The Airbnb Founder Story: From Selling Cereals To A $25B Company

The Airbnb Story

The Airbnb Founder Story: From Selling Cereals To A $25B Company

The Airbnb founder story is one of the most inspiring stories of the 21st century.

Against all odds, with no investors and thousands of dollars of credit card debt, the founders had to resort to selling cereals to keep the company afloat. It took almost two years before Airbnb saw some traction.


How Airbnb started

The Airbnb founder story is one of persistence, determination, fear and most of all, hustle.

Let's go back to the start. It's late 2007 in San Francisco. Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia just moved from New York. Without employment, they were having trouble paying their rent and were looking for a way to earn some extra cash. They noticed that all hotel rooms in the city were booked, as the local Industrial Design conference attracted a lot of visitors.

Airbnb Founder

The youngsters saw an opportunity. They bought a few airbeds and quickly put up a site called “Air Bed and Breakfast.” The idea was to offer visitors a place to sleep and breakfast in the morning. They charged $80 each a night. The idea succeeded and the first Airbnb guests were born: a 30-year-old Indian man, a 35-year-old woman from Boston and a 45-year-old father of four from Utah sleeping on their floor.

Soon after, Harvard graduate and technical architect Nathan Blecharczyk joined the team as the third co-founder. They faced a major problem: the site only had two users, one of them was Chesky. They initially launched at SXSW, and only received two bookings.

After changing the website, the company launched again in August 2008, not long before the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Over 20,000 people were going to the convention, and all hotels were booked out. The first comment on the launch publication on TechCrunch illustrates what people thought of the idea.

Airbnb story

The idea was to cater to the thousands of people that came to the convention, Obama supporters hosting Obama supporters. Over 600 people stayed at Airbnbs, but the success was short-lived, as Airbnb founder Brian Chesky explains in the video below.

Download the list of my 6 favorite MIRACLE Airbnb tools

Watch this video:The Story No One Believed – Airbnb founder Brian Chesky.

Airbnb founders receive their first funding

To fund their startup, they began selling election-themed cereals. The Airbnb founders managed to make a whopping $30,000 selling the Obama O's and Cap'n McCains. They also came up with some pretty funny jingles. Check out the landing page they used and listen to the jingles.

Airbnb raised its first funding, $20,000 from Y Combinator. They are still making only $200 a week and decide to use the money to travel to New York, their biggest market, to meet their users. They discover that the main problem is that the pictures of most listings aren't good. They buy a camera and go door-to-door to take better pictures of the listings.

It's January 2009 and the incubator invites the three founders to join its winter session for three months of training. At the same time, Paul Graham at Y Combinator tries to convince venture capitalist Fred Wilson to invest in Airbnb. Amazingly, you can read the actual email conversation that Graham and Wilson had.

Wilson decides to pass, missing out on what would have been a huge winner. After meeting Chesky & co, he asked them to leave a box of the famous cereals. The box now serves as a reminder for Wilson not to make this mistake again, as he describes in a blog post published two years later.

Airbnb finally starts taking off

After visiting their users in New York, the company finally gets some traction. The focus is changed from shared spaces to all types of accommodation. It's March 2009 and Airbnb has 2500 listings and close to 10,000 registered users.

As they say, the rest is history. Airbnb history. The most recent statistics show that Airbnb now has over 2 million listings in over 190 countries and 34,000 cities. Airbnb hosts have hosted over 40 million guests. The company is worth an estimated 25.5 billion, based on the latest round of funding of 1.5 billion.

Here's a cool overview of Airbnb's timeline.

airbnb history timeline(credit:

Finally, watch this cool video that summarizes the Airbnb story.


