3 Surprising Product Lessons from the CEO of Airbnb

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Airbnb is currently valued at over $25 billion dollars. Their CEO, Brian Chesky recently gave a revealing interview on how they grew so successfully.

These product lessons are curated from my friend Chris McCann’s interview notes. You can read his full interview notes here.

Lesson #1: You Can Launch the Same Product Multiple Times

“If you launch and no one noticed — you can just launch again. We had press that wrote about us multiple times for launching.

The first time we launched was with 3 people with air beds and the design conference, we launched a second time and no one noticed, then we launched a 3rd time at SXSW…

…In the summer of 2008 we completed the final version of Airbnb which let you book someone’s home — in 3 clicks. We took inspiration from Steve Jobs who created the iPod — designed to always be 3 clicks from a song. We designed Airbnb to be 3 clicks to get to a paid booking. Our initial site had a home page, search, reviews, and payments — most of the core components which are on the site today.

After this version of the product we were introduced to 15 angel investors — we were trying to raise $150K at a $1.5M valuation. 7 investors never responded, 8 replied — of those 4 said no “it didn’t fit within their thesis,” 1 said they didn’t like the market, and 3 just passed.

One of the people we met was Mike Maples of Floodgate and we were so confident after launching we decided to not have a deck and just show him our website. That day we launched (again) on TechCrunch and our whole site went down.”

 

Lesson #2: Better to Have 100 People Love the Product than to Have 1 Million People Like the Product

“The problem with Silicon Valley is when you build an app you are expected to make the app go viral and reach millions of people. This is the worst way to think about it — it’s much better to get 100 people to love you. There was no way we could get 1M people on Airbnb, but we could get 100 people to love us.

This is when we decided to do things that wouldn’t scale. Getting 100 people to love you is hard — getting people to like you is much easier than getting people to love you. During YC, we would commute from Mountain View to New York City (where most of their hosts were) and we would meet with every single host. We would live with each of the hosts and write the very first reviews. We would also help them take photos because this was pre-iPhone and it was hard to get pictures onto your computer for our hosts.

We asked the host “what if we had a button you pushed and a photographer showed up to take pictures of your home?” The hosts loved this idea and I went out and borrowed a camera from a friend. The hosts were shocked that the founder was also the photographer — in fact we would also hand deliver the rent checks to our first hosts too.

If you can get even 1 person to love you, then you can go person by person — the challenge is how to scale that. It’s much easier to scale something — 100 people love vs. getting 1M who like you to love you.”

 

Lesson #3: Don’t Just Design the App, Design the Whole Experience

“The product is what your customers are buying. In some cases your product can be the app but for us our customers are buying a house. More than that they are buying a host, the idea of belonging in a new city, the full experience.

I see ourselves as an online-to-offline business which is the next wave of the internet. The internet started with putting things online, then moved to connecting things together, and now the internet is going back into the real world.

When we storyboard the Airbnb experience — we storyboard every moment of the full experience — not just the online portion of the product.”

Let these lessons sink in.

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