When people tell the story of how Airbnb started, they tend to focus on all the hotels in San Francisco being sold out and Brian and Joe needing a way to pay their rent. While this is true – not many people realize that the founders of Airbnb, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, hosted their first guest Amol Surve in their own apartment. They wanted to deeply learn from their customer – to understand the motivation, the pain points and thinking behind why Amol used this new service.
Amol says that the only way he could afford to attend a design conference happening in San Francisco was by finding a cheap place to stay. The real story here however is not about saving money or that he slept on an airbed that Joe dragged out of the closet. Its actually about how he learnt so much, met so many interesting people, went on adventures and made lifelong friends because of that one stay which no hotel could have given him even if he had the money.
This insight from Amol and other early customers was priceless and shaped the future of the company in many ways. The founders learnt that one trip and the people you meet and experiences you have can change a person’s life. It dawned on them that this was a USP that impersonal and fancy hotel chains cannot replicate. This is one of the several other such examples they outline in their book – The Airbnb Story.
Years later, even with the success and growth of Airbnb and 100m+ bookings, Brian and Joe still continue to talk to customers. They often share their individual cell numbers and email addresses and are known to reach out personally to guests and hosts for feedback and suggestions. Airbnb serves as a great example of a company that understands the importance of talking to customers. I believe founders should always keep one ear out and LISTEN to their users – it really is the difference between success and failure as a startup.