A-WOW: Airbnb Words of Wisdom


Before Airbnb was the platform for hosts and guests, it was this:

Cap’n McCains and Obama-Os: the beginnings of Airbnb

The Airbnb designers turned founders had no way to fund their apartment rental service in the short-term. So they sold cereal. In the height of the election season, these boxes of Cheerios were redesigned to become Obama-Os and Captain McCain. Look where Airbnb is at now.

Last week, KPCB organized a dinner for the product fellows at the Airbnb HQ, where we got to listen to what I like to call AWOW = Airbnb Words of Wisdom (:o). We sat down with Clara Liang (Director of Product for Host Experience), Sam & Nate (Product Leaders in Trips).

Natalie (one of the fellowship leads) listed down the top 10 lessons from the evening.

  1. Learn. Stay hungry. Educate yourself – People with the growth mindset carry on better in life.
  2. There is not one right answer – Carve your own path to success; it’s never the same story.
  3. Talk about what’s NOT on the roadmap – It’s as equally important as what’s in it, but is often neglected.
  4. Be specific about what goals you want to achieve – Especially when trying to ask for advice from other people.
  5. People want to be part of how you made your decision – Include your engineers, designers and other team members when thinking through a problem.
  6. All nighters are underrated – They can be fun & productive, with the right team, the right goals and the right set of snacks!
  7. Prioritize your time ruthlessly – Learn to say no!
  8. Spend the right amount of time on your ‘1 step’, ‘2 step’ and ’10 step’ plans – Think short, medium and long-term.
  9. Failures are learnings – Fail. Do a retro with your team. Build a better product. Repeat.
  10. Avoid extremes when taking advice – Sometimes, those are the naughty ones that bite you in the back. It’s never black and white when deciding for life.

And a bonus – #11: Be a cockroach.

I recently became an Airbnb host, managing listings in a beach in the Philippines (come thruuuuu). I loved the hosting experience, and was so eager to meet the product director behind it all.

You know how sometimes you use a product and you think “Ah, I want to do this with the product, but I bet they don’t have it, it’s such a unique use case” but they end up having that feature and you are just amazed?!??! (Or maybe it’s just me…) I had so many similar moments with Airbnb’s hosting interface. They have some pretty great product and design leaders in that company; this night only validated my guesses. Of course, not without the few bugs & personal qualms here and there (which Clara was eager to listen to when she found out I was a new host)! Nonetheless, still in Mika’s list of top consumer apps I’ve tried this 2018.

One particular moment in the night struck me. We were talking about the impact of stories. How stories made the work that product people accomplish worthwhile. One person was able to support their family because of the extra income from their Airbnb. Another was able to drop out from their 9-5 to build a housing empire in a city in Costa Rica, and cultivate tourism in that area.

Being on the other side of the marketplace opened my eyes to the bigger value that Airbnb provides to the world. It is not merely a platform for discovery and travel. Not just an app for the convenience of finding a beautiful home in a foreign land. Not just a place to go to when hotels are expensive and hostels aren’t your cup of tea. On the other side, the hosting side, it is a lot about access. About giving the chance for land owners to earn another income to support themselves and their family. About enabling a once barren city to thrive and develop a new economy. About offering access to resources and opportunities one never thought possible.

For me, it’s allowed me to start cultivating my real estate dreams, something I’ve always been fascinated about, but was unsure how to break into it, until now.

On another note, I am currently working in the B2B space, but the conversation about the impact of stories is reeling me into the consumer world. We’ll see where that desire takes me.

I am eternally grateful for the opportunity that KPCB continues to offer, and am extremely thankful to hear from Clara, Nate & Sam! To end, here are some pictures from the Airbnb HQ, my absolute favorite office ever. Every meeting room is a different Airbnb listing – you can be in Greece one day and Thailand the next! Talk about access. Amazing.