How Airbnb collaborated with customers to build an incredible business

Posted by Janice Scheckter on 25 June 2017 5:20 PM CAT

Airbnb has become part of many travellers’ lives and we’re constantly reminded of how providing a friend with an inflatable mattress in a New York apartment, sparked the idea for this multi-billion-dollar business.

Airbnb has become part of many travellers’ lives and we’re constantly reminded of how providing a friend with an inflatable mattress in a New York apartment, sparked the idea for this multi-billion-dollar business.

But here’s what I recently learnt. The founders of Airbnb were based in Silicon Valley working on creating the business around a bunch of customers in New York. A mentor and start-up guru also based in Silicon Valley asked, ‘if your customers are in New York, what the hell are you doing here? Go to where your customers are and start visiting them.”

This seemed pretty bizarre – like “yeah right, we’re going to knock on a customer’s door and go, hey dude, we’re from Airbnb, can we come in?” But they did visit their customers and they did get invited in and what their customers told them was what built the business.

“One customer hauled out a notebook where he’d made notes across dozens of pages,” says founder CEO Brian Chesky. He adds that those notes created Airbnb’s early roadmap. Today in the Collaborative Era we forget how technology enables us to cleverly connect to customers. 

The executive team continued to meet with customers to start to understand what a 5, 6 and 7-star experience was. They also connected with lodgers and in fact tracked someone’s journey from the UK to the US which proved to be a highly disappointing experience for the visitor. They then offered the same trip to the same visitor but with a far more crafted experience where having understood a little about the visitor, the designed accordingly. The visitor gave them 10 stars and was tearful on just how good the trip was. The experience taught the Airbnb executives that hosts that took the time to craft the experience for their visitors were the ones that really rated highly whether it was about covered restaurant bookings for foodie guests, a surfboard for surfers etc.

But the founders of Airbnb truly collaborated with their audience to handcraft the original Airbnb story and to build a 30-billion-dollar business.

For more collaboration insights, visit Collaboration Central.

Janice Scheckter is a collaboration activist and a director of Colab Investments, which has built 6 digital social impact ventures all based on collaboration and community.

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