Joe Gebbia

Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi, I’m here with Joe. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Joe Gebbia: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SSR: Yeah, of course. So with this podcast, we always start at the beginning. Where did you grow up, and what kind of kid were you? Was design something that was always an early passion or were you super creative from a young age?

JG: I grew up in a really small town in the State of Georgia, a place called Warrensville, which is near Snellville, which is close to Wilburn, which is near Norcross, which is kind of close to Atlanta. It’s was growing up in the suburb where I fell in love with art as a kid. I was always drawing. My parents would say that I always had either crayon at an early age, or had either or a pencil or a pen in my hand and was always drawing.

I remember I got to comics when I was really young and would learn to draw from comic books, some of my favorites. And hat was how I began to begun my journey in the world of art as an artist. And so that path took me many, many places early in life. One was in the State of Georgia, I got inducted into a program for high school students called the Governor’s Honors Program, where you do college level coursework as a high school student.

It was during the summer program where I really fell in love with the notion of actually making this more than just, a love or an interest, but actually turning this into a career. And so professor there her name was Donna. She had a profound impact on me. She told me about the Rhode Island School of Design, and she said, “You need to go here.” And I said, “I didn’t even know where Rhode Island is. It’s somewhere up in the Northeast, but I could draw it on the map.” And because of her, I started research it and understood it to be one of the top schools in the nation and the world and set my sights out to go there, to study fine arts.

I dreamed it to be a painter. I used to be fascinated by the fine arts. And I always had this idea in my mind of, “One day exhibiting my work in a gallery in New York City somewhere.” And so yeah, basically the seed was planted. And the rest was just up to me to figure out how to get into the school.

SSR: Yeah. Were your parents creative or was there anyone else in your family that kind of planted the seed?

JG: They would not describe themselves as artistic. They’re creative in their own aspects. But it’s certainly not self-described as artistic. I’d actually, be thinking came from my grandfather who I’m named after. I found his sketchbooks from World War II where he was stationed down in Italy and would draw in his downtime. And so he’d draw these really vivid scenes of life between the action. His wife just drying clothes, sitting around these little vignettes, into what it was like to be a soldier during World War II. We found these in my basement one time and it was one of those moments where it’s like an Indiana Jones moment. You uncover some incredible artifact that just blows your mind and it feels like such a treasure.

SSR: Yeah.

JG: And so for this, actually for this past holiday season, my dad and my family gifted me his sketches and a bunch of old black and white photographs with him. So anyway, that was a long answer, but we think it came from him. He also drew a Hollywood stars back in the 1950s and sixties, with these beautiful portraits of, I don’t know, Frank Sinatra and a bunch of other folks of that era.

SSR: Amazing. It’s such a treasure. And so RISD, you figured out how to get in, was it everything that you thought it was going to be?

JG: It was way more. Yeah, let’s see. I got in and we packed up the car, we drove from Georgia to Rhode Island with all my stuff. My parents dropped me off. I said goodbye, and then there I was on my own to figure out how this all works. It was the first time I’d been, obviously I’d traveled when I was a kid, but I’d never lived anywhere really other than the south. And so here I was for the first time living in the New England.

SSR: Yeah.

JG: In Providence between Boston and New York. I was meeting a lot of very different kinds of people. I was getting exposed to things that you just didn’t see in the South. It was really growing up for me. It was like a moment of independence. It was a moment of really getting a more global view of the world. And really starting to discover myself as a creative that’s the whole point of the school, was to help you find your voice, to find a channel, all the inner ideas that you have and bring them to life. Ironically RISD, and probably this is true for probably any art school or design school. Makes free great training to be an entrepreneur.

Where you say, become an entrepreneur, if they had a creative background, that’s a good to design school. Don’t go to a business school program. And the reason for that is actually kind of simple, so studying industrial design, and graphic design at RISD. You’re basically trained to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist and then create it. It could be a website, it could be a consumer product. But the design process is quite literally imagining something that is not in the world. And you need to figure out how to create it, and make it something in the world.

