Travel site Kayak quietly moved most of its local employees to Cambridge

Kayak CTO Giorgos Zacharia, in the atrium of the travel site's new East Cambridge office. (Photos at top and bottom by Kaijian Gao. All other photos by Scott Kirsner / BetaBoston.)
Kayak CTO Giorgos Zacharia, in the atrium of the travel site's new East Cambridge office. (Photos at top and bottom by Kaijian Gao. All other photos by Scott Kirsner / BetaBoston.)

Like an empty-nester who can’t quite give up the house in the ‘burbs but wants a condo in the city, the travel booking site Kayak now has two local offices. Kayak has long had a tech team based in Concord, but starting in January it began moving about 90 employees into an East Cambridge office with views of the Zakim Bridge and the Charles River.

Why?

Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting.

Kayak, hatched in the offices of the venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners in Harvard Square but now owned by Connecticut-based Priceline, was having trouble attracting the designers, software developers, and data scientists it needed to continue growing. “More of the résumés we saw were from younger people,” said chief technology officer Giorgos Zacharia. “Some of them didn’t have cars. It was a hassle for them to come to Concord for an interview. Some wouldn’t come for an interview.”

But the company also didn’t want to lose all of the seasoned engineers who found it convenient to work in Concord. So Zacharia says that the solution was to add the Cambridge spread without closing Concord.

kayakoffice2“Some people work in both offices, starting the day in Concord and then driving to Cambridge once rush hour is over,” Zacharia said. But in general, the team in Concord — about 50 people — focuses on building and maintaining the site’s back-end infrastructure, while Cambridge concentrates on more user-facing aspects, like Kayak’s mobile apps and user interface design.

Kayak’s strategy is similar to one that the speech recognition firm Nuance has pursued: Nuance’s corporate headquarters are in Burlington, but in 2013 it opened a “Mobile Innovation Center” in Cambridge’s Central Square to attract engineers who preferred to walk, bike, or ride the Red Line to work — rather than commuting on Route 128.

Kayak started moving employees to the Canal Park complex, next to the CambridgeSide Galleria, in January. But construction just wrapped up last week. The office can fit about 200 people, Zacharia said. But already, it is Kayak’s largest office, and Zacharia said he is spending most of his time in Cambridge. (He said the company’s technical office in Berlin, which opened in late 2013, is now the company’s second-biggest location.)

kayakoffice1Some of the unused space in Kayak’s new digs will be offered to startup companies, at roughly market rates for the neighborhood. “We’re not going to be marketing it — it will be companies that come to us through our network,” Zacharia said. And Kayak is planning to hold a hackathon in the space on April 25. Some of the hackathon winners will be invited to use space at Kayak Cambridge for free.

Zacharia said that as of late, his team has been focused on helping Kayak become “the travel app that comes with you during your whole travel experience. You’ll see us do more focused on what happens after the transaction — after you purchase the ticket or hotel room.”

The new Cambridge office was designed by ACTWO Architects of Wayland. A photo of the atrium/auditorium/staircase that links the office’s two levels is below.

KAYAKstairs

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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