There is something incredibly inspiring about visiting a start up company that has made it. Particularly one you have used in every day life!
Airbnb is a website that helps people rent out their spare rooms and helps travelers find unique places to stay. I was luckily introduced to one of their recruitment gurus, Janet, who gave me a tour of Headquarters and told me more about their history.
Before getting into detail about their business, I just want to say how awesome their office was. (They have recently moved to a bigger space.) Meeting rooms have been made to look like the rooms that Airbnb rents out online, everyone uses a Mac, people work at standing desks (crazy!), most people have meetings on sofas, everyone is/looked under 30. Most importantly, the free food and drinks blew my mind!
Sweet offices, great people, and amazing food are the rewards of hard work. How Airbnb became successful is an interesting story.
The founders were living in San Fran where rent is extortionate. With lots of conferences in town, they started to let out their living room to visitors of the city, giving them an airbed for the night and breakfast in the morning. The business model blossomed into a scalable digital enterprise and became a website that makes it easy for people to rent short-term accommodations across the globe.
Taking a business from an idea to an international success story is what really interests me, particularly how they gained early traction. Some key pieces:
- Early stage organic growth by making money, then developing to a scalable model.
- Seed funded through family and friends.
- Founding team lived and worked in the same apartment.
- First employees worked from the founders' living room.
- All about the users--they interviewed very early adopters for feedback.
- Crowd funded and PR: during election mania they sold 750 boxes of Obama O's and Cap'n McCains (customized cereal boxes they designed). At $40 per box, they raised $30,000. Maybe more impressively, this fundraising publicity stunt got them national TV coverage!
- Their innovation got them a place on Y-Combinator (the world's most successful accelerator program).
- Every week the team flew from San Francisco to New York to meet users in their two metropolitan hubs.
- They built user loyalty by buying fancy cameras and taking photos of host's apartments for them. This also ensured high quality visual content for their site. They also organised user meet-ups to cement a real world to virtual world community crossover.
- Controversially, they used third party marketing companies to contact craigslist advertisers and tell them about Airbnb's service.
- The CEO Brian spent A WHOLE YEAR sleeping in customer's beds (not as naughty as it sounds). He stayed in Airbnb apartments, changing every few days and living across San Francisco. This provided incredible user feedback, one of a kind customer loyalty, and a huge amount of effective press coverage!
Finally a big thanks to Janet for taking time out of her busy day to show me round. Outside of work she is an avid writer--you can get a glimpse at her work http://www.literaryorphans.org/playdb/lost-at-sea-by-janet-frishberg/.