Design: Do Things That Don’t Scale

It’s too easy to write off pursuing the perfect experience on the assumption that it will not scale.  This Airbnb story provides a great lesson, why this can be self-defeating and, instead, why you should perfect the perfect user experience and then figure out how to scale.  This is an important less for us all.  From FastCompany:

Gebbia’s and Chesky’s [design] training pushes them to seek right-brained solutions to every problem. Early on, Airbnb was not getting much traction in New York. So the team flew out and booked rooms with two-dozen hosts to learn why. Users, they found, had no idea how to present their listings. “The photos were really bad,” says Gebbia, who typically sports Twizzler-red sneakers and thick-framed glasses that resemble lab goggles. “People were using camera phones and taking Craigslist-quality pictures. Surprise! No one was booking because you couldn’t see what you were paying for.”

They crafted a very untechy solution. “A web startup would say, ‘Let’s send emails, teach [users] professional photography, and test them,’ ” explains the jockish Chesky, a former bodybuilder who wanted to play pro hockey. “We said, ‘Screw that.’ ” The pair rented a $5,000 camera and snapped high-resolution photos of as many New York host apartments as they could. Bookings soared. By month’s end, revenue had doubled in the city. “Rinse and repeat,” Gebbia says. “When we fixed the product in New York, it solved our problems in Paris, London, Vancouver, and Miami.”

Airbnb now offers its hosts free professional photography services from more than 2,000 freelancers who have visited 13,000 listings across six continents. The startup realized the long-term benefits–such as improved aesthetics and verified property addresses–far outweighed the costs. Travelers are two and a half times more likely to book these enhanced listings, which earn their hosts an average of $1,025 per month. “Do things that don’t scale,” Chesky says, a sentiment that would be considered blasphemy at Google or Facebook. “We start with the perfect experience and then work backward. That’s how we’re going to continue to be successful.”

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