TripAdvisor Grows From Afar

The CFO of TripAdvisor, Julie Bradley, talks about how the travel site is growing into new countries without actually going there.
Marielle SegarraFebruary 4, 2014

When you Google “hotels reviews Chicago,” “hotels, New York” or really any other combination of words looking for lodging in a given city, TripAdvisor is going to be one of the first results. The travel website, which launched in 2000 and relies heavily on user-generated content, is in a good spot. The firm is expecting robust global topline growth for 2013. At the same time, it still has headroom to expand its customer base: although it has localized versions of its website in 30 countries, only 11 percent of Internet users visit TripAdvisor.

Trip Advisor Julie Bradley

Julie Bradley, CFO of TripAdvisor

CFO Julie Bradley is going after the other 89 percent. Bradley, the former CFO of e-commerce company ATG (Art Technology Group) and former vice president of finance at cloud services startup Akamai Technologies, says TripAdvisor is well-positioned in that quest. It has a solid technology infrastructure and a low barrier to entry in new geographies, because it doesn’t have to open a headquarters in every city where it’s pursuing market share, she says.

CFO spoke with Bradley about how she keeps up with the rapid changes at TripAdvisor and meets the challenges of being in a consumer-driven business. The conversation has been edited for clarity.

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What is a day-to-day like for you?
My role is a little broader than just finance and accounting. It also includes investor relations, tax, treasury, corporate development, HR, and real estate and facilities. So on a typical day, I could be looking at financial projections, dealing with employee relations issues or responding to complaints about workers not having enough places to sit or no toilet paper in the bathroom. It’s all in a day’s work.

How did your previous roles prepare you for this one?
I started my career at Deloitte, which gave me a foundation from a finance and accounting perspective. It’s a great training ground for young people to get the rigor of a control environment, understand the rules and get the chance to interact with senior executives.

Akamai is a technology company, and it was founder-led, fast-moving, and going through a lot of changes and a lot of growth. What I learned there was that you have to adapt and translate the accounting requirements, finance rigor and so forth, into a language that can be absorbed by the culture. It really forced me to become that translator.

How fast is TripAdvisor growing?
This year, our guidance is in the low 20s [percent] for topline growth on a global basis. We’re fast-growing and highly profitable. The community that we’ve built really drives our ability to charge our customers [advertisers], because we’re able to give them these highly motivated consumers who are looking to book a hotel.

Where is the company looking to grow?
Today we talk about our percent of market penetration. TripAdvisor is the largest travel website in the world. But when it comes to the total amount of online shoppers, we’re only about 11 percent [penetrated]. In our core products, we have a long way to go to take market share domestically and on a global basis.

But we can do a lot from the offices we have today to expand into [new] territories. We don’t need to open an office in Russia, for instance, to increase the revenue that’s generated from Russian consumers. We can translate our site into the local language and set up that URL. There’s a lot of localization that we can do, but it doesn’t mean we need to be in the country.

The barrier to entry for [potential competitors] is the amount of content that we’ve built. Could XYZ company come in and compete with TripAdvisor in Thailand? We’re not both starting from the same level. We’re able to to replicate our global website, put it in the right language and currency, and [acquire] local partners.

We also benefit from the adoption of online travel research and booking, as people progress from going to the travel agent down the street to pay cash for their hotel booking toward doing their deals online

What are your biggest challenges as a CFO in this industry?
We move at a rapid pace. The CEO has a sign on his door that says ‘speed wins.’ We live by that. That’s a huge motivating tool, but it means we’re constantly in rapid change. We’re also driven by consumers. So our traffic depends on what’s happening in the world overall: weather patterns, religious holidays and things like that. If it’s a credit crisis, a drought, a heat wave, the Olympics, there are [many] inputs to understand where revenues are going to shake out.

We’re constantly looking for new ideas to invest in that future and for top talent. We have an insatiable thirst for the best and the brightest across engineers and product marketers. All those moving pieces keep me on my toes. If [my job] were counting widgets, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be bored.