Pilot meets Lonely Planet

An interview with Mark Jennings, the Director of Technical Operations at Lonely Planet.

We didn’t just want third-party developers. We wanted a partner we could totally trust with our respected brand name. Pilot was the answer.

—Mark Jennings

The story

In 2012, Lonely Planet turned to Pilot to help improve their development process and relaunch the popular Thorn Tree forum. After three years of active collaboration, we spoke with Mark Jennings, Director of Technical Operations, to hear about why the company still relies on Pilot today.

Tell us about Lonely Planet.

Lonely Planet has been around for over 40 years. We help people who are on their travels discover amazing sights, hotels, travel companies and gear manufacturers.

It started when Tony and Maureen Wheeler, a couple who wanted to have an unforgettable honeymoon, decided to travel across Europe and Asia to Australia. They wanted to share the wonderful things they experienced with friends and family, so they wrote their first travel guide and called it Across Asia on the Cheap. Today Lonely Planet is the largest travel guide book publisher in the world.

For the last 6 years, we’ve been really focused on digital products, such as lonelyplanet.com. Our Thorn Tree forum is actually almost 15 years old, one of the oldest on the internet, and it’s a testament to how keen we were on digital when it first became a thing, and how dedicated we’ve been to it since then.

We also focus on mobile web and mobile apps. Our digital strategy is the growth-orientated side of the business, so it’s integral to our long-term success.

What was the problem you were facing?

At the time the loneyplanet.com team was around 10–20 people. We accomplished a good amount working cross-functionality, but we ultimately wanted to augment this team—we didn’t have enough developers to complete the work we really wanted to complete.

We faced some major problems trying to remedy this. We weren’t bringing on new people quickly enough, and finding and recruiting high-quality technical talent in the first place was proving to be a big challenge. We set a very high bar for people to be on our team at Lonely Planet—we have 40 years of quality to live up to—so we were looking for the best.

Why did you turn to Pilot?

We were looking to contract a dedicated, regular team to work on a variety of tasks, and we actually trialled a few development studios. Pilot was by far the best fit for our needs.

The pool of talent we could tap into was a big pull, especially as it matched our cross-functional way of working, and the economics played a huge part too: compared with other global contractor rates, Pilot delivered developers that were just as good if not better than those we had already worked with—minus the unnecessary premium.

How did Pilot help?

The Pilot team worked on a variety of tasks—such as bug fixes, general enhancements, and churning through our backlog—alongside our existing in-house team.

The relationship began there, but we began carving out larger pieces of work exclusively for them. The biggest example being Lonely Planet’s popular Thorn Tree forum, where the team did the entire back-end and helped build the front-end.

After a hugely successful relaunch of Thorn Tree over a year ago, the Pilot team continues to do support and maintenance on it today.

What did you like most about working with your team?

We’ve worked with our Pilot team non-stop since 2012, and we’ve turned to them time and time again. We currently have 8 developers on board.

One of the things we appreciate the most is the fact that Pilot works in a similar way to us. We rely a lot on good communication, and we focus on things like pairing and continuous deployment.

This is the natural Pilot way of working, so we didn’t have to waste time teaching them our processes. They came in and started delivering right away.

What were the results? What did Pilot help you achieve?

It’s hard to praise all the achievements because there’s been so many. The Thorn Tree forum is, for sure, one of the highlights. It was such a mammoth task, but it was completed to our high standards and with some great input.

The fact that we gave the entire project to the team tells us we can trust them with other large, integral projects in the future. Ultimately Pilot has helped us succeed at completing the type of work we’ve always wanted to complete.

Can you give us a brief testimonial on your Pilot experience?

We didn’t just want third-party developers. We wanted skilled people that could be integrated deeply into our team, from a partner we could totally trust with our respected brand name. Pilot was the answer.

The team have delivered outstanding results ever since our first collaboration in 2012, and we can’t imagine working with anyone else.