Skift Take

If only more startup founders would realize this: As Rich Barton says, most startups don't know how to execute on their visions. That is the big difference maker. Talk and ideas are cheap but execution and having the team to carry it through is what it's all about.

On September 27 to 28, nearly 1,000 of the travel industry’s brightest and best will gather in New York City for the third annual Skift Global Forum, the largest creative business gathering in the global travel industry. In only two short years it has become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED talks of travel.”

This year’s event at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center will feature speakers including the CEOs of Marriott International, Carnival Corp., Expedia Inc., TripAdvisor, Etihad Aviation Group, Club Med, and many more.

Over the next few weeks we will feature articles and insights from some of the speakers touching on big-picture issues that begin in travel, but also impact businesses and industries beyond the sector.


Rich Barton founded Expedia within Microsoft in 1996 and, as detailed in Skift’s Definitive Oral History of Online Travel, he led the Expedia spinoff in 1999 despite strong-arm tactics from major airlines, and served as CEO until 2003. An active travel industry investor, Barton also founded real estate site Zillow in 2005 and is its executive chairman.

In a discussion of “Online Travel at 20 Years Old” at the Skift Global Forum September 27, Barton will join Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Altimeter Capital CEO Brad Gerstner, and Priceline founder and Upside CEO Jay Walker to address the relevance of online travel history to today’s competitive dynamics.

To preview the the Forum discussion, Skift asked Barton about issues facing startups, whether they be in travel, real estate or in other sectors. We conducted the interview by email.


Skift: You founded Expedia out of Microsoft in 1996 and 10 years later you co-founded Zillow, both of which did IPOs and became public companies. If I’m not mistaken, some of the key players on your Expedia team were involved in both. So my question is, whether it is a real estate or a travel startup, what is the most important success factor? Idea, team and/or just plain old good luck?

Barton: Ideas are cheap. Execution is dear. And the key to execution is team. Of course, we are all really lucky to be able to even talk about this topic. Mostly in any other country in any other time, we’d probably be talking about our business selling fruit on the side of a dirt road.

Skift: What are the differences between getting a travel or real estate startup off the ground? I bet you should have a better office for a real estate startup, right?:)

Barton: My offices when I started up Expedia were at Microsoft in the late 90s, which were quite nice. Free food, volleyball, and Doom. The Zillow Group offices are killer, of course. I’m really proud of the space and the vibe the Spencer Rascoff (CEO of Zillow Group) and his team have created. It’s where I’d want to work if I were coming out of college. Aside from offices, I would say there are tons of similarities in starting up Expedia, Zillow, and Glassdoor. Each is a play on what I call “Power to the People.” Putting the power of data transparency and control in the hands of the people themselves. Tear down the wall. Storm the Bastille.

Skift: Do a higher percentage of travel or real estate startups fail or is the failure rate about the same? Why do you think that is?

Barton: Probably about the same failure rate and quite high. I’d say that’s true for most startups in tech, though. Most teams can’t really execute well.

Skift: Are all the good ideas taken already? In both sectors, where do you think the opportunities are?

Barton: We are on a relentless and accelerating technology curve that will change the world more in the next 25 years than in the last 25. Fasten your seat belts.


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Tags: expedia, sgf2016, skift global forum, zillow

Photo credit: Expedia founder and Zillow executive chairman Rich Barton believes empowering consumers is like tearing down the walls and storming the Bastille. Zillow

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