Heath Evans is a marketing and communications strategist, innovator, entrepreneur and Coach.

Stuff I write

What Airbnb founder Brian Chesky can teach us about designing a five-star experience…and then a 6.

“If you want to build something that’s truly viral you have to create a total mindf**k experience that you tell everyone about.” — Airbnb Founder Brian Chesky.

As many marketers panic following Facebook’s announcement this week, this shift forces businesses to ask themselves one critical question which is at the heart of building a sustainable business.

‘Is our current customer-experience so remarkable that people can’t wait to tell their friends?’

It’s one of the most terrifying questions a business can ask itself, because often through this introspection we realise that the answer is likely no.

What we soon discover, however, is that the possibilities are quite exhilarating as in reality we’ve only just started scratching the surface of what an experience could be.

There are very few who have done this more effectively than AirBnB founder Brian Chesky who shared his secrets during this interview with Reid Hoffmanin his incredible podcast series Masters of Scale, providing an insight into the very simple exercise his team used to understand how they could design the ultimate Airbnb experience.

“We basically took one part of our product and we extrapolated what would a five-star experience be. Then we went crazy.”
“So a one, two, or three star experience is you get to your Airbnb and no-one’s there. You knock on the door. They don’t open. That’s a one star.
Maybe it’s a three star if they don’t open, you have to wait 20 minutes.
So then a five star experience might be that you knock on the door, they open the door, they let you in. But that’s not a big deal. You’re not going tell every friend about it.
So we thought, “What would a six star experience be?”

As they continued through the process they began imagining not only what a six-star experience might look like, but then wondered about a seven? an eight?….nine?… right through to even an insane out-of-this world 11-star experience.

“The point of the process is that maybe 9, 10, 11 are not feasible. But if you go through the crazy exercise and keep going, there’s some sweet spot. You have to almost design the extreme to come backwards.”

By the time they reached 11, they were throwing around ideas like a trip to the moon, which is clearly absurd, but the point is that now some of the six-star ideas which before seemed so far-fetched didn’t actually seem unreasonable at all.

What I also love about Chesky’s approach is that even in the infancy of his business he is not trying to scale the business for a million people, but rather had a razor sharp focus on understanding and executing the ultimate experience for just one person — knowing that once he can do it once, and then again, and again, that they could grow exponentially because those who experienced it, would have no option but to tell their friends.

He took this to the extreme when he interviewed those whose houses were up for rent, deepening his understanding of what life was like as an AirBnB host, refining the experience as he learned more about why they had chosen this path.

And then from a tenant perspective he even advertised the opportunity for someone to experience an expenses paid trip to San Francisco on the proviso he could film and document their journey, designing what he believed what be the ultimate trip to learn where they could optimise or change things having experienced this world through the eyes of someone who lived it.

This strategy is focused at the customer and the experience, not the platform and how they will reach the masses.

This is a very different approach to those who are seeing the Facebook changes as the end to brands leveraging the Facebook feed. The difference in this approach is these brands aren’t relying on telling the story themselves, but focused on building an experience which leaves their customers with no other option than to tell their friends, because it was so remarkable.

So whilst the temptation may be for brands to hack their way through these changes, with many touting “influencers” as the solution to continue gaining brand access to target audiences feeds, I believe this shift has provided an important opportunity to again ask ourselves an important question — ‘would our customers be talking about us, if we weren’t in the room?’

If the answer is No, then the advice that Paul Graham, Co-founder of Y Combinator, provided Chesky will hopefully prove pivotal to your next move in the same way it inspired Chesky down the path that ultimately led to their success.

“Go to your users. Get to know them. Get your customers one by one.”

“But that won’t scale,” replied Chesky. “If we’re huge and we have millions of customers we can’t meet every customer.”

“That’s exactly why you should do it now because this is the only time you’ll ever be small enough that you can meet all your customers, get to know them, and make something directly for them.”

Thankyou for taking the time to read this piece, and I hope it resonated with you and inspired you to get out of the office and meet those people whose world’s you are trying to change for the better.

I look forward to connecting with you and hearing your thoughts and advice on this topic, and helping others navigate this exciting new world of endless possibilities.

Heath Evans