CTOs to Know: meet Pana's Lianne Haug

March 14, 2016

Lianne Haug is leading the charge to bring the human element back to technology.

As co-founder and CTO of Denver’s

, Haug is responsible for overseeing a team and product that combines the power of real people with natural language processing and machine learning to provide custom travel booking and customer care for on-demand travel.

Founded in 2014 by three CU-Boulder alumni including Haug, Pana’s blend of AI and a stellar team have earned them some notable users, including Uber’s Chris Messina and UP Global’s Andrew Hyde.

While Haug is still early in her career, having graduated from CU in 2014, she’s already making waves with Pana and is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

We caught up with Haug to talk tech and what she’s been up to at Pana:

What technologies power your business?

Even though Pana is a technology company, we’re mostly run by people, which is a very intentional decision. AI is a huge buzzword in the startup community right now, but when you’re stranded in the airport due to a blizzard, the last thing that you want to do is talk to a robot. You want to feel taken care of. There’s something comforting about knowing that a team of people are working to get you out of that airport.

 

What technologies are playing the biggest roles at Pana this year?

In an age where lots of companies are trying to eliminating the need for humans, we are building technology that requires humans. Technology that empowers them to know all the nuances of your travel preferences, for example, that you always prefer to fly at night when you’re flying with your family so your kids can sleep.

 

What upcoming tech project are you most proud of?

We’re currently launching Pana for Teams which is something I’m extremely proud of. Pana is very relatable to individual consumers, but it also has a huge value add for businesses. Travel is the second biggest expense for most companies and businesses who handle their own travel spend 24 percent more per traveler than companies working with us.

Pana for Teams can save you money by giving you access to high volume discounts as well as creating transparency on travel spending so you can manage your travel budget more effectively. We save employees an average of two hours per trip, and even more if any unexpected emergencies pop up, so that they can focus on what matters.

 

What are the biggest technology challenges you've faced in the past? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge our product team has faced has been more about how to ship amazing product quickly as the team scales than technological challenges.

As we’ve grown as a company, there are now a lot more things at play than there were when it was just my two other co-founders and I. There are more customers accessing our product at higher volumes, database columns have become completely mangled due to quick fixes, there are more people who need to be trained when you launch a new feature, there are more platforms to think about.

Progress can really get weighed down if you let it. We overcame this by getting really good at separating out features into small sets of releasable MVPs and obsessing over launch dates. If you wait for an entire feature to be done and perfect, you could could be working on that feature for months. If you break it down into chunks, you can ship impactful code every day.

 

What lessons have you learned about working in Colorado that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

Colorado has a very unique community with its strong “give first” mentality. I was able to overcome a lot of scaling challenges because my mentors and people in my network were willing to help me at the drop of a hat. All I had to do is ask.

 

What sort of people do you look for when hiring?

We obsessively hire against our five core values: experiment, be curious, give first (shoutout to Techstars!), imagine it better and empathize. These are the things that got us to where we are today and will continue to make us successful.

 

How would your team describe working with you?

As a leader it’s really important to me that I show up for my team with humility. To me, this means a commitment to taking critical feedback that may not always be easy to hear, and improving. And this goes for everything. My own behavior, process, code, everything. If I’m not actively trying to better my team across the board, I’m failing them.

 

What trends do you see happening in your industry over the next three years? How is Pana anticipating those trends and working towards them?

Services are starting to pop up that cater to the fact that people are willing to pay for convenience. People are starting to value their time more and more and have a desire to outsource time consuming tasks.

While a huge value prop of Pana is time savings, we also believe that if we are not doing it better than the user could have themselves, we aren’t driving value. For us it’s not just about just showing you some flights, we strive to show you the three absolute best flights for you. That’s the difference between a one time customer and a lifetime customer.

 
Photo provided by Pana. Some answers edited for clarity and length.

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