In 2008, Brian Chesky was so broke that he handcrafted US presidential candidate-themed cereals (Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s) to sell at that year’s Democratic and Republican national conventions. It was a play on the “breakfast” portion of his and Joe Gebbia’s Airbed & Breakfast, a startup rejected by scores of investors who, as Chesky recalls, told the pair things like “the potential market opportunity did not seem large enough for our required model.”
Sucks for them. Today, Airbnb, the premiere home-rental site, is worth around $31 billion.
Chesky credits his success mainly to what he describes as his childlike sense of curiosity. It’s something the 36-year-old CEO says he tries to nurture by looking at innovators even younger than him. In a new mini-essay on the subject for Forbes’ centennial edition, as part of the magazine’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds feature, Chesky wrote about the value of maintaining childlike wonder:
“That’s probably the most important trait you can have, especially as an entrepreneur,” he wrote. “And even though I’m still young, I try to always look at what people significantly younger than me are doing. What’s the next thing? I like to imagine the world five years from now. Or imagine what I want the world to look like five years from now.”
He is not the first executive to promote the value of a youthful perspective. The late Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno is renown for having solved problems by repeatedly asking “Why,” like a child would. And speaking this week at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum, Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma told business and government leaders they ought to pay more attention to young people, who don’t worry as much about the future.
“The most difficult thing in [the] world is to change successful people,” Ma said.
But sometimes the youngest and hungriest of entrepreneurs manage to do it.