Interview Transcript

You mentioned community in the first one or two sentences there. I think it’s a big word for Brian Chesky or for Airbnb. How would you define community?

Ultimately, community can mean many different things. I think they got to really focusing on multiple stakeholders in the business. When we talked about community, it was usually our host community because ultimately, they’re the ones providing the service for the product to the customer, which is the actual stay that you have in an Airbnb. In the early days it was focused on those folks.

Then Airbnb really started to think about how you grew the community or supported the community that existed around that. That’s both cities. It’s the cities that they operate in, or the communities that they operate in in terms of neighborhoods and so on. Also, a big thing about the guests’ community and the guests that are then staying in Airbnb and how you are working with them to ensure that, they’re having a great stay, but also they’re having ultimately a net benefit to the neighborhood or the place that they’re staying in. Whether that’s economic activity or social activity and so on, it’s really about nurturing those connections, as well.

When Airbnb started thinking about the community, it was really about multiple stakeholders in the business.

What was unique about the approach to the host community in the early days?

It ultimately came down to how unique the product was in the offering. It’s an interesting one because the actual concept of Airbnb, if we just think about it as a concept of staying in someone’s house, it’s not a particularly new one. You had people that were doing home-stays. You had holiday homes across the world. Whether you go to a beach destination or something in the summer, often you might stay in a holiday house that pre-internet days, you would have booked it through the newspaper or just found something on Yellow Pages and called someone up and made a booking that way. That product wasn’t necessarily new, but I think the unique thing that Airbnb really had was how they enabled the technology that they have to help foster that at a global scale. How you connect a guest in Australia that’s travelling to Finland or someone in Russia that’s travelling to the USA? How do you ensure that that connection and that community is strong throughout all of them? I think there are a few things that Airbnb in the early days, it really helped to facilitate that.

One of the things that I think was really important was the payment platform they had. In the early days, it was like you had to phone someone up, you might have to give them a credit card over the phone or do it through your newspaper classifieds. It was usually disjointed in if you’re going on a three-week holiday and you’re staying at six different places for the holidays. You would often have to negotiate individually one-on-one with each person. Payments could all be in different ways. If you’re looking at international payments, sometimes there’s a banks’ transfer. That was always just a hassle. Or even in very early days of Airbnb, going back 2008, they even did cash transfers and so on, as well. There was always this awkward moment that you’re staying in someone’s house and you still haven’t paid and you’ve got to hand over the cash. Payment was a big one. Making that seamless and straightforward and easy was a big one.

Second, in terms of their review system, that goes back to building up the community, as well. The concept of having a two-way review system was quite unique at the time. I think that helped to facilitate a lot of trust in the platform that was built. Trust is something that comes up a lot, especially if you hear multiple people talk about Airbnb, those early days was really about building trust in the platform and building trust in the concept. Whilst again, many people had probably done it in the past or stayed in different places, it was like them doing it over the internet and doing it across many different countries. Just that concept of potentially putting your own house up on Airbnb rather than a holiday home. A holiday home is often a secondary home. You might not have as strong a connection to your second house versus your primary residence.

It’s a very high intent activity that we’re asking people to do. A lot of people would say there is high risk versus reward to that. I think it’s really about building trust in the platform. Keeping it community focused, as well, so ensuring that both guests and hosts, even just the little things in terms of building profiles and building connections. Encouraging people to say, hey, what are you doing in terms of travelling? This isn’t a hotel. You’re staying in someone’s home. Give some information. Tell us what you’re travelling for. Allowing hosts to have control over some of that, as well, I think was very important in building trust in those early days.

What was the biggest challenge in building that trust in the early days?

In terms of building trust, ultimately, it was about overcoming the concerns that many people had which were often driven by what they might have read in the newspaper or what they would have seen in the news. It’s those horror stories and things going wrong. It was really about overcoming some of those obstacles. Both from a, hey, what if something goes wrong? Everyone was thinking of the worst-case scenario. Certainly, there’s been some cases in the news and many people have read about when things do go wrong. It was really about overcoming that. The best way we actually found to overcome that was actually to bring in hosts in the community that were already doing it. It was certainly a platform that’s had a huge attraction in terms of its word-of-mouth and people talking about it. When travelers were using it, they were saying, “This is a great experience. I found an awesome place in a part of a city that potentially I couldn’t have stayed in”, because there are plenty of places where there are Airbnbs and there just isn’t any hotel supply there.

The hotel supply is usually in the downtown or CBD area of a city. Many of the Airbnbs would be scattered across a city in different areas. They’re seeing obviously it was a great benefit from them. Then just being able to hear from the hosts and saying, “I’ve had 100 guests stay. All of them have been amazing. All of them have brought something unique or something different. I’ve managed making friends, meeting new people.” Actually bringing those people in both in terms of what it means from a marketing perspective, from a PR perspective, but also just in terms of educational content and different things that they did in the early days was really about letting those folks tell the stories for them and helping them saying, here someone that’s doing it. They’ve been doing it for a year, they’ve been doing it for two years. They have the same concerns and fears that you had at the beginning. What are the things they did to overcome them and potentially, how can they help answer some of those questions?

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