Most people would describe Airbnb as an alternative to hotels. While this is true, the company’s founders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, had a bigger vision in mind when they launched the company. Their idea was to create a business around local experiences. The local experience, as seen through a local host, was the main focus of the business. Airbnb was, and still is, meant to be more than just a functional, lower-cost alternative to a hotel room.

Airbnb was founded on the concept of locals providing local experiences

Airbnb was originally called Air Bed and Breakfast because the founders hosted guests on air mattresses in their apartment. The founders did just this when all hotel rooms in San Francisco were fully booked prior to a popular conference. They sold four spots in their apartment, provided their guests with breakfast, and showed them the local neighborhood.

Their idea started to gather momentum during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. By this time, they had developed a basic online platform for people to rent out spare rooms to convention attendees. This early success helped secure them a place in the world-renowned startup accelerator, Y Combinator.

It’s hard to believe now but Airbnb struggled to gain traction in the early days. That was until the founders flew to New York City to meet with some of their first hosts. This experience taught them a lot about what made a good listing. Arguably their most important finding from their trip was that good photographs are essential. This remains an essential component of a good listing today. You’ll see me highlight this point in the Listing Your Property on Airbnb section.

The key to Airbnb’s success has always been the community. The founders spent next to nothing on marketing to build their business. Almost all of their growth has been through word of mouth. It’s an important concept for you to keep in mind as a host. Providing great experiences gets people talking and when they talk, you get more bookings.  

At a conference in 2015, Brian Chesky described Airbnb’s mission as “creating a world where you can belong anywhere and where people can live a place, instead of just traveling to it.”  This is what differentiates Airbnb from hotels. They want their hosts to provide a memorable experience, not just a place to spend the night.

The hosts that truly stand out are the ones that go that extra mile to provide their guests with a great experience. To be successful on Airbnb, you have to be: 1) a reasonably good marketer, and 2) excellent at customer service. To be an Airbnb star, add 3) passionate about your hometown and willing to share it with others.

As I write this in mid-June 2017, less than 10 years after its launch, Airbnb has a valuation of $30 billion, is approaching $2 billion per year in revenue, and has more than two million listings in 191 countries. While the growth is phenomenal, the company is staying true to its original mission of creating exceptional experiences through community connections.