The Big Profile: Mark Logan, Skyscanner (2022)

Chief operating officer of Skyscanner Mark Logan loves helping to grow companies.

As a young man he swapped the comparative security of working with telecom giant BT to join fledgling software firm Atlantech which then had just five people.

By the time it was sold to Cisco for £180m in 2000 it had 180 people.

He then joined Atlantech CEO David Sibbald at start-up Sumerian, which grew to 90 employees before he departed.

Now at Edinburgh-headquartered travel search engine company Skyscanner, employee numbers have soared from less than 100 to over 600 in offices around the world since he joined.

Last year Skyscanner’s revenues rocketed 42 per cent to £93m, with a 77 per cent increase in mobile visitors globally.

Its website, which is available in 30 languages, has over 35 million unique visitors and over 35 million people have downloaded its app.

Skyscanner is undoubtedly one of the most successful business stories in Scotland in recent years. Logan and chief executive Gareth Williams are members of the new generation of executives heavily influenced by Silicon Valley and their management style reflects that.

“I spent many months working in the Silicon Valley and that was when I started to strengthen my understanding of what it takes to be successful in a software organisation,” says Logan.

“The level of ambition when you are there is quite extraordinary.

“You never come back from that experience the way you go out to it.”

Last year he was named Director of the Year by the Institute of Directors Scotland, who commended in particular his ‘transformational leadership’.

Logan has come a long way from his roots in Clydebank where.

His father left school at 14 and worked in the shipyards but eventually put himself through university.

“He had an absolute love of all things engineering so he gave me a real interest in this subject from a very early age,” says Logan.

“We were wiring circuits and doing all sorts of interesting stuff from childhood.

“My mother, who was a primary school teacher, had a great love of literature so she instilled that in me too.

“The fusion of both, I think, equips you well for a job like this.

“Communication and engineering is what we are all about here.”

Logan went to Glasgow University and studied electronic systems and micro processor engineering and while doing that he discovered he was really interested in software so he graduated with a focus on that.

He then joined BT and worked in its Glasgow research and development centre for three years.

Then one day he saw a poorly typeset advert for a very small start-up company in Cumbernauld.

“I was very attracted to the idea of joining this very early-stage start-up so we could build the really important stuff that would make a difference in the world,” he says.

“We went on a really exciting journey.”

Atlantech was founded when broadband to the home was still fantasy but the technology was starting to emerge.

(Video) Meta travel reboot: Trip Advisor, Wego, Skyscanner, Kayak

“We were one of the early-stage companies experimenting with that technology,” he says.

“We were finding out how telecoms companies and network providers could manage a vast network of equipment.

“Prior to Atlantech if you bought software to manage your network or fault find it could manage maybe a couple of thousand devices and now we were talking about networks of tens of millions.

“As far as I am aware Atlantech’s technology is still being used in certain applications.

“Clearly that was some time ago now and it has probably been updated a few times.”

Logan stayed with Cisco as software development director for a couple of years then left to start Sumerian with Sibbald.

Sumerian was a big data company before big data was a term.

“We would go to customers like HBOS and RBS and other companies of that scale and securely take all their infrastructure data indicating how their systems were running and we would model those into end-to-end views of their major business applications.

“We could then look at if there was an avian flu outbreak would the telecom capacity support people working at home.

“Or if there is a mortgage promotion is this application going to be able to handle the extra phone calls coming to the call centre?

“So we could do very powerful ‘what if’ modelling and we did a lot of clever, interesting things, and the business continues today doing similar types of things.”

Logan later rejoined Cisco in a different capacity and was very happy there but got to know Williams through the Scottish tech community.

“We got talking and I was telling Gareth about some of the things I wish I had done differently.

“You make a lot of mistakes every time through a business and you learn more each time.

“I believe you can learn an awful lot from other people’s mistakes and Gareth was very much of that mind too.

“Gareth has always had a very strong vision for Skyscanner.

“When it was a 30-person company he would tell people this could be a business worth £1bn and people probably thought he was dreaming.

“But that vision has driven the business to where we are now.

“We are careful never to be complacent about it though.

“One thing Gareth is very good at, amongst many things, is knowing when he needs to bring in extra help to get through the next growth point.

“Businesses grow well then suddenly hit an inflection point where you are still putting the effort – people and money – into the business but the corresponding growth stops for a while.

