanner

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From 32 to 1,000+ Employees: My Growth Journey with Skyscanner

I was employee number 32 when I joined Skyscanner in 2010.

It was the earliest days of the travel startup, a small company with the right ambition and a good problem to solve — make searching for cheap flights easier for travelers.

This startup would end up being acquired for £1.4 billions 6 years later, having gone through 10X growth several times, expanding to 10 offices all over the world and growing to over 1,000 employees.

My journey started as a Market Development Manager for the Italian market, responsible for:

  1. validating product and channel market fit
  2. localizing a commercial offering and marketing strategy
  3. customizing a local product that spoke “Italian”

From a standing start and over the course of a year, Italy became Skyscanner’s second largest market and Skyscanner became the number one metasearch brand in Italy, achieving 5X growth.

How? Mainly via a combination of solid SEO and organic strategy, testing of different unpaid and paid sources of acquisition, and word of mouth. Paid media marketing, my budget being pretty limited at the time, had to be ROI positive to live.

Creativity, market and marketing knowledge, and business acumen were the initial keys to unlock such growth.

Next, I became the Global Head of Social Marketing (#32, out of 150).

After the first million users with positive ROI for Skyscanner was achieved, I decided it was time for a new challenge. Travel is highly social, so building an integrated social media strategy and team that could help reinforce the business across the world seemed like a logical next step.

It seems hard to believe now, but, at the time, social was very new, and very much untrusted by everyone, both as a channel for performance marketing and also for PR and SEO support.

Social media was a sort of new land to be discovered, and that is what intrigued me the most.

Facebook, Twitter, VK, Weibo, Wechat would soon become experimental grounds to “amplify” growth for the business, via the use of clever, funny travel posts and useful data-driven content that could find the right engagement amongst social travellers. Social ads would also rapidly become an important part of the marketing mix.

From a one-woman band, our social media team soon became the biggest marketing team at Skyscanner, having transformed the way we did PR, the way we interacted with travellers, and the way we transitioned the business to become mobile-first. All while we experimented widely with app users acquisition and re-engagement.

The most successful app acquisition campaign in Skyscanner history is one we ran in 2013, taking advantage of early adoption of new alpha and beta platforms and app download ads that Facebook was still testing. To give you an idea: if the average cost per download was — let’s say — 1, we managed to pay for a quality download for 1/10th of that average. We received huge coverage because of that growth hack at the time and were featured at F8 twice.

Then, I became the Head of Growth (#32 out of 400).

I didn’t take on a specific growth position as there was no growth organisation at Skyscanner at that time. Growth hadn’t yet arrived as a concrete concept as it’s now understood.

However, I adopted a “growth mindset” and learnt from the pioneering growth hacking of people I admire like Sean Ellis and Brian Balfour and led the transformation from traditional marketing to a growth org, supported by our far-sighted, then-COO, and other great colleagues.

Slide from “GHConf18 — Moving from a Traditional to a Growth Oriented Organization”

We had a fairly traditional marketing structure with SEO, PR, paid media and social specialists for each major market. Despite years of growth, we reached what Andy Grove would call a critical ‘inflection point’. If we wanted to continue growing at the same rate, or scale to greater heights, we needed to make some transformative changes as an organisation.

Essentially, there was a good amount of dysfunction, inefficiencies and waste derived from old school marketing made of lots of repetitive or manual tasks to run campaigns, big batch gambles, subjective decisions, functional silos, little ownership or autonomy and non-controlled experimentation.

We therefore projected where we needed to be in order for us to reach greater heights as a business and implemented an experimental growth organisation comprising central and regional growth tribes and squads. Here, we’re talking about 150 people dedicated to growth across EMEA, Americas and APAC.

The difference from the previous way of doing traditional marketing?

If we wanted to build solid growth at scale, we needed to move the focus from marketing and comms execution to building a sustainable, customisable growth framework and channel enablement at scale.

Marketing automation, growth as a product, proprietary distribution and re-engagement channels, the definition of growth models that embeds product market fit, the development of growth tools, and AARRR-metrics growth data stores that could enable growth for everyone in the regions in which we operate had to become my core job as a growth leader.

The old-fashioned “marketeers” team no longer existed after this change of focus. Engineers, product managers, designers, data scientist and “t-shaped” (i.e. wide general skills with one or two deep specialisms) marketers working together to build growth as a product became the new growth hackers of the company.

We changed our product mindset, as part of this transformation, to embrace that fact that 50% of our product essentially existed inside our channels, as far as users perceived it. We adapted accordingly.

My growth position then became leading and reiterating on this transformation to growth, making sure we developed the right:

  1. Structure
  2. Culture, talent and mindset
  3. Tools and platforms

I spoke more in detail about these aspects at the Growth Hackers conference in San Diego, should anyone want to learn more.

Slide from “GHConf18 — Moving from a Traditional to a Growth Oriented Organization”

A year and a half after implementing our growth org (Dec. 2016) we got acquired by Ctrip, the number 1 travel agent in China. A new phase is now starting for employee number 32, as well as the rest of the company.

In the second part of this series, I’ll share more about validating product market fit, unifying teams with a North Star Metric, engaging broader teams for company-wide growth, and what’s next for me in my journey. Stay tuned!


From 32 to 1,000+ Employees: My Growth Journey with Skyscanner was originally published in Growth Hackers on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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