Lessons to learn from Airbnb’s launch of Online Experiences
Updated: Apr 17
Airbnb launched its Experiences platform in 2016 when it decided to take a step towards becoming an end-to-end travel company. The Experiences platform enabled local hosts to offer in person interactive experiences (such as city tours and cooking classes) to their Airbnb guests to generate income. However with the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the travel and tourism industry experienced an unprecedented hit. With travel restrictions and major cities having closed nonessential businesses, Airbnb’s community of local hosts that depend on the platform voiced their concerns of declining bookings and sales. Airbnb’s response to its community and its subsequent launch of the Online Experiences platform made it possible for its Experience Hosts to continue making money by offering experiences via video-conferencing.
I see 3 main takeaways from this recent launch: the importance for a brand to stay connected with its community, the responsibility that comes with managing an ecosystem and leading a market, and the importance of rolling out a product quickly and effectively.
Stay connected with your community
Contacting your users and staying connected with them will help you stay true to yourself and your stakeholders and allow you to have a clearer understanding of what you are building and managing. Rather than make assumptions about your users and your platform, you will get direct answers to key questions like: Who are your primary users? Do your users like your platform? What works and what doesn’t? What can be improved?
At CarHopper, right after we raised our Seed Round we made a commitment to listen to our customers better and made outreach our number one priority. We reached out to our past customers and scheduled 30 minutes calls with them to learn about their experiences using our platform. After a series of interviews, we identified 10 key areas that needed improvements or changes for our customers and hosts to be more satisfied with our product. Once the changes were complete, we not only started creating less support tickets per day, but also experienced a surge in bookings. Staying in touch and talking to our customers grew CarHopper. Similarly, Airbnb listened to their community during the early days of the crisis by hearing out their hosts’ concerns and wishes, and took the proper actions.
With great power comes great responsibility; and what makes companies truly “great” is their willingness and ability to take on responsibility in times of crisis. Though Airbnb had no legal obligation to launch a new product to provide a new revenue stream to its “experience hosts” suffering from declining bookings, the company understood its duty to protect its ecosystem’s needs and acted responsibility. An easy (and wrong) alternative answer could have been a simple “sorry we are not responsible for this pandemic, things will eventually get better,” but Airbnb chose otherwise.
Deploy and launch fast
On January 30th 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus a global health emergency. In just two and a half months Airbnb was able to put together its new Online Experiences feature, build supply, and launch it. The company’s lean organizational structure and technology stack allowed it to launch a product it was more than likely planning on eventually launching in the future, at a time of crisis when people really needed and depended on the income from Airbnb. This perfectly timed product launch that was born out of a crisis, made it possible for Airbnb to penetrate a brand new ecosystem and capture additional market share from other platforms.
Airbnb’s culture resulted in the creation of a new revenue stream for the company while expanding their community of hosts, and making their existing Experience host community feel valued. Some questions that still linger for me though are whether companies need to get to Airbnb’s size to successfully be able to plan and execute such initiatives. If these companies with already massive scale can grow their reach even more in times like these, can actual start-ups even have the opportunity to innovate and become part of the solution before being wiped out by larger competitors?