Build What You Need | An AirBnB Case Study

  • Nibras Ib

Day #36 of 100 Days of Writing

Photo by Chris Barbalis via Unsplash
Writing by Nibras

'Create products to solve your problems'

The entrepreneurship adage; you've heard it before if you're in the startup world. Yet, no matter how often it's repeated, every day new products and businesses are made which ignore its advice. If they don't follow it, is it necessary?
Let's explore an example of a business which does follow this advice to see if it holds any merit. Joe Gebbia, co-founder of AirBnB, is a living testament to the benefits of starting businesses to solve your own problems. I listened to Gebbia's interview with Tim Ferriss, and found myself thinking: "with his approach to problem-solving this man was destined for success."
What about Gebbia's approach to challenges and problems made his success seem inevitable?
  • He's always looking for solutions
  • He turns each problem into a personal challenge to overcome
  • His perseverance is surreal
Gebbia is a product/business creating machine and each business is an attempt to solve a problem he's experienced.

Enter this strange design:
Image source: DesignBoom

Soft cushions for sore bums — CritBuns

Art school, long crits and hard floors
Gebbia studied Fine Art at Rhode Island School of Design before switching to product design. It was there that he encountered the butt-aching crit marathons.
For you non-art-schoolers, a ‘crit’, short for critique, is a feedback session. Students hang up their work and have it critiqued by their peers and tutors. Now imagine, an art class of 30+ pupils each with a 20-minute slot of attention and you can start to see that this is a long event, often split into multiple days. Joe describes his crit experience:
“after hours of sitting on .. uncomfortable surfaces your butt starts to feel it. Everyone is wiggling around, trying to get comfortable. So by the end of the day, you’re incredibly sore. [..] I watched as my classmates exited the art studio with this bun print on the seat of their pants because all the charcoal dust, pen and ink that’s on these studio surfaces has rubbed off on their pants. Sure enough, I look at mine and my pants are ruined too.”
In crits, he's found an area he's less than satisfied with. He continues,
“So I’m walking back to my dorm room and I’m thinking, there’s got to be a better way.
'There's got to be a better way' seems to be Joe's mantra. Luckily, he doesn't stop at the thought and finds the alternative. In this case, the better way is:
“If we’re going to endure these crits for the next four years what if you had a seat cushion that you could sit on to make you comfortable and to [keep] you clean.
Image source: Pexels

Back in his dorm room Gebbia sketched out two buns, he even added shade to give them volume. The creation was named: CritBuns. Thus began his first successful product and business.
In the end, CritBuns ended up taking him across the world, from Japan exhibition fares to the revered shelves of the design store at the Museum of Modern Art. And it all started, as silly as it sounds, with an art student who wanted to stop his butt from hurting and his jeans from being ruined.
You can see the same approach, of building to save a problem, applied in Gebbia’s second business, E-collect: “a google for sustainable materials” and his $35 billion valuation business, Airbnb.
Image source: TechCrunch

Rent's Overdue - Airbnb

In 2007, while living in San Francisco, Gebbia, his then flatmate and later co-founder, Brian Chesky, were having trouble paying rent. With a problem identified, they began brainstorming a solution. The 'better way' came in the form of the Industrial design conference which was set to take place in the city. They noticed that with the increase in demand, all hotels were booked.
A day after this realisation, they built a website, with the intention of offering airbeds on their living room floor and breakfast for a daily price. The idea of shared renting was born. In less than a week, they'd had their first 3 guests with an international guest from India.
The rest of the story leads us to today, with an Airbnb room being booked once every 2 seconds.
If you want to hear the rest of Airbnb's fantastic journey, listen to the full interview here. Gebbia is a brilliant storyteller.

The verdict:

Create products and services to solve your own problems and you will inadvertently solve the problems of others.
Tim Ferriss, author and entrepreneur, talks about, "scratching your own itch." He suggests not creating for an imaginary, hypothetical audience, particularly one you don't really understand. "I may not know if others want it but I know at least one person who does, ME." And he's excellent at following his own advice. After all, his first best-seller, the '4 hour Work Week', came as a direct result of him writing for a friend and himself.
Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire founder of Patagonia, similarly wrote: "We were our own best customers from the start. We made the tools, gear, clothes that we wanted."
While there's right method, if you’re going to start a business, you can't go wrong by making it let it a business which provides a solution you need.