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