Innovate to eat
Everybody has head of the company that allows you to rent a room or an entire flat in a foreign city or even country. But not all know that this multimillion-dollar company Airbnb had a humble and slow beginning. It all started when Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, two of the three founders, noticed that all the hotels were booked because of a design conference. Struggling to make rent, they decided to rent a way the spare room in their flat in San Francisco to designers attending this conference. They put up a website called “Air Bed and Breakfast” and decked out the empty room with three airbeds, offering each for 80$ a night. They managed to rent away the three beds to designers for the duration of the conference. The first Airbnb guest were born. What the three noticed was that the people that entered their flat were strangers, but they left as friends, Brian was even invited to a wedding from one of them. Even though it might take some self-persuasion the idea of renting out part of your own apartment to strangers was fun. The two could now say from own experience that it can be a way to make money and meet new people. Therefore, they started their Company AirBedandBreakfast and brought the third and final co-founder in the team, Nathan Blecharczyk. Nathan was a learned computer scientist and had the task of programming the website as Brian and Joe were designers. At first, they did not think that AirBedandBreakfast was the big idea and before returning to it, they worked on a roommate matching side. However, that already existed and the three came back to the idea of Airbnb, to make a website that makes it as easy to book someone’s home as it is to book a hotel room.
olicies. Some changes funny from your point of view are that they allowed people to also provide room if no conference was in town, or that they were also allowed to provide mattress instead of Airbeds, as before the Airbeds had to be put over the mattresses. Another change made was following the rule “three clicks to book” which is still responsible for the design of the website today. During this time, they decided to seek funding from investors, but none of them were interested in the idea of an app mediating stranger’s to Hosts or vice versa. In August 2008 the website was launched a final time in sync with the Democratic National Convention, the goal was to tackle the chicken and egg problem, meaning that without hosts there are no visitors and without visitors there are no hosts. The idea to solve this problem was to get a lot of press to explode the number of both users on the website. For this one weekend they managed to get 80 bookings. However, the next week there were left with their usual low numbers. At this point in time, they were trying for one year, were tens of thousands of dollars in credit card dead and all investors had rejected them. They hit rock-bottom.
Be a cereal entrepreneur
Therefore, they then decided to go into the breakfast part of AirBedandBreakfast and they made serials named “Obama O’s the breakfast of change” and “Cap’n McCains a maverick in every bite” and started selling them for 40 dollars each. This made enough money to fund the company for a while.
After some time had passed the company had run out of funding again, and they were invited into an interview at Y Combinator and even though their idea was not too convincing the fact that they simply kept trying got them into the program. That was the turning point for AirBedandBreakfast. For three months they set everything aside and decided to focus on making their company profitable to live on a ramen diet. The hoped-for success has not yet materialized, therefore thy looked at the listings on their website and noticed that the picture of the listed homes were all quite bad. They decided to travel to their biggest market New York and “professionally” photograph the property’s listed on the website. They did the photographing themselves and because of talking to the hosts they were now able to address the problems of hosts a lot better than before. After the new photos were listed, their profits doubled and Airbnb started to catch on.
What about Design Think
Now after you have an understanding where Airbnb came from let’s talk about the Design thinking principals and Methods that were used by the founders to create such a successful company, why Airbnb use Design Thinking to such an extend and what methods did they use to overcome their problems?
One of the problem Airbnb had to overcome was “Stranger danger”, not trusting strangers in your home or staying in theirs. Another big problem they needed to solve was designing their product in a way that spoke to a lot of people. To overcome the “Stranger danger” they knew that people needed to make the experience to notice this assumption was false. For those cases where some people could not be trusted, a rating system was developed to show both parties who is a good guest/host and who is a bad guest/host.
To tackle the other problem, they used a couple of Design Think methods, even though the term Design Think was only being to develop at the time. They used the Method of interviewing for Empathy to create a connection with their first Hosts, when they were taking the improved pictures and lckle the other problem, they used a couple of Design Think methods, even though the term Design Think was only being to develop at the time. They used the Method of interviewing for Empathy to create a connection with their first Hosts, when they were taking the improved pictures and learned valuable lessons from them. Thair connection allowed them to reach out to the hosts at a later point in time and ask them to lower their prices a bit or offer some more service as a host, so that their company had the chance to grow. A nice side effect they had achieved is that they had set a high bar of quality for newly acquired hosts. This play together with the DT bias for action this can be seen at the beginning of the Company, where they were trying everything from cereals to new web designs to get of the ground. When the breakthrough eventually came, they still stuck to this bias. This can be seen in their methods after employing a new person. This person must ship on the first day, they are also required to make a trip with Airbnb to experience what they are designing for. In the same direction goes the mindset of showing not telling this is also incorporated in the offices in San Francisco where all the meeting rooms were transformed into living rooms of hosts that send pictures and the rooms were recreated to give a sense of what the people are designing for. They also implemented a method, the power of ten, they call it the 7 star design. The background for this method is that if a service is as you would expect it you will most likely give it a 5 star review, but what would it take for you to give a 6- or 7-star review. Using these ideas as a baseline, the new design should be thought of.
Airbnb uses some other design principles, one example being the three clicks to book, meaning that a customer must always be able to book in three clicks or less making the platform more accessible. One of the founders also made it his goal to design a good company culture. He was therefore handpicking his employees even when the company had over 1000 employees to make sure that the culture stays constrictive and productive.
The most important lesson is that not everything that works in one’s head also works in the real world, but that should not be a reason to give up rThe most important lesson is that not everything that works in one’s head also works in the real world, but that should not be a reason to give up rather one to keep improving and growing the idea into something that will work and has the potential to change an entire industry. Another big takeaway is that some ideas that seem to not work because they are not scalable or have some other flaw might be the way to success. All perspectives should be considered, and every small idea can become the breakthrough needed.
All in all, it can be said that a big part of why Airbnb became such a successful company can be traced back to design think, they were early adopters, had a competitive advantage and were able to leverage and build on this advantage by continuing to use design think and their creativity.