11 million overnight stays since its creation. 150,000 each day. And they are offering more than 600,000 apartments and rooms all around the world. These are the figures of Airbnb, the company founded by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk in 2008 which since has become a game changer of the traditional hotel sector.
Blecharczyk, CTO of Airbnb, gave the very first talk at 4YFN, the event for entrepreneurs and startups that started today in Barcelona within the framework of the Mobile World Congress. Airbnb is not his first company as he already launched his first startup at the Nathan Institute, reaching a turnover of 1 million dollars with clients from 20 different countries. After graduating in computer science from Harvard he worked for Microsoft, OPNET Technologies and Batiq, until in 2008, after passing through the program of the prestigious startup accelerator Y Combinator, he founded Airbnb.
But the history of Airbnb had already started a few months earlier: In october 2007 the rent for the apartment where Brian and Joe lived in San Francisco went up by 25% from one day to the next. “We saw that the coming weekend there was a conference in the city and decided to create a platform that would offer a cheap alternative to hotels”, Blecharczyk remembers. That way they could also earn some extra dollars to pay for their apartment. The project was called Airbed & Breakfast, they earned 1,000 dollars during these days and made new friends with whom they keep in touch even until today.
In the beginnings the website was a simple directory of rooms and apartments, but they noticed soon that the key for the initiative to become successful was security, the trust between guests and hosts. With the objective to make the reservation process easier they created a new website where you needed only three clicks to find a room.
Every startup needs three things: fame, drive and financing. At the beginning, Airbnb did not have any of these things but its founders quickly found ways to obtain them in innovative ways.
“One way was to use the convention of the democratic party that took place in the summer of 2008 and where Barack Obama was chosen as the presidential candidate”, Nathan explains. “There were a lot of people who wanted to leave the city to avoid the crowds and on the other hand there were many visitors who wanted to be there to experience this historical moment.” They used this opportunity to launch the website and offer all visitors a cheap and different way to find a place to stay. The launch of the website was a success and their initiative appeared on the national news broadcasts.
“Startups have their ups and downs”, Nathan says. “We needed financing and we did not have it. What could we do?” Using the political context before the US-elections, the three founders decided to design cereal boxes with the faces of Obama and McCain, the republican candidate. They took the boxes and send them to journalists everywhere in the country and they put them up for sale on a website for 40 dollars each. “Within a few days we earned 3,500 dollars and we could finance the company for a few more weeks. The journalists liked the story and Airbnb made the headlines at CNN.”
After that came the participation of the company at Y Combinator and the company really took off. “It is a difficult road”, Blecharczyk points out. “Building a startup, a company, is not easy. You have to be smart and think of innovative solutions for common problems”.