We designed, developed, and delivered a box of cereal to Airbnb to get the attention of Brian Chesky.
Before I get into the good stuff, I want to give you a quick intro into why the hell we decided to do this in the first place.
Every quarter, the Cal Poly Entrepreneurs club (CPE), hosts a tour to a different city where we meet with different companies. In the past our tours have been generic and “okay”. I strongly believe that tours can be much more than that. I want to inspire students to take action and risks to make things happen. Some of the best people to help do that are the founders of startups. Since I’ve taken over tour planning, I’ve made it my mission to expose the club to founders of startups so we can learn directly from the source (from Brian) and be inspired to do the impossible.
Last Spring I set the bar pretty high by meeting with Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel. For this Fall’s tour, I set out to one-up myself. I decided to make the Fall tour the best any Cal Poly student has ever been on. Over the last 10 weeks I’ve set the stage with several startups and their amazing CEO’s. But that wasn’t enough.
I needed something more inspiring. Something insane. I decided that I was going to take Cal Poly Entrepreneurs to Airbnb…and get a 30 minute Q&A with the CEO. Brian would be able to provide invaluable insight and inspiration to us, so I had to make it happen. I want us to learn directly from the source (on learning from the source). I needed to lead by example, and show the club that with enough hustle, you could make anything happen.
The goal was set, we were going to meet with Brian Chesky of Airbnb. Even though I knew a ton about Airbnb, I had to learn as much as I could about Brian and the company so I could make a connection.
I crafted an email campaign to Brian, just like I did with Evan. My emails were solid(ish) and my follow up was relentless. Two weeks passed and the tour date was approaching. I decided that in order to get his attention now, I needed to take a different approach. I needed to get creative.
A few hours later, I knew how I was going to get the attention of Airbnb’s busy CEO. I was going to make a cereal box and send it to him.
Because it’s a core element of the company. In the early days of Airbnb, the team created and sold boxes of cereal. This acted as their initial source of funding and convinced investor Paul Graham that the team had what it took to succeed. Without cereal, Airbnb may not exist today.
I reached out to the Cal Poly Entrepreneurs Officer board for ideas. We quickly arrived at the name “Raisin Brian”. It was perfect. With a clear vision of what this would look like, I set out to make it happen.
Over the next week we created the content. Brian would be flexing and eating cereal on the front because he was a competitive bodybuilder in college. On the back we would mimic the Airbnb booking email to “Request an Airbnb” with Brian at the Airbnb HQ. The cereal would be an excellent source of protein and would include ingredients such as Holy Water and of course, unicorn.
Now we had to design the box, draw the illustration, and get the thing printed. It was 2 weeks before the tour and we had no idea how to do any of those things, but we were determined to learn and make it happen.
CPE officer Stefan Radev worked with a professor to outline the printing structure while I recruited someone to do the illustration. 20 emails and about a dozen phone calls later, I found Ellen Fabini, an extremely talented artist who understood why we were doing this and had to get involved.
Midterms, projects, meetings, and activities led to our development being delayed about a week, but on Monday morning (11/16) we had the the product design done — All thanks to Stefan who stayed up all night to meet the Monday deadline. That afternoon, I spent about 3 hours working with a professor to get the thing printed.
By the time we were done, it was 4:30pm. I knew FedEx closed at 11pm, so we had plenty of time to fold, glue, and ship the box. We had to do this right because we only had one box to ship.
While assembling the box, questions came up about how the hell we were going to get it to Airbnb. My original plan was to ship it to HQ. I figured, everyone there knows the history of the company and will see the box and share it with the company. Eventually it will make it’s way to Brian..
After some thought, I changed plans. I was going to ship it to one of the early employees. I reached out to a few of them about what I was doing. Three hours later, nothing. I still didn’t have a point of contact to ship this box to. Hell, I couldn’t even confirm that shipping it to “Airbnb HQ 888 Brannan St” would make it.
Several roadblocks popped up but I finally had everything done. I looked at the clock: 10:45pm. 15 minutes to get to FedEx? I was out the door with our letter to Brian freshly printed. I drove as fast as I could get away with to make it before close.
