Skyscanner, a travel search engine, is being acquired for a whopping £1.4 billion.
It’s a big exit for the Scottish company, which is selling itself to Chinese company Ctrip.com — reportedly the biggest European travel acquisition ever.
It was founded in 2003, born out of cofounder Gareth Williams’ frustrations trying to find the cheapest flights and travel deals. He built a spreadsheet with friends Barry Smith and Bonamy Grimes, which turned into a search engine that compares the costs of flights across various airlines.
It got a £2.5 million venture capital injection from Scottish Capital Partners in 2007 — giving the firm 40% of its equity in return. It had annual revenues at the time of less than £1 million.
In 2012, it opened its first office in China as part of its international expansion — four years before it would ultimately sell itself to a Chinese company. It operates in the country using the name Tianxun (“scan the skies”), and today it has offices in Beijing and Shenzhen.
It expanded into the US in 2013, launching its office in Miami. At the time, the BBC reported, it has annual revenues of £33 million.
Also that year, Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia invested an undisclosed sum, which valued Skyscanner at $800 million (£640 million).
In 2014, it consolidated its position in China, acquiring Youbibi — a local rival that offered a meta-search tool focused on travel, and subsequently rolling it into an all-in-one app.
In the January of 2016, it raised £128 million in venture capital from a number of investors, at a reported valuation of $1.6 billion (£1.29 billion at today’s exchange rate) — making it a rare British “unicorn,” a startup valued at more than $1 billion.
The company had been angling for either an IPO in 2017 or a sale, ultimately opting for a sale to Ctrip. Launched in 1999, Ctrip is China’s biggest online travel company. Its shares are traded publicly, and jumped more than 9% on the news.
In a video statement, Williams said Skyscanner will retain “operational independence.”
Today, it has 60 million monthly users. It continues to be headquartered in Edinburgh, is available in 30 languages, and has 10 offices around the world, including Barcelona, Miami, Singapore, and Sofia. It employs more than 700 people. It reportedly has annual revenues of around than £100 million.
And it doesn’t just offer flights — it also lets users compare hotel and car hire prices, from 1,200 partners.
The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.