SSR: Right.

JG: And transition it from an idea in your mind, to a page of a sketchbook, to a physical prototype, and then to a production level product or website. And so it was five years of my dual degree in industrial design and graphic design. And during those five years it was just honing this. I can imagine a new kind of idea, and a solution to something. And then it was like, “I got to go figure out how to make it real.” And that is essentially entrepreneurship, you spot an opportunity in the world, a way to do something better, and you can figure out how you make it, how do you make it real? So I really have to credit RISD for a lot of who I am today. It’s where I did discover myself, discovered obviously great people in the form of my co-founder Brian Chesky.

SSR: Right.

JG: Whose now CEO, because when I entered campus, this was back in the fall of 2000. I knew that I wanted to start a company one day. I couldn’t tell you what it was going to be. But I knew having grown up with my parents both, you could say, independent in their profession. They were independent sales reps. So I saw them forging their own path, they determine the amount of success. They did not have nine to five job, that was completely up to them. And I remember thinking like, in good months that looked like fun, and on bad months didn’t, but in either they, they really controlled their own path. And I remember thinking of that as a kid growing up like, “Wow, one day I want to be running my own thing. I want to start my own company.” And through high school, I had all kinds of little experiments. We’ll call them experiments.

SSR: Like what?

JG: Like the lawn mower business, mowing the lawns of my neighborhood. I sold t-shirts my senior year at school as a way to… I didn’t like the senior t-shirt the school provided, it’s was kind of lame. So I designed my own, figure out how to make it, and then sold it to my friends and made a couple hundred bucks. It was great. Well, there’s a dozen stories like that of just finding like little moments to try things. And even at RISD the experiments continued. I remember when I got there, I love basketball. I’ve played most of my life.

I get to campus and I go into the office of the student affairs, student life. And I said, “Hey, I love to play on the basketball team.” And guy behind the desk looks at me with this very puzzled face and goes, “Actually, we don’t have a basketball team.” We’re staring at each other and he breaks the awkward silence and he goes, “But you can start one.” And I said, “Really? Well, what do I have to do?” He says, “Find 12 other students who also want to play and come back and bring me the list.”

And so I basically followed all the steps that they provided for me. And within a couple of months, I established the first basketball team at the school in 40 years. And in many ways it was like my first startup.

SSR: Amazing.

JG: I had to recruit a team of people. I had to go raise money from the school. I had to operate a schedule. I had to do sales calls to convince other colleges to come play us in basketball. It was actually a little bit harder than it sounds given we’re in an art school.

SSR: Yeah.

JG: And so yeah, that was a bunch of early lessons in like, how do you start something up from nothing?

SSR: Right.

JG: Convince people to join you, motivate them to want to participate and contribute. The team, by the way, is called The Balls and they are still going. I’m very proud of this. All these years later, we’re almost 20 years later and the team has been a fixture on campus ever since its founding 20 years ago.

An Airbnb offering, located in Los Angeles

SSR: That’s amazing. How many people did it grow to while you were there?

JG: Oh, I mean, the team’s always been, I say anywhere between 10 and 15 people.

SSR: Yeah.

JG: But it’s a good outlet for students at play, and for fans, for the student body.

SSR: Yeah.

JG: There’s not a lot of…RISD is pretty intense. It’s known for its workload. It’s not for people who are looking to just cruise through a college experience. My roommate freshman year failed out. The work ethic that they mint out of people is next level. It’s exceptional.

SSR: Yeah.

JG: And so to have a chance to get out of the studio and go see a basketball game on a Friday night, it’s a real treat for students.

SSR: That’s awesome. Well, congrats on that, that’s just leading up them to all the success. So you knew you wanted to do something, but you didn’t know exactly what it was. So when you graduated, did you have a job, or you just had… What were your next steps after you graduated?

JG: Well, I started my first company the day after I graduated. And it was a consumer product that I had designed for class project. And the school actually purchased them for me to give to my graduating class. It’s a C-cushion design. It’s called CritBuns.

SSR: Okay.

