When James Filsinger took over as president and CEO of Yapta, the Seattle-based online travel company had 15 employees.
Seven years later, Yapta has grown more than fourfold, expanding to 70 employees. For the third year, the company is ranked among the 500 fastest growing North American technology companies, and 15th in Washington state, according to Deloitte. More than 8,000 corporate clients use Yapta to book travel and track related expenditures. Its revenue has spiked more than 300 percent from 2015-2018.
The growth has created its own challenges.
“The thing that I focus on most as we’ve grown is maintaining our culture,” Filsinger said. When it was a small team, it was easier to make sure that “we were all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction.”
And culture is key to Yapta’s ability to recruit and retain workers and customers alike.
The company’s values, he said, include: responsibility and accountability for your actions; collaboration; having a competitive mindset when it comes to winning customers; having integrity and trust with clients; and having a good time with colleagues, which includes everything from ping-pong to team outings to movies and baseball games.
“We’re a work hard, play hard kind of environment,” Filsinger said. “We can’t compete with the likes of Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook on salary, so we compete on culture.”
When Filsinger came to Yapta from Orlando-based EZYield, which was acquired by TravelClick during his tenure, it was a homecoming of sorts. Filsinger grew up in the Central Washington city of Richland, a third of the Tri-Cities, and he graduated from Washington State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting.
He was excited by Yapta’s potential.
When the company started in 2006, it targeted consumers, helping them track flight prices and receive refunds on airline tickets if prices dropped after their purchase. Shortly before Filsinger joined in 2012, Yapta announced a move to serve business clients, seeking savings on multiple aspects of corporate travel for its customers. The company calculates whether customers are getting the best deals possible and how to make corrections if they’re not.
What the company offered its corporate customers was “a value proposition that sounded too good to be true,” Filsinger said.
He thought that he’d be able to rapidly ratchet up Yapta’s sales, but that’s where another lesson came in.
“It is hard to sell to corporate clients,” Filsinger said. “They are large clients that make slow decisions.”
With time and by building trust, the company started landing more customers, and those successes led to additional wins. Yapta has clients in 46 countries and is looking to continue its geographic expansion.
“We have a chance to be a multi-hundred million dollar business,” Filsinger said. “Growth will continue.”
We caught up with Filsinger for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: I work in Pioneer Square, a neighborhood in downtown Seattle, and live on Bainbridge Island.
Computer types: I’m an Apple guy, so I have a MacBook Pro for work and an iMac at the house.
Mobile devices: iPhone 11 Pro Max and an iPad Pro
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: It’s a bit old-school, but Google Chrome is my go-to for pretty much everything. I’d also have to say Sonos for streaming my iTunes music library, and Netflix and Prime Video for streaming movies and TV.
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? Our offices are in two locations at Court in the Square in downtown Seattle just north of CenturyLink Field. It’s an historic, high-ceiling, brick office with large wooden support beams throughout. It provides a tech vibe with cables spanning the ceiling along what looks like metal dinosaur spines. Our space is very open, which is core to our success as it hits on our #ShareIt value of collaborating and communicating within and across teams. We have a ping-pong table, dart board, video game setup (currently a Switch), and a kegerator to help bring some levity and fun to what we do. One of our company hashtags is #YaptaRocks and we want to make sure our work environment captures that.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? In this always-connected world, I’m essentially on 24/7. One thing I take advantage of is iPhone’s ‘do not disturb’ functionality when I’m with family. Another thing I try to do is based on some advice I received. When on vacation, get up early, allocate two hours in the morning to work, then disconnect and spend the day actually on vacation. Do this rather than periodically checking in throughout. It’s great advice, though admittedly I haven’t been as successful as I’d hope.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? I’m not a Facebook user and really don’t participate in much from a personal social network standpoint. That said, I have a Yapta Twitter account and do use LinkedIn regularly.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? OK, this is embarrassing, but according to Outlook, it’s 2,625. But I use my inbox as a pseudo filing/follow-up system, so my actual count is probably around 200. Still embarrassing. My apologies to those of you waiting for my response.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 15
How do you run meetings? Depends on the meeting type, but generally speaking I try to start on time, determine the desired outcome and expectations for the meeting, discuss the topic at hand and drive to a decision/conclusion. I don’t currently use a “no PowerPoint” directive or have any hard and fast rules for meetings. I expect and respect everyone’s input, and essentially drive to consensus.
Everyday work uniform? We’re pretty casual as a tech company. I wear jeans and a variety of shirt types depending on the weather.
How do you make time for family? I really try to dedicate the first couple hours that I’m home to my family, i.e., not plug back in immediately upon getting home. I also make sure there’s time on the weekends for BBQs, movies, outdoor activities, etc.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? My best stress reliever is exercise. I get up every morning between 4:45 and 5 a.m. and workout before heading into the office. My favorite way to unplug is to go on a ride with my wife on my Triumph Tiger 1200 around Bainbridge Island and the surrounding areas. How I unplug on a more routine basis is by watching sports, movies and the occasional TV show.
What are you listening to? I listen almost exclusively to classic rock. Eagles, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, KISS, Sammy Hagar, AC/DC, Van Halen, Joe Walsh, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Creedence, Lynyrd Skynyrd … the list goes on. I’m also a big ’80s music fan. Best decade for music, IMHO.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Being in travel technology, I read a lot of trade pubs for the industry. The Beat, The Company Dime, Phocuswright, Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Daily News. More generically, I read TechCrunch and GeekWire, and a variety of news sites. Favorite site is ESPN.
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I just finished Vince Flynn’s “Protect and Defend.” It’s book 10 in a 16-book Mitch Rapp character series I’ve been reading about a black ops CIA operatives. Page-turner, edge-of-your-seat kind of action thrillers. Next up is “Extreme Measures” which is book 11.
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? I’m an early riser. I’m normally in bed by 10 p.m. and up at 4:45 or 5 a.m. I’m generally a good sleeper, and my wife tells me that I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.
Where do you get your best ideas? That’s a tough question. I’m a collaborative type of person, so I rely on the input of many different viewpoints and try to draw on others’ expertise and insights for ideation. I think the best ideas typically aren’t born in a bubble, but instead are prompted by the challenges and perspectives of a broader community.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I’ve always been a fan of Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. I think he’s a visionary who follows his passions and pursues excellence. I’d love to get to meet him and pick his brain.