November 13, 2020

Skyscanner: How a simple idea became a global tech sensation

With a talented, technology-savvy workforce and a real push for data-driven education, Scotland has become a hub for innovative, web orientated companies.

Leading global travel search site, Skyscanner, was created in 2003 by co-founders and University friends Gareth Williams, Bonamy Grimes and Barry Smith. The concept arose through Williams’ personal frustration of having to spend hours scouring the internet for affordable flights. The solution? To create unique proprietary technology that connects people directly to everything the travel industry has to offer, with a quick tap of the mouse. Skyscanner was born with one simple aim:

“to inspire travellers around the world and make travel search as easy as possible through our world-class technology”

With a desire to turn their dream into reality, the pioneering entrepreneurs required skilled web developers with a drive for creativity and innovation. They chose to locate in Edinburgh – Scotland’s historical yet forward-driven capital, now set to be the “data capital of Europe”. In a 2015 interview, Gareth Williams (pictured), Co-founder and Chairperson, discussed the benefits of locating in Scotland and why Edinburgh was the perfect place to build their digital empire:

We have a world-class informatics computer science department on our doorstep. There are around eight high quality universities that excel in computing and the digital sector, in the central belt of Scotland. That provides a rich source of people who have the right skills for a web company like Skyscanner.

There’s also quite a strong start-up community in Edinburgh; because it’s not Silicon Valley, or London or Berlin, the community here is more supportive of each other. There are several successful companies to have emerged from that community: FanDuelFreeAgentCranewareAvaloqAridihaBlipfotoTechcube and Cloudsoft being a few examples.

From an idea to a fully-fledged business, Skyscanner has gone from strength to strength since beginning its journey in Scotland. By 2016, the company had landed unicorn status, positioning itself globally as the go-to platform for travel comparison. Following on from this, Skyscanner was acquired by leading Chinese online travel agent, CTrip.

With offices in 11 cities including Beijing, Miami and Singapore as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh, Skyscanner have branched out to multiple locations worldwide. However, as Williams explained:

“As Skyscanner’s birthplace, Edinburgh will always be special to us.”

The Scottish tech industry is constantly progressing, and Edinburgh is well-placed to thrive as a tech hub due to the ripple effect of global success stories such as travel giant Skyscanner. Their story is a great example of Scotland’s potential surrounding digital innovation and as the soon-to-be data capital of Europe, Edinburgh provides endless opportunity for more companies to follow in their footsteps.