The best piece of advice Airbnb founder Brian Chesky ever got was to build something that 100 people love rather than 1 million people kind of like.
The advice came from Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham while Airbnb was in the incubator. If you have people that really love you, Graham told Chesky, you don’t have to worry about the viral growth thing – that will take care of itself.
Speaking to Sarah Lacy at PandoMonthly in San Francisco tonight, Chesky recalled that he and his cofounders, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, took the advice literally. In the company’s earliest days, its most ardent users were in New York City. It had about 100 hosts there. “So what are you doing here?” Graham asked. “You should be in New York.” And so every week, Chesky would fly to the Big Apple.
While there, he learned a lot about Airbnb’s hosts and even served as the company’s first “professional photographer.” To do the job, he borrowed a friend’s camera and went door to door in the snow. “The thing that was so special was that you would meet them, and you would learn about their lives,” he said. He woud also use the site to stay at their places. “I was literally living with our users.”
A lot of entrepreneurs are told that they should talk to their users, Chesky noted, but he thinks it’s actually more helpful to watch your users. Chesky, who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, said he would observe users like a designer would. He and his founders noticed small things, like how people didn’t know how to price their place or display their properties. They were very focused on making the experience better for their core users.
“If you want to create a great product, just focus on one person,” he advised the entrepreneurs in the audience. “Make that one person have the most amazing experience ever.”
He also suggested that too many investors are looking for early-stage growth when they really should be “looking for love.” “The No. 1 reason restaurants go out of business is because people don’t really love their food.” Having users who love you is the best thing to ensure that your product will endure, he said.
There was one piece of advice from Paul Graham that Chesky didn’t agree with, however. Graham told all 12 of the companies in Airbnb’s Y-Combinator intake that they should move to Mountain View. “I was like, that’s the worst idea ever!” Chesky said. He kept the company in San Francisco.
To watch the interview in its entirety, click here.