Thankfully they were still open..but it didn’t help much. In about 60 seconds I learned two things:
- The Fedex Delivery cut off was at 4:00pm so it couldn’t get there Tuesday (11/17).
- Shipping to get there by Wednesday morning would cost $50-$80.
Since I still didn’t have an address to ship it to, I decided to hold on to the box and bring it back in the morning. As I drove back home, I thought again about how I was going to verify it’s opening. Still no new emails and no confirmed shipping address. I realized… the only way to verify that this gets seen is to drive it up there myself. I geared up and recruited another officer to come with me. We’d hit the road at 5am.
My 4:30am alarm blared. It was dark. My apartment was fucking freezing. My thoughts battled.
“Am I really going to drive all the way up to San Francisco to drop off a damn box of cereal.”
I quickly shook off any doubt. Of course I’m doing this.
30 minutes later I was armed with donuts, coffee, my buddy Slater, and of course, our box of “Raisin Brian.” We had no idea what we would do when we got to HQ, but we’d figure it out.
4 hours later we found parking the REI lot. Since we didn’t have time to dress up before we left, we had to get ready in the parking lot. We went from slackers in sweatpants to young professionals in a matter of minutes as we gelled our hair and brushed our teeth in the parking lot…
Before we headed in, we came up with a plan. I decided to text the main contact I have and let him know I drove up to drop off the cereal box (since he didn’t respond the night before with a shipping address).
“Hey! I didn’t hear back from you and wanted to make sure Brian gets the cereal box.. So I drove up from San Luis Obispo. Can I drop this off with you to give to him?”
No response. I figured he was in a meeting or something…So we pressed onward.
We walked straight past the security desk and beelined to the elevator. We caught a lift up to the 3rd floor with another employee who kindly showed us the right way. Even though we had nothing in the system, we go to reception to “check-in” anyway. We aren’t in the system but told the receptionist that we’re expected (sort of).
We took a seat and waited.
15 minutes later the receptionist came over and said, “Your contact just arrived in SFO..he won’t be in the office until much later today”.
Shit. Now what. We asked for a few minutes to figure out what was going on. Slater and I thought about what we could do to get the box to Brian. If we left it at reception, it wouldn’t get anywhere. We could try tweeting to see if we can get the attention of someone at HQ? So we did.
Our cheesy and unclear tweet didn’t do much. No surprise in retrospect.
While the tweet was out, we propped the cereal box up on the table and then engaged with employees walking by. It worked. One reaction? “Oh my god, this is hilarious.” We quickly told our story and asked for help getting it to Brian. The lady we engaged told us she could ping Brian’s assistant, but that’s all. It was something, so we took her up on it. We thanked her and she left.
During this I got a text from my contact:
“Yea dude I’m not in the office at the moment so probably wasn’t a great idea unfortunately. I’m not coming in until later so I think you’ve spooked our security and receptionists. Leave it with reception they can get it to Brian.”
At this point, we’d been in the lobby for about 30 minutes. We’d clearly overstayed our welcome. Since Brian’s assistant may be coming to get it, we figured we’d be safe leaving it with reception. To maintain good relations, we gave them the cereal box, thanked and apologized to the staff, and then headed out.
We left the building, realized we may get towed, and then ran to the car. We stopped to visit an old friend, grabbed burritos in San Mateo, and then drove 4 hours back to San Luis Obispo, CA.
We never ended up hearing back from Airbnb and I still haven’t gotten closure on this project…several years later. It was as good of an attempt as I could have made and hopefully one day I’ll cross paths with Brian and figure out what happened here.
Stefan Radev — Our AMAZING designer who made the product come to life.
Ellen Fabini — Creator of the “Flexing Chesky” cereal illustration.
Slater McLean — Partner in crime on the drive up & for coming up with “Raisin Brian”
Tim Elkana — For the idea to put the reservation request on the back
Professor Twomey — for dealing with my ass all monday afternoon when you had a conference to prep for.
Other: The CPE Officers (Nick, Eli, Katie, Omri), Carrie, Jessica, and Nicole
Seriously, this wouldn’t have gotten done without your help!