Join Brad Batesole for an in-depth discussion in this video Airbnb, part of Marketing Foundations: Growth Hacking.
- In 2007, two designers, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, needed to find a way to make ends meet. Struggling to afford the rent in their San Francisco apartment, they decided to rent space in their living room for an upcoming design conference. As is usually the case with big conferences, hotel space is hard to come by. So, they capitalized on this opportunity, and it was the first of many steps to growth. When others began asking how they could host or find lodging around other events, the two quickly pivoted, and built a site that allowed just that.
Now using archive.org, I pulled up what the site looked like in March of 2008, not too long after the original launch. As you can see from the simple marketing on this page, they picked a niche market, event lodging. Their target market was likely a desperate crowd, last minute travelers who missed the chance to stay in a hotel and needed to find accommodations. They filled a gap in this market. You can see here that they iterated quickly from the initial concept, therefore allowing others to host what they called a DIY bed and breakfast.
So let's fast forward a few months to what the site looked like in August. Here we can see that it's beyond events. The focus is on traveling. Because a lot of the publicity was happening around conferences, you can see they stuck some of the original roots by providing some conference graphics here at the bottom of the page. Okay so let's jump four years ahead, and see how this evolution continued. By now, they've rebranded to Airbnb, and the site has really settled into their core focus. Two strong calls to action are present on this page.
Find a place to stay, and you can do that using the big Search option, or list your space here in the upper right-hand corner. A lot of this initial growth was fueled by their most famous growth hack, allowing landlords to instantly post their Airbnb listing to the vacation rentals section of Craigslist. Airbnb knew that Craigslist was, at the time, the place where people went to look for alternative lodging. It was their target market, and they set up a method to poach it. It was an impressive technological feat and it required some unique creativity.
They've since disabled the capability to automatically post to Craigslist, and that likely has a lot to do with the fact that they were operating in a grey area. They exploited an opportunity until it became unavailable. What's interesting is that if you were to go take a look at the Craigslist vacation listings today, you'll still find people referencing links back to Airbnb. It's become that saturated of a market. Now, while their rapid growth came from Craigslist, it was the relentless pursuit to find the perfect product-market fit that fueled their virality.
Take a look at how the site evolved over the next couple of years. As you can see, they begin to start testing different home pages, different calls to action. As you scroll down here, you can see that they're even trying different ways of describing how the site works and what you can do. As we continue on through the years, we can see that they're making it easier and more prominent on how to get listed. As they received saturation, people knew that Airbnb was a place to look for properties, and therefore, they put their call to action right on the home page.
They worked tirelessly to build an experience that was incredible and it didn't just stop at this home page. By analyzing the data, AirBnb discovered that the biggest contributing factor to successful bookings was great photos. So they did something unexpected. In the summer of 2010, they launched a program where hosts could automatically schedule a professional photographer. The host didn't have to pay for the service. It was completely free to them. And this was an expensive endeavor for Airbnb, but it really paid off.
They discovered that people were two and a half times more likely to book properties that have the professional photographs. They leveraged an audience of freelance photographers to handle the work so they didn't have to hire a bunch of people. They started with 20 freelancers, and have since created contracts with more than 13,000 photographers worldwide. Now since their initial launch, they've gone through several iterations and now, they're at their latest rebrand and redesign of their site. And I think it's really impressive and it's a very easy to use interface. So let's look a little bit at this referral feature, and to show you what I mean, I've gone ahead and logged into my own account here at airbnb.com, and if I hover over my name in the upper right-hand corner, I can choose the Invite Friends option, and you can see this is labeled New to draw my attention to this growth opportunity.
Right away I'm taking a landing page that includes a very strong call to action, Go anywhere, stay for less. I can earn up to a hundred dollars for everyone I invite, and they've even made it really easy to invite my Gmail contacts. What's great about this too is you can see they've gone ahead and picked the email provider that I'm most likely using. They probably determined this by looking at their data and seeing the type of email accounts that were used to sign up for the service. If 90% of their audience is using Gmail, this call to action is even more meaningful and strong than saying Invite from Email Contacts.
I know exactly what's gonna happen when I click this button. It's a great idea and I imagine it's yielding tremendous success. So, moving forward is another feature that was recently integrated that allows anyone to embed a listing. So I'll tab over to this page where I've already pulled up a listing on Airbnb, and I clicked on the embed listing option. And what I get is this pop-up, and here it's showing me what this listing will look like when I embed it on my site. What I can do is copy the embed code by selecting the option at the bottom of the screen, and then I can paste it on to my site to drive traffic to this listing.
What's great here is they didn't have to reinvent the wheel. And to show you what I mean, I'm going to tap the email icon in the upper right-hand corner, and then I'll choose the What's this? option. You'll see it's going to take me to a site called embed.ly. So, it's a third-party technology provider that creates embeddable content widgets. So, it's evident they found a lean and inexpensive way to test out this feature. If it's successful, they can evaluate whether they want to build into the integration more and make it a custom solution.
Airbnb started with an idea and continued to pivot and seek out opportunities. At each step, they evaluated their data, made changes, and took risks. And that paid off, leaving them with an over ten billion dollar valuation.
The course concludes with growth-hacking case studies, highlighting the growth-hacking techniques that helped propel such companies as Airbnb, Uber, and Tinder to explosive growth.
- What is growth hacking?
- Understanding the funnel
- Setting up tracking and analytics
- Leveraging customers and existing users
- Testing ideas
- Generating an audience
- Creating an incentive strategy
- Real-world examples of successful growth hacking