The cereal sold though — for $40 a box. The co-founders made tens of thousands of dollars with the hail Mary stunt. The money "got them through a cash crunch," says Hoffman on the podcast.
Subversive market research
The breakfast incident helped turn the tide. Not long after, the Airbnb founding team was admitted to the start-up accelerator Y Combinator in Silicon Valley.
Y Combinator co-founder and start-up savant Paul Graham gave the co-founders simple and what would turn out to be profound advice: "He said, 'Go to your users. Get to know them. Get your customers one by one,'" says Chesky.
"And I said, 'But that won't scale,'" recalls Chesky. "'If we're huge and we have millions of customers we can't meet every customer.' And he said, 'That's exactly why you should do it now because this is the only time you'll ever be small enough that you can meet all your customers, get to know them, and make something directly for them.'"
For the duration of the accelerator, Chesky would commute between Mountain View, Calif., and New York City, where most of the site's users were located. In New York, the co-founders would pretend they were professional photographers as a way to meet their customers.
"I remember we met with a couple hosts. It's winter. It's snowing outside and we're in snow boots. We walk up to the apartment and we went there to photograph the home. And we're like, 'I'll upload your photos to the website. Do you have any other feedback?' He comes back with a book, it's a binder and he's got dozens of pages of notes," says Chesky on "Masters of Scale."
That early adopter's notebook of feedback ended up being the inspiration for the company's product road map for what would become Airbnb.
As Airbnb grew in popularity, it launched internationally and built an iPhone app (Nov. 2010).
"We had a saying that you would do everything by hand until it was painful. So Joe and I would photograph homes until it was painful, then we get other photographers," says Chesky. "Then we'd manage them with spreadsheets until it was painful. Then we got an intern."