Finance Monthly’s very special CFO Insight feature prides itself on examining the practice and background of Shane Corstorphine – Chief Financial Officer at Skyscanner, a leading travel search site comparing flights, hotels and car hire. Shane most recently led the global-metasearch platform through a very large fundraising round of $192m, welcoming five new investment partners to the business, which was recognised at the Digital Masters Awards in June. The awards were organised by The Up Group, Europe’s leading digital executive search and networking firm, as a celebration of all the world-class executives leading European Tech companies to global success. Shane was nominated for the Excellence in Finance category, in which he came runner up (Highly commended). Among the reasons for Shane’s nomination is the fact that he is seen as a business leader rather than a traditional Chief Financial Officer, while his overview of the development of the organisation as a whole has meant direct results for the wider business, with gross bookings increasing 49% since last year to $11.2bn.
These days, Shane combines his role as CFO with leading the company’s Americas growth from Skyscanner’s sunny Miami office where he finds the weather to be ‘a definite perk’.
How did your career path lead you to your current role?
After university I qualified as a Chartered Accountant with PwC, but having always been attracted to the start-up world, I started my own online business where I raised £250k seed equity. I later sold the business and returned to corporate roles, working in Leveraged Finance at RBS and as a Director of Performance and Execution at Barclays. Skyscanner combines the best of both those worlds. I joined the team here in April 2012 and have seen the business grow from less than 150 people to a team of 770 across ten global offices. As such, it has been a real journey.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you? What are some of the day-to-day challenges of working for one of the UK’s fastest growing tech businesses?
No day is the same, though there are a few commonalities. Skyscanner is a fast paced, innovative business which is very agile. Every day brings interesting challenges and we’re constantly working to remain at the forefront of the travel technology industry. I could spend my morning looking at growth figures for the Americas region or dialing in to calls with the UK or Asian offices, and the afternoon speaking with our tech teams on the impact of new products, such as our recently launched Facebook Messenger bot. The biggest challenge is getting the balance between risk and growth right. To maintain our velocity we need to be able to make hundreds of rapid decisions every week. My job is to create the framework to enable others to make those decisions quickly and autonomously whilst preserving the company from excessive risk.
What motivates you most about working within the web-tech sector?
The speed of change and the broadly level playing field make it a super exciting place to work. For four years now we’ve been weaving through the feet of internet giants. With only 200 people we could compete for market share against companies with 100x as many people. That’s an exciting place to operate – every day we fight to lift the bar a little higher. I’m also privileged to work with super bright people, working on some mind-bending challenges. That’s both fun and rewarding.
What goals did you arrive with as a CFO of Skyscanner?
My goal was (and still is) to help drive accelerated growth for the business as well as increasing revenue and securing, then building on, the £2.5m first round funding we received from Scottish Equity partners in 2008. Excitingly, we’ve caught the attention of other major investors too, including the likes of Sequioa’s Michael Moritz, who named us ‘one of the best technology companies ever to come out of Europe’.
I’m pleased to say that we’ve seen seven years’ consecutive double digit growth in that period, and our revenue has grown eight-fold in the past five years. We’ve also diversified our revenue from flights to car hire, hotels and a B2B arm, as well as increasing our geographical reach through organic growth and acquisitions such as that of Chinese metasearch Youbibi and a joint venture with Yahoo!Japan.
I think the primary goal though was to help Skyscanner to scale whilst preserving its entrepreneurial start-up culture; creating a startup at scale. This is never easy for any high-growth organisation as you need to embed processes and rigour whilst maintaining fleet of foot and a fail fast mentality.
In your opinion, what might the future of financial directors look like in the upcoming years?
I think there is a wonderful evolution happening to the role of CFO, which makes it one of the most exciting roles to have within a company. I’d split the causes for the shift down to progress in globalization and data understanding. Automation and software is allowing some of the nuts and bolts such as core accounting to take up less time allowing greater focus on strategic and value adding areas around global expansion and data-led decision making. FP&A was the beginning of this and now it’s not unusual for CFOs to have teams of data scientists supporting their thirst for knowledge and opportunity. This is coupled with a flatter world where global partnerships and M&A becoming increasingly simple and commonplace. In the last four years, we’ve carried out three acquisitions and a joint venture, all abroad. We’ve also opened eight more offices, six of which were overseas. When you couple these shifts with modern agile working methodologies, it really is possible to have major strategic impact on a super regular basis.
Liverpool John Lennon Airport has recently built and launched a website-based flight search service using the Skyscanner API, which connects passengers to Skyscanner’s flight comparison data –why do more airports need to consider incorporating Skyscanner flight search engine into its websites?
Airport websites provide key information to travellers who are already aware of which city they want to travel to or from. By adding travel data from Skyscanner’s powerful APIs and White Label solutions, passengers are able to access the most comprehensive range of flights prices and routes available globally, helping airport passengers find the lowest fares on journeys to and from their chosen destination. For airports, adding a flight search tool from the leading global travel search engine helps them to enhance their customers’ onsite experience of their websites and creates a simple and accessible travel planning solution. As well as Liverpool, we also power the travel search for the likes of Dublin Airport, Naples Airport and Edinburgh Airport.