PSFK Conference Speaker Interview: Joe Gebbia

PSFK Conference Speaker Interview: Joe Gebbia

Airbnb's product team leader shares his experiences as an entrepreneur, the challenges of paving the way in a new market, as well as insights into where his creativity comes from.

Amelia Riley Swan
  • 19 september 2011

Joe Gebbia will be one of the speakers at our upcoming PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO on October 6. Joe is the designer and entrepreneur behind Airbnb, a community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique spaces around the world. His work has been covered in publications like BusinessWeek, Time Magazine, I.D, and across the internet. He currently leads Airbnb’s product team to create effortless user experiences through sharp, intuitive design. In anticipation of his talk on the journey of Airbnb and how to keep up with a rapidly growing business at the PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO 2011, we bring you some insights from Joe:

Your talk is going to be on the journey of Airbnb. What personal lessons have you learned about yourself?

You gotta follow your passion. If you stop caring, it’s a good sign to move on. I like working on things that I care about, that I take pride in. And alongside people who also share that sense of pride in what they create. I believe in quality and excellence. That if you take the time do something, do it to the best of your ability. Charles Eames said it best, ‘The details are not the details. They make the design.’ There’s a long term arc with Airbnb, and it’s something I care deeply about.

What business learnings did you get from the challenges you faced during its growth?

When you’re growing at the rate we are, a tension is created regarding my above answer. How do you move fast while attending to the details? When faced with trade-offs, we lean towards whatever creates the best customer experience. This has been a part of Airbnb culture since the beginning.

 Where does your creativity come from?

In general, I think observing and listening reveals opportunities. But in terms of specific sources? The first source is from the people I work with. We have a very inventive product team of engineers, designers, researchers, and producers (our term for product managers). Second, I think nature is a great way to clear your head, whether surfing (or attempting to), or hiking, or whatever, I find it helps me keep things in perspective. We’re here for a relatively short amount of time – how do you want to spend it? What do you want contribute to humanity? Knowing we all have an end of life helps with prioritization. Third is travel — exploring different countries. I like dropping into places that are completely unfamiliar and trying to figure my way out. Fourth, by attending events/conferences like PSFK. Seriously, I felt privileged to see the screening of “Senna” at PSFK NYC in April 2011, and hear Asif, the director, speak. The documentary has inspired me on many levels.

 Where was your best stay on Airbnb? 

I once booked an apartment in Paris, and the host set me up with a French cell phone in addition to telling me the history of the neighborhood (it was the Marais). By getting her tips on how to embed myself into the fabric of the neighborhood, I could walk outside and not feel like a tourist. That’s quite liberating when you’re in a foreign country. Kind of like what this guy says.
In 2010 I completed a road trip across the southern part of the United States, from San Francisco, CA to Savannah, GA. I stayed on Airbnb the entire way. After a long day of driving, a host in New Mexico had a delicious meal waiting for me with a glass of wine. We stayed up talking about the complexities of growing a business and other topics. The next morning, there was a small package waiting for me outside my door. It was some snacks to help get me through the next day of driving. The level of hospitality was so far beyond what I’d ever experienced from someone I’d only just met the previous night. I’ll never forget it.

What’s the next move for Airbnb?

We noticed a trend in our data recently — people completing long term stays on Airbnb. You’d probably call these sublets: stays of 30 nights or more. There were something like 3,000 sublets booked worldwide so we said, ‘Let’s actually design for this experience.’ We assembled a team and built out a feature that let’s you book a sublet leveraging our existing reputation system, customer support team, and credit card payment system. We made it incredibly easy for business travelers, people moving cities, and those studying abroad to find and book long term stays. Someone actually booked an 8 month, $47,000 reservation in France! I think you’ll see us continue expansion like this into additional categories, though it’s probably too soon for me to reveal which ones just yet.

Thanks, Joe!
Joe will be speaking at the PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO 2011. Come listen to like minds as they share their ideas to make things better on stage and off. Find out more about the full lineup of speakers at the PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO 2011 here.


Brand Engagement At The Gates Of The World's Largest Open-Air Gallery

Asia Yesterday

Safe Drivers Rewarded In Japan With Free Coffee

Driving Barista is a new app that encourages Japanese motorists to put their phones down as they drive

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Michael Kors Has Designed Their Own Instant Camera

In a partnership with Fuji, the limited edition Instax Mini 70 comes in an exclusive metallic gold color


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Health Yesterday

Manage Your Emotional Health Through Your Phone

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer has created a new iOS app meant to help patients track mental progress and set goals

Food Yesterday

Delete Food Pics Off Of Instagram To Feed The Hungry

Land O'Lakes and Feeding America are donating meals for every picture of a meal taken off of the social platform

Related Expert

Kevin Mckenzie

Digital Retail Experience

Design & Architecture Yesterday

This Shape-Shifting Pod Could Be The Future Of The Cubicle

MIT and Google have designed a new form of work enclosure meant to offer privacy in open-office layouts

Advertising Yesterday

Billboard Spies On People As They Walk By

To promote the movie "Snowden," the advertisement broadcasts information on passersby without their knowledge

Fashion Yesterday

Anti-Pollution Scarf Helps Cyclists Ride Through Cities

An innovative system filters pollutants and its accompanying app monitors quality of the air


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Energy Expert: How American Consumers Are Taking Control Of Their Power Use

Jennifer Tuohy, green tech expert at The Home Depot, discusses green home technologies and developments for renewable technologies in US homes

PSFK Labs Yesterday

New Mentorship Ecosystems Benefit All Levels Of An Organization

PSFK’s Future of Work report explores how technology is being leveraged to support cross-team communication

Automotive Yesterday

Volvo’s Self-Driving Trucks Will Soon Be Put To Work In An Underground Mine

The fully-automated vehicles are part of a development project to help improve safety for workers

Work Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: How Will Companies Staff The Workplace Of The Future?

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX examine the ways that a people-first workplace might disrupt the job hiring process

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Mischievous Drone Will Drop Paint-Filled Balloons On Targets Of Your Choosing

A German photography team developed the flying device to accurately deliver a payload wherever needed

Retail Yesterday

Snapchat Reveals A Striking Pair Of Video-Recording Sunglasses

Spectacles make memories from your perspective and transfer them to the app


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Financial Services Yesterday

This Peer-To-Peer Insurance Company Is Powered By Bots

Lemonade is a new product designed to lighten the paperwork and provide instant, helpful service when needed

Design Yesterday

Concept Artists And Scientists Form Partnership To Visualize The Future

The collaboration hopes to liberate ideas and innovations trapped in notebooks

Automotive Yesterday

Uber Could Be Bringing Vertical Takeoff Transport To Your City

The ridesharing app is looking into the development of nimble aircraft for urban environments

No search results found.