David Kujda | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

David Kujda


Austin-based HomeAway is a global leader in vacation rentals with more than 2 million unique places to stay in 190 countries. It is part of the Expedia Inc. family of brands. Kujda also previously held leadership positions at PayPal, Amazon, Yahoo! And Bose.

The Mistake:

Not having multiple contingency plans in place for unforeseen circumstances.

After five years in the corporate design trenches, I opened my own digital media agency. My team and I were focused on branding and design. The first year went incredibly well – clients flowed in, work flowed out, small projects turned into big contracts, big contracts turned into bigger contracts. Before long, our team had grown by 400 percent. By most recognized measures, the firm was off to a great start. Then 9/11 happened, and the entire advertising industry dried up. 

I was approached by an angel investor who was ready to give the agency a lot of money, but I didn’t think I needed an investor until I actually needed an investor.

The previous year’s success had me thinking we couldn’t lose. Every discussion, meeting, review or coffee had resulted in a new contract. Surely, all would be fine and we’d get back to business in a few weeks. We kept on fighting. The whole team stayed intact until the last penny was drained from the bank accounts and we were forced to close the doors. This was the first time I saw how global context can rule your business. I had let people down. That was the hardest part: it all comes down to the impact on your people

I made a huge mistake in not having contingency plans in place for unforeseen circumstances. We needed a backup plan, and another backup in case the backup failed. The firm should have had multiple avenues for success, not just one.

In a lot of ways, starting my own agency was the opportunity of a lifetime in that I was able to build a culture where design excellence was valued immensely, where form and function married seamlessly, and where clients respected phenomena they didn’t fully understand how to execute. But we simply didn't have the business leadership to keep the dream alive. We lost excellent folks we wanted to keep. 

On a personal level, the closing of the design agency caused significant problems in my own life as I struggled to pay bills.

Culture isn’t enough to ensure success – you also need operational backbone and contingencies in place.

The Lesson:

The whole experience made me realize the importance of having a vision for what you want to accomplish. Find your true north and build smart plans around it. 

Contingencies are important. Organize for success by anticipating what could go wrong. Figure out what you'll do in good times and bad. Use your budgets wisely and strategically. Culture isn’t enough to ensure success – you also need operational backbone and contingencies in place.

I realized how important is to find multiple ways to succeed, so if one thing fails, something else might work. This was one of the things that attracted me to HomeAway. Working for a company that obsessively tests almost everything we do is one way we identify clear winners without betting everything we have on a single idea or initiative. It helps us continually evolve and improve. 


Follow HomeAway on Twitter at @homeaway.

Pictured is David Kujda. | Photo courtesy of HomeAway.

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