Do Things That Don't Scale

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Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia were part of the YCombinator program in 2009 with a crazy idea of renting out the apartment to strangers. They hadn’t done well until then - all of their metrics were flat (and low) and they weren’t seeing any user growth. However, in their first office hours with Paul Graham (founder of YCombinator) something changed for them.

In discussing their company’s market with Paul, Joe and Brian were uncomfortable as they really didn’t have a market yet (no one was using their website). Optimistically they thought New York was the most promising city with about 30 hosts. To that, Paul asked what they were doing in Mountain View, California while their customers were in New York. It was in that moment, something profound happened. Up until that point, they had subscribed to Silicon Valley’s methodology of doing things at scale. They didn’t want to get left behind when the Rocketship takes off one fine day. Paul advised them to fly across the country and meet the early adopters of their product and understand how their product was being used.

He gave them permission to do things that don’t scale.

While analyzing their customers, they found that their hosts were not good at taking photos of their homes. Brian and Joe contacted their hosts, introduced themselves as the founders of the company and told them that they would be willing to help by having a professional photographer take photos of their house. They bought a wide-angle lens and a DSLR and knocked the doors of their hosts in New York. While seeing the hosts struggle to use their perfectly designed website, they got their User Experience 101 lesson - they were able to understand the world from their customers point of view and this enabled them to change their point of view. Joe calls this enlightened empathy.


They brought their insights back, made changes to their website and in a week saw their numbers double from $200 a week to $400 a week. This then snowballed and 9 years later AirBnB is currently valued at $31 Billion!

source - How I built this with Guy Raz

Kaushik Rangadurai

Code. Learn. Explore

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