The best podcast episode I heard this week was AirBnB’s Joe Gebbia on the “How I Built This” podcast. The podcast features “innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.” The theme of the podcast hits on several of my hot-button interests: entrepreneurship, marketing, and the behind-the-scenes of successful organizations. As I scanned through the available episodes, I decided to listen to the one featuring Joe Gebbia, the founder of AirBnB.
I am guessing you are probably familiar with AirBnB, but if not, it is basically a person-to-person room and home rental site. AirBnB now has rentals available in 200 countries. On an average night, approximately 1 million people are using AirBnB over a hotel. They are huge.
The episode on how AirBnB got its start grabbed me from the very first moment. Like all NPR podcasts, the production value was excellent. The light music in the background, the likable host, and the way the conversation with the AirBnB’s founder sounded like we were all sitting around the same table over coffee. The story of how this now-billionaire started his company out of nothing is fascinating. I will not tell you too many details of how the concept first came about so that you can have the pleasure of listening as I did. I guarantee that you will enjoy it.
Joe and his co-founders’ idea evolved quite a bit over time. They would experience success and then tumble down again. They struggled with finding anyone who would invest in their company. So they just funded theselves with credit cards. Can you imagine? At one point, they even created and sold novelty breakfast cereal during the 2008 election season. That seemingly random part of their story would later play a part in them getting accepted into one of the biggest start-up seed incubators in the country, Y Combinator. And it was that pivot point that sent them in the direction they so desperately needed.
The best podcast episodes not only tell a compelling story, but teach you something along the way. I picked up a handful of takeaways from listening to Joe Gebbia’s story about the creation of AirBnB.
Key Takeaways from Joe Gebbia’s Story
- Don’t underestimate the power of design. A large part of the success of AirBnB has to do with the visual experience and ease of booking. I am a big proponent of good design for this very reason. Some people mistakenly think this means to add lots of bells and whistles. But most of the time it means taking out the unnecessary. Clarity is key, as you don’t want people guessing where to click and what to do on your site. I believe Joe Gebbia’s background in design really set him up as the right person for the right site. His captivating TED Talk on “How AirBnB Designs For Trust” shows just how monumental the impact of design can be.
- Take the time to see the world from your audience’s point of view. One of the recommendations that the AirBnB guys received early on was to get out from behind their computers and go meet the people who were using their site. It wasn’t until they personally went to visit the homeowners and watched them use the site that they realized how it was not serving them. That was a major “a-ha” moment for them. The experience of being with their audience completely changed how Joe and his co-founders did business moving forward. If you are creating a product, service, experience or anything else that people will use, it is KEY to take the time to understand their experience thoroughly.
- Keep moving forward and making progress, even when times look bleak. Another concept I learned on this episode is the trough of sorrow. Basically, the trough of sorrow is a time in a start-up’s trajectory when they hit a wall or a plateau. They stop growing. People seem to lose interest. It is during this time when most people bail on their ideas and companies go under. However, if you can hold on tight and maybe even double down at this point, you might just make it out even better than you could have imagined.
I highly recommend AirBnB’s Joe Gebbia “How I Built This” podcast episode. After listening, I subscribed to the podcast and devoured 3 more episodes, featuring the founders of Instagram, Spanx and Clif Bar. The Spanx episode came in at a close second to the AirBnB episode.
What types of podcasts are you into lately? Find more of my podcast recommendations and favorite episodes HERE.