JG: Which was a term used at art school where you have art critiques or crits, for sure.

SSR: Yep. Crits.

JG: Yep. Every morning you pull into drawing class, you pin your homework up on the wall, and then you have an eight hour crit, where you’re sitting around on hardwood floors and metal stools discussing the work. And that’s how you learn, you get feedback from your professor and from peers. As kind of the paramount, it’s the crux of any design school experience. And so after a couple of these early crits, my first year at school, eight hours on a hardwood floor is not very comfortable. And I remember thinking, “Man, I there’s got to be a better way.”

So came up with a design for C-cushion that would work for me and my students, all students. And eventually that was the product that the school bought, distributed, and I started the company the day after I graduated to really figure out this mystery of how do you get a product on the shelf of a store. But that didn’t work, because school environment was very conceptual and theory based.

SSR: Right.

JG: You got it to a prototype, but you never went any further. And there was kind of a black box that existed for me, that I was committed to decode. I was like, “I have to know how this works.” So I started the company really to just figure that out and say, “How does this get to the shelf of a store? What’s involved in that?”

Sure enough. I had some inventory in my basement in Providence of these cushions. And I remember I walked up to the Brown University Bookstore, which is across the street. And I met with the manager and I sat down with my best dress shirt on and my fanciest shoes. I had my sales sheet impeccably designed, ready to go in my wholesale price and all these things.

And I’m 10 seconds into the pitch and the manager goes, “Thanks. But I’m not interested.” And we used the conference room. And I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh my God, is this what it’s going to be like? Is this how every pitch is going to go?” And sure enough, the next two were very similar to that. And at that point I’m like, “Oh my God, what have I got myself into? I created this product that works at art schools, but nowhere else…” You know, oh crap.

And then the fourth story, I’ll never forget. It’s called Pie in the Sky. It’s on Thayer Street in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s a little tiny gift shop, really cool, little gifts. I walk in, I give the pitch to the woman and she looks at me and she goes, “I’ll buy it.” And I was like, “Oh my God.” I’m thinking to myself, I’m just jumping up and down inside. I’m trying to keep my cool, she goes, “I’ll take four cushions.” And I go, huh, amazing. I’m elated. She goes, “Here’s where you can ship them to.” And I go, “Oh no, no, no, no, I’m not shipping these. I’m going to go back to my house around the corner. I’m going to pack them up and come deliver them, to handle them to you.” And she’s like, “Okay, that’s odd.”

But sure enough delivered them, later that night I came back, the store was closed. There was a dim light in the back of the store. I press my face up against the glass and they are on the shelf, was my product. Made it to the shelf of the store. And in that instant, I suddenly was filled with all of this confidence that, “Okay, Cool. I got to the shelf at this store. Let’s go find some more stores.” And over the next couple of months, I traveled the Boston, traveled in New York, back to Atlanta. And I was selling this thing all over the place.

Eventually I get a call from some of these catalogs that our parents probably get in the mail, some catalogs, and they loved it because it was great for gardening as a kneeling pad and all these other use cases. And so before I knew it, I’m dealing hundreds of CritBuns at a time out of my garage, all on myself. Doing everything from, you name it, I did it. It was a great, great experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was an adventure and entrepreneurship.

SSR: That’s amazing.

JG: One of the things that will relate to what comes next, is every time I’d have a big win, I’d be standing alone in the garage or my apartment. And I thought to myself, the next thing I do, I want to have a co-founder. I want to have somebody that I can share and celebrate in these milestones with. And that was like a really important moment for me where I said, “Okay. So the next thing I do, let’s find a partner.”

SSR: Speaking of partners, how did you and Brian meet at school?

JG: We met through sports. I started and ran that the basketball team, and he was running the hockey team. I mean, we effectively had the two biggest student run organizations on campus, at least the most well-known. And so we earned these reputations over the years. Some people referred to as like, “Oh, there goes the two entrepreneurs on campus.”

SSR: Little did they know. That’s awesome. So what made you move on from CritBuns, what happened to it?

