A Day in the Life at Kayak
This week we are taking a look behind the scenes at one of the world’s leading travel search engines, Kayak.
Aiming to make online travel better, millions of people in over 30 countries use Kayak every day to find flights, hotels and to organise their travel. Despite rapid growth, Kayak have succeeded in maintaining a startup mentality, with offices in Berlin, the USA, UK, and Switzerland processing more that one billion searches for travel information every year.
1. Could you give us an insight as to what Kayak does and how it got started?
KAYAK is the world’s leading travel search engine. Our website and mobile apps search hundreds of travel sites at once so that travellers have the information they need to make the best decision. KAYAK was launched as a tech company in the US in 2004 and pioneered the category. Today we operate more than 40 sites in 36 countries, with over 450 employees at 8 office locations around the world – Stamford (Global HQ), Cambridge, Concord and Florida in the US, Zurich (European HQ), Berlin and London in Europe as well as an office in Hong Kong. We are tech first before travel and innovation is a priority. More than 65% of the KAYAK team focuses on site technology and innovation to build products and features that will make online travel planning and managing easier and even more seamless.
2. How does technology support your work at Kayak?
As an international company operating offices around the globe and teams working with each other from different locations technology is a key element to make everything run smoothly. Meeting rooms are equipped with Video Conferencing systems so one can see the other colleagues while having a meeting. Alternatives to this are also hangout on skype in small meeting rooms. We also use bluejeans to broadcast large-multi-camera meetings that includes many offices but is also possible with external clients. Our new rooms reservation software ‘Robin’ helps employees to manage room reservations better within their own office base as well as when needed at one of the other locations, where the integrated room information is very useful. We also work with Slack, our internal communications tool, allowing us to bring all our communication together in one place – either via personal or group chats. In short, we have many channels in place for employees to chat and meet, even if they are hundreds of kilometers or continents apart.
3. What is the company culture like at Kayak?
Even though KAYAK is a global tech company we have maintained a start-up culture – enabling employees to make an impact in a fast-paced, dynamic environment. Our business model is highly scalable and cost efficient which has enabled us to stay lean and nimble. Through our flat organisation structure, even junior teammates have access to senior management and we have retained our “part scientist, part cowboy” mentality from our early startup days which is present and can be felt in all KAYAK offices and teams around the world. This unique culture is also fuelling innovation at KAYAK. We are process-averse and meeting phobic. We have so called SWAT teams that are put on high priority projects for a short period of time, avoiding traditional engineering processes. Those will drop their daily responsibilities and focus on an assigned narrow task and well defined KPI. Next to that we also host SWAT weeks, where every employee can be a SWAT team competing for a price defined by a KPI. Frequent social events, organized sport teams, and offices designed for collaboration fuel our company culture. Employee benefits include catered lunch three times per week, an anniversary travel bonus, in-office massage, language classes, yoga, healthy snacks and other perks are found in KAYAK’s offices worldwide. Those who have pets are welcome to bring them along to work. As we focus on giving the world a better way to plan and manage travel, we make sure to enjoy ourselves while doing it. The Berlin office is KAYAK’s largest office and the technology center for us here in Europe. Located in the Postbahnhof, it is based in a truly unique and historic building in an up-and-coming area of the city. The building provides us space to grow; within the last year, we have already taken over a wider area on the upper floor. Any place there is also now occupied. We have made it our here and our cozy office area designed to make our employees comfortable. The office is up-to-date and offers plenty of space and different areas to spend breaks. Almost all employees have a laptop and are free to choose whether they work in the cafeteria or on the terrace at the desk. There are around 140 employees in total working in the Berlin office with 80% in engineering. We have over 40 different nationalities and speak over 20 different languages.
4. How do you help new members of the team settle into their new roles?
It is our main focus that employees feel welcome and comfortable in the office from day one. An assigned buddy will take the new team member on a tour around the office on the first day and will be the main contact during the starting period. There are two onboarding meetings, one with HR focused on personal processes, and one with the managing directors focused on the company’s business and culture. Kitchen area, sports, interest groups and social events are good ways to connect to co-workers.
5. What’s the best thing about working at Kayak?
“Smart and team-oriented people; interesting, successful product; fun office environment.” “I would say our people make KAYAK the best place to work in Berlin. We have a great team consisting of inspiring people. The working environment is extremely flexible and you are not tied to your desk during the work day – we can move around the office and work where we like: for example from the Open kitchen area, couch area or the roof terrace overlooking Berlin. Next to the great office space, we enjoy fantastic employee benefits, including delicious food and snacks, lunch catering, Yoga classes, free massages and monthly social events where the whole office gets together for some fun activities such as a cocktail mixing class or bowling evening.” “KAYAK is a fantastic place to work. There are incredible opportunities for growth and learning and the senior management team is supportive and accommodating, and challenges us to do great work. I’m very happy to be here.” “Everyone that comes to KAYAK is empowered to believe they can make a difference to our product or services. Even more junior employees are encouraged to come up with ideas, and management is generally willing to run with it to see if it will work. That makes the job not only fulfilling but inspiring – you truly feel you are part of the company, not just a cog in the wheel of industry. Regular updates from the CEO/CTO/etc. make you feel invested and involved in the future health of the organization. Also, on a personal side, management is extremely supportive of changes to schedule due to illness, a child’s needs, or any other reason. They are adaptive and understanding.”
6. What makes Berlin a good city for tech companies?
Berlin is the largest city in Germany and thus a hub for many potential employees. With several universities and other educational institutions here, the capital is a hub for talent from around the world with a variety of specializations. This makes Berlin an attractive city for tech companies such as KAYAK. Like no other city in Germany, Berlin has an international flavor and is known as a “place to live and work” for people worldwide and is also attractive when it comes to living costs, which are low when compared to other parts to Germany. All this has made it easy to build the team here in Berlin and allows us to continue to hire the right talent for our team. Berlin is known worldwide to concentrate young, innovative and creative minds.
7. What advice would you give to someone relocating to Berlin?
Germany is a very modern country to live and has of course its own unique culture and Berlin specifically, it is very cosmopolitan. A vibrant city with an art scene and party culture. The city has a special touch to it and there are events happening every day, holding something in store for everyone. When it comes to the Germans itself, you will find that they like to pay with cash rather than card (shops, restaurant, etc.) and they are very honest and direct. When asking people at KAYAK who moved to Berlin from abroad, the first answer is usually that “moving to Berlin was the best decision ever made in my life.” It is key, just as moving to any other place in the world, to stay open-minded and learn a little bit of the local language to get around daily life is definitely also useful, as well as getting a bike. If you are indecisive if this is might be the place for you, visit Berlin first and get around the different areas in the city to get a feel and picture first hand before making a final decision to relocate this this multi-cultural hub in Germany.
8. What industry trends are you most looking forward to?
As a global tech company, innovation is a priority and as such we closely following industry trends that allow us to make the travel management process even more seamless. We believe we have the strongest technology team in the travel industry that is constantly working on improving with new products. At the same time we are aggressively exploring and leveraging natural language processing, artificial intelligence and machine learning to uncover new opportunities for us to improve how we plan and manage travel. As such we offer the most comprehensive travel skill for Alexa (US, UK), Slack app and Facebook Messenger bot (US, DE, UK, AUS, BR, KR). Additionally we are closely following mobile products, and, for example, are a featured provider for Apple Watch.
To see all our current jobs in Berlin and across the globe, take a look at our jobs page!