Kayak.com has become the most popular Web 2.0 travel site with 35 million visits a month, $3.5 billion in annual travel sales, and $140 million in revenue according to Fast Company. That’s quite impressive for a company that only employs about 150 people versus the competition who employ in the thousands. So how does this get done? One word— efficiency.
Last week, I attended a talk, hosted by Graduate Women at MIT, entitled, “Lifelong technology entrepreneur Paul English shares secrets to moving mountains while working a balanced 40-hour week.” Going into the auditorium I was preparing to hear the same corporate spiel read from the same overloaded PowerPoint. But Paul’s talk was quite the contrary. He gave valuable insight on the workings of Kayak as well as tips on how he maintains a healthy work-life balance.
On an average day, Paul does yoga, goes to the office, where he is quickly faced with tons of e-mails, meetings, actual work-work, and then goes home to make dinner for his family. Needless to say, Paul is a busy guy.
Yet he manages this work–life balance quite uniquely – he is all about having a 40-hour work week. This means being efficient and getting rid of the little things we do on a daily basis that simply wastes time. Paul says he receives 400-500 emails a day. He combats this inundation of emails by doing one of four things: delete, do, delegate, or defer. Never read an email and then leave it for later, scanning your emails wastes time, says Paul. When you get an email, act on it with one of those four actions. Secondly, no TV! Paul says not watching TV can save on average two hours a day to do things that are more fulfilling and bring more value to your life.
Paul’s passion for efficiency does not end with his own life. He makes sure to run a tight ship with his employees as well. If he sees his employees working longer than 40 hours or being unproductive, he calls them out on it, and helps them find ways to maximize their work time and become more efficient. He is not a fan of extended meetings or of meetings that encompass more than the key people needed to attend— it takes away from production. Furthermore, he believes in pushing power down the organizational ladder so everyone feels empowered to make decisions. He feels it’s more productive to ask forgiveness and take risks than ask permission and potentially waste time and opportunity.
At Kayak, Paul’s desk is right alongside the rest of his employees. Sharing of ideas and giving feedback are highly encouraged. If you ever have a customer service issue with Kayak.com, your phone calls and emails are answered by either Paul himself or one of the engineers. So why would an engineer that gets paid $150k a year answer customer service calls? The genius behind this personal customer service touch is A) providing great customer service and B) maximizing customer usability. “If you make the engineers answer e-mails and phone calls from the customers, the second or third time they get the same question, they’ll actually stop what they’re doing and fix the code. Then we don’t have those questions anymore,” says Paul.
Sounds pretty hard core, but Kayak.com is beating out its competition big time and with less than half the staffing. Plus it’s not all work and no play. The Kayak team is equipped with a kegerator, billiards and a promise from their CTO that kayak.com is the best company they will ever work for. As for Paul, who manages to spend quality time with his kids, run a top-tier travel site, work out, meditate, read, participate in about half a dozen non-profits, provide entrepreneurial coaching, and still have time for dating … well, I think we should all take some pointers.
What are your efficiency secrets?