SiteMinder CTO on Innovation, Working in Sydney, Closing in on 1,000 Employees
In 2006, Mike Ford and Mike Rogers were working together at a health tech startup digitizing paper-based claims sent from hospitals to medical funds. At the time, Ford had an investment in a local hostel through which he gained unique insight into how the Internet was disrupting hospitality management. He experienced the struggles of hoteliers who couldn’t connect their systems with online booking sites to centrally manage their rates and availability, and drew a striking resemblance to the conversion problems that he and Rogers were solving between hospitals and medical funds.
Ford quickly worked with Rogers to build what would become their flagship product: a channel manager allowing hoteliers to synchronize their room rates and availability across systems and online booking sites. From that, SiteMinder was born.
Today, SiteMinder’s technology has diversified to become the global hotel industry’s leading guest acquisition platform, used by more than 35,000 hotels in 160 countries to generate over $28 billion in revenue each year. We recently spoke to Rogers about how his team innovates, how he delivers the company’s global vision as CTO, and where he sees the company going next.
Give us the elevator pitch for what your company does, and your role in it.
SiteMinder serves as a platform that helps hotels of all sizes navigate their way online and acquire customers. Integrating with over 800 hotel management systems, online booking channels and hotel applications makes it a point of entry to the largest and most open ecosystem within the global travel technology industry today.
As the CTO and Co-Founder, my role has been to create and lead SiteMinder’s technology unit from day one. I am still as actively involved with both the team and our tech stack as the day SiteMinder started, although now my focus is less on the day-to-day and more on looking ahead and making sure we not only remain disruptive but are prepared for disruptions years from now.
My team comprises engineering, infrastructure operations, application operations and architecture. The majority of the engineering team remains in Sydney, despite more than 80% of the company’s revenue being generated overseas, which means leadership and mentorship have also inherently become core aspects of my role. There’s nowhere to hide in our open plan office; I am accessible and visible as any member of the staff, and that’s how I like it.
Why did you choose to start your company in Sydney?
My co-founder, Mike Ford, and I both lived in Australia, so it grew organically from there. Sydney is an incredible city for many reasons, and a great tech hub with really good talent, so it wasn’t really ever on the radar to uproot.
How does your company drive innovation?
We have a very non-hierarchical structure at SiteMinder and we don’t separate product and technical teams – they work together like little startups so there is no barrier to coming up with ideas. Plenty of our significant product features and technical solutions have started as hallway conversations or a ping on Slack with “I have an idea for…”, and that’s a culture we actively encourage. Everyone can have a voice. From a technical perspective, we encourage our engineers to take a hands-on approach. If they think a problem can be better solved with a particular piece of technology, then we tell them to hop on to our AWS development account and try it out.
At the risk of sounding like I’ve drunk too much AWS Kool-Aid, this is where the cloud hype really delivers. Being able to take a problem like how to handle 100,000 inventory updates per second and, in less than a week, test various implementations is mind-blowing.
What AWS services are you currently using?
We’re leveraging Amazon EC2, S3, Lambda, Kinesis, Redshift, RDS (Aurora), DynamoDB, API Gateway, ECR, Cloudfront, Route53, Glue, DMS, Elaticache, ElasticSearch, Athena, SQS, SNS, and SES.
Up until around three years ago, we really only used custom EC2 instances to host our applications. We started adopting more AWS services in order to shift our architecture towards a microservices approach. Kinesis, Lambda, S3 and SQS formed our key messaging and asynchronous backbone to this. Most of our custom EC2 MySQL instances have been moved to Aurora due to huge performance gains, scalability and ease of operation. We also created an in-house Business Intelligence team over a year ago, and services like Redshift, Athena, S3, DMS and Glue allowed that team to become productive quickly.
When did you first know your company was a success?
I think there are various levels of success and certainly key milestones like getting a first real office, establishing our first international office, getting venture capital, hitting 1,000 customers and then 10,000 customers, signing customers in very unexpected countries like Madagascar and the Bahamas, and so on. Staff count is also always an eye opener. I remember the moment I realized we had grown to 10 people. Now we are closing in on 1,000 and it still catches me by surprise! All of this said, part of having a growth mindset is you don’t ever really sit back and go “wow, this is successful.” There is always something to create or do better.
What’s on your roadmap for the rest of this year?
Every day, our technology pulls and pushes out 25 billion hotel booking data points and scrapes 2.5 million pages. More than 230 million messages are received weekly and 1.1 million data points are continuously monitored. These figures are big, but they’re only set to multiply in parallel with our business goal of more than doubling our global customer base by 2022.
To address this, I decided that a major technological overhaul was needed to accommodate our anticipated growth, and though the decision was made two years ago, it continues to be a key focus. It involved moving to a microservices architecture to fundamentally change how we build our systems to drive scale and innovation. Where previously we operated a monolithic structure, we’ve begun to build out an ecosystem of microservices that are easier to replicate, reuse, and rebuild.
It’s an epic journey that few embark on, but it has been necessary to increase our scale of operation, accelerate our pace of innovation, and avoid the high cost of change. Concurrently, we’re working to launch a number of major product releases over the coming year, so look out for those!
What’s one thing you can’t do without?
Other than my family and coffee, I’d say my 45-minute train ride to and from work. I don’t read email or Slack. I use that time to research and prototype.