What Seven Years at Airbnb Taught Me About Building a Business
Create strong culture, stay laser-focused on problems, and set wildly ambitious goals
In 2012, shortly after Airbnb acquired our startup, I overheard co-founder Joe Gebbia giving guidance to a designer tasked with redesigning the homepage. He said, “Build something the internet has never seen before.” I vividly remember thinking, What does that even mean? And is this the bar for everything around here? Looking back, I’ve come to recognize that this mindset has been one of the key ingredients in Airbnb’s historic growth.
I first joined Airbnb as an engineer, then became one of the first members of the budding PM team. Back then, there were a couple dozen engineers, a few designers, and two very cute dogs. Over the next seven years, as the company scaled to thousands of global employees, countless cute dogs, and over $30 billion in value, I took on a lot of interesting problems and worked with many incredible people. Since leaving a few weeks ago, I’ve been jotting down my biggest lessons from these experiences. I’ve realized I should share these lessons with anyone else working to build a company. I can’t promise they will all apply to your situation, but they have been core to Airbnb’s success.
Create strong culture, values, and rituals
It’s increasingly common for people to choose companies that connect with their personal values, both as consumers and employees. From day one, Airbnb has been a company obsessed with strong culture, clear values, and quirky rituals. Over the years, I’ve witnessed how effective this has been in creating a competitive advantage, allowing the company to hire the best talent, move quickly when opportunities arise, and push through adversity. Most importantly, it has made it easy for leaders to stay true to the long-term mission and for the team to hold them accountable.
How did Airbnb create a strong culture? Three key ingredients: