On my first day at Airbnb, in early 2011, I walked in to see cofounder Joe Gebbia building my desk. I had spent three months slowly convincing the fledgling startup that they