Airbnb is defined by its CEO’s obsessive perfection

Brian Chesky wants to make sure you, and your home, are beyond perfect.
Brian Chesky wants to make sure you, and your home, are beyond perfect.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Airbnb’s founders are so obsessed with perfection that, early on, they decided to visit every one of their hosts in New York. Now, continuing the company’s push for perfect service, they’re bringing home visits back.

Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO, has labeled the ambitious way he approaches his business as “10-star design”: “If you want to build something that truly viral you have to create a total mind-fuck experience that you tell everyone about,” Chesky tells LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman on his podcast, Masters of Scale. “And getting to that requires thinking about the most rudimentary thing you can provide, up to the most outrageous thing, and then identifying the steps you could realistically take to bring your product or service to the next level.”

“A 10-star check in,” Chesky continued, “would be The Beatles check-in. In 1964. I get off the plane and there’d be 5,000 high school kids cheering my name, with cars welcoming me to the country. I get to the front yard of your house and there’d be a press conference for me, and it would just be a mind-fuck experience.”

But before you can provide a 10-star check in (if ever), you need to get the most simple things right, a commitment that Airbnb took seriously early on.

Back in 2009, as Airbnb listed its first rentals, Chesky and his co-founder Joe Gebbia realized that making hosts—not just guests—adore Airbnb is essential to long-term success. The only way to do this, they decided, was to visit each host themselves.

So, as Business Insider reports, “the company continued its scrappy business-building techniques. Channeling their design backgrounds, the founders launched an ambitious project to get its hosts to love the company. They visited all of their hosts in New York to personally stay with them, write reviews, and professionally photograph their places.” Long and laborious as such on-the-ground customer interaction was, it exposed Chesky to Airbnb’s every flaw, whether minute or massive, and enabled him build viable solutions rooted in real user experiences.

Fast forward nine years, and Airbnb, having already dominated much of the lodging industry, is making moves to expand its image. As Forbes reports, last Thursday (Feb. 15) Chesky explained that “he wants Airbnb to guarantee to its growing number of users that their rentals meet hotel standards like clean beds and Wi-Fi so that customers avoid any surprises,” adding that too many people believe that “Airbnb is not for everyone.” The new effort will involve additional categories of temporary lodging, like vacation homes, unique spaces (or unconventional homes like domes, igloos, and tree-houses), bed and breakfasts, and boutique homes.

But the category that best epitomizes 10-star design is “Airbnb Plus,” a tier for “beautiful homes from exceptional hosts” that Chesky said would be come up higher in search results. These listings will be homes that have amenities similar to those of a hotel, things like Internet service and showers. And just as Airbnb’s cofounders once made home visits to ensure the business started out right, the company will also be making home visits to ensure its new initiative lives up to its vision.

According to Forbes, Chesky implied the company would begin thoroughly checking every Airbnb Plus home, of which there are presently 2,000, for top-notch amenities and cleanliness. “We literally test the Wi-Fi in every single Airbnb Plus home,” Chesky said at the event. Airbnb Plus membership requires a $149 application fee, in addition to the company-sponsored at-home inspection.

While company values and entrepreneurial spirits often fade—or reveal themselves as gimmicky facades—once a company becomes successful, Chesky’s public commitment to to Wi-Fi tests ought to send a clear message to entrepreneurs: If you’re intent on building a product enamored by consumers and investors alike, viewing yourself as a high-level mastermind detached from product details as small as a finicky Wi-Fi connection or poorly lit living room photo is a sure fire way to screw over yourself, and your company.

Obsessiveness with a 10-star product design and customer experience doesn’t stop after a successful founding—in fact, it only becomes more important as your company grows and evolves, enabling you to not only retain your prominence, but also assure your consumers that your standards and the benefits you provide them will only increase through time.

As Chesky aptly states in Forbes’ centennial edition, endless wonder is the most important entrepreneurial trait: ““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.”