“Every great innovator or change maker has a muse who is the catalyst that ignites theirs vision of what could be – someone whose life will be different and better when she lives in a world with their product or service in it.”

– Bernadette Jiwa “Meaningful”

Airbnb hasn’t disrupted the hospitality industry because it was a brilliant idea. In fact, a similar way of traveling like that already existed.

It wasn’t an ENTIRELY new idea.

It disrupted the industry because the guys behind it noticed the problem.

People were looking for a connection and meaningful experiences. They didn’t want to spend money on spiritless hotel room walls. They wanted something relevant to them, personalized, and where they will feel noticed. 

That’s what Airbnb delivered.

But before the idea came to its actual shape, it was a journey of hustling, finding a bunch of creative ways-outs and refusals. 

Before Bryan Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk made Airbnb what it is today, they heard hundreds of “no’s.” 

“It’s like Craiglist & Couchsurfing.com, but classier”

The story goes, Gebbia and Chesky – two flatmates and former design school colleagues, were on the verge of losing their rented apartment. They couldn’t afford it because the rent went up.

So as both were creative thinkers, they went creative about it.

They knew there was a huge design conference in San Francisco coming up soon and that number of hotel rooms is much lower than the upcoming demand. They scented out an opportunity. 

The idea was to rent the air mattresses in their extra room, with breakfast included. They contacted the design blogs and conference organizers, who thought the idea is so weird that it fits the whole “designer world,” so they featured it. 

One of the brochures promoting the original Airbnb said, “It’s like Craiglist & Couchsursfing.com, but classier.”

Chesky and Gebbia had 3 guests who felt so comfortable that they talked together in slippers at the end of the stay.

Anyway, that was the starting point. 

Cereal boxes that saved the day

Later, the founders, with lots of hardships, were trying to get their idea to life, looking for investors and traction. Knowing that the concept is “dying” before even properly taking off, they applied to the famous startup school Y Combinator. 

The initial interview to get in didn’t go as expected. 

But what saved them was the cereal box one of them brought to the interview just in case. Yes, you read it right. 

The “Obama O’s” cereal box they made and sold in 500 examples as limited edition allowed them to cover the enormous debt, which helped fund the company.

“You guys are like cockroaches. You just won’t die” – they’ve heard. And they got in.

During this accelerator, it’s when Airbnb, in its today’s form, came to life. Chesky and Gebbia spend thousand of hours and drove miles to meet face-to-face and listen to the original Airbnb users

They were listening and solving the problems people had. 

The features they started to create were the result of the needs the users had. One of the first investors in Airbnb said: “they solve some if not all of the challenges of bringing together hosts and guests at scale.

Indeed, Airbnb hasn’t disrupted the hospitality industry because it was a brilliant idea. There was a problem that went unnoticed or wasn’t felt until they made a deal from it.

Despite the feeling you might have towards Airbnb, you can’t deny the persistence and undying urge of its founders to change their users’ lives for the better.

And that’s how eventually you get into people’s wallets. But I digress.

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Posted by Ewa Gabara

Posted by Ewa Gabara

Founder of Don’t Mess With The Receptionist. I geek out on hostels and I’m a long-time receptionist turned into a copywriter. I help the hospitality and travel brands conquer the world with words.

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