Principles to Remember from Joe Gebbia: Co-Founder of Airbnb
Most significant takeaways from over 2 hours of Q&A
If you haven’t heard, Airbnb is a online marketplace that specializes in connecting travelers looking for a place to stay with hosts willing to house them. This idea has clearly resonated with users, as Airbnb is one of the fastest growing start-ups of all time.
Originally a simple idea of letting someone pay to sleep on an air mattress for prominent tech conferences, it’s evolved into a robust platform allowing users to temporarily exchange rooms, beds, and couches across the world. Currently valued at around 30 billion dollars, it’s clear that the concept is proven and that Airbnb is here to stay.
Recently, co-founder of Airbnb, Joe Gebbia came onto Time Ferriss’ highly acclaimed podcast for a 2hr+ deep dive into his background, the beginning stages of Airbnb, and principles to abide by as a creative or entrepreneur.
Over the course of this post, I’d like to condense and share the principles that especially stood out to me during this conversation.
"Anything I come across that feels impossible, I probably need to take a second look." - Joe Gebbia Joe Gebbia…tim.blog
Don’t Focus on the Final Chapter Without Considering the Rest of the Book
After listening to many well-known founders tell their stories, you begin to pick up on some patterns. The most dangerous habit that I have noticed is the tendency to focus almost entirely on the successes of their current venture.
I can see why this is the case, as it’s likely the most interesting and recent thing happening with them at the moment. Furthermore, it’s how the audience knows them and in large part, why they tune in.
The underlying problem with this is that when you focus on strictly the successes, you leave out the truly interesting parts of the story: the failures, the pivots, the lucky breaks (there always is some). All the non-glamorous things that wouldn’t make a TechCrunch headline.
This is the stuff worth mentioning. Don’t fabricate an illusion of perfection. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it’s important that you don’t present your accomplishments as if they were.
The website that went viral over night was the tenth attempt by that developer. The big job your peer landed was only after several rejections and hours upon hours of interview prep. The overnight success story is a myth.
Everything we do and accomplish is the product of all the events, experiences, and lessons learned prior. Nothing is isolated.
The Best Ideas Are Polarizing
If you’ve heard the Airbnb story before, you probably know that it wasn’t an immediate hit by any means. Half of the people who heard the idea loved it and wanter to join ASAP, but the other half thought it was crazy. I mean, who would let a stranger waltz into their home and spend the night there?
This serves as a reminder that the really disruptive, innovative ideas out there are polarizing. They aren’t safe. Sometimes, they are explicitly dangerous. They provoke thought and start arguments. In short, they evoke passionate conversation.
These elements can be an effective gut-check to use to validate your start-up ideas early on. Be careful though, sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between the ideas that are disruptive and those that are just flat-out bad.
“Everything popular is wrong” — Oscar Wilde
Enthusiasm is Underrated
In several points throughout Joe Gebbia’s story, he explicitly mentions enthusiasm. This comes up initially when asking for a favor, advice, or really in any sort of interaction. By displaying enthusiasm, the other person will feed off of that energy and in turn, will be much more likely to help you.
This is especially applicable when it comes to working with any sort of product. Enthusiasm is a necessity for founders, creators, and developers.
Think about it: if the founder doesn’t seem enthusiastic, would you be willing invest any money, time, or effort into the project? Probably not.
Don’t Forget Old Connections
At one point, Joe goes on a riff about how while attending Rhode Island School of Design, he was always looking for counterparts that complemented his personality and skillset. Candidates that he could call down the road about possibly doing a project or starting something together.
Everyone preaches the importance of connections. However, I’ve found that simply making connections and connecting with a purpose in the back of your mind is different.
If you know you want to be an entrepreneur one day and you’re interested in starting something on your own, go ahead and keep that in the back of your mind when meeting people. Continue thinking of who you would want to embark on your journey with down the line.
Great co-founders don’t grow on trees, keep this thought actively churning in the back of your mind when networking.
Use Your Surroundings to Your Advantage
When you find yourself in a tricky situation, instead of giving in or continuing to look inward and getting caught up in the details, take a step back. Taking this step back often involves analyzing your surroundings, the circumstances, and seeing if any of which can be of help.
In Airbnb’s case, they didn’t take off until it was time for the Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado where housing was a serious issue. Joe and the team identified this and targeted the event for their relaunch where they ended up getting the press coverage that jumpstarted the movement.
While in design school, Joe found himself with a project to complete that he had no way of funding. He looked outward, contacted the school and worked out a deal where they funded him instead.
This kind of big picture thinking doesn’t come easily for everyone, but over time it can be improved and developed and once it is, you’ll reap the benefits.
Make Uncomfortable Situations the Default
A couple of outlandish stories from Joe ranging from Michael Jordan’s upper thighs to high school senior pranks all have one thing in common.
They all stress the importance of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, whether intentional or not.
By putting ourselves in these situations constantly, our threshold for comfortability incrementally grows and opportunities that we thought were not possible before, become much more plausible with a new mindset and newfound confidence.
That’s it for now! I hope you came away with some principles that you can begin applying today. If you have some time to spare, I highly recommend checking out the full podcast episode, as each listener comes away with unique takeaways.