  1. JER says:

    Unfortunately Airbnb is going thru this right now. They have hit the size where the middle management has taken over and is white washing the ugly stuff that is happening. I got north korean operators that are an obvious trying to stay. The only reward is that they can be in a location without reveling their identity. This is not phishing for money. these are we will kill people bad operators. The first booking was cancelled by airbnb. Another one appeared from the same operator with another false identity. These people are not loners, the level of sophistication in the story, false identity set-up which involves being from another country in Europe than in the previous attempt , phone numbers yet from another country of the fake identity tells about unnerving level of manipulation. Again , these people are not doing it for the money. Which is of course the ultimate RED FLAG. I got airbnb trust and safety standing on this for a week now. I am a senior manager normally paid 2k USD per hour. I have used 10hrs to help airbnb “customer service” , which is the only channel to trust and safety , to understand what is going on , always talking to another person, starting from scratch and whatever it is – there is nothing happening, airbnbn is spinning wheels. So Brian Chesky , if you or someone from your inner circle brings this to your attention. take action. These people are likely terrorist planning deadly attacks, and your organisation is totally at loss with what is going on and how to get on top of this. The standard large organisation dilemma, you have hit the mass where things start becoming increasingly to manage the way you were used to. And 50% of your 25B USD could be history in short sweep. Please find a way to get a grip of the situation, and sort this out. I want airbnb to be and stay a success. So please understand the angle where this is coming from. Best regards your “employee” a host from Amsterdam.

  2. Arco says: According with that link the owner and founder of AIRBNB is Brian Page. But according with your website his last name is different. Which one of the two is scam?

    • Jasper says:

      This guy sells a product that teaches how to run Airbnbs, he’s not affiliated with the company Airbnb.

  3. Haluk Aykul y. says:

    After listening The Airbnb Story by Airbnb Founder Joe Gebbia , these are my thoughts:

    It reminded me my dearest sociology professor Faruk Birtek who screamed several times “the unintended conequences” and … the structural change created by those unintended consequences”….

    Alongside my consulting company’s name “nexxtstage”, I am curious about Joe’s cuurent passion: “what willl be my next innocwnt idea whose unintended consequences willl disrupt what?” ….

    What will be the nexxtstage of airbnb so that it would keep being transformative?

    What would be t-or even better- should be the direction of this transformation, so that it woyld be worth to “chenge the way we experience the World”?

    Haluk y.
    An airbnb user right now writing down these lines from his current “airbnb home” 🙂

  4. Bitcoin meds says:

    thxanks for the info

  5. Perry says:

    One concern as a host is Air bnb collecting arbitrary state and local Fee’s. How can a non governmental private buisness become a government revenue collector? adding arbitrary fee’s to guests booking price of .03 – 20% on top of Air bnb .20% plus host fee for platform use of .03% . Theses fee’s benifit only the free loading couch surfers we call corporate and government partnered without host permission. This Government fee structure was test marketed in Tennessee , much like a fast food company would market a hamburger. If it works . Move to another state and proceed to market . Alabama is now a gov fee state. I am not against fee’s just against arbitrary and capricious collection and charge to increase profit what is missing is the community spirit of Air bnb originators
    Air bnb does more than host guests. It helps communities. In some cases holding off urban blight. Hosts do not receive any compensation for what good they do for community. Instead are getting taxed and fee’s into a no profit loss by the end of the year. When an Air bnb article refers to the founder as “the warm fuzzy guy from California” that doesn’t get along with financial manager. It’s pretty obvious the new direction air bnb is taking.

  6. Debbie says:

    Air B and B promised that due to extenuating circumstances (in this case the Corona Virus yet of my four listings only one has provided a full refund. Policy listed at: ( One reservation gave back everything. Another reservation gave back not quite 50%, Another 65% and the fourth one zero.

    Each cancellation the situation was explained and because three of these were international travel no current entry allowed. I have tired to reach out to Air B and B and been unsuccessful. While I know their phones are ringing off the hook this is very disappointing the the hosts are not recognizing their policies.

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  8. Dee says:

    Very disappointing!! I’ve been booking rooms for awhile with Airbnb for Buisness and out of NO WHERE my account was deactivated due to a issue that happened in 2009. To judge someone on their past is very disheartening. Employers understand that situations happens is individuals life but they’re given a second chance. Now with being a loyal customer to the Airbnb community but yet judged by an incident that happened over a decade ago is unbelievable. I have not had any issues since then and will not have any. I would like for the founders to re-evaluate their polices moving forward and reinstate my account. I’m not sure if this has happened to anyone else but I’m really offended behind this issue, especially since there hasn’t been any issues since..

  9. Ruby Russell says:

    I love your story, very innovative. Now you need patented, simple, effortless, innovative bedding to really make a statement. I hope to hear from you.

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