SKYSCANNER has been hailed by its early backer Scottish Equity Partners as Scotland's first $1 billion web company, and by its new US investor Sequoia as "one of the best technology companies ever to come out of Europe".

But Gareth Williams, co-founder and chief executive of the soaraway travel search engine, giving a rare public insight into the company at the recent ScotSoft conference, sounded like an aspiring entrepreneur yet to achieve his goals.

The former Marks and Spencer IT technician's stake in the business was worth £65m a year ago, according to the Sequoia valuation. Three years ago he predicted a stock market flotation by 2016 if turnover had reached £100m - and it may be there already. Skyscanner has had a mere $6m of investment, compared with the hundreds of millions available to most of the US internet pioneers which had broken through the $1bn valuation, the co-founder told his audience of digital entrepreneurs in Edinburgh.

But he said: "I view funding as a form of cheating, it is not in its essence entrepreneurial." For any business looking to follow Skyscanner down the runway, the most important problem is the next one it needs to solve, with current resources. "Start-ups are set up to solve problems that most people don't think can be solved in that way. They are about getting hold of one of these Catch 22s and coming up with a different take on it."

The 11-year-old Skyscanner has 30 million users, a fifth of them from Asia, it doubled both revenues and profits last year, it employs four-fifths of its 500 workforce in Scotland, and and it has operations in Singapore, Beijing, Miami and Barcelona. Last month it snapped up a Chinese rival Youbibi founded four years ago in Shenzhen. "That is an enormous market on its own, and we have to have people on the ground," Mr Williams said.

"Travel is a universal need, and there are nuances in what people expect and find most useful, so having product design and engineering happen in places around the world means we will be better able to address the global market." But it would not affect the Edinburgh-based company's mission to be "a global company headquartered in Scotland".

But he hinted that Skyscanner had not even yet taken real flight, because unlike internet behemoths Amazon and Google it offered a service used universally, but not regularly by each user. "I am waiting for that 'frequency-induced product market fit' for us to really grow," he said.

The clue is in the mobile revolution, Mr Williams explained afterwards. Skyscanner's latest 'problem' was designing personalised, real-time travel information for the small screen. "The internet economy arose in the context of shrink-wrapped software released twice a year. The fact you can release software every day or every hour changed how products were designed or sold. Having your computer with you at all times produces just as much of a transformation in production and consumption."

The Norwich-born entrepreneur, who grew up in Switzerland and Canada, says the BBC micro-computer bought by his dad, an academic researcher, for him, age 11, inspired him to start creating games. He studied maths and computer science in Manchester then spent his twenties in London, where Skyscanner was born out of the shared frustration of three IT professionals who wanted to find cheap ski-ing breaks on the internet.

"Budget airlines turned visiting other countries into something doable for so many people who didn't previously think of doing that. Services like ours made it discoverable, so we participated in the democratisation of long distance travel."

Mr Williams was the only full-time employee when he moved the business to Leith early in its life. "There is now a sub-culture in Edinburgh and Glasgow and a sense of community, it is very rewarding to be part of that sense of shared purpose. But early on we didn't know where other businesses were and it was even harder to find ones that shared similar problems," he said.

The solution was to "ignore the surrounding noise, and just get on with it".

In late 2007 the £2.5m first-round funding package from SEP enabled Mr Williams to promise that Skyscanner would become "the first flight search engine in the world to show fares for every flight at the touch of a button". He admits that was a breakthrough but insists: "I always had confidence from the start that we could get to where we are now and where we may get to in future."

He says the era of the teenage app millionaires shows that funding is not a deal-breaker for Scotland. "I think it's a distraction, it's a very real problem but only compared with Silicon Valley - and the rest of the world has that problem." On the role of backers such as SEP, he said: "Influence and advice is the way to view it, on its own cash just sits in the bank."

On his own cash in the bank, and how it may change his life, the entrepreneur said: "I think I have gained a lot more appreciation for the journey rather than the destination, because if that is making 10 times greater impact than whatever impact you are having today then you will by definition never achieve that - so I have come to understand that getting enjoyment and fulfilment (now) is important.

"I am sure that (next stage) will come but we are not thinking about that at all at the moment, partly because there is so much more that we can do and have plans for doing."

On why he, rather than co-founders Barry Smith and Bonamy Grimes, became chief executive, Mr Williams, 45, added: "None of the three of us wanted the job, we were all of us technologists. I have to learn it as I go along, which is the same with many people."

"There is a huge amount of digital talent in Scotland, and we need to harness that talent in ever-increasing sizes of team. That is how Scotland can play its full part in the digital economy."