“Those are points where the business has reached a certain size and what used to work for you now works against you.

“You have to get through those inflection points by changing almost everything, and that’s hard to accept and execute on.

“So, in anticipation of those points, Gareth started to build a team that could help him take the business to the next stage of growth and that is when he asked me to join and help him do that.”

Logan joined Skyscanner three years ago, essentially acting as second-in-command and focusing on running the business on a day-to-day basis while Williams predominantly focused on technical strategy and vision for the business.

(Video) Coping with acute and chronic stress as a startup founder CEO

Williams, who was born in Norwich, studied mathematics and computing at Manchester University after working as an IT trainer and spending ten years as an independent IT contractor.

He was a very good skier and was regularly travelling to Europe to ski but found it very cumbersome to search different budget airlines and find flights that worked.

Logan says Williams created a spreadsheet that could essentially talk to these airline websites and provide him in one page the options for flights.

“It was a very simple thing at that stage but very powerful,” says Logan.

“With a couple of close friends who were software people they started to develop the idea of this as a potential product.

“But there was no way to monetise that at the time.

“There was nobody in the market saying we need this. But Gareth had the vision that if he found it useful eventually other people would too.”

Williams moved to Scotland in 2004 to marry his fiancé, Lisa, and set up the business in Edinburgh. He and co-founders Barry Smith and Bonamy Grimes created a website and slowly started to gain users. The first month’s revenue was £45.

“They funded the business by Gareth coding day and night and the other two founders working as contractors and sharing salaries between the three of them, which was quite a novel, effective way of doing it.

“You can imagine the belief required to make those sacrifices.

“The term ‘metasearch’, which didn’t exist then, is now well established – it is a search engine that searches other search sites.

“Because it was a very early mover in what is a very complex search problem, Skyscanner was able to establish itself in people’s consciousness and largely grew through word of mouth because people liked the product.”

Today Smith is a board member and Grimes is no longer involved in the business, though he remains a major shareholder.

Logan says Skyscanner is almost unique among internet tech companies as most that have reached its scale and revenues have been funded to the tune of £100m or more.

“Skyscanner has only had £2.5m of investment and that came in 2007 thanks to Scottish Equity Partners, who are still on our board and still are our major investor.”

In 2013 US-based Sequoia Capital bought an undisclosed stake in Skyscanner which valued the Edinburgh business at £500m.

Sequoia is a very famous Silicon Valley investor which put money into Google, Linkedin, Facebook, Cisco and Apple when they were very small companies.

But Logan says Skyscanner did not want money from Sequoia – it wanted access to its expertise, experience and connections.

“We didn’t take money into the business as part of that investment.

“Sequoia purchased existing shares from existing shareholders,” says Logan.

Sequoia chairman Michael Moritz is now on Skyscanner’s board.

“We fund pretty much everything we do, including acquisitions and other activities, from our profitability, which isn’t to say we wouldn’t consider in the future taking further investment,” says Logan.

“But we generally run the business with an ethos that if you fund what you do from what you earn you tend to make better choices.

“There is a technology decision that was made a long time ago which has been very powerful. “Again, this is an example of the vision Gareth brings.

“We built our own data platform and we directly connect to approximately 1000 partners.

(Video) Առողջապահության բլոկի պատասխանատուները զբաղված են առողջաոչնչացմամբ. Գրիգոր Գրիգորյան

“It’s harder to do but it’s better.

“The difference you almost always see with competitors is they don’t do that.

“They take inventory from third party pricing systems and those tend to be limited relative to the coverage Skyscanner can bring and also more expensive as there are fees to pay for accessing that data; we don’t have that problem.”

Logan says the price customers pay is exactly the same price they would get if they went to the airline directly.

“We don’t add any commission, which is something not everyone is aware of; people often think there must be a catch.”

“The way we make our revenues is we receive a small referral fee from our partners downstream for bringing customers to them.

“Our philosophy is really very simple. We don’t favour any partners.

“It would be very tempting to favour those who pay us more but we just have an ethos that in the long term customers of our service need to be able to trust us and if they trust us they will continue to use us.

“So we don’t do any fancy price manipulation or ranking based on favourites.

“We simply show the cheapest prices for the routes customers ask for.

