Take me away and make it easy: HomeAway innovates to provide new travel apps
HomeAway’s hard-to-miss headquarters at the intersection of Lamar and 5th Street became a 24/7 entrepreneurial boot camp over the last weekend and the companies that were invented are quite likely to be on your smartphone soon.
In the first-ever partnership between HomeAway and 3 Day Startup (3DS), an Austin-based three-day entrepreneurial boot camp for university students; 42 participants selected by 3DS hunkered down at HomeAway’s downtown Austin headquarters to innovate in the travel space.
The partnership marks a first for both HomeAway and 3DS. HomeAway not only hosted the event but provided access to its API and supplied members of its technical team to answer questions throughout the three days of the event.
“My main focus both at the company [HomeAway] and my passion is around innovation,” says Ross Buhrdorf, HomeAway’s chief technology officer who spearheaded the partnership. “I really feel that a piece of innovation is to open a standard in the vacation rental marketplace and innovate around that. Innovation was the main push and we’ve seen that.”
“I’ve had this business idea in my head for a while. It’s great to actually have some talented people to work on it. If people are interested in pursing this and I can get some funding I will definitely do this full time.”
For 3DS, a non-profit organization that has held events around the world including Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, China and Israel, its partnership with HomeAway is the first with a large, publicly traded company.
Buhrdorf got involved with 3DS about a year ago as a mentor and panelist. The relationship has involved into a 3DS event sponsorship and now a unique collaboration.
“I’m always incredibly impressed with how much smarter [the participants] are than me,” Buhrdorf says with a laugh. “The talent is just incredible.”
Starting Friday night, seven teams, took over two floors of the HomeAway headquarters working all hours of the day and night on innovative ideas for web-based companies in the travel industry.
“The event has exceeded my expectations,” says Buhrdorf. “I knew it was going to be a good idea to expose our marketplace and our API to all this young talent in Austin. The ideas are really good. I was surprised. I thought I knew everything about our marketplace, but the participants have really showed me some new things and new twists.”
Seven 3 Day Startup teams presented the companies they workshopped to a rockstar panel made up of Gary Forni from the Central Texas Angel Network; Ben Dyer, founder of Peachtree Consulting; and HomeAway’s Steve Davis, Karen Fuller and Thomas Hale. The Sunday event was also streamed live to HomeAway’s 1,000 plus employees worldwide.
Here are snapshots of the companies created at 3DS HomeAway:
Addresses the anxiety vacation rental homeowners experience when assessing a renter’s trustworthiness to pay their bill and not damage property. The web site uses game mechanics — including achievement and competition — to get travelers involved and to gather information on renters for homeowners. A traveler, i.e. renter, receives stamps such as “Mr. Clean,” which indicates he leaves vacation rentals clean, and also traditional virtual passport stamps from destinations visited.
Let’s Do This
A Facebook application that helps friends plan trips with their friends. If you’ve ever planned a group trip, you know it can be a logistical nightmare. From the app, an organizer creates a trip, sends out invitations and allows trip attendees to vote on various trip details such as where to stay, what to do and where to eat.
Allows travelers searching for a vacation rental to uniquely explore, compare and discover properties and destinations. The website uses pictures to narrow down properties and types of destinations for a very visual shopping experience. The service believes it can increase the number of inquiries for vacation rentals.
Helps travelers find local deals and events for trips. Created at a 3 Day Startup event in April 2011, TripGather, now one-year old, incorporated HomeAway’s API to develop a widget that shows local events close to specific vacation rental listings.
Enables groups to organize travel and leverage buying power. Described as “Lending Tree for group bookings” by its founders, GroupSweep helps a group organize its guest list, collect money and solicit deals from property managers.
Is a gift registry for experiences. Instead of giving a traditional wedding gift — dishes, linens, barware — Wedfiniti offers people the opportunity to gift an experience such as lodging, airfare, dinner or an activity. It also enables people to pool together to give a larger gift than they could give individually. Although starting with weddings, Wedfiniti has the potential to move into all gift-giving occasions — graduation, anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas.
Aims to increase property bookings for vacation rental homeowners. It enables homeowners a way to offer their properties that are vacant during certain time periods at a discounted rate. Think Priceline for vacation rentals.
Although these companies are in infancy, many 3DS participants go on to take the company they created during the three days of a 3DS event and see what can become of it. For example, Famigo, a company that helps families find and manage mobile content, began at one of 3DS’s very first events and recently raised $1 million from Silverton Partners, an Austin venture capital firm. (In full disclosure, one of the co-founders is my husband.) Other 3DS successes include Forecast, Hoot.me, Tamyca, Ordoro and PerBlue.
“I’ve had this business idea in my head for a while,” says Alison Biers, one of the founders of Wedfiniti and an MBA student at UT. “It’s great to actually have some talented people to work on it. If people are interested in pursing this and I can get some funding I will definitely do this full time.”
Lucky for Biers, Wedfiniti was one of Buhrdorf’s favorite surprises of the weekend.
“I thought Wedfiniti was terrific,” he says. “It’s perfect for HomeAway because our properties are destinations, they’re fabulous destinations. I think it’s a perfect fit. And what’s great about it is that we had never thought about it.”
For a social media snapshot of what the whirlwind weekend was like, check out this Storify stream.