Ross Buhrdorf is the Chief Technology Officer of Austin-based HomeAway. He joined the company five months after its inception and oversees technology, trust and security, hosting, corporate IT, infrastructure and global customer systems. During his tenure at HomeAway he has built the development and engineering team from five to more than 200 global employees. He has been instrumental in integrating multiple technology systems to contribute to the company’s rapid growth.
Buhrdorf successfully led HomeAway through its first Super Bowl campaign in February 2010, ensuring HomeAway.com was equipped to handle the sizable traffic surge generated from its first national ad. Ultimately, the company ranked second in site traffic generated from a Super Bowl ad, according to Akami, and second for site performance and responsiveness, according to Compuware Gomez.
Prior to joining HomeAway, Buhrdorf worked in the enterprise high IP software business as the Vice President of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer at BetweenMarkets and Salion.com. There he created a development process featured as a case study by Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute and Rational Corporation.
Ross was also Vice President of Engineering at Excite.com where he grew the team from one to more than 200 engineers worldwide, handled multiple acquisitions and drove the “Communities” area of the site from 53,000 to 40 million daily page views, ultimately helping Excite become the fastest-growing company in Silicon Valley in 2000.
Ross began his career in technology with positions in software engineering at DataGeneral, Tandem Computers and HAL Computers. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin.
[Photo by René Lego Photography]
HOW DID YOU GET TO AUSTIN?
I've been in Austin 28 years. I started, uh... as internship at a company called Data General. You were probably all -- that's a ery old company, now out of business, I think it's been acquired multiple times.
But that's how I got to Austin, right out of school. I got residency because I uh... was going to school at the University of Nebraska and I wanted to get out of Nebraska -- I was starving to death -- and there was some technology just starting up in Austin, so I got residency and then I went to school at UT, after a year of residency. Finished up school, started contracting, and that really started my career in Austin, Texas, the technology took off.
WHAT IS YOUR STARTUP SUPERPOWER?
My superpower in a technology field is building teams. So I could go and recruit the talent that we need or know the existing talent, bring a team together and get them up and running functioning.
You know, the second piece of putting a team together is getting them into action. So, this presupposes of course that we've added the idea which is uh... a presupposition uh... you know, it's a good idea, we think it's got legs.
Um... after that it would be: build the team, put them into action and, you know, start iterating on idea: test, iterate in the marketplace.
TALK ABOUT EXCITE.COM IN THE FIRST DOT COM BOOM.
It's really strange the, the -- how I got into Excite.com I started working for a company here in Austin, Texas, that was really just a design from the did HTML during the I would say the pre-dot com days and they had been acquired by Excite.com, like a lot of companies in the boom, just for staff. You guys know HTML, great, let's acquire this company of, of people uh... that knew HTML design.
I was the first engineer in Austin and we took on all of the community uh...part of Excite.com, so chat boards, live chat, uh... photos. At one time we also had the first clubs product, which is, you know, a precursor to something like Facebook, for example.
I started... I can remember the first week I started there, we were doing 45,000 page views. When I left Excite, we were doing 450 million page views a day, we were doing half of the, the traffic of Excite.com was just in the communities and chat area. So explosive growth.
The uh... you know, I guess the, the experience of the first dot com boom was just, you know a wild experience of just hiring. You know, we scaled by hiring people. But it was exciting, it was a great experience, really dealt with high scalability and got exposed to, you know, how do you deal with millions and millions of page views. So I learned a lot really quick.
WHY DID YOU COME ABOARD AT HOMEAWAY?
With uh... HomeAway, you know, all the other startups I'd been at, you know, there was this a question in my mind of, you know, whether we could make it and certainly whether we could IPO was always a stretch. All the other stuff… I came to Excite a few months after they had IPO'd.
The other company, Fujitsu acquired HAL, which is the outcome of most startups is acquisitions. At HomeAway, I knew from the beginning that it just had legs, it was just a great business model and delivered so much value.
So I'd have to say I knew that it was going to IPO from the beginning because I knew it was big, so it's a big idea, delivers tremendous value. We created a new marketplace.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH INVESTING IN STARTUPS?
Yeah, when I'm angel investing, my strategy is threefold. Number one is: in the individual or the team, do they have experience, do they... and if they don't have experience, do they, you now, have the smarts, gumption, you know, I really invest in the team.
Number two is the idea, it's got to have an idea that's uh... reasonable, that has some legs, or an idea that's in a pace that's already proven or in a, uh... an adjacent space that's proven.
And then, uh... the third piece is I invest with other angel – successful investors, either institutions or angel investors, so it's really that threefold piece: the team, the idea, and then other investors.
TALK ABOUT THE TALENT POOL IN AUSTIN.
I think that the talent in Austin is as good as anywhere. The Slicon Valley has more talent, but it's the same caliber of talent uh... in Silicon Valley, there's just more of it than there is an Austin. Uh... we recruit directly out of universities, HomeAway does, universities all over the country. We do great with UT, and we get great talent out of UT.
So I think the talent in Austin is terrific. I think the quality of life in Austin is drawing in other talent. People come here, hey visit, they come for Formula 1, they come for South by Southwest, or they come for an interview, and they look around and they see Austin and they say, Hmmm... this is a place where I can work, have opportunity uh...just like I do in other parts of the country and have a better quality of life.
WHY WE ARE_AUSTIN TECH?
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