When portraying yourself as an underdog in an online travel industry where you’re claiming Google will have the prohibitive edge if it is allowed to acquire the leading flight fare and schedule data provider, it’s probably best to appear humble and weaker.
Which is exactly what Kayak co-founder and CTO Paul English didn’t do in this Bloomberg interview, which Google will certainly use as evidence to repel any claims that its proposed $700 million acquisition of ITA Software would impinge competition in the online travel space:
Noting that ITA, which aggregates flight data from airlines and renders it easily searchable, is only one of several data inputs it uses, English says he welcomes Google as a competitor and (fairly) pointed out that Google doesn’t win in every market it enters.
Kayak plans to compete on “innovation velocity,” C-level speak for being fast and nimble enough to compete in the market.
While English cleverly declined to directly argue why the deal shouldn’t go through, urging the interviewers to check with the Justice Department to see what its concerns are as an antitrust watchdog, he does later reiterate Kayak’s argument for why, though characterizes Kayak’s concerns as coming from “some people”:
“We really don’t know what they’re talking about. The problem I could imagine some people might have is that given that Google controls the search market and access to other Websites, if Google buys a data provider, in this case ITA for domestic airfare, and then shuts off access to companies like Kayak and the many other companies that use ITA, it could basically give Google an unfair advantage in using their scale at how they enter another market. This is something I let the lawyers look at. I mostly focus on working with the product design team at Kayak. I’m happy to fight with them in the market. I just want to make sure the lawyers make sure they enter the market in a way that’s legit.“
This is an interesting, diplomatic way of making the case against the Google ITA bid, especially coming after Kayak CMO Bob Birge has spent months arguing to the DOJ and anyone who will listen how a Google-ITA marriage will cripple competition in the travel search space they compete in.
Birge has pointed out that if Google gets ITA, more people search for flights at Google, the search engine could charge more for airline ads, resulting in higher airfares for consumers.
That’s not the claim of a competitor who is unconcerned about the deal. That sounds like a marketing ploy using consumers as the anvil to argue that Google shouldn’t buy ITA.
One reason English characterizes it the way he does, is that Kayak is eyeing an IPO.
Naturally, a Google acquisition of ITA would create fear, uncertainty and doubt among investors who aren’t sure whether Kayak will continue to have access to ITA data if Google buys it.
So English comes off as a CTO who wants to show his company’s technology and engineering heft, while acknowledging that some people (wink, wink) could see how the Google ITA tie would be harmful.
Seen in the complete context, English’s characterization of the market and Kayak’s place in it was well played.