Lee Hayhurst spoke to David Pavlik, the recently appointed chief information officer of fast-growing Czech flight comparison start-up Kiwi.com, about his background at some of the planet’s biggest tech firms and how this has moulded his approach to making travel better
When you employ a CIO with a background at Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix and Space X you might think it strange to hear him say he wants the division he heads to be “invisible”.
But that’s exactly what David Pavlik sees as his main challenge at Kiwi.com, the fast-growing Czech travel start-up that is making waves in the sector having pioneered the concept of virtual interlining.
Pavlik returned to his native Czech Republic in July after a spell in San Francisco’s digital hotbed to help Kiwi.com accelerate its pace of growth and, despite the flight comparison site being relatively young, modernise its systems and processes.
“What we are trying to do is transform what is a traditional organisation,” he told Travolution. “We want to make sure we automate all manual tasks that people are doing today.
“The ultimate vision is to be an invisible organisation that accelerates growth of Kiwi.com. The job is in some aspects technical and in some aspects more operational.
“It’s about how we can create a CIO organisation to make sure we are aligned with business needs and what employees expect.”
Pavlik said this approach did not exist in Kiwi.com before his arrival but the firm has to support thousands of people, either internal staff, outsourced contractors or partners with basic infrastructure and technical support.
Under this approach all external customers of the CIO team are treated just as internal customers and in doing so the firm can onboard more partners at a quicker rate.
The needs of these customer-bases vary in terms of sophistication, said Pavlik from basic IT to the more complex requirements of developers and business intelligence engineers.
But all will benefit from the automation of processes that are currently manual whether that’s procuring software or accessing data and systems to enable them to carry out their work.
“We need to make people more effective,” said Pavlik, “so they do not need to spend any time on manual tasks, do not need to spend any time looking for data.
“For developers we want to automate the platforms that they are doing integrations on so it reduces the amount of time it take for code to come into production. We want to automate systems for driving up the availability of our applications.
“This is what it means to be an invisible organisation. We want to make it so no one knows about us, they just use our tools.”
Pavlik cited Netflix which has vending machines for staff to use for when they want a new keyboard, replacing what can be often a long-winded and bureaucratic process of requesting new hardware within corporations.
“Companies like Netflix, are super-adopters of new technology and frameworks. When we saw something new we were pretty much the first adopter on these technologies.
“We did not need to have complex planning. The team was super-agile and we took a common sense approach making sure we did not spend unnecessary time on something. This is what we will be applying at Kiwi.com.”
Pavlik said the move to travel with Kiwi.com was motivated by a desire to learn new things and what will be effective in the sector and he concedes not everything he’s experienced in previous roles will work.
However, an understanding of what worked at his previous employers and why is what Kiwi.com sees as being the value of bringing someone in with his background.
“That’s the biggest benefit I can bring is to make smarter decisions about what sort of technology stack and processes will make us most effective,” Pavlik said.
So what specifically has Pavlik picked up from his previous employers that has helped him hone his approach.
At Space X, the sister company of pioneering electric car manufacturer Tesla, which has put the US back in the space race and invented re-usable rockets, was the appliance of science.
Pavlik said the Space X way is to start at first principals utilising science, physics and mathematics and work from there.
“Space X is always the reminder that the impossible is nothing – you can really achieve anything as long as the foundation is there.
I saw the first landing after the Falcon Heavy launch. Those moments are deep in my heart. Just because you have always done things in certain ways does not mean it’s the best way.
You can have a critical look at what you are doing every day and you can find new ways to do stuff.”
Pavlik said Amazon was a lesson in how to think about growing market size and exploit new opportunities epitomised by its web services arm and Alexa which is fast becoming a key feature of everyone’s living rooms.
“I love how they are exploring every single avenue and looking at how to connect it to their ecosystem,” Pavlik said.
When it comes to Netflix, Pavlik said he is “amazed at how they were able to disrupt and innovate in a 100-year-old industry” by adopting latest technology.
Having gone from a firm that was mailing DVDs to customers, Pavlik said its focus on data and becoming a role model in cloud architecture has made them one of the biggest content providers in Hollywood.
At the core of the Netflix philosophy is a culture of freedom and responsibility in which people are empowered to do things but to be accountable for them.
“It really helps people to be more confident and to be more responsible about what they are doing but you do not have to spend time telling people how to do things,” Pavlik said.
A factor that Amazon, Netflix and Space X all have in common is the presence of a founder with a driving vision for the company and who personifies it mission.
Pavlik said: “Personally I prefer working for a company where there is a strong presence of the founder.”
Bill Gates was so distant while he was Microsoft that it was hard to feel his presence, said Pavlik, but not so at Amazon where Jeff Bezos “leaves and breathes its principals”, and even more so at Netflix “where you have a chat with the founder while having a coffee”.
Although Pavlik did not work at Tesla, which shares founder Elon Musk with Space X, he said he is a huge fan of the company and the feeling that it is on a mission to solve the problems with the combustion engine, batteries, solar power and pollution is palpable.
So how does this apply to travel? “It’s a new business for me, but I think there are some great opportunities for doing travel right.
“Right now there are so many sites you can go to to explore what’s the cheapest option for flight connections and how you connect your flights with hotels and car etc.
“Now, as we are connecting more and more partners to Kiwi.com, you are finally getting to the point where you can let the site build your itinerary for you. The travel organiser is becoming invisible. That’s how I see we can build travel better.”
David Pavlik’s career prior to Kiwi.com
2003 to 2011 – Microsoft (various roles)
June 2011 to August 2012 – technical programme manager, operational excellence Amazon.com
August 2012 to December 2013 – Technical Program Manager at Cloud Solutions Team Netflix
December 2013 to May 2014 – Engineering Manager, Technical Programs
June 2014 to September 2016 – Software Automation Program Manager
September 2016 to May 2018 – Dragon Software Program Manager