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A short story about how Airbnb funded their startup with cereal boxes.

Fun Fact: Airbnb currently has over 1,400 castles you can rent out.

Today, we know Airbnb as the $25 billion behemoth that serves as a platform for homeowners to rent out their homes to vacationers and travelers — but once upon a time, Airbnb was rather underwhelming.

Brian Chesky and the lost boys (his cofounders) stumbled upon the idea of Airbnb after finding themselves unable to pay rent on their pricey San Francisco apartment.

They did what most sane individuals strapped for cash would do — blew up three air mattresses in a spare bedroom, served breakfast and rented them out to complete strangers.

Hence the name, Airbed & Breakfast (Airbnb).

Well, to everyone’s surprise, three guests showed up, shelled out $80 a piece and boom-shocka-locka! Brian and the lost boys had their rent money and didn’t have to live in a box on the street.

Fast-forward several months and the overzealous entrepreneurs found themselves $20,000 in debt — they literally filled a binder with dozens of credit cards and maxed them out to build the beginnings of Airbnb.

Some would call this stupid… actually, most would call this stupid.

So, how on God’s green earth do you pay off $20,000 in credit card debt, quickly? Sell cereal boxes, of course

The debt collectors started ringing at the perfect time, right before the 2008 Obama-McCain Election.

The Airbnb squad had yet another bright idea… “Boys, what if we designed and sold limited edition cereal boxes and called them Obama O’s & Captain McCain?”

They then contacted a print shop to have 1,000 custom boxes printed, bought a shit ton of cereal (Cherrios and Captain Crunch), put the boxes together with a hot glue gun in their apartment and slapped on a $40 price tag.

A leprechaun must have tickled their nuts with a four-leaf clover, because their lucky asses somehow got featured on national television and sold 1,000 cereal boxes in a day, making $30,000 after expenses.

What we can learn from Airbnb & their lovely bunch of cereal boxes?

  1. Just because you have a bat shit crazy idea, doesn’t mean you are bat shit crazy, it could mean you are brilliant like Brian and his band of misfits. A good measuring stick here is whether or not your bat shit crazy ideas make money.
  2. Often times, there is money to be made outside the products your business is currently offering. If you want to stay relevant in this weird ever-changing world, you can’t offer the same stuff over and over again, even if that stuff is making you money.

Stuff to Consider

What is a bat shit crazy idea you have been thinking about? Crazy, more times than not, is a synonym for innovative.

What are some untapped opportunities in your industry? What are some new products you can create to make money?

By Cole Schafer.


Cole is the copy chief at Honey Copy, where he helps startups make more money through emails and landing pages that read like poetry and sell like Ogilvy. When he isn’t slinging copy, he is right here on Medium sharing ideas about life, business, marketing and orange juice. Or riding alpacas.

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