There are very few times in history that someone can point out at a specific moment and discover when a world-changing idea came about. This is one of those times.
Airbnb went public on Thursday, and its share immediately doubled, giving the company an astonishing value of $100 billion at the stock markets. Airbnb has upended the hotel industry: it has enabled millions of people around the world to turn their homes into mini-guest houses, and has enabled even more people to stay at these rooms on their travels. But there’s a precise moment when the — somewhat radical idea — of the company first came about.
On 22nd September 2007, Joe Gebbia had sent an email to Brian Chesky titled “subletter.” “(B)rian,” the email began. “I thought of a way to make a few bucks — turning our place into “designers bed and breakfast” — offering young desingers who came into town a place to crash during the 4 day event, complete with wireless internet, a small desk space, sleeping mat, anda breakfast each morning. Ha!,” it conculuded.
Now Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky were best friends and roommates, and both seemed to think that the idea had potential. Both went ahead and turned their own house into what was to become the very first Airbnb. The duo were surprised by how well their idea worked — they were able to make some cash, and the people who stayed with them were happy to get a reasonably-priced place to stay. They then wondered why other people shouldn’t be allowed to set up their own homes like this and earn some money, and thus the idea of Airbnb was born.
It wasn’t all about the idea though — in their early days, Airbnb’s cofounders found it hard to market their product, and even had to sell cereal to promote their company; when Airbnb became bigger, they had to negotiate with city councils who demanded that these homes be subject to the same regulations as hotels. But the duo persisted, and thirteen years later, with a $100 billion valuation, Airbnb is one of the most successful startups in the world. And it all began with an email sent between two friends with an idea to make a few extra bucks.