In this month’s installment of Expedia Tech Profiles, I chat with Jerald Singh, the head of Expedia’s mobile team. If one thing is clear from talking to Jerald, it’s that he’s a global citizen. From his stories, you can tell he’s one of those unique people who can travel to any country, insert himself into the culture, and instantly connect with locals. This is an incredibly important trait for someone building a global travel product. For more on Jerald, see below; and stay tuned next week for a roundup of our recent mobile news!
Tarran Street (TS): How long have you worked at Expedia and what made you want to work here?
Jerald Singh (JS): It was three years this past February. I was born in Fiji and have always loved travel. My first flight was when I was two weeks old—I joke a lot, but that’s a fact. I like to say that first trip sparked my love for travel. And at Expedia I get a chance to work on two things I love: travel and mobile. Plus, the people are great. I honestly believe I work with some of the most talented designers, engineers, and product people in the world.
TS: As the head of the mobile team, what elements do you oversee?
JS: Mobile app product, design, and product marketing.
TS: What is one of your proudest accomplishments at Expedia?
JS: It’s hard to qualify into a single proudest accomplishment. For me, it’s when random people tell me they use one of our apps. I was in Singapore a few weeks ago talking with someone at the airport about FlightTrack. And she said, ‘Oh! FlightTrack has saved my life so many times!’ Now, it probably didn’t actually save her life, but people feel that passionately about travel and clearly we helped her. Being somewhere away from your immediate circle of influence and having someone tell you positive things about something you built—that’s what keeps me going.
TS: What are the biggest challenges facing mobile apps today?
JS: Driving downloads and engagement for apps. For most people, travel doesn’t happen very frequently. (We wish we could change that.) But the great thing is that our app users are very loyal. So the challenge for us becomes how to get people to come back and use us more or rely on us for additional information. We are working on some cool things in this space.
TS: How does your work ensure a good customer experience?
JS: Our first priority is to build a beautiful mobile experience that makes travel easy for people. We know people won’t come back if it’s not straightforward and easy to use. To make sure we’re always meeting that bar and understanding our customers’ travel qualms, we have a “User Happiness” team whose sole responsibility is reviewing feedback on our apps and identifying ways we can incorporate their feedback into our future iterations. We also try to be very respectful of our users. We know travel is an incredibly personal thing, so if we treat our customers how we want to be treated as travelers and pair that with a gorgeous experience, we think we’ll have a winning combination.
TS: How do measure success on a platform as diverse and evolving as mobile?
JS: By the feedback we get from our users, by how fast we grow, and, ultimately, by how well the business performs.
TS: How do you motivate a team around the world? And how do you inspire developers based in one location to build with another in mind?
JS: We go talk to our developers about what we’re building and why. Travel is an emotional investment that transcends other purchases. At the end of the day, we build apps for people who love to travel. All of our employees are travelers, so we get them excited about building something they’d want to use. We’re lucky because this isn’t a hard concept for us to describe to our employees—it evokes a reaction.
TS: How do you stay up to speed on tech advancements? Or what do you look for in new hires?
JS: Staying fresh? So first, let me give you some background. When I graduated from college it was six or seven years before the iPhone came out. My first job was on mobile, but it was totally different. I was writing code that allowed you to sync contacts and calendar events from an old phone to Outlook and Lotus Notes. Standard stuff now (though with its challenges!), but novel back then.
Anyway, the iPhone release was a huge inflection point. It changed the mobile business from being centered on a device to make phone calls to one where you interact with people in new ways, and you play games, and you share content. My education gave me a good technical background from which to start but it wasn’t the type of thing people are learning today. I learned a lot simply by hands-on-experience at work, but I also taught myself a fair amount outside of work, too.
As far as what people should learn, it’s as simple as this: Learn how to code. I even want our mobile designers to know how to code. It’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: Mobile products are things you physically hold in your hand. You touch them, swipe them, and interact with them. The true beauty is in the animations and vibrations phones emit. This means there’s been a transition for designers away from focusing purely on how an app looks to also considering how it feels. You need to have a tech background for that. And it’s just important to have an idea of how sh*t works. Can I say that?
TS: I’ll edit it out.
JS: Okay, great.
TS: Tech product you’re most looking forward to this year?
JS: Apple Watch! Mine’s on order and expected in June.
TS: That seems like a theme among our tech leads. How about you tell us which devices you rely on personally?
JS: The standards like my iPhone, Sonos, Macbook Air. I also use a Dropcam—which I call BootsieCam—to watch my cats Bootsie and Clea.
TS: Favorite travel destination?
JS: So many. Seoul. Shanghai. Singapore. Seattle.
TS: Complete this sentence: A vacation isn’t complete without ::____.
JS: Experiencing local culture and making a personal connection.