“And if a customer clicks on one of the options we present that takes the customer through to our partner and the partner pays us a small referral fee.

“That is a win-win because it is a lot cheaper for an airline to receive customers through Skyscanner than it is to advertise on television or go through legacy flight distribution systems.

“They are able to maintain the same price to the user and make more profit and also pay us a referral fee at the same time.”

Over the years Skyscanner has made four acquisitions.

“Going back several years we acquired a company called Zoombu,” says Logan.

“It was very small and we were very small as well.

“It largely brought us travel talent.

“So our chief technology officer was one of the co-founders of that company.

“We tend to bring the people who lead the acquisitions into very senior positions because they are kindred spirits.

“They understand what it means to start a tech company and they fit very well into the leadership team.

“More recently we have been a lot more active in acquisitions, although we are very careful with who we acquire.

“Our approach is that we never acquire to remove a competitor.

“We never acquire for market share. We only acquire for two things. One is the technology. And the other is the people.

“And if we don’t get both of those things right we don’t make the acquisition.”

In 2013 it acquired Spanish-based hotels comparison metasearch engine Fogg.

(Video) Ministerial Statement: Transforming Scotland’s Tech Sector - 19 April 2022

“We made the acquisition because there were some really smart guys there,” says Logan.

“Our chief product officer is one of Fogg’s co-founders.

“We acquired technology we believe is part of the next generation of search products and we are going to be building interesting services off that as we go through this year.”

Last year it bought Chinese metasearch engine Youbibi.

“Our view was that we could not build a product that was compelling to Chinese consumers from Europe,” says Logan.

“We really had to be there understanding the nuances of how people wanted to interact digitally and how they wanted to travel.

“So Youbibi was an acquisition which gave us a very strong team of software engineers.”

Last October it bought Budapest-based mobile application developer Distinction.

Logan says it was in recognition of the fact the world is very rapidly moving to mobile as the primary platform that people want to interact with.

“More and more people want to carry out their business on their mobile phone because it is a much more powerful device.

It has location awareness. It is private. It has a camera on it. You can take it with you.

So people want to research their travel options and interact with their phone when they are on their trip.”

Skyscanner now has nine offices.

It has regional sales and marketing hubs in Miami, Edinburgh, Singapore and Beijing as well as software development centres at various locations including Barcelona, Sofia, Budapest, Shenzhen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is the company’s largest office with over 300 people.

Logan says there is a lot of camaraderie in the digital industry even amongst competitors.

“Software engineering has become a collaboration in many respects.

Linux was built by hundreds of thousands of engineers who never met but wanted to collaborate.

“We are very active in the community doing that.

“We mentor companies and regularly meet up in tech talk forums.

“We host a lot of events to share ideas and we think that is for the absolute good of everybody in the short and medium term.

“My hope is that at some point in the future some of our people leave Skyscanner and start their own businesses and create ten times the jobs we could ever create on our own.

“Why? Because it is good for Skyscanner in the long term too, and we want to be here for the long term.

“And it is good for the Scottish and European tech sector.”

Videos

1. MrBEAST, NINJA, LUDWIG, TOM DWAN, PHIL HELLMUTH, xQc, ALEX BOTEZ!! Biggest Event in Poker History!!!
(Hustler Casino Live)
2. Oliver Tree Crashes The World’s Biggest Scooter
(Oliver Tree)
3. Lean Agile Meetup: Laz Allen - Tales of a Theory of Constraints Apprentice
(Product Forge)
4. Economy and Fair Work Committee - 10 November 2021
(The Scottish Parliament)
5. The Spanish Flu: The Greatest Pandemic of the 20th Century
(Biographics)
6. Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary: Best Movie Of All Time, Video Archives & More
(ReelBlend Podcast)

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Rubie Ullrich

Last Updated: 10/19/2022

Views: 5783

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rubie Ullrich

Birthday: 1998-02-02

Address: 743 Stoltenberg Center, Genovevaville, NJ 59925-3119

Phone: +2202978377583

Job: Administration Engineer

Hobby: Surfing, Sailing, Listening to music, Web surfing, Kitesurfing, Geocaching, Backpacking

Introduction: My name is Rubie Ullrich, I am a enthusiastic, perfect, tender, vivacious, talented, famous, delightful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.