A day in the life of TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer
NEEDHAM — It’s 3 on a recent Friday afternoon at the uber-hip headquarters of TripAdvisor and Steve Kaufer, cofounder and CEO, already has clocked eight hours in a typical 10-hour day acting as the self-described, “conductor of the orchestra, direction clarifier, leader” of a team of 3,000-plus global employees. The Harvard College Computer Science graduate, founded TripAdvisor in 2000 at the suggestion of his first wife, Caroline Lipson Kaufer (who died in 2005 of pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer at age 42), who realized that her husband probably was not alone in his frustration over trying to find an unbiased review of a hotel he was considering booking in Mexico in 1998. (He finally found an unflattering review and better hotel.) Kaufer, now 54 and living in Newton, sat down to explain what happens during an average work day, where he likes to travel, and what makes him tick. (This conversation has been condensed.)
Q. First of all, what is TripAdvisor?
A. TripAdvisor is a great site to plan and book the perfect trip. Our mission is to help you learn the truth about anywhere you want to go, anywhere you want to stay, anything you want to do, any place you might want to eat, to form what could be wonderful lasting memories of that vacation.
Q. So how is business?
A. The site continues to grow by leaps and bounds. We grew up as a hotel review site with attractions and restaurants and hotels and flights, but what a lot of people fell in love with early on was the awesomeness of the reviews with hundreds of millions of other people saying where you should spend your hotel dollars. Now we’ve added price comparison abilities and are giving you the convenient option to finish the booking on TripAdvisor.
Q. What else is in the pipeline?
A. We are dramatically building out our ability to help people plan their tours of attractions. If you are going to Rome, you might want to visit the Vatican and now I can actually help you find a skip-the-line-tour, a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel, a set of experiences that can make your vacation that much better. And, guess what? You usually have to book those things in advance and we offer that.
Q. Let’s talk about a typical day. What time do you wake up?
A. I get up at 6:15 a.m., shower, get dressed, wake up my son, and leave the house at 7 to take him to the bus stop, where I wait with him until the bus comes. Then I get into work at 7:20 or 7:25. Today, I had a business phone call from 8:30 to 9. From 9:30 to 10, I did a new hire orientation. Then from 10 to noon, I met with a prospective business partner.
Q. Do you not eat breakfast?
A. Nope. I drink black coffee. And even more since I found out it was good for me! I generally have three or four cups before noon and then I’ll have a cup mid-afternoon and at the end of the day. But I don’t always finish the cups.
Q. Are you an Apple person?
A. I have an iPhone, but I use a PC for interoperability with most of my business associates. Most of our travelers use a PC when they browse our site and so I play around on our website every single day looking for things that aren’t quite what they should be.
Q. What three words would you use to describe yourself?
A. “Driven” (long pause). I’ll have to get back to you on that one. (Five days later: “Curious” and “focused.”)
Q. What has been the proudest moment in your life thus far?
A. At TripAdvisor, it was when we figured out how to turn the company profitable. The sale of TripAdvisor (in 2004 to InterActive Corporation), the continued growth (TripAdvisor went public in 2011), that was great. But that moment (in 2002) when, “Oh, my God, we’re going to make it, we’re not going to go out of business,” that was still the best. I am also really proud of how all my kids have turned out. (In 2012 Kaufer, who has four children from his first marriage, wed Lisa Howe, who also had four children.)
Q. What is your favorite place in the world?
A. I frequently report Jerusalem (where he and his first wife honeymooned). I had an amazing time in Turkey a couple of years ago (where he honeymooned with Howe), and I still love going to the Caribbean in the middle of the winter from Boston because it’s a relatively short flight and I love scuba diving.
Q. How often do you travel for work?
A. If you exclude the day-trip-to-New York sort of travel, I’d say maybe once every other month.
Q. For friends who have never been to Boston, what do you suggest they see and do?
A. I tell them to take a [Boston] Duck Tour. I also recommend the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and I tell them to walk through Faneuil Hall and over to the water.
Q. How about your favorite area restaurants?
A. If it’s not a fancy meeting, I like to take business colleagues to this place in Needham, Sweet Basil. I just love that place.
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. Hmm. You stumped me. I don’t know.