JG: Well, I guess this thing called Airbnb started. Sent off.

SSR: Yeah. Sent that on the side, that makes sense.

JG: Yeah. It was never meant to be a big company, it was meant to answer a lot of questions for me.

SSR: Yeah, but it did.

JG: It did. So in that aspect, that was a major success in my book. It was my own little grad school. Like I created my own little business grad program that was super applied because it was all real world stuff unfolding. It wasn’t the textbook. I moved to move to San Francisco in 2006 after five years in school, and the year after that and Providence starting the CritBuns business. And I had a six month internship at a book publisher called Chronicle Books.

Which anybody in the design world will regard as one of the, you can say highest end book design publishers. They do books as objects. They’re just beautifully designed. And they want to hire an industrial designer, of all things, who does this. But they kind of could see the future where books in the publishing industry, it was facing some decline over time. And they thought, “Well, we need to diversify and think about beyond books.” And they thought having an industrial designer on staff would be a way to do that.

SSR: Interesting.

JG: I got to work on all kinds of things, special packaging for the books, and products to compliment their books and the retail stores and all those things. But it was a perfect segue into San Francisco in the Bay Area.

SSR: Right. Was the idea of Airbnb conceived while you were working there or at the end? I know the story has been out there a bunch, but tell us in your own words, what actually happened.

JG: It actually starts in Providence, Rhode Island. As I was graduating, I had this street sale to get rid of all the things I was no longer going to use. I’m selling them some clothes and some art that I made. It’s the end of the day and I’m ready to go home, but this guy pulls up in this red Mazda Miata. And he gets out and he starts looking through my stuff and I’m thinking, “Oh, man, would you hurry up? I just want to get home.” And we get to talking and he tells me he’s doing a road trip before he heads into the Peace Corps. I quickly figured out that he’s on a solo trip, doesn’t know anybody in the city. And he seemed like a nice guy. And for whatever reason, I invited him out to get a drink that night.

So I took him to, it’s called the Custom House. It was this old crony pub in Downtown, Providence. And we’re getting beers and he’s telling me all about the Peace Corps, I’m telling them him about RISD, it all sounds interesting. He seems like a good dude. And as a motioning for the check, I make the mistake of asking him the question so where you’re staying tonight. He makes it worse by saying, “Actually I don’t have a place.” I’m thinking to myself, “Oh my God.”

The hotels are going to be closed. And before I know what I’m saying, I utter the words. “Why don’t you stay in an airbed in my living room?” And the minute I say it, I regret it. I’m thinking to myself, “Oh my God, what have I done?” I mean, this guy says he’s going to the Peace Corps, but is he really going to the Peace Corps? I don’t know and if he is. And so before I know it, I’m set them up in the living room. He’s on my air bed. I head back to my room and I’m laying in bed. I’m trying to go to sleep. I’m staring at the ceiling thinking like, “Oh my God, there is a complete stranger in my living room. What have I done?” And at that moment I leap out of bed and I tiptoe on the floor and lock the bedroom door. There is stranger in my living room.

SSR: Yeah. Not a bad idea.

JG: Oh my gosh. So the next morning we get up, everything’s fine. We have brunch. He goes off to the Peace Corps. He actually sends me postcards from his outposts in Eastern Europe and keeps in touch. And eventually he sends me a picture from his, he was near Chicago and he’s a teacher, and he has my art print hanging in his classroom.

SSR: Oh, that’s so cool.

JG: That he bought at the street sale. And he comes back to San Francisco every so often to run the marathon and he stays at my place.

SSR: That’s great. I love that.

JG: So when I moved to San Francisco, I was stirred to pack the air bed with me. And so the air bed made that made the journey and that one fateful weekend, still trying to convince Brian to move up to San Francisco from Los Angeles trying to get the band back together knowing that look, if you put him and I in the same room together, we could come up with something big. Make big things happen. Gosh, it was September of 2007, and I get a letter from the landlord and it tells me, it says, “Dear Joe, your rent is now 25 percent higher.”

