How did you come up with the idea for Airbnb? Joe [Gebbia] and I had just moved to San Francisco and become roommates in 2007. Neither of us had a job and we needed money for rent. We were both designers and we knew the International Design Conference was coming to San Francisco in October, yet all the hotels were sold out. We thought we could make some money if we rented out our place and turned it into a bed and breakfast. We got three airbeds and created a Web site called “Air Bed and Breakfast.” People signed up to rent the airbeds and we cooked them breakfast every morning and acted like tour guides. We didn’t mean to start a business. It just sort of happened. There was no flash of genius. In the beginning, we didn’t realize that this would be the big idea. It was the thing that would pay the rent until we thought of the big idea. Gradually it became obvious that this was the big idea. Eventually we expanded beyond our apartment and our three airbeds and shortened the company name to Airbnb.
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned as an entrepreneur?One of the lessons I learned from Paul Graham was to do important things that don’t scale. Frequently advisers tell you not to do things that can’t be done for millions of users at a time. Paul encouraged us to knock on doors to meet our users face-to-face. You obviously can’t do that for millions of people, but even on a small scale, it helps to build loyalty among your customer base and the information helps you improve on your product.
Another important lesson I learned is that as an entrepreneur, you have to be able to tell your story well—and frequently. It’s remarkable how much time you spend telling your story, whether to potential investors, employees, partners or the media. You need to seek out people with leverage and ask for their help in telling your story, as well.