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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...

Amelia Riley Swan
Amelia Riley Swan on September 19, 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!
Airbnb
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.

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