Many business success stories begin with an unexpected entrepreneur filling a consumer need in the right place, and at the right time. The same holds true for Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb. Though Chesky once agreed to start a business with co-founder and CPO Joe Gebbia, their aspirations didn't turn into a reality until Chesky moved to San Francisco with a mattress and too little money for rent. Here's his story.
Q: What inspired you to start Airbnb?
A: Airbnb was created out of a need to make rent, which turned into a movement. When I moved to San Francisco to start a company with my co-founder and college roommate, Joe Gebbia, I came with $1,000.00 in my bank account but the landlord raised the rent and I had a math problem.
There was a design conference in town and the hotels were all sold out. Joe had a couple of airbeds in the closet. So we took them out of the closet, inflated them and built a site we called the Airbed & Breakfast. After the conference, we kept coming back to this experiment. What if you could book a room in someone’s house in the same way you book a room in a hotel? The idea and how it affected our users was what really inspired us to build Airbnb.
Q: If you could do one thing over, what would it be?
A: One of our mentors, Paul Graham, told us to do things that didn’t scale at a time when we were struggling to get more users on the site. We went out and met our users and talked to them about what was working and what wasn’t—and this feedback made the product better. It became something people needed. If I could do things over, I’d do things that didn’t scale earlier.
Q: What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
A: Get more involved in the web sooner.
Q: What personal trait has been most critical to your success?
A: Creativity has been the most important from the standpoint of being an entrepreneur and starting Airbnb, but when it comes to driving the company forward, the most important trait has been my ability to connect with people and inspire them to buy into the vision and work to make it scale.
Q: In 2008, Airbnb was close to failure. What did you do to change the game and what would you suggest to fellow entrepreneurs facing the same challenge?
A: We met with our community and were willing to do anything to make the product something that they needed. You have to be obsessed with the product to live and breathe it. When we started Airbnb, I actually lived with our users to learn more about their needs.
Q: Where do you do your best thinking?
A: The window seat of an airplane, though I’ve had some great ideas come from late nights in the office with a couple of folks.
Q: If you were to start another type of company, what would it be and why?
A: If you’d told me three years ago what Airbnb looks like today, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. The vision I have for Airbnb in 20 years is that it will be a much different company than it is now. I think there’s plenty to contribute to the path Airbnb is on and have no ambitions to start another type of company.
Q: Your team experienced a period of very rapid growth. How did you successfully manage during that time?
A: I hired the best people who understood our values and our vision. I’ve also learned how to say, “No.” I have surrounded myself with mentors that have been where I am.
Q: What’s your No. 1 hiring tip?
A: Have a clear idea of your values and don't compromise.