Was a packed room, with over 50 folks (90% guys) were packed in large room at YS office this afternoon. Here are the main points. Was good to hear from a successful founder and know they are also normal just like us.
Sree and I walked in when Joe just started his talk. There was enough room only to stand near the door. there were folks like Ravi from Mobstack, Sid form Rubymonk, Augustus from Gaglers, Satya from Yourbus and Lalit from Commonfloor.
Joe started off by sharing about the weekend hack to share some space, where the found 3 people who wanted to share their space (i think, pls correct if wrong). Which had one Indian named Amol from Delhi studying Industrial design in SF. After they hosted these 3 guests for couple of nights Amol was very insistent to Joe that they need a website so that more people can find and share a place to stay. they were solving of problem they had and not trying to solve a large problem. Turns out lots of people have the same problem.
The next question was, Joe and his other founder were designers, where to find a tech guy. The answer was a person who had shared an apartment with joe, who had a tech degree and was also into startups. The main point stressed by Joe was to find the right/Special some one who will round out your founding team, he said it is worth the many months it takes to find and work with a great co-founder. Now after a few months they had a few entries on their site. around 50 listing. Joe and team shared that they were willing to do lots of work which is not scalable early on, such as vising each and very home in SF and taking great photos of their home for listing. The main point was that this set the culture for the rest of the listings in other cities, since the photos of the listings were great, the users of other cities were very conscious about putting up bad photos and the whole culture was set on their site for high quality photos.
After this they did four major launches at events, first was SXSW , hoping to be like twitter and other products that launched there, but hardly got 30 users from this event. (Not sure if the following story is after they got into YC) - they saw a huge spike when Obama was sworn in and 100k visitors landed to city with 20k room capacity. the disappointing part was that they went back to almost a flat line of traffic just after a few days of this event. Joe also shared that he was introduced to 20 angels, the best 20 in the country at this event, they got 20 intros, 10 replied and 4 people meet them, finally got zero investment. He said the investor get interested when the two gears of product and market start to come closer and start to move. i.e. a slight growth in numbers every month, shows you have something that is working/growing.
Now after a few month of flat or very little growth of their user base, they got into YC. Before this Joe shared that they had no money for PR, adwords or fancy events. The first question Paul G asked them was the most important in the success of Airbnb. He asked where are your users, Joe and team replied our small but active users are in New York, then Paul G asked what are you doing in SF? well duh we want to be in YC, but they listed and got on a trip to NY. On this trip they were sitting to one of the airbnb users and got lots of insights from him. The was another main point from Joe, you cannot learn about your users through a computer screen either survey or metrics, the early user experience of thoughts can only be got by talking to your most active and passionate users.
Once in NY, they followed the most important three words for a start-up "Correct and Continue", this is what they did, with every conversation to their users, they saw improvement in usage and traffic. this was growing gradually and not a spike like earlier events. Next came the cracking or understanding of how to grow a city. ie. how to grow airbnb in a city. This they then applied to 10 other cities to grow organically.
The most interesting part of the story of how network effects kicked in, once a user books a room in a new city, he goes back to his own city and lists his home/room on airbnb. Next he travels to other city and books a room there. So travelers going from one city to the next grew airbnb organically across the world.
Then were questions like how are you different from craigslist, some US states it is illegal to share rooms, for this Joe went on the history of mankind, that humans have always been sharing space, since BC. How does the wishlist feature work. Wishlist was interesting, he said once a user Wishlists a place, for example a Place in India, and shares on FB, the traffic and organic branding is huge. i.e. your friends are curious where you want to go next.