And at this point, Brian and I had quit our jobs. I left Chronicle. He left to the job in LA. I run to my online banking account. And I see I have a major math problem. Rent has gone up here and my income has dropped significantly. So Brian and I are trying to scheme up ideas of how to make some extra cash. I’m in the living room of our apartment. I’ve got my laptop open and I’m looking at the website of a design conference coming to San Francisco in a couple of weeks. And Brian and I were going to attend.

In that moment, I’m looking at the website. It says all the hotels in San Francisco are sold out in big red letters across the top of the website. I go, “Oh man, where are people going to stay last minute, who actually want to come to the conference?” I look up over the edge of the laptop, into the vastness of our living room and think, “Hmm, well, what if we just take the air bed out of the closet and host somebody.” I send an email to Brian, he loves the idea. We get two more airbeds. We’ll make it an experience. We’ll cook breakfast, we’ll pick them up from the airport we decided to call it the Air Bed and Breakfast.

So we got the URL, 18 character URL, do not recommend that to anybody to get a website named that long. We made the website in a couple of days. It got promoted on design blogs. We have people from around the world, emailing us with their resumes saying, “I want to stay on the Air Bed and Breakfast. Pick me, pick me.” I had people calling my phone. I have no idea how they got my number off the internet somewhere. Trying to pitch me on why they were the right guests, that they want rent three exclusive airbeds.

We chose three people. They were all amazing. Kat, Amol, and Michael are still friends to this day. We had an incredible time showing them San Francisco through our eyes. They got to save money when they came, they got to experience a city like we did. Our favorite restaurants, our friend’s house parties, kind of the antithesis of going back to a secluded, somewhat generic room that could be anywhere in the world by yourself. Instead, they were coming back to our apartment, which was, social. It was alive. We were cooking meals together. Our friends are coming by, they’re meeting people. It was complete opposite of a typical conference travel experience.

And so that was the spark. That was where the big idea began was like, “Huh, we had such a good time hosting them.” We made enough money to save our apartment, not get evicted. They want to travel like this again. Maybe there’s something here. And so we knew that we needed a computer engineer to join us, a software engineer. And the guy that lived with me before Brian was named Nate Blecharczyk. We found each other on Craigslist.

Nate was a computer scientist, graduated from Harvard, came out to the Bay to get into the startup scene. And we had developed a friendship for each other, and with each other. And so I picked up the phone. I mean, Nate, I tell him about this weekend experiment. These guests stay with us and Nate loved it. He thought it was the coolest idea to use the internet, to get people offline, back into the real world. And so the band was formed. We had all the talent that we needed. And in early 2008, we set off to make what is today Airbnb.

An Airbnb listing, located in Joshua Tree

SSR: Amazing. Like you did for the CritBun, how did you take it from an idea and really scale it? What were the beginnings that helped you to get to where you are today?

JG: Well, it was insanely hard in the early days. Where you have a two-sided marketplace, where you need supply and demand in equilibrium with each other. Our metaphor that we use is, you can’t have a successful store if a bunch of customers come in and there’s no price products on the shelf.

They’re not coming back to the store again. And you really can’t have a successful marketplace if you’ve got a lot of offerings, but there’s nobody buying them. And so marketplaces are typically one of the hardest genres of internet companies start for this reason. It just takes an inordinate amount of effort. You have to get buyers and sellers together in a new marketplace, on top of which ours was not a typical marketplace. We’re asking people to do something they traditionally have not done.

Which is to either open your home to somebody you’ve never met, or stay home with a stranger. It took a couple of years to really go, and it was one city at a time. In early days we would travel city by city. We meet our early hosts, the early adopters in our site. And we would learn from them. We’d developed the site based around their needs, and their requests and what they wanted. And we had this mantra from one of our early advisors, Paul Graham, which was, make something people want. In the early days, the best way to figure that out wasn’t through surveys, wasn’t anything online. It was actually going into the world and talking to people face to face, having conversations with them. We learned so many things from our early hosts that we adapted incorporated into the site to make it better.

