Cutting-edge technology is key to scale-ups chasing unicorn status.

It has become a badge of honour to join the club of companies valued at more than £1 billion, but what does it take to get there?

Lisa Imlach, the PR manager at online travel search site Skyscanner, says that putting tech at the front of the business model was vital to its mammoth success.

“We were an internet economy company from the start – completely web based,” she told BusinessCloud.

“Having been around for over a decade, we built our technology from the ground up, and this really makes us unique: we have the best proprietary technology out there, and can offer the most comprehensive choice of travel options.”

Keeping it simple is important. Edinburgh-based Skyscanner has two key areas – technology and travel – and it makes certain that those areas continue to be the focus for the company.

“Our secret is our powerful technology and direct connections to the travel industry,” said Imlach.

“Our tech-related spend is close to 50 per cent, which is almost as much as companies like LinkedIn and Facebook. By contrast, tech spend by online travel players is between three per cent and 12 per cent.

“Our team is also made up of approximately 50 per cent engineers. We believe that in order to continue to achieve such success, we need to ensure our technology is the best out there."

Skyscanner

This focus on tech investment means the company can stay light on its feet and relevant by quickly adapting to emerging trends.

“Several years ago we recognised the importance of mobile, and invested in this,” said Imlach.

“In 2015, mobile visitors grew 60 per cent and now represent 59 per cent of total visitors, up seven percentage points in just 12 months."

James A. Pearson is VP of global communications for music recognition app Shazam, a fellow unicorn.

James Pearson of Shazam

He said this demand for tech on-the-go is also central to the Silicon Valley company’s business model.

“The founders (Chris Barton, Philip Inghelbrecht, Avery Wang, and Dhiraj Mukherjee) were like many entrepreneurs at the time who thought it would be great to create music recognition technology,” he told BusinessCloud.

“But they pursued the unique angle of identifying the song regardless of whether it was on the radio, and without having to know the name of a radio station.

“It would work anywhere - a bar, a club, a cafe, a movie theatre, a retail store, anywhere you heard music.”

READ MORE: Unicorns should support smaller firms to boost tech sector

Innovation, and not being afraid to do something different – as Skype found – is also crucial.

“Chris said it best with: ‘Shazam was created when I came up with the idea of implementing a technology that had never been done before.

“Sound recognition that could work in a noisy environment and over a mobile, that was the birth of Shazam.

“It seemed like an incredibly difficult concept to build, which made it really exciting.”

This forward-thinking nature will ensure that the company thrives, both in the consumer and the business arena.

Shazam for Brands

“We’re seeing companies realize how they can productise our data in ways just like artists are,” he says.

“In turn, we have created new tools for brands and advertisers to use real-time global data, created by hundreds of millions of fans.

“We have had Florence and the Machine do Shazam-enabled tour posters that offered concertgoers a chance to win front-row seats; Hunter Hayes created a Shazam-enabled T-shirt available only on his tour with a chance to win a flyaway to his other concerts; Demi Lovato has picked tour dates using Shazam’s geographic data, based on where she was growing even more popular; Ray Lamontagne launched a preview of his new album via US mail and Shazam-enabled postcards; and the hit Broadway play Hamilton created the first Shazam-enabled Playbill.”  

 

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