Airbnb needs no introduction.
But it wasn't always that way.
Back in 2009, the company was close to going bust. The startup's revenue was flatlining at just $200 per week, and all three founders had maxed out their credit cards.
People were enjoying great experiences, but something needed fixing to grow it faster.
Looking at their customer reviews, the team was still banging their heads against the wall and couldn't understand why they weren't growing.
One day, the team was poring over their search results for New York City listings with Paul Graham (co-founder of Y Combinator), trying to figure out what was happening. After spending time on the site using the product, co-founder Joe Gebbia had a hard realisation.
"We noticed a pattern. There's some similarity between all these 40 listings. The similarity is that the photos sucked. The photos were not great photos. People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. It actually wasn't a surprise that people weren't booking rooms because you couldn't even really see what it is that you were paying for." — Joe.
For most tech startups, the obvious solution to solving growth problems is more or a different code. For Airbnb, the answer was much less technical and far less scalable.
Paul suggested an unexpected solution: travel to New York, rent a camera, spend some time with customers listing properties, and replace that godawful amateur photography with beautiful high-resolution pictures! It wasn't a suggestion driven strictly by data, but it was one of the most impactful ideas they ever had.
So that's what they did.
The team of 3 went door to door to meet Airbnb hosts, and they upgraded all the amateur photos on their site to beautiful images.
A week later, they had doubled their weekly revenue to $400.
It was a great experiment to run - 'quick and dirty' to get it done and learn fast. This was the first financial improvement that the company had seen in over eight months. They knew they were onto something.
Joe shared they initially thought everything they did had to be scalable. But once they gave themselves permission to experiment with non-scalable changes to the business, that's when they finally saw progress.
Once they knew what was holding them back, they went all in. Since then, all new hosts receive free photography upon enrolment.
And Airbnb's focus on photography has become a massive part of the brand. Beautiful imagery is at the heart of their identity, from their Instagram account to their out-of-home campaigns.
They may be a tech company, but the problem they needed to solve wasn't technical - it was emotional. And it required solving it one host at a time.
Better to have 100 people who love you than a million who just sort of like you. Those who love you do your marketing for you: writing reviews, telling friends, posting on social and wearing your logo. Even contributing ideas.
Start slowly and find the one thing that’s holding back your growth:
Make the experience they have the very best you can so they tell people and do your marketing for you.
Keep being an outlier 💪
J + K