Scaling Airbnb with Brian Chesky - Most Important Advice


In this interview Brian Chesky mentions one piece of advice that Y Combinator’s Paul Graham gave him that changed their business. It is also a piece of advice that is really powerful for entrepreneurs and investors. The advice is similar to Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans.

The second thing was, Paul Graham gave us a series of advice that probably changed our business forever. Probably the most important single piece of advice I got, which is probably advice that is probably the most important advice I can give you, or one of the most important advice, is he basically drew out this chart and he basically said,“it’s better to have 100 people that love you, 100 customers that love you, than a million customers that just sort of like you.” In other words, if you have 100 people that absolutely love your product, they’ll tell 100 people, and then they’ll tell 100 people, or even 10 people, and this thing will grow.

We call it growing virally. In fact, almost all movements in history have grown this way as well. There’s like deeply passionate followers and they grow it. And they’re customer advocates. And the problem is, in Silicon Valley, the general wisdom is, I need to build some app, this thing it needs to have this viral coefficient. I need to get millions of people to use it. And they gotta like it enough to share it. That’s totally the wrong way to think about it, especially if you’re in a service business like ours.

So Paul Graham said, "All you have to do is get 100 people to like you. “Don’t worry about millions of people.” That was totally freeing. 'Cause until then I was like, “How the hell am I gonna get a million people to do this if I can’t even get my mom or my sister to do it?”

But I can find 100 people. And so we literally decided, do things that don’t scale.

If all you need to do is get 100 people to love you, do things that don’t scale.

It turns out, 100 people that love you is really hard, 'cause it’s easy, 100 people to like you, 100 people to love you means you need to meet them. You need to understand their problem.

And so we literally would fly, during Y Combinator, from Mountain View, we commuted from Mountain View to New York. We would go, Joe and I would go to New York, and we’d go door to door, 'cause New York was where most of our community was. And we would meet with every one of our hosts. And we’d live with them. We literally would live with them, we’d write their first reviews for the places. And in fact, I would go there and I would be like, “Wow, the photos are terrible! This is actually a really nice house.” And the host was like, “Well, I can’t figure out how to get photos onto my computer.”

This is before really the iPhone and high quality camera. This was like people had to plug a camera into their laptop.

So we thought, “What if you just clicked a button and a photographer next day would magically show up and photograph your home?” And we thought that would be amazing. And so I went home with Joe and we borrowed a camera from one of our friends in Brooklyn who was a photographer, and we knocked on the door (knocking sound).

And they’re like, “Hello?”

Yes, I’m here, the photographer.

And they’re like, “Wow, this is a small company. The founders also photographing my home.”

I used to also carry a bank ledger in my backpack. And if you need to get paid, I’d just write you out the check and knock on your door hand you a check. So, that was also a reminder of how small we were. But the point was that doing things that don’t scale. If you just think about building something that even that just one person loves, it’s super easy to create something a single person loves. Especially if it’s a service. And then you go person by person. Once you have 100 people, then you just focus on figuring out how to scale that. And it’s a totally different intellectual problem to scale something that 100 people love than figure out what that is.

If you enjoyed this article, you should become an Intelligent Fanatics member. As a member, you get our current and future Intelligent Fanatics books and case studies for free, as well as the ability to participate here on our community. Join Us.

Going Above The Call of Duty: Trader Joe's
Consistency Matters

And how do you get 100 people to love you? Chesky describes how Airbnb tries to go above and beyond what people expect. This can be applied to anything you do in a company.