Lessons from Airbnb’s Success

In the continued spirit of studying successful individuals, I was fascinated by an interview of Airbnb founder Brian Chesky.  In a Stanford entrepreneurship course hosted by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Chesky opened up about his journey in founding the multi-billion dollar company. Here are some key takeaways from their conversation:

  1. There are no “aha” moments. The media loves to portray success as creating one great idea and “the rest is history.” But for Airbnb, that was far from the case. They tried several different ideas, almost all that failed, before their final idea of having hosts and listings. As Jesse from Simple Pickup says, long term work ethic is much more important than inspiration.
  2. Social proof is critical. When Airbnb was just starting out, they were rejected by over a dozen VCs because no one believed their service could work. But once they started to get traction and show growth, everyone jumped on their bandwagon. Airbnb recently raised $1.5 billion in a single round. Similarly, musician Lindsey Stirling was rejected from major record labels, so she started her own YouTube channel. Seven million subscribers and a billion views later, the record labels are the ones begging to sign her. The lesson is, don’t expect anyone to believe in you until you show them proof.
  3. Understanding the blogosphere and media is key to getting publicity. When rejected by various media outlets including CNN, Chesky and his team turned to bloggers. Local newspapers reported on the blogs, and national TV picked up on the local networks. Accidentally, they did exactly what Ryan Holiday discusses in his best seller Trust Me, I’m Lying. Bloggers are desperate for stories, so they can often be an entrepreneur’s best friend.
  4. Get a small number of people to love you. Chesky says it’s better to have 100 people that love your product than 1 million who simply like it. No matter what industry you are in, get your 1000 true fans, those who will buy any of your products or do anything you ask. Those individuals will do more to spread your mission than you can imagine.
  5. There’s no perfect way to advertise – learn through trial and error. Chesky and his team tried Google advertising, but word of mouth worked best. Tim Ferriss chose his book title 4 Hour Workweek based on Google AdWords testing and recommends using it for market testing. Don’t invest into any one form of advertising without testing it first.

Hope you found that worthwhile, and enjoy your weekend.