This blogpost is not an exhaustive summary of the book. Just contains the notes I took.
If you hit a certain series of performance metrics—in the past year, if you have hosted at least ten trips, if you have maintained a 90 percent response rate or higher, if you have received a five-star review at least 80 percent of the time, and if you’ve canceled a reservation only rarely or in extenuating circumstances, you are automatically elevated to “Superhost” status. That means you get a special logo on your site, your listing will be bumped way up in the rankings, you’ll get access to a dedicated customer-support line, and you might even get the chance to preview new products and attend events.
Demos and Idea Lab
It was time to start moving into those other “frames,” and soon it was decided that Gebbia would run an immersive prototyping exercise to start exploring how. He pulled together six people in design, product, and engineering and moved them all to New York City for three months, a timeline and setup modeled after Y Combinator. (They even drafted their own core values.) Living and working around the clock out of an Airbnb loft in Brooklyn, they hacked together several different in-app tools, outfitted a small group of international Airbnb tourists with phones that contained the jerry-rigged software, and sent them out to test their ideas. At the end of the three months, they would have a Demo Day back at Airbnb headquarters. The concepts they tested were all over the map: an “arrival tracker,” a sort of Uberlike geolocator that made it easier for the host to know when to expect the guest to check in; a “smart house manual”; and something called Local Companion, a virtual-assistant tool that let travelers request anything they needed, whether a local restaurant recommendation, food delivery, or answers to questions about the city.
It also had a “magic button” users could tap to get an unknown, ultracustomized experience that would be tailored to their interests. One traveler who was a licensed pilot hit the button and got a helicopter ride above Manhattan; another got a custom nail manicurist who came to her door. A third asked for help planning his engagement, a challenge the Local Companion team took up with glee, organizing a post-proposal carriage ride in Central Park complete with a harpist; dinner and a night out; and brunch the next day where, instead of a bill, the waiter presented them with a photo album documenting their experience.
Elephants, Dead fish, and Vomit
He then introduced a theory he’d learned. Called “elephants, dead fish, and vomit,” it was a set of tools designed to encourage difficult conversations: An “elephant,” he explained, is a big truth everyone knows but doesn’t talk about; a “dead fish” is a personal grievance that needs to be aired out, usually with an apology, or it risks getting worse (“I had quite a few dead fish to deal with,” he told the audience); and “vomit” sessions were time put aside for people to get things off their chest without interruption and without risk of judgment.
With the help of professional animators, they “storyboarded” the Airbnb experience, detailing “frame by frame” what happened for both traveler and host from the moment a customer first logged on to the site to the moment he or she returned home from a trip. The big revelation from the project was that Airbnb itself was part of only a few of the frames, those that involved the accommodations, and they needed to work to fill in the rest of them. Months later, at the off-site, the founders realized they hadn’t been making enough progress toward that expanded vision for the future of the company: to own not just the accommodations but the full trip.
In the summer of 2014, after the executive team was beginning to realize the company wasn’t fully aligned on its many initiatives and goals, Blecharczyk started an “activity map” to document every project being worked on throughout the company. He identified 110 of them, but they were extremely fragmented, with different executives overseeing multiple projects in the same area. He then did a deep analytical study of the company’s growth, which made him more acutely aware of the imbalance between Airbnb’s limited supply (hosts) and its fast-growing demand (guests).
Musk cautioned him against becoming a company that gets so big that it enters what he calls the “administration era”: a phase of 10 or 20 percent growth that a company settles into after the “creation era” and then the “building era” and signals a mature business. “Airbnb will never be in an administration era,” Chesky vows. “It will always be in a building era. It will always be in a phase 1, phase 2 era. And this is why we’re going to be launching a lot of stuff in November—and then many, many things after that.”