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Background


Education

Joe attended the Rhode Island School of Design where he met his friend and Airbnb cofounder Brian Chesky, and graduated in 2005 with Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and Industrial Design.

MVP - Airbedandbreakfast.com

July 2008

In early 2008 Joe was working in San Francisco, and he called his friend Brian who was in LA at the time to quit his job and come over to San Francisco so they could start a company, though they had no idea on what that would be yet at the time. A couple of months in, Joe and Brian had no jobs and still no ideas and were short on money for their rent. Then the news grabbed their attention: an overbooked design conference in the city, and Joe and Brian decided to create a website where they would rent out air mattresses at their home for the duration of the conference, which is the origins of "Air" in their company name.
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Leap to Faith

Renting out their apartment to strangers and offering them to sleep on air mattresses. This hadn't been done before.


Customer Problem

All available accommodation for the Industrial Designers Society of America conference in San Francisco had been booked leading up to the conference.

Customer Segmentation

For this first iteration the target customer was outgoing attendees of the design conference who hadn't found a space and were looking for a unique accommodation experience that offered breakfast, networking, and tours of the city.

Value Proposition

Leap of faith: The founders opened up their apartment to strangers. They offered the living room with an air mattresses as a means of accomodation.
They had an affordable price listing and also offered lots of guest interaction.

Customer Discovery

The initial idea for hosting their home came from a man they met at a garage sale who did not have a place to stay. They offered him their place to stay free of charge. Henceforth, the idea was planted in their mind and Brian and Joe made a website and landing page to test if people were willing to stay at their place for a price. The conferefence was a perfect opportunity to test this hypothesis because of hotels being booked. They tested their website with their customer segment by posting links on tech blogs and they also got referrals from their colleagues.


MVP - Democratic National Convention

August 2008

After the success of their first small venture Joe and Brian started looking to implement this service for other conferences with large attendees. They looked to implement this service at the Democratic National Convention, which was slated to have 80,000+ attendees.

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Leap to Faith

Inviting and encouraging other people to open up their homes to strangers had not been done before. They were convincing people that renting out their homes to strangers was a convenient way to make money.

Customer Problem

All available accommodation for the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado had been booked leading up to the conference.

Customer Segmentation

The target customers were attendees of the conference who hadn't found a space and were looking for a unique accommodation experience that offered breakfast, networking, and tours of the city. This time the customers were also people who were looking to make some money and meet new people by renting out space in their house.

Value Proposition

Leap of faith: Offered a platform for people to showcase their home and put them out for rent. It provided customers a variety of accommodations to choose from to fit their needs.

Customer Discovery

Joe and Brian shared their website with people who still did not have a place to stay while attending the Democratic Convention.

MVP - Election-themed Cereal

September 2008

Although the election event had been very successful for them in getting a large number of customers for the weekend, they failed to continue having success thereafter. They were both in credit card debt and they chose to find another avenue to gain money and popularity. They designed Obama and McCain themed cereal boxes and asked a student to print it for a low price. They then filled up the boxes with Quaker Puffs and Honey O's and marketed them as numbered and limited items. They sold 800+ of them for $40 each, making more than $30,000 in profits. This story is what eventually grabbed the attention of Paul Graham at YCombinator who brought them to be incubated not because of their idea for Airbnb, but because of the determination and perseverance they displayed.


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"If you can convince people to pay $40 for a box of cereal, you can probably convince them to pay to sleep on each other’s air mattresses. You guys are in." - Paul Graham to Airbnb founders at the end of their pitch.

Customer Problem

Passionate voters did not have any election themed items that interested them.

Customer Segmentation

They first sent out more than 100 empty model boxes to famous tech bloggers in hopes that they would feature the cereal and spread the word about AirBed&Breakfast.

Value Proposition

Ownership of a limited edition item commemorating a historic election.

Customer Discovery

From the success of AirBed&Breakfast for the Democratic National Convention they realized that there is a very big group of Americans who are extremely passionate about the election and are very willing to spend money on expressing their interest. They also offered the item to sell to AirBed&Breakfast hosts as the breakfast they would serve to the guest and realized from the number of orders that is a huge interest. They also did some discovery and advertisement by sending empty cereal boxes to more than 100 tech bloggers and told them about their room sharing website, which lead to many articles such as the one being written that generated a lot of awareness for them.

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TechCrunch article from a blogger who received an initial box


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MVP - Airbnb

March 2009


A year after their initial conference based website Joe and Brian changed the name to Airbnb to pivot away from just renting our air mattresses, and added new options such as rooms, entire houses, boats, and mansions.


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Leap to FaithAllowing anyone to rent virtually any kind of accommodation for guests.

Customer Problem

Hotels are too expensive and lacking in household features and people wanted cheaper more home-like alternatives.

Customer Segmentation

People looking to make some money renting out their homes, as well as adventurous travelers and affluent people looking for affordable and a unique accommodation experience.

Value Proposition

A revised platform to share more than just homes for rent. Access to users to choose to be accommodated in boats, mansions, and entire castles instead of just rooms.

Customer Discovery

They realized from their initial lack of success and based on in person interviews with potential customers that a big reason people wouldn't commit to a booking was a lack of good photographs of the location. As a result Joe and Brian personally went to New York with a camera and took a picture of all the bookings on their website, and saw an immediate effect in increased bookings as a result.