Brian Sharples, Co-founder and CEO of HomeAway, has been named the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2012 Services Award winner. The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award is the country’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The award encourages entrepreneurial activity and recognizes leaders and visionaries who demonstrate innovation, financial success and personal commitment as they create and build world-class businesses.
Sharples was recognized for combining his entrepreneurial desire and innate ability to spot business opportunities to develop the world’s leading online vacation rental marketplace, HomeAway. He was honored at the Entrepreneur Of The Year gala, the culminating event of the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum® in Palm Springs, Calif. The Forum is the nation’s premier gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies. Awards were given in nine additional categories. All Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winners were selected by an independent panel of judges from 244 regional award recipients.
“Brian’s ability to first see an opportunity and then develop a successful business model in an industry that was relatively unheard of just 10 years ago is the mark of a true entrepreneur,” said Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year, Ernst & Young LLP. “He saw a gap in the market and build a world-class business to fill it.”
The birth of a global vacation rental marketplace
After building and selling a successful marketing data and research company in his 30s, Sharples took some time to travel the world with his family and figure out his next move. He quickly discovered that he much preferred renting vacation homes – with their added space and full kitchens – over standard hotel rooms, but he found the experience of finding and booking a home online to be difficult. These frustrations uncovered what Sharples considered an untapped market and led to his idea to build the world’s largest vacation rental marketplace. In 2005, Sharples co-founded HomeAway, and the following year he launched the company’s website after acquiring six vacation rental sites. Understanding that choice is paramount for travelers, Sharples spent the next five years focusing on organic growth for his vacation rental sites and building his customer base by acquiring 17 additional vacation rental sites. Today, the company has more than 640,000 vacation rental listings across 168 countries.
Taking risks on the way to the top
Buying multiple companies in one day was not the only risk Sharples took to ensure the success of his brand. In 2009, he made a huge gamble and ran an advertisement during Super Bowl XLIV in hopes of raising awareness for both the company and the industry as a whole. His risk paid off; the commercial raised awareness of the vacation rental category by 15 percent and allowed him to shift his efforts toward improving existing products and services, with a focus on creating innovative marketplace technology. Thanks to Sharples’ commitment to developing the best online trust and security tools, HomeAway is now recognized as the leading supplier of property management software in the U.S., in addition to being the leader in the vacation rental marketplace.
Cultivating future growth
Sharples’ determination and leadership have been instrumental in helping build HomeAway, but like a true entrepreneur he sees the potential to expand his online marketplace and continues to set goals for the future. Sharples is currently striving to give travelers more options and expand HomeAway into all markets where people want to visit. He also remains committed to his initial mission to make finding and renting a vacation property as easy as booking a hotel room.
National Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2012 Services finalists
In addition to Sharples, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Services national finalists were: Paul English, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, KAYAK, of Concord, Mass., one of today’s most popular online travel search sites with a core focus on making travel technology better, faster and easier; Jim Dixon, CEO, CompuCom Systems, Inc., of Dallas, Texas, a leading IT outsourcing specialist, providing managed solutions for mid-market and enterprise clients in the retail, technology, manufacturing, finance, energy, and healthcare industries; Robert Low, President, Prime, Inc., of Springfield, Mass., a leader in transportation service, including refrigerated, flatbed, tanker and logistics. National Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2012 Overall Award winner
Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder of Chobani, was named the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2012 Overall Award winner.