Chip Steinmetz was a larger-than-life character who had come to lastminute.com from Disney to head up technology. He affected a black polo neck in the style of Steve Jobs, reclined a long way back, and decided there should be an R&D team to rival Google.
The challenge he gave me was to create a recommender system for all the various products, from hotels and flights to restaurants and theatre tickets. Now it turns out the travel industry is awash with schemes for registering locations - airport codes, cities, holiday resorts, country codes - all inconsistent and separate. It took me a while to sort all that out and put everything in order.
At this point, unfortunately for Chip's ambitions, the project came to the attention of Rod and Russ: accomplished musicians, experienced web guys and at the time the beginnings of our SEO team. Between us we scrapped the recommender system idea, scrounged a production server, and created over the next few months a vast hierarchy of around 100,000 pages - one for every country, city, resort, flight route, hotel and any other thing we could find in any database. Not too long after going live it started to pull in more traffic, eventually adding around 30% to the site, ensuring a decent stream of additional revenue. And I did in the end manage to sneak in various interesting recommendations, like suggesting similar towns to visit.