How Airbnb “Adds A Zero” To Help Employees Reach Their Potential

Airbnb is one of the most successful startups of all time. It was founded in 2008, and has upturned the multi-billion-dollar hotel industry. Along the way, it’s created tremendous amounts of value for its founders, employees and shareholders. And one of the ways it’s done that is by “adding a zero”.

“Add a zero” is popular saying within Airbnb, CEO Brian Chesky has revealed. “There was a saying inside of Airbnb. It was add a zero. Add a zero at the end, which is to imagine something an order of magnitude bigger,” he says.

“The exercise isn’t necessarily to say if people say they want to hit a goal, I say, okay, I added a zero. You have to hit that goal” Chesky says. “It’s more the exercise of what would it take to be ten X bigger or do something ten times better? Because what you find is when you push people, they will sometimes think about the problem differently. And to think differently about the problem means you have to deeply understand the problem,” he says.

Chesky says that adding a zero helps Airbnb employees to reach their full potential. “There was a story about a great basketball coach named John Wooden, and someone asked him once, I’m going to paraphrase what he said, like, what is your secret to success? And he said, know, I just asked my players to do their very best,” he says. “But there was an implicit thing that he didn’t say, which is that he saw potential people that they never saw in themselves. And so the role of a leader is to see potential in people that they may not even see themselves,” he adds.

It’s an interesting insight. Adding a zero seems like a thought experiment for Airbnb to see how they can push the boundaries of every decision — it helps the company dream big, and also helps employees realize their full potential. And like Airbnb, other companies too can “add a zero” to help them reach new heights that they themselves didn’t believe possible.