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Driving Viral Growth

Former Country Manager at Airbnb and Director at eBay, APAC

IP Interview
Published on May 30, 2020

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How Airbnb told the story of guests staying with hosts to build a narrative and drive demand
Executive Bio

Sam McDonagh

Former Country Manager at Airbnb and Director at eBay, APAC

Sam has over 20 years experience running online marketplaces. He is the former Country Manager of Australia and New Zealand at Airbnb where he scaled the platform to over 250,000 listings from 2014-19. Sam was previously the General Manager of Australia for Dollar Shave Club and spent 5 years running eBay Southeast Asia from 2000-05.

Interview Transcript

What about acquiring demand and the core differences in demand that you were finding or those sources of surprising demand that you found, both at eBay, versus Airbnb?

I think the increasing role that earned media plays in the development of a brand and the role of social, one misstep by a brand can spread like wildfire, right across the internet. The risks that can face a company by getting it wrong, are heightened and there is sensitivity to that. Airbnb has come along a little later, obviously, in time, than when eBay was started. The role that earned media plays in driving demand and becoming part of the popular culture conversation, is a key area that has really helped drive demand.

The network effects that come with that, again, in the two-sided marketplace, and people having great experiences and being willing to share them, is a significant part of it. Also, I talked before about those elements and pillars of a successful 21st century company and the authenticity of that story that’s told. When you refer to narrative based organization, what they do needs to stand behind what they say they are. An example of that, if we think about Airbnb and their mission and their vision of a world where people can belong anywhere. The story that they told, in one of their first global brand campaigns, was titled, Never a Stranger. It told the story of a 30-something professional female, travelling the world, staying in other people’s homes and, right out of the gate, it addressed the uncomfortable truth of staying in someone else’s home. By doing that and having an authentic story to tell, and telling that through your marketing, is certainly something that has set Airbnb apart.

How did you find the differences in driving organic traffic and this community at eBay, versus Airbnb, given that there is such strict focus on the vendors at eBay, as they’re paying the fees, versus more the guest focus at Airbnb, arguably?

It comes back down to telling the stories of hosts and guests, in an authentic way that also becomes part of the popular culture conversation. One of the things and one of the ways that Airbnb has done, to achieve that, would be that they’ve developed, within the business franchises, what helps personify what staying on Airbnb is like. For example, they have the Night At franchise, so you could stay at the Louvre. Not everyone is going to have the opportunity to go and stay at the Louvre, but that is an analogy that, if you can stay in the Louvre, you could just about stay anywhere else, on Airbnb. You could stay in a department store, overnight. What kid hasn’t dreamt of spending the night in a department store and having a chance to run wild. Or stay in a significant sporting field or be part of an experience that you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to participate in. If you could do that, imagine what else you could do.

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