SSR: Was there anyone back then doing anything similar?

JG: Oh yeah. Those people maybe don’t remember this, but there are a bunch of competitors. There were a lot of other little websites around that time that we were competing with, because ultimately marketplaces usually consolidate.

SSR: Right.

JG: That’s why there’s kind of just one Amazon, there’s one eBay. It was a race, really a race to become the predominant marketplace for homes and experiences all over the world.

SSR: Why do you think you guys won that race in a sense, and two, why do you think people in 2007, 2008, when you guys started to…Well, I guess 2009, you started to kind of take off. What void do you think they were responding to that you were offering?

JG: Hmm, on the first question, why did we succeed over everybody else? As I look back and reflect on that, it’s because we designed for trust. Everybody was offering relatively the same kind of product. The same kind of home. So why were we different? Well, to make people comfortable with booking that home, you had to introduce Olympic sized trust between two sides of the marketplace, this two people. We fell back on what we know, which is design. And I think the other companies fell back on what they knew, which is maybe their technology, or marketing, or sales, or whatever. And for us, we just simply designed a better experience.

SSR: Got it.

JG: We put the same kind of gifts in a much more beautiful package, and I think it made it more accessible for people, they could trust it more. I think that was what gave us the edge over everybody else.

SSR: Makes sense. And then why do you think people responded so well? Do you think it was the time? Do you think it was just something else different? I mean, 2008, 2009, the recession might’ve helped you guys.

JG: It definitely helped us. If you’re a homeowner in 2008 or 2009, and you were out of work because of the Great Recession, or your savings have dwindled because of the stock market, people became very open-minded about new ways to make some additional income. Who would’ve known that was going to happen. And it certainly, I think opened people’s eyes to this idea like, “Oh, I have an extra bedroom it’s just sitting there. Why don’t I monetize it? Why don’t I offer that as an experience for somebody looking to visit my city?” We actually helped a lot of people save their homes in that time. And I know this because they emailed us. We used to print these out and pin them up on the wall because they were so moving.

Like, wow, this means more to people than we ever thought it would. And this has brought something to people’s lives that we couldn’t have never imagined. And that’s still true today. People have made significant income on our site as a host. And beyond that, if you ask a host, eight or nine years later, why are they still hosting? The money certainly is helpful, but there’s something else that actually supersedes it at some point, which is the appreciation that they get from their guests. Obviously the reviews they get on our site, but it’s the thing, even beyond the reviews.

It’s the invitations that guests give them to visit their city when they’re traveling to their country next time. It’s the thank you notes. It’s the bottles of wine. The bars of the chocolate that guests leave behind as a symbol of appreciation for what the hosts shared with them. And that’s actually my theory of what keeps the hosting kind of activity going is that.

On the guest side, wouldn’t even be fulfilling back in the early days and even they’re true to today. I think that over time, maybe it will say over the course of the 20th century, travel had become commoditized. And it’s most evident, I think in how it’s consumed, which is going to these online travel agencies, the OTAs, and trying to penny pinch on every aspect of the trip without any regard to the experience that one is actually getting. And I feel hit like some dead end in the mid 2000s, where it’s kind of like, “Okay, we can save a dollar on a flight and a dollar on a hotel room, but what’s going to actually elevate an experience for me when I travel with me and my family.”

I think we introduced something that absolutely answers that question, which is you can now travel and stay in a neighborhood of a city you’ve never had access to. With the host who will be your guide to help you feel like an insider to the city, instead of like an outsider. Tourist zones are just basically like big spotlights of like, “Hey, I don’t live here. I don’t really belong here.” The whole premise of staying with a host is that you have somebody who can help you understand, this is what this part of the world is.

This is what we eat. This is how we talk. This is point blank. I’ve experienced this many times myself on Airbnb. I went to Tokyo for New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago, and I knew that going to a place like Japan as somebody who doesn’t speak the language, I really wanted a host to help orientate me for my trip. I booked a room with a guy named Roo. And sure enough, he was there to pick me up the train station. And the next couple of days I spent in Tokyo, he helped me see a layer of the city that I otherwise would have completely missed.

