Great Minds in Travel: Richard Harris, CEO of Intent

Our next Great Mind is Richard Harris. He is the CEO of <intent>, the data science company for travel and e-commerce. <Intent> uses machine learning to make real-time predictions about user behavior and value. Richard shared with us a few ways that <intent> quickly responded to the current global crisis.

What are you doing in the short term to address the way the market has shifted as a result of COVID-19?

One of the things we do at <intent> is to run an auction marketplace for online advertising in the travel industry. We take our stewardship of that marketplace very seriously. When the coronavirus started spreading it became increasingly complicated to run that marketplace where both sides of a transaction could find value. In recent days, we’ve had as many as 50 people at a time tweaking what’s in the marketplace. So far that approach is working.

We are also urging our partners to expand their use of the real-time intelligence we provide them. <Intent> uses machine learning to predict a user’s likelihood to purchase in real-time. That will help you stop spending ad money on customers who won’t buy, but gives you the understanding of purchase intention. This will help fuel more efficient traffic and customer acquisition, media monetization, and smart personalization. Those are valuable uses of what <intent> provides during a time when tickets aren’t selling and customers are canceling.

As things seem to be changing by the day, how do you prioritize the business decisions you are making?

We’ve adopted an OODA Loop mentality that is rooted in military tactics. The idea is to Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, and then repeat that process over and over again. That’s a way of saying that a decision made at 9 o’clock in the morning may be obsolete by noon. The entire <intent> team has adopted this approach.

How do you think the industry has responded so far and have you seen any examples of strategies that are working?

I’m not so sure that any company’s strategy has become clear since the crisis escalated. By contrast, a lot of tactics have become clear. Some of those tactics seem to make perfect sense. When conversions are plummeting, as they are in travel, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to sell. It seems wiser to invest in branding efforts.

Delta’s tactical response has been great: waiving fees for changing tickets, going live with a news “hub” on March 5 that gives constant updates, and sending out marketing emails with reassuring details about how airplanes are cleaned. It’s great branding and great customer service.

How are you working with your partners to communicate and plan for the future?

Ever since we launched the company, we’ve operated with a few core beliefs called How We Roll. Two of those beliefs have proven their worth in this crisis: Human First and Work Open. We aim to put human needs ahead of business needs. Always. We also aim to work openly, to be transparent, to share what we know and what we are doing always. We always remember that the person we do business with is another human, someone with a family and friends and worries of their own about COVID-19.

How are you communicating with your customers?

Our partners never worry about reaching us. The easiest part of this crisis for us has been maintaining communications with our customers. We’ve always been a remote-friendly company. So when the crisis hit and we moved to 100 percent remote, everything was seamless and simple. We’re a global company operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and no matter what the format, we aim to be Human First and to Work Open.

What is your outlook for the next three to six months?

I’m sticking with the OODA Loop concept, so it doesn’t make much sense for me to put a stake in the ground now about what things will look like in a few months. But I will say this: the travel industry is filled with bright, talented, ambitious people. No matter what things look like in a few months, this industry will be there connecting the world.

We thank Richard Harris for sharing his approach with us for during this difficult time. To see other interviews in the Great Minds in Travel series, click here.