Learning from leaders


ur biggest challenge is that we’re not the first entrants into international travel markets. There are KAYAK copycats in almost all of them.

"A big part of [our group] is circulating people through offices and functions so they grow individually."

Thankfully, most of them have inferior products and lack the financial wherewithal to invest in consumer marketing. KAYAK shows more flight, hotel and rental car options than anyone else. We’re hopeful that we can educate people over time to use KAYAK instead of smaller local competitors.

The Priceline Group acquired KAYAK in November 2012, but we’re still independently run, which is very important to our entrepreneurial culture and innovation velocity. Not much has changed there. But it has been wonderful for us to learn from such a successful, world-class company. We’re better now at search engine marketing, search engine optimization, language translation and localization.

The Priceline Group operates in almost every country worldwide and is usually the category leader. They have helped us prioritize which markets to enter, how to operate there and what to expect from our marketing efforts. When we were acquired, we were in 17 markets; now, we’re in 43. KAYAK’s website and mobile apps are currently available in more than 30 languages, and each year, we process more than 1 billion queries per month for travel information. We’re prospering.

As we continue our expansion, it is a challenge to maintain excitement and freshness despite being 10 years old. A big part of that is circulating people through offices and functions so they grow individually. Constantly bringing in new talent is another way we stay fresh. Our college internship programs place 20-25 people in our offices each semester. It keeps us current on new apps and websites, and how younger people are interacting with their various devices.

We are big believers in sustainable, profitable growth. It’s simply the best way to create a viable business in the long term. As a result, we built our company, our human resources and our technology platforms for scale.

NEXT: Cleaning up »


Steve Hafner ’97
CEO and Co-founder, KAYAK.com

Steve Hafner has led travel search engine KAYAK.com from its inception in 2003 to a $2.1 billion acquisition in 2012 by The Priceline Group. As the company continues to expand internationally, Hafner talks about keeping a mobile travel app fresh after 45 million downloads.