My trip became that much richer because of him, because of my host. He took me to his favorite sake bar. I met his friends. We talked about ideas for his startup. It was just a really immersive experience. All thanks to the host.

SSR: Do you think he knew who you are?

JG: Not when I booked, but during the trip. Of course, we got to talking about what we’re up to and I disclosed. He promptly freaked out. And within about 10 minutes, the whole living room was full of his friends talking about startups and Silicon Valley. And it was awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was so fun.

SSR: Free business advice. I love it. Speaking of business advice, what have you learned, or what has been the hardest or most challenging part to take this concept and scale it, right? And get to where you are today, but still keep it local. Right? Because that’s the importance of it? And also creating a culture where it feeds down to the host, right? Or feeds not down, but feeds to the host, from everyone that works with you to all the hosts because you and Brian obviously can’t touch every part of it?

JG: Well, I think you accomplish that by starting inside out, meaning that whatever we expect from our community out in the world, we first have to expect from ourselves inside the company. And the most point example of that would be the values that we have, that we hire by that we would buy. And the first one on the list is Google literally called the Be a host. And it’s about how we host each other as team members, as collaborators, as departments, as one company, that’s creating the service for our community out in the world. If we’re going to hold our host community to certain expectations, so too, we need to do with ourselves internally. I think we’re deeply rooted in this idea that like it’s all inside out and we need to practice what we preach.

SSR: Got it. And how have you evolved? What have been the most exciting things that you’ve done, that you can highlight. I know a bunch of announcements recently came out and now you added the experience levels, just talk to us about some of the highlights along the way of how you’ve taken this concept and bettered it?

JG: True. We did some practical things like, I’m a very proud of all the language support that we’ve added because it’s such a global community. We’re in every country other than North Korea. I think Sudan, Iran, a couple of others on the affect list, but it’s such a global brand that we need to be localized everywhere. There’s not a lot of companies that have to be everywhere all at once. So it’s things like that I’m proud of beyond the sort of nuts and bolts, I think experiences is a fascinating addition to the story because hosts over the years have been offering experiences. But very informally.

SSR: Right.

JG: Meaning that if you book with them, they’ll eventually share with you once you arrive, “Oh, by the way, you can also do this with me, or I’m happy to take you out on the trip.” And in fact one other New Year’s Eve, I traveled to Costa Rica on Airbnb, and I stayed with a host who was a retired professional surfer. I mean, this guy was legit and got to take lessons and got to actually go surfing. But all this stuff was hard to find. It was never discoverable. And so the experience has actually changed that radically, turned it all upside down and actually created a whole marketplace just for hosts that have some local insight to share some local knowledge, local… Something that can help answer the question. “Okay, now that I’m here, what can I do?” Experiences the answer to that question in the very Airbnb web. You won’t find any of the big box commoditized, touristy kind of things on there. It’s all original local content created and hosted by our community. I’m very proud about that.

And then leading into today’s announcements it’s a big day for us. Many months of hard work on behalf of our many teams in the company to help get ready for this major travel rebound that’s coming. Summer travels almost upon us.

We know there’s a lot of changes in the way that people are thinking about traveling, want to book their travel and discover where to go. And so today we announced a bunch of new options that allow for flexible travel, so that the advent of remote work and Zoom conferencing and kids learning over Zoom, suddenly families are no longer anchored to certain places. You don’t have to commute to an office, then suddenly your imagination can start to go places. Well, if you don’t have to live exactly here, where could we get home? And I think a lot of families are having that conversation right now and turning to us to book stays that are longer than usual. Because the home is more than just the vacation. Now, the home is also a workplace and it’s also an education center for kids.

And so we’re seeing families take advantage of that. As they book their summer travel, it’s no longer about a week somewhere, it’s about a month, two or three months, somewhere.

SSR: Yep. As a mom of three, let me tell you, I’m trying to figure out where I can take these little guys out of here for a while.

