Airbnb CEO and co-founder says the best advice he was given was ‘contradictory’ from what most people would say
Focusing too much on scaling a business may not be the best idea for entrepreneurs, according to Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky.
In 2008, when Chesky and his Airbnb co-founders Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia were looking to raise money for their fledgling startup, they approached more than a dozen Silicon Valley investors, who rejected their proposal.
One such investor told Chesky that the potential market for Airbnb, later renamed Airbed & Breakfast, “didn’t seem big enough” for his required model.
“You can imagine they didn’t see travel, they saw strangers sleeping in other people’s houses,” Chesky told an audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “The first investor that Joe and I met was in a café, [he] he comes in, he goes to get a milkshake, he sits down, he’s drinking a milkshake, we’re pitching it. Halfway through the presentation he gets up because he has to move his car. We still haven’t seen him since.”
‘Best advice I’ve ever received’
Airbnb was eventually accepted into venture capitalist Paul Graham’s famed startup accelerator Y Combinator, despite Graham’s own skepticism.
“The first question Paul Graham asked me was, are people really doing this? And I said yes, so the second question was good, what’s wrong with them? Chesky told the crowd.
However, at a Y Combinator event, Chesky said that Graham gave him the best advice he had ever received.
“He said…focus on 100 people loving you, instead of getting a million people to like you,” Chesky revealed. “And I think that was some profound advice, and it may have been the best advice I’ve ever received.”
That’s not to say many people would think of taking that approach, according to the Airbnb boss.
“Actually, it goes against almost everything that everyone says,” he added. “Everyone is focused on scale, but scale requires people to have a deep passion [for your product].”
Chesky said that when you focus on perfecting your offer for a small group of people, “they become your marketing department, they tell other people about it.” It’s an approach that helped Airbnb grow rapidly in the decade after it was founded.
“Maybe I can’t do an eight, nine, or 10-star experience, but most people try to design something that’s good enough,” Chesky continued. “But if you can add that sixth or seventh star, if you can design something really amazing and you use the part of your brain, the craft part of your brain, to create that perfect experience, then you can reverse engineer to industrialize this. million times more. And what happens is people love your product and they tell everyone else about your product.”
Graham’s advice helped the founding team of Airbnb scale their business to what it is today: a platform with 6.6 million active listings worldwide that has facilitated 1.4 billion guest stays since its inception.
“Hilton got its start in 1919, over 100 years ago,” Chesky said. “And we were able to have all the growth of Hilton in 10 years. We had some marketing, but initially not much.”