I have a dream: Q&A with the CFO of Kiwi.com
A pioneer of virtual interlining, Kiwi.com says that it is still learning but the company’s CFO, Juraj Striezenec has high hopes and ambitious plans for future growth
In 2016, Skypicker, a little known Czech firm rebranded as Kiwi.com. Juraj Striezenec, the of CFO of Kiwi.com, joined the fast-growing company in the same year. Formerly a finanical manager at Y Soft Ventures, and before that auditor at Ernst & Young in the Czech Republic, he was, it appears, in the right place at the right time. Kiwi.com continues to go from strength to strength. In October 2017, the company was ranked as the fastest growing tech firm in central Europe on Deloitte, growing at over 7%. Bootstrapped until now, it recently received an undisclosed strategy investment from General Atlantic, which has backed the likes of Kayak, Airbnb and Uber.
With General Atlantic’s expertise in the tech industry, and particularly the travel sector, as well as its track record of helping disruptive companies achieve global scale, Kiwi.com is now in a good position to take on some of travel’s heavyweights. But, in the same way as Expedia and Booking.com are shifting their business models, Striezenec is clear that the company wants to be way more than ‘just’ an OTA. “We want to serve all of our customers’ needs when it comes to transportation from any A to B in the world; we aim to be a fully autonomous service provider,” he says.
Read on to see where the group is headed.
EFT: What role are partnerships playing? For example, the one with Booking.com. Can you outline the nature of the arrangement? What other partnerships are on the horizon?
JS: Kiwi.com is partnering with Booking.com to offer the best competitive options when it comes to hotel products. We are also offering various services to our customers which they can access through the ‘Manage My Booking’ section. For example, RentalCars.com, a car hire company, ParkVia, which shows you the available parking near airports, VisaHQ, which as the name implies provides information and with Visa requirements and applications, a Tours&Activities offering powered by GetYourGuide, and much more. On the booking page, we also offer services from our partner Blue ribbon bags, which helps our customers with delayed or lost luggage. Partnerships play a key role in developing Kiwi.com and is something we are actively encouraging all the time to improve our customer experience.
EFT: What is in it for Kiwi.com partners?
JS: In 2018, we launched the TEQUILA platform, which enables any partner or entity that wants to start selling travel products, to download our APIs, which in turn enables real-time flight search capabilities and bookings to be listed on their own websites.
EFT: Kiwi.com has been hailed as a pioneer in virtual interlining. Please explain the significance of this, some of the regulatory limitations and how do you see this practice evolving?
JS: Virtual Interlining is a simple idea - making transport providers connect with each other even when the companies don’t work together. The only limitation is that it’s incredibly difficult to put this into practice. In the past, a traveller had two choices - they could either fly with a traditionally interlined full-service carrier or they could spend hours searching every possible airline, every connection and every price to find the best deal. The belief was that this couldn’t be automated because the sums were too complex. This is where our Virtual Interlining algorithm comes in. A combination of incredibly talented developers and a big idea allowed us to combat the limitations of putting Virtual Interlining technology into practice. In seven years, we have gone from being a small start-up to one of the fastest growing companies in the world, and it’s down to our original idea and making it work. We are also still learning and there is a quite a way to go before we envisage the technology being adopted across the sector but it is a very exciting time to be at the forefront of such an innovative practice. To ensure our customers are not affected while we build our network, we offer the Kiwi.com Guarantee on all flights booked through Kiwi.com. The Guarantee protects you from flight delays, flight cancellations and schedule changes.
EFT: Airlines haven’t been always been happy with the practice. Is this changing? How and why?
JS: I believe airlines should have the same mantra as Kiwi.com and be open to better ways to serve their customers. We are seeing a growing number of airlines embrace our concept of Virtual Interlining as well as airports such as Cologne, Milan Bergamo and Stansted, which all presents a big opportunity for Kiwi.com. Our technologies can extend the network further and catchment area for both the airlines and airports, without any cost so there is a great benefit to our partners.
EFT: Your mantra has been use technology to make travel easier and cheaper, for example with Nomad. What other improvements to the Kiwi.com are on the horizon?
JS: The travel market is dynamic with many external factors influencing it on a minute-by-minute basis. Increases in the fuel price or a hurricane in the Caribbean can have massive implications for our business, so I am trying to make sure we are ready for all possible external shocks. It’s all about making travel easier. As an example, our augmented reality feature on the app allows users to ensure their hand luggage is within guidelines of whatever airline they are flying with. It’s a simple case of pointing the camera on the smart device at a travel bag to virtually measure its dimensions.
EFT: Which companies in the industry do you most admire and why?
JS: I admire Ctrip for their ability to significantly grow across the Chinese market in the span of only a couple of years. That is something we aspire to emulate in our own growth over the coming years.
EFT: Make one future prediction about the future of travel that you would love to see materialise.
JS: My dream is to have one app/UI, where I can book all my travel arrangements without the hassle of missing content and the need to have multiple providers in order to resolve the same problem. I have a travel need every day – be that travelling to work or by public transport or one a business trip to London. Currently I have to use multiple providers of different means of transport in different countries. It’s definitely not effective.
I would love to have one app or website, where I can book all global travel arrangements – be it public transport or travelling for business - without the pain of missing any content or information.
EFT: What is Kiwi.com’s single biggest achievement?
JS: Being able to grow from zero to powering more than 100 million flight searches every day and employing over 2,750 people worldwide. Kiwi.com is one of the fastest-growing technology companies in Central Europe and it’s truly exciting to think of where the company is going next, especially in such a competitive market like the travel industry.