Q&A with Janet Balneaves (Growth Director, Skyscanner)

You might have the best products or services in the world but if no-one knows about them then you’ll never be able to reach all the customers or clients you want to! One company that has this nailed is Edinburgh-based tech giant Skyscanner which was sold for £1.4bn to Ctrip last year and we’re delighted to have their Growth Director Janet Balneaves speaking at ‘Newcastle Scaleup Summit‘ on 23 November.

Janet Balneaves (Growth Director, Skyscanner)

Hi Janet, can you please explain your role at Skyscanner & how you got there?

My current role is Growth Director where I work in our ‘Content Engine’. This involved working with a set of squads (teams) to produce and distribute relevant, personalised and localised content in various channels for those who are planning their next trip or simply looking for inspiration.

My role includes ensuring we have a solid vision on where we are aiming for in the short and long term and ensuring everyone understands the problem we are trying to solve. In doing so, people and squads are able to work autonomously in line with our current goal.

Skyscanner has been around since 2003 but has seen huge growth in recent years. How did that happen & why?

Failing fast and learning. It’s said that 90% of our ideas are bad, in that they don’t lead to the success you think they will. In 2014, we made a move in the organisation to break down our large code bases and large teams from large monoliths with long release cycles to small teams (squads) that have the means to experiment, iterate and fail at pace. Our leading metrics internally have a focus on how many experiments we are running per month.

In 2015, we abandoned conventional wisdom and pivoted away from our traditional Marketing, PR and Social Media functions to a group of Growth-focused tribes. This new structure meant we could work closely with our product teams and operate within a steady release cycle as opposed to long drawn out marketing campaigns after releases. This new structure meant these teams could be more impactful and work in an organisation that was now experimenting at pace which also meant embracing a fail forward culture.

The net effect of this enables us to constantly evolve our product for both traveller and partner needs. This means we are never ‘done’ as both the landscape and traveller and partner needs are constantly evolving. We need to be able to constantly evolve to continue to be as successful in the future as we are now.

How important is team structure in achieving success in business?

Pivotal – the importance of ensuring new teams have time and space to gel together as well should never be underestimated or skipped over. A team needs time to get through the ‘forming, storming and norming’ stages to become a truly high performing team. Everything we do is a collaboration effort. A high performing team is a privilege and a joy to see and they can achieve what many will previously said is impossible.

What are you most looking forward to about Newcastle Scaleup Summit?

I love to hear and learn what other companies are doing, in particular different industries and context. There is always something new to learn from people regardless of their scale.

What one bit of advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Learning never stops. I was a bit complacent when I left university and wasn’t that proactive in terms of my learning. In recent years, I have developed a new thirst for learning. I like to read a lot and although there is an overwhelming amount you could read online I find that it often lacks depth. I like to ensure I read 1-2 books a month. (To follow how we’re working towards hyper-growth, check out our Skyscanner Growth blog too).

Find out more

To learn more about this topic and to hear Janet speak, book your ticket for Newcastle Scaleup Summit on 23rd November by clicking on the button below:



Massive thanks to Justin Souter (Souter Consulting Ltd) for recommending Janet to us after meeting her at Lean Conference in San Francisco in 2016 and for doing this fantastic podcast interview with her:

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