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Building Booking.com: Lessons In Culture, Innovation, And Global Growth from Behind The Scenes

with Lou Zameryka

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Booking.com is one of the most powerful companies in travel and hospitality today, and today, we’re learning the inside story of how it got started and grew to the industry leader it is today. It’s a case study with lessons for all of us - wherever we are in the hospitality and travel ecosystem.

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Building Booking.com: Lessons In Culture, Innovation, And Global Growth from Behind The Scenes

with Lou Zameryka

Lou Zameryka was an early employee and eventual Director of Global Accounts for Booking.com, where he led the efforts engaging with the world's biggest hotel companies - and today, he shares the fascinating story of Booking's growth and evolution.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Solve painful problemns

The problem Booking was solving resonated early on with Lou.

Back then, there was no way for you to compare hotels on the internet, and where you could then purchase the hotel using an agency model. You could go to all of the other OTAs, but you always had to prepay at time of booking. Booking was an agency model. You would work with a travel agent, but you were directing yourself. So I recognized as a young traveler myself, this was the first time I could go on a website, compare a bunch of things, book them, and not have to beg my friends to give me the money back for a trip we're taking nine months from now - and not to have all that money tied up for nine months while waiting. So I thought, wow, that's pretty useful.

Look for tailwinds - and remove friction

Booking had some big tailwinds behind its growth, but so did other OTAs. So why did they win? According to Lou, it was all about removing the friction to go faster.

Looking for a tailwind is always really important. And then your job, once you find one of those, is to remove as much friction as possible from ahead of it. That could be excellent operations, that could be putting the right pieces in place, that could be anything that you identify as friction from getting the outcome of what that tailwind is attempting to do and getting into the momentum of the business.

Create a culture of experimentation

The only way to create something radically innovative that has no precedent is to develop a culture of experimentation, Lou said.

Booking became really well-known our experimentation culture. We were running a thousand A/B experiments a day. Anybody in engineering or development could actually put those experiments live. They could take them off if the data was proving that it was not working.

We were a big test and learn culture. And it was so important to us because we were in a spot that none of us had been in. So it's not just that this agency model of an OTA was new, it was also that everybody was really young. These were all kind of new positions for most of us. So we had to really test and learn everything. Because there wasn't much of a bag of tricks we could show up at at 25, 26 years old and say, in all our past experience doing this, it always works like this.

So in our culture, it was important to embed that testing and learning and that data centricity. We led with understanding the data so that we can make decisions. And that is super important because that allows you to not get into situations that many businesses find themselves in, where it's the highest paid person's opinion is what matters, the CEO's opinion is what matters.

Imagine you're the CEO of a culture that has been formed and agreed to, that we're data-centric and we test and learn. You can't just go, I'm the CEO and that's the way it goes, because people would then wonder about this inconsistency and say, no, but our culture is this and you're the leader of the culture. Why would it be so that our leader would tell us this?

So this culture allowed us to have a lot of freedom at all levels and create a really non-hierarchical company, which led to a lot of speed, a lot of innovation, a lot of comfortableness being very curious in finding new opportunities.

Listen to our full conversation here now, which covers everything from the company’s early days and decisions to building confidence to creating partnerships to more insights on building a high-performance culture.

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