3DS at HomeAway Produced #Winners
19th April 2012 · 0 Comments
Austin based HomeAway (NASDAQ: AWAY) operates an online marketplace for vacation rental properties worldwide. This fast-growing company is continuing its pattern of making acquisitions in its space. The process creates many interesting technical challenges as it integrates disparate IT systems into the mother ship’s architecture, and it also gives rise to countless creative product and marketing opportunities as newly acquired units are brought into the fold.
CTO Ross Buhrdorf and his team have for some time been actively supporting Austin’s 3 Day Startup (3DS), a nonprofit based in the ATI which is holding 20 events this year across multiple countries, and this past weekend they did so with a new twist. HomeAway actually hosted a 3DS event in its offices, with student entrepreneurs provided suitably branded sleeping bags, all the comforts of living in an office (albeit a very nice space), and copious engineering, design, research and marketing support by HomeAway staffers with a goal of creating startups for the vacation rental sector. It’s important to note that the goal was not limited to HomeAway-specific applications but to concepts that could lead to real companies with multiple customers and partners.
Just a few weeks earlier a generic 3DS was held at the ATI, and I reported earlier on the finalists there. Student teams working in that format without overarching guidance tend to come up with mobile apps that solve needs in their demographic, like how to I find a good Italian beer in Austin at 5 AM? Should I choose Moretti or Peroni? 3DS has resulted in about $6M in funding across 20+ companies, but its primary goal in my opinion is to equip potential entrepreneurs with the fervor and the skillsets to get into the startup game. There are many similar events around the country under various titles, including a Startup Weekend in just a few days in Atlanta, and I believe there was actually a 1 Day Startup in Austin last Saturday.
The results of the HomeAway hosted event were much more immediate and more tangible. Of the seven companies that presented at Sunday night’s finals, where I served as a panelist, in my view not one was a discard. I would rate at least two as having very high potential, and three were complementary enough to be mashed up into one, so by my count a net of 5 plausible businesses were on view. Not one was a mobile app. Amazing but true.
These student teams had the advantage of being introduced to the functioning of HomeAway, a company with hundreds of thousands of both rental customers and properties available for them to rent. They learned about some of the issues of being in that business and were cut loose to come up with ideas, conceive of businesses, and develop prototypes. There was built-in scale in the problems being addressed, and, as mentioned above, plenty of expertise on hand to help shape their visions into functioning demos. The students, as is customary with 3DS, did some independent market research by talking with potential customers, and they all had some level of validation for their plans by Sunday evening.
Whether or not these students were engineering majors, they were confronted with real world problems to define and solve using the classical engineering method. They did not have to dream up problems or opportunities out of their personal experiences: they were literally in a candy store with many delicious choices.
Some of the presenting companies are live, some in stealth, so I will not identify any of them individually or describe their themes. I figure HomeAway earned first crack at them by being such a gracious host, and I was honored to be invited as a guest panelist. However, my main takeaway from this evening was that 3DS and its brethren ought to replicate this notion with all the progressive companies they can find. With all due respect to the standard 3DS platform, this was a step above in all aspects and deserves to be repeated. Any CTO would do well to follow Ross Buhrdorf’s lead and foster a highly energized R&D experiment of this nature. I have to believe HomeAway feels its return on this investment of time, talent, food and sleeping bags will be repaid many times over. And, the 3DS leadership has got to feel pretty darn good about the outcome as well.