Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year®
On a typical Friday morning, you will find Brian Sharples sitting with his colleagues at a 1950s-style kitchen table in the common area of HomeAway’s Austin, TX, headquarters. From there, Sharples broadcasts a weekly update and Q&A session to employees around the globe.
It is around the kitchen table, he says, that many of the best ideas — business or otherwise — form. He uses the setting to illustrate the point and to remind his team of the entrepreneurial mindset that he believes must always remain at the company’s heart.
“People start companies in garages and at kitchen tables or wherever they can,” Sharples explains. “As you grow bigger, you run the risk of losing that entrepreneurship ability to act quickly and get things done. We don’t ever want to lose that.”
The kitchen table sessions offer employees the opportunity to ask questions of Sharples and his executive team. “We are trying to keep it intimate,” he says, “to let everyone know what I’m thinking and keep us all on the same page.”
The sessions reflect the entrepreneurial spirit that has guided Sharples throughout his career. He follows in the footsteps of his father, an electrical engineer and inventor who owns the patent for analog-to-digital conversion. To earn cash, Sharples would build parts for his dad in the basement for a dollar each.
At 18, Sharples started his own business. By 20, he was running his first venture-backed company. Although that enterprise failed, he was determined to take what he learned and use the knowledge to create a successful company.
In his 30s, Sharples teamed with a business associate to build IntelliQuest Information Group, a provider of marketing data and research to Fortune 500 companies. He saw the company through two successful public offerings and the subsequent sale of the business.
After the sale of IntelliQuest, Sharples took some time off to “step back and decide where to go next.” During this time, he traveled with his family. He liked renting properties with kitchens and more living space than the average hotel. While he was planning his family vacations and experiencing the frustrations of finding non-hotel rental properties, the idea of HomeAway began to take shape.