$1bn web firm Skyscanner commits to Edinburgh

Skyscanner staff in their relaxed working environment. Picture: Neil HannaSkyscanner staff in their relaxed working environment. Picture: Neil Hanna
Skyscanner staff in their relaxed working environment. Picture: Neil Hanna
Scotland’s first ever $1 billion web company has pledged that it will “always” have its HQ based in the Capital where it began ten years ago as a three-person start-up.

Global travel search website Skyscanner released annual financial results yesterday confirming its status as the biggest tech firm north of the Border, with the company valued at $1bn.

Top executives praised Edinburgh’s “world class” universities for providing a steady stream of talented tech graduates, and said the Capital’s quality of life makes it easy to attract staff from elsewhere in the UK.

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Chief financial officer Shane Corstorphine said: “Our base will always be here in Edinburgh, where we have our roots. It’s a fantastic place to be as a tech business. There’s great talent coming through Scotland’s world class universities, including Edinburgh School of Informatics, and it’s a highly attractive city for experienced hires to relocate to also.”

The company has pursued an aggressive growth strategy in the past year, with new online services for booking hotels and hiring cars, expansion through purchases of smaller companies and the opening of six new offices around the world.

Skyscanner now has outposts in Singapore, Beijing, Shenzhen, Miami, Barcelona, Sofia and Budapest, but has promised that it will be keeping its head office in Edinburgh, where the firm began. Revenues at the firm in 2014 were up 42 per cent, bringing income to £93m.

Graham Birse, director of the Edinburgh Institute at Napier University, said the fact that Skyscanner was committed to Edinburgh was testament to the positive business environment in the city.

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He said: “It’s great news that Skyscanner has grown beyond the start-up phase, when it was a fantastic idea with an untested strategy, to become a significant company employing large numbers on a global scale.

“Given their global horizon, they could locate anywhere. It’s a real success story and there are too few of those in Scotland.”

Skyscanner is the brainchild of software developer Gareth Williams, who designed his own software to search multiple airline websites for the best fares after becoming frustrated at visiting each one individually whenever he wanted to visit his brother in France. The first office opened in Edinburgh in 2004. The firm now has more than 600 staff across the globe.

Mr Williams said: “With over 80 per cent of visitors to Skyscanner coming from outside our home market, a focus on delivering to the different needs of travellers wherever they are in the world will remain central to everything we do.

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“Despite our progress, we still see ourselves as being in the early stages of our development. If we can really change the way that we solve the questions that travellers need to answer, then we will genuinely be able to achieve significant impact in online travel globally.”

App chief in Dragons’ Den snub

A web entrepreneur ventured in the Dragons’ Den but left empty handed after turning down £75,000 because the potential investor wanted too big a share in his company.

Cally Russell, 27, founder and chief executive of mobile shopping app Mallzee, said “no thanks” to veteran of the BBC investment reality programme Peter Jones after the £475 million businessman asked for 20 per cent of the firm in exchange for his cash.

Mr Russell’s start-up, which turns shopping for clothes into a social experience with a swipe function similar to dating app Tinder, has brushed off the setback on Sunday night’s programme by signing a new deal with Samsung that will help the app reach more users.

Edinburgh-based Mr Russell said: “It felt awful to turn down the money in Dragons’ Den but I simply couldn’t undervalue the business like that.”