The worldwide use of mobile devices to search for flights, hotels and other travel information is growing, and Sequoia Capital is betting on one mobile app maker to become the leader in the sector.
The Silicon Valley venture firm has made one of its largest equity investments ever, acquiring shares of Skyscanner Ltd. in a deal that values the Scotland-based company at $800 million.
Sequoia Capital Chairman Michael Moritz, whose investments include early bets on Google Inc., PayPal and LinkedIn Corp., called Skyscanner “one of the most attractive tech companies in Europe,” citing the expected growth in online travel search.
“We’re still quite early in the evolution of online travel,” said Mr. Moritz, who will join the company’s board. “Despite…[the] large number of existing online travel vendors, the market over the next decade will expand enormously, accelerated by a proliferation of mobile devices.”
Thirty-six percent of online travelers in the U.S. typically use travel metasearch when shopping for leisure travel, up from 28% in 2010, according to Douglas Quinby, vice president of research at PhoCusWright, a travel and hospitality market research firm.
Skyscanner faces a marketplace crowded with global competitors including U.S. businesses TripAdvisor, Hipmunk, Google Flight Search and Kayak, now part of Priceline.com Inc.; Trivago GmbH in Germany; WeGo Pte. Ltd. in Singapore; Qunar in China, which on Tuesday filed for an initial public offering in the U.S.; EasyVoyage.com in France; and Venture Republic Group’s Travel.jp in Japan.
Mr. Moritz, who stepped back from an active role in managing Sequoia in 2012 for health reasons but still makes new investments, said the Edinburgh-based company’s global approach made it an attractive deal.
“From inception they were forced to look beyond their home borders to grow their business,” he said. “U.S. companies, because the market is so large, take time before they expand beyond their borders.”
Skyscanner recently set up an office in Miami to bolster its business in the Americas. In addition to its Edinburgh headquarters, it has satellite offices in Singapore and Beijing. The profitable company was founded in 2001 and released its first mobile app in 2011.
In 2007, the company raised a $5.1 million Series A round from Scottish Equity Partners. Sequoia did not disclose further details of its new investment.
The company’s service helps travelers find flights, hotel rooms or cars online and makes the results readable on the small screens of mobile devices. Users can also access Skyscanner through its website.
The company’s mobile apps, available for iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry devices, have been installed by 25 million users. Skyscanner attracts more than 24 million monthly unique visitors to its sites and apps, according to Gareth Williams, Skyscanner’s chief executive and co-founder.
One of the ways the company sets itself apart from the many other travel search companies is by showing prices that include fees and taxes, Mr. Williams said. The idea is to make sure users don’t encounter “a headline fee that swings up once [they] go through checkout,” he said.
The 320-employee company translates information into 30 different languages and local currencies.
In 2012 Skyscanner generated $3.5 billion of flight ticket sales for its partners, including airlines, hotels and online travel agencies, the company said. The company makes money through referral fees from its partners and advertising sales to those that want their offerings to be highlighted prominently.