JG: Well now you can search Airbnb not only by just flexible criteria, but also by type of listing. So you can now look, start your search, not by where you want to go, but by the type of place you want to stay in.

SSR: That’s cool.

JG: We’ve been lucky enough to have a bunch of very unusual and very quirky, unique categories emerge over the years, including one of my favorites tree houses. So you can search now by tree houses. You could search by castles. You can search by teepees or yachts or boats or villas. The list goes on and on and on.

An Airbnb offering, located in Florence, Italy

SSR: Where do you think is the coolest place that you have on your site? I mean, it’s hard to pick, I know it’s hard to pick a favorite child, but like…

JG: Oh my Gosh, I remember at certain points there was a tugboat on the Seine in Paris.

SSR: Oh, that’s cool.

JG: Literally gets to stay on this old antique tug boat with this Parisian host. And your view out the window was all of Paris. It was absolutely amazing. There’s tree houses in California and around the world, there’s castles throughout Europe. There’s actually private islands that you can book on our site that are completely affordable. Believe it or not, you go in with a couple friends and you end up paying like a hundred bucks a night for a private island all to yourself.

SSR: Yeah, that’s amazing. Just because we are hospitality magazine, so I have to ask this not to be controversial, but what do you say to those that believe you guys get away with more because you’re not a hotel, but at the same time, you’ve evolved to be very much a hospitality company in many ways. What’s your thought process on that? Has that been part of it to become more…I mean, obviously hospitality is at the core of what you do, but to evolve, to have different services and levels, and ratings, and everything, again, back to that trust that you started with?

JG: Yeah. I think we’ve evolved so much in the last 13 years of doing this and will continue to evolve. I mean, that’s the nature of technology is that it’s never static. It’s never the same. It’s always improving. I think today was an example of that. We are in a constant state of improvement and we’re always making the service better for our hosts and our guests and the communities we operated in.

SSR: Right. Okay. So we’re almost at time, but a couple of quick questions, more about you. What’s one thing about you that most people may not know?

JG: The one thing that people don’t usually know about me is that my dog is named Belo and the Belo is also the name of our logo. Like Nike has the swoosh, we have the Belo, it’s the first four letters of the word belong. And our mission is about creating belonging anywhere. So my pup is named Belo people often ask what came first, the logo or the dog, and it will remain a mystery.

SSR: I was just going to ask that question. How do you and Brian still work well together? Are you each other’s yin to your yang? Do you collaborate on a lot of… Talk through everything still?

JG: I think it’s not only a Brian, but it’s Brian, Nate, and I.

SSR: Right.

JG: We’re all still active in the company. We’re all still involved. And as we like to say, it’s a three legged stool. If you took away one of the legs, the stool gets a little wobbly.

SSR: Yeah. Love it. And how do you continue to stay inspired and creative and keep pushing innovation within your company?

JG: I think the best way to stay connected and inspire innovation is to stay connected with our hosts and guests community. We recently formed our host advisory council which are representatives from across the Airbnb host community geographically, every kind of demographic you can think of is represented. And through groups like that and the listening sessions that we’ve done over the last year, it helps us stay connected and keep our feet on the ground. If anything, remind yourselves of who we’re creating the service for, it’s for our hosts and our guests.

SSR: Love it.

JG: And they often have some of the brightest and most innovative ideas because they see things every single day.

SSR: Right. And do you still paint or draw or anything you used to do in school?

JG: I play piano these days.

SSR: Okay.

JG: That’s my creative outlet.

SSR: Love it. All right. And we always end this pod with the title of it. So what has been your greatest lesson learned along the way?

JG: Greatest lesson along the way is to dream big.

SSR: I love it. Well, thank you so much for taking this time with me today. It was a true privilege. Can’t wait to see what you all do next.

JG: Oh, thank you Stacy. It was a pleasure being here.

SSR: Yeah. Thanks. We’ll hopefully meet in real life someday soon.

The post Joe Gebbia appeared first on Hospitality Design.