Quick read — “doing things that don’t scale” with Reid Hoffman & Brian Chesky

Reid Hoffman just launched a podcast, Masters of Scale, with Entrepreneur. The podcast aims to describe the patterns Reid sees in early stage companies that go on to big success, and his “philosophy on how to scale a business”. For his first episode, “Handcrafted”, he features stories from Airbnb & Stripe about “doing things that don’t scale” at the outset to figure out what matters to customers before investing in scaling.

A few highlights for me:

  • Do everything by hand until it becomes painful before deciding to optimize / build internal tools around it — a sentiment that can ring true at large companies. It’s easy to immediately jump to ‘how will this scale?’ before validating that something even matters to your customers. For Airbnb this was professional photos. For Stripe, this was CEO Patrick Collison responding to customer service calls.
  • Deeply understand your first customers. Once you’re big, it’s impossible to meet all your customers. When at Y Combinator, Brian Chesky took advantage of having a small amount of early adopters to meet with and truly understand his audience.
  • Thinking about the ’10 star experience’ — what does that look like and how can we work towards that? What’s actually achievable? What’s interesting here is that so much of the experience takes place offline, so thinking through how you can enable that experience through the platform (similar to one of the takeaways of a recent interview with SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan).
  • Designing the perfect trip for one customer first — I get the *idea* behind this, but the approach kind of surprised me. Chesky makes so many assumptions about what a “perfect” trip is that seem to not have actually validated with customers — e.g. have a welcome social event when you arrive, feeling that you “belong”. However, storyboarding this allowed him & his team to be really creative about the perfect trip and then work backwards from that, bringing them to their current ‘experiences’ offering, so maybe the exercise is simply to stretch your thinking.

Also, side note, the sound effects really made me laugh. Reid Hoffman really went for high spend on the production of this.