From Grass to Multibillion Enterprise: The Power of Design Thinking
Just like many start-ups, Airbnb was almost razing to the ground in 2009. They had launched a product that no one seemed to notice, something common with many start-ups. At the rate of $200 revenue per week, fortune and profits remained farfetched dreams. With the horizontal drumstick graph their revenues projected, theirs wasn’t the type of enterprise that attracted external investors.
It doesn’t have to be technical
In one of their numerous meetings, the team was looking through the site trying to determine why profits weren’t soaring high as expected. They zeroed in on New York listings and realised a trend, one that wasn’t so impressive. In all the selected 40 listings, the photos were not great. Users were simply taking pictures using their phones or even worse, pulling snaps from classified sites. Consequently, potential clients were not able to have a clearer picture of the rooms they were to book. That left them with one option; flying off in search of better alternatives. They had singled out the problem.
Graham, one of the co-founders, proposed the idea of renting a camera and taking pictures on behalf of the customers listing rooms on the site. The result was a complete upgrade of all the amateur photos into beautiful images. Did this have any impactful outcome? Your guess is as right as mine; there was a significant growth in revenues. The money in doubled to an average of $400 per week. It turned out to be the first financial improvement in more than eight months.
Prior to this, the team had only focused on scalable strategies. They had gone into the business believing that every step or strategy involved needed to be scalable. This was a non-scalable and non-technical idea but it worked. That was a lesson well learnt; you don’t have to code your way to sustainable solutions all the time.
Change of Perspective
As it turned out, Joe Gebbia and the team realised that succeeding in Silicon Valley had more to do with critical thinking than coding. Simply sitting behind the screens and jockeying the keyboards wasn’t going to get the work done. That is where many Silicon Valley start-ups go wrong. They spend more time focusing on the product, trying to come up with single value codes that can solve thousands of problems instead of being the customers and looking at things from another perspective. In an interview, Gebbia confessed that a design school experience he had some time back came handy at the initial stages.
When they were working on a medical device, they would go outside their scope and talk to the concerned parties including doctors, nurses, and patients to assess the suitability of the device. At some point, it involved lying on the patient’s bed and using the medical device. It is only after this point that they would willingly approve the device for use. That is why the Airbnb start-up team had to be their own customer to realise what was wrong. For any start-up, you must strive to look at things differently, at least from the client’s perspective instead of comfortably sitting behind the screen with your hands fixed on the keyboard hoping to code your way out. Balance the time you focus on financial sources including top debt consolidation companies and the time spent on understanding the product from the client’s perspective.
Undoubtedly, Airbnb relies on data to propel its business model. Instead of letting the data drive their business however, they often start with a hypothesis, try out a change, review its effect, and go through the process again. As Gebbia admits, data only becomes useful when you have a substantial scale to test it against. At Airbnb, individual team members are willing to take a risk. When they have a proposal, part of the team ventures to look for answers. If there are substantial gains, more team members and resources are allocated. The result was a structure that allowed employees to embrace productive risks on behalf of the company. It is an easier way of developing new features without the entire company plunging into major problems. As it stands, it is a system where people not only learn to spot opportunities but also develop the enthusiasm of taking risks and making a difference.
Right on track from day one
As part of Airbnb policy, new employees are encouraged to propose new features on their first day at work. Through this, the company has managed to pass across the simple message that amazing innovative ideas can come from varied sources, not necessarily the experienced personnel. For the Airbnb design team, this method has proven to be very productive.
At the end of the day, one needs to appreciate that building a brand is very involving. You need to embrace the reality of sleepless hours of hard work without forgetting the essence of critical