written by:
May 16, 2013
One of the most exciting companies to enter the domestic sphere in the last five years is Airbnb. Transforming homes into short-term rentals, Airbnb has reimagined how we use our houses, and where we lay our heads when we're on the road. Deputy Editor Aaron Britt sits down with Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia on Friday, June 21st at 2:00 PM for the discussion Airbnb Comes Home. They'll talk about about travel, design, and how you can build empathy into your company. Here's a preview.

Off-grid House, California; Vacation rental care of Airbnb.

1 / 7

Treehouse, Vermont.

2 / 7

EquiDome, Chile.

3 / 7

Casa Caracol, Mexico.

4 / 7

Modernist House, Spain.

5 / 7

Northern Lights, Iceland.

6 / 7

Cabin in a Loft, Brooklyn, New York.

7 / 7

Off-grid House, California; Vacation rental care of Airbnb.

How do you see Airbnb changing or disrupting our idea of home?

I think people are viewing their homes in a new light. By repurposing their existing space, they can make ends meet with their mortgage, rent, and more. Did you know that the average credit card debt in the US is $15,000? Suddenly sharing your extra bedroom has at lot more impact. The best part is when hosts come to recognize the value beyond money. I have heard people say that the best way to see the world is to become a host on Airbnb. Suddenly the world comes to you and you're meeting people from places you always want to go—Rome, Tokyo, Miami, Iceland, everywhere. All of sudden you have friends around the world who are inviting you to come visit them.

How do you apply the design thinking that you learned at RISD to running an online business?

RISD shaped how I thought about the user experience, and the need to empathize with your customers. At RISD, if we were working on a medical device, we would go out into the world and meet all the stakeholders, lay down in the hospital bed, and become the patient. That's now a core value of our design team: be the patient. Everybody takes a trip in their first or second week in the company and they document it, many of our employees our hosts. It's incredibly important to understand the user experience first hand.

Most tech companies were started by programmers, what were people's reactions to a company founded by two designers?

When we started out, people didn't think that designers could start a tech company. They thought that in order to be a tech company, you needed to be an engineer, and we weren't taken seriously. It turns out, though, that our design background is what caught the attention of Paul Graham and got us accepted to Y Combinator. Our interview with Paul hadn't gone well, but in the end, he believed in our creative hustle. Now he keeps his eye open for designer founders.

What are other examples of how empathy is a part of your design process?

In the early days of the company, we had a bunch of listings in New York that weren't getting booked. In fact, none of them were getting booked. We were wondering what wasn't working, when we had an a-ha moment—the photos were terrible. People were using their camera phones, or taking really dark shots. No one wanted to stay at a place where they can't see what they're getting. So we flew to New York, rented a camera, and took beautiful, high-resolution pictures. Improving the pictures doubled our weekly revenue, and today we've scaled that program to thousands of photographers all across the globe who have taken over one million photographs of interiors. Now instead of feeling anxiety about taking pictures, hosts experience the ease of having great photos.

When was the last time you stayed in a hotel?

Probably about five years ago, before we started Airbnb. My business and vacation travel is booked via the homes on our service. I've stayed with hosts all over the world, from Paris to Budapest, Singapore to Vancouver. I usually don't broadcast my association to the company, and I see Airbnb hosts go above and beyond with my own eyes. One host is so committed to providing a great experience she will stock her fridge with food and drinks from the guests country prior to arrival. She's inspired to do this so that her guests feel a sense of familiarity and home when they arrive to her listing. That's what the Airbnb community is all about.

What's your favorite listing or Airbnb host?

I traveled to Japan recently on Airbnb and had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I stayed with a Japanese monk and his 94 year old mom. I documented it in this blog post.

This article was originally published on May 14, 2013 on our sister site, Dwell on Design.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016