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Vertical Travel Search Engine Kayak CEO Steve Hafner (Part 1)

Posted on Saturday, May 31st 2008

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 developmentā€¦ 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.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Vertical Travel Search Engine Kayak CEO Steve Hafner
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Hi Sramana,

i am an avid reader of your blog and it is very informative and analytical. But i have a small question.

why do you publish interviews part by part basis? usually, it becomes to difficult to wait for the following parts of the same interview.


sunil Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 10:22 PM PT

I agree.

One doesn’t want to jump in with an insightful comment and risk looking silly when the next part comes out!

If we knew what each part (in a multi-part series) covered, we could comment on areas that have already been covered.

I don’t know what the anecdotal evidence is regarding the number of comments. Is it less with such multi-part series?

I enjoy your blog and find it very insightful.

Srinagesh Eranki Monday, June 2, 2008 at 12:29 AM PT

Blogs don’t lend themselves to very long posts, hence the longer articles are all published as a series.

You can always hold you comments till the end, or just jump in and ask. I don’t believe there is any such thing as stupid question, unless you are abusing someone.

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Thanks for sharing this with us!

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