The 10 Austinites of the Year: Brian Sharples

The 10 Austinites of the Year: Brian Sharples

Co-Founder and CEO, HomeAway
Helping others find their home away from home, this visionary found a way to call Austin home.

Chances are, if you’ve taken a family vacation or traveled with a group of friends in the past few years, you’ve either used or thought about using a service like HomeAway. Offering an innovative yet intuitive way to find and book vacation rentals online, the Austin-based company is revolutionizing the modern travel experience. The service now boasts over 625,000 property listings in over 145 countries around the world. Founded in 2005 by Brian Sharples (Chief Executive Officer) and Carl Shepherd (Chief Strategy and Development Officer), HomeAway was an instant hit, catapulting to early success.

This year was no exception in the company’s bright trajectory; it was a momentous year for HomeAway, which went public in June. A company now valued at more than $2 billion, was a sliver of an idea just a few years ago, inspired by a frustrating experience Sharples had while trying to organize family vacations. “I have three kids, so we like renting houses because of the space and hominess of it. In a hotel room, you can’t get together in the living room or cook and play board games. But when I was trying to find those places on the web…I just thought, ‘this is really too hard.’ There was an ‘aha’ moment somewhere in there…intuitively I knew it was a big worldwide market.”

Judging by the year that HomeAway has had, Sharples wasn’t the only person in search of an easy-to-use website for comparing vacation rental properties, a site that connected travelers to homeowners or property managers and humanized the booking experience. “One of the lessons I’ve learned in life is that you’re going to be most successful working on things that you’re passionate about, and entrepreneurs are most successful when they have a personal connection to their product.”

But HomeAway wasn’t Sharples’s first rodeo. An alumnus of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the Massachusetts native found his way to Austin in 1989 when a fortuitous assignment with Bain & Co. — “probably the only ‘real’ job I’ve ever had,” he muses — connected him to IntelliQuest Information Group, a local market research company that he would later lead through two public offerings and a subsequent sale. Apart from the work, he was quickly enamored by Austin’s weather, water and small-town vibe. “What I love about Austin, and what’s perfect about it, is that it’s big enough to have everything you want in a city, yet small enough that you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know.”

It’s safe to say that Brian Sharples is a serial entrepreneur — a passionate problem-solver with a knack for taking, and anticipating, big risks. He is familiar with failure, yet believes strongly in viewing setbacks positively, through a lens of learning opportunity. “One of the reasons that HomeAway has been successful is that we’ve been paranoid about the competition, about getting there first and doing things faster. We’ve studied all of our collective mistakes,” he says.

Although his spare time is waning these days, Sharples values the opportunity to offer guidance to fledgling entrepreneurs. A practiced speaker in industry and academic settings alike, he has a deep respect for kindred risk-taking spirits and enjoys sharing his hard-won tips for weathering the course. One of his most valuable pieces of advice? “Nobody is good at everything.” In other words, find a partner with complementary strengths. “I’m that creative, passionate type who sees nothing but possibilities,” he explains. “But because I understand that many things can go wrong, I need someone who is also detail oriented and very competent from a legal perspective. Carl (Shepherd) is the yin to my yang.”

Because Sharples recognizes that the HomeAway model is largely made possible — and enjoyed — by people who likely have multiple homes or can afford leisure vacations, he is dedicated to helping those less fortunate via Habitat for Humanity. Apart from donating his personal time by sitting on the board of the local chapter, he and other HomeAway employees also give back by way of the organization’s homebuilding projects. In the end, Sharples is simply passionate about people and his product, from his employees, to his customers, to the countless others who have yet to discover what HomeAway has to offer. His enthusiasm for HomeAway’s potential is palpable. And although that next chapter remains unwritten, one thing is certain — Brian Sharples will be along for the ride. “I’ll never come up with an