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The Airbnb Story

How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions . . . and Created Plenty of Controversy

By Leigh Gallagher
15-minute read
Audio available
The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions . . . and Created Plenty of Controversy by Leigh Gallagher

The Airbnb Story (2017) tells the extraordinary tale behind the rise of Airbnb. These blinks describe how, within about a decade, three recent college graduates went from being behind on their rent to developing the most popular vacation accommodation platform in history.

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Leigh Gallagher is the assistant managing editor at Fortune. She is the host of Fortune Live and a regular guest on Marketplace, CBS This Morning, CNBC and other programs.

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The Airbnb Story

How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions . . . and Created Plenty of Controversy

By Leigh Gallagher
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions . . . and Created Plenty of Controversy by Leigh Gallagher
Synopsis

The Airbnb Story (2017) tells the extraordinary tale behind the rise of Airbnb. These blinks describe how, within about a decade, three recent college graduates went from being behind on their rent to developing the most popular vacation accommodation platform in history.

Key idea 1 of 9

Airbnb began as a way for two broke designers to cover their rent.

In October of 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, both graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, were trying to establish themselves in San Francisco. Despite their design degrees, the two young men were struggling to pay their monthly rent of $1,150, and were faced with a simple choice: make more money or go back to their hometowns.

While studying, the pair had learned that any problem can be overcome through creative thinking and, after some brainstorming, resolved to focus their energy on the upcoming conference of the Industrial Designers Society of America in San Francisco.

They knew there would be a shortage of hotel rooms during the event and decided to rent out some space in their apartment where people could sleep on one of their three air mattresses for $80 a night.

They called the venture AirBed & Breakfast and promoted it on design blogs with ads that focused on their apartment’s features, like its “design library.”

In just a few days, three customers had made bookings. From there, after receiving positive feedback, they started thinking about how to act as middlemen, using other people’s apartments to make money. Their first venues for this project were the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas and the 2008 Democratic National Convention, or DNC, in Denver, Colorado.

For both events, the designers wanted to bring in an engineer who would add a user-friendly interface to the operation, as well as the skills of a groundbreaking coder. For this role, the choice was Nathan Blecharczyk, with whom Gebbia had already worked.

But despite their crack squad, the trio had trouble getting people to open their homes up to strangers. They needed an in and, in the case of the DNC, decided to take out ads on small local blogs.

Amazingly, this move resulted in the quirky little service attracting press attention, with great results. In fact, after the New York Times ran an article on it, some 800 people signed up as hosts, resulting in 80 successful bookings.

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