10 years at Agoda: A conversation with our CEO Omri, CTO Idan and CPO Ittai

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From left to right: Idan Zalzberg (CTO), Omri Morgenshtern (CEO) and Ittai Chorev (CPO)
From left to right: Idan Zalzberg (CTO), Omri Morgenshtern (CEO) and Ittai Chorev (CPO)

Anniversaries are a natural reminder to both reflect on the past and look ahead with excitement. This year marks the ten-year work anniversaries of Agoda’s CEO Omri Morgenshtern, CTO Idan Zalzberg and CPO Ittai Chorev. The three of them have been with Agoda since 2014, when their startup Qlika was acquired by Booking Holdings.

To celebrate this milestone, they delve into their Agoda journey over the past ten years. Read on to learn about their stories, the future of the company, our unique culture, and the innovative spirit that drives Agoda forward.

If you had to summarize your career at Agoda in a book or movie title, what would it be?

Idan: One sentence that’s become an inside joke for us is, “Never say never.” It started about ten years ago, during a conversation with our investors. Almost every step I’ve taken in the last ten years is something I never thought I’d want to do. Relocating to Asia, going up the corporate ladder to this level of managing so many people. I believe this says less about me, and more about our environment, which allows people to do things that they don’t feel confident enough to do on their own. At Agoda, people feel comfortable taking chances on themselves and possibly failing.

When we joined and met the leadership at the time, we were on the same cultural vibe from day one. All we needed to do was continue the path. We contributed to this culture, too, of course, but it’s the same core idea and heart that the company has always had.

Omri: I chose The Wizard of Oz. It’s about a bunch of people who find themselves somewhere very different from where they came from, yet they fall in love with the place and find it very hard to leave. They find magic. That’s how I feel about our journey, and I see that magic reflected in several things. For one, the markets we operate in. Bangkok is a magical place. You can’t understand until you visit and experience it for yourself.

I also see magic in our story at Agoda, both in our personal growth and the company’s. We worked very hard, don’t get me wrong, but we had huge luck ending up here. I’m thankful that we were in the company at the right time, in the right place, with the right people. I never interviewed Dorothy, but I have a feeling that she would be thankful too.

Ittai: I’m not an art or movie person; I’m an extreme sports person. I think of the journey as downhill skiing, where the path never ends, and there are so many things passing by, yet you’re always focused. Throughout my journey at Agoda, I kept thinking, “In a year or two, things are going to be relaxed, and I’ll know what I’m doing.” That never happens. I’ve moved from Data Science to Marketing to Product, but even within those teams, I’ve changed roles. It’s a constantly fast-moving environment, but I enjoy the thrill. New projects come around, the company innovates, and things change. That’s what keeps me excited.

Let’s talk about the move to Bangkok and bringing children and family to this city. Tell us about your experiences of getting settled in.

Omri: Whether things turned out good or bad, our mindset coming in was: “Buckle down. We have a job to do.” We were willing to face almost anything, but we were so pleasantly surprised. I think there are a few things that really matter when you move somewhere. Basic things, like education, healthcare, safety. But also, kindness. There are places in the world where you have the first three, but you go on the streets and taxi drivers shout at you. That doesn’t make your day bright. Back then, I couldn’t have told you these criteria. Miraculously, even though we didn’t aim to, we got all of them in Bangkok.

Idan: If you ask me, the biggest lucky strike that we had was not selling the company to Agoda. It was betting on Bangkok. We’d never been here before, so we had no idea what to expect. This country is amazing, and not just for us as professionals, working at a great place like Agoda. As parents, there’s the level of education, the level of health services. It’s like one of the world’s best kept secrets. More than that, the people are kind in the way they treat children, and the way they treat each other. To be able to raise a family in an environment like this… It’s honestly priceless.

What can a new joiner expect as they begin their journey at Agoda?

Idan: It’s going to be a bit overwhelming. You might not think of Agoda as the large and complicated business that it is. It might seem easier from the customer’s side. Once you’re here, you’ll see the crazy complexities behind the scenes, and everything that goes into this very international company.

Be aware of that and take it in, in all its beauty. Don’t get stressed out by the scale. We get it. We’re very open to people slowly building their understanding and connecting the dots. You’ll find people who are excited to share, to help, to get new thoughts and ideas from you. Let yourself dive in.

Omri: Openness. You’ll find that everybody is willing to talk to you. People say to me, “You’re the CEO, but I can come to your office and chat. How can that be? Where are the ten gates that I need to pass?” Well, we all want the same thing: to do better.

In every big organization, there will be politics somewhere. But I can tell you that when we spot it, we kill it. We want the structure to be as flat and rational as possible, and we’re interested in opinions from across the company. Debate is encouraged, but so is being direct and respectful.

You can come to someone, even the CEO, and say, “I didn’t get it. What did you mean?” And they’ll take those five minutes to give you an answer. You can say, “I have a different opinion,” and even if someone disagrees, they’ll explain why they disagree. That’s remarkable. I’m so used to this environment that it’s only when I go and visit other companies that I realize how unique it is.

What are some of the things you’re most proud of during these ten years at Agoda?

Omri: When we joined, I felt the company had the heart, but didn’t necessarily have the muscle. Over the last ten years, we’ve been part of a journey to develop that muscle. Take price for example, which we really care about. Back then, our CEO Rob would shop manually in his office, then call up the Partner Services team and ask, “How come they’re getting a better rate?” That was the mechanism! We were like, “We get it. But how do we do it on a big scale?” It took time to convince the company to invest in automation. But the heart was always there. To be honest, sometimes I do still shop manually, but I never call the team. (Laughs) I know that there are machines and processes in place.

Idan: After ten years, there are quite a few people that started as engineers in my team and have now taken up leadership positions. I’ve known them for years and watched that growth. The most exciting thing is to go to a meeting and feel completely redundant. Everyone’s already on the vibe. You might have an idea, but they’ve already thought of that. You feel you’ve managed to make an impact on these people.

It’s a bit hard to be proud of what we do because we can be so critical. We always look at what’s not working. It’s like when you’re a parent. You don’t notice your child growing because you see them every day. We see those little wins every day, but we don’t always look at where we were ten years ago. When I talk to other companies and tell them what we’re doing, people will say, “How did you build all of this?” That external perspective makes you think, “We did build something nice.”

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