- How did Brian come up with the idea for HomeAway?
Over the years, CEO Brian Sharples and his family rented a variety of ski and beach homes, enjoying the space, availability of a kitchen and flexibility to invite others on vacation. However, he found that finding and booking a property online in the highly-fragmented vacation rental industry was not as easy as finding a hotel. It was out of this frustration that the idea to build the most complete marketplace for vacation rentals was born.
- What were some of the hardships they faced in the beginning?
HomeAway’s biggest challenge is the relatively low awareness of vacation rentals as an alternative to hotels. The company has invested in elevating awareness through brand-marketing campaigns such as Super Bowl commercials and online advertising but, while it has improved, awareness remains a hurdle.
- What has contributed to HomeAway’s tremendous success?
HomeAway quickly consolidated a very fragmented marketplace by acquiring several companies early on. Our mission has always been to make every vacation rental available to every traveler in the world; we continue to grow the business through organic new listings and by improving products. As a result, HomeAway enjoys a ‘network effect’ business as listings bring travelers, and travelers attract listings.
Today, we are the world’s leading vacation rental marketplace with more than 952,000 vacation homes in 190 countries. Founded and headquartered in Austin, we have 1,500+ employees and have become a $3.1+ billion company in less than 9 years.
- What does the future have in store for HomeAway?
Our marketplace has historically been a classified (ads) market. The vacationer and rental owner agree on a price and go off and figure out how to make that happen.
This year we built and launched online pay per booking capability. We will operate a little more like the hotel industry. Consumers like to pay by credit card. They want to see an invoice and what they owe.
More and more we’re pushing transactions to happen through our platform. Our goal this year is to make booking a vacation rental as easy as booking a hotel room. We’re a 5 or 6 on that today on a 1-to-10 scale. And we hope to get to a 9 or 10 by the end of this year.
- What advice would you give other entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business?
The main lesson is to focus on things that can go wrong versus only those that can go right. Many young entrepreneurs I know wear blinders of optimism that lead them to believe everything is going to be a smashing success. But stuff happens, markets change, competitors emerge, storms rise up out nowhere – most of it can be planned for by simply thinking a few moves ahead and developing contingency plans for those “what if” scenarios. By the time HomeAway was started, we were planning moves for just about every contingency we could imagine.