I have written endlessly about the verticalization of the web, and the rise of vertical search engines, vertical ad networks, and the threat they pose to Google. I have also featured Kayak in the Deal Radar series earlier, and here, I speak with their CEO for a comprehensive discussion on Kayak’s strategy.
SM: Steve, I would like to start with your personal background. Can you give me some details about where you grew up and how you got into all of this?
SH: I’m originally from Austin Texas although I have lived all over. I was born in Lima, Peru. My mother is Swedish and we moved around a lot. I have lived in Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Texas, Sweden and ultimately went to college in New Hampshire. I got my MBA at Northwestern. I went down the consulting path and worked for a couple of consulting companies. I then helped start Orbitz.
SM: How did you end up starting Orbitz? What was going on in the market that captured your interest?
SH: It was an interesting time. It was post-bust and I had been working for BCG for 4 years. I was being billed as an e-commerce expert yet I did not know much about e-commerce at the time, although that did not stop us from overcharging for my services. We had a couple of clients in Delta Airlines and United Airlines who wanted to create a competitor to Expedia. They retained BCG for an initial 60 day period to help them think through the strategy and the business case. I was sufficiently impressed by the strategy that I left BCG to help start it.
SM: How many years did you spend at Orbitz and what were the nuggets from those years?
SH: I was there from inception in 1999 until two weeks after the IPO in September 2003. While I was there I led business development, advertising, marketing and product development… basically everything that had to do with the consumer website except for the customer service and the engineering of the code.
I saw a company start from a few PowerPoint pages and grow to the point that when I left it was booking $4B a year in tickets and hotel rooms. It was a great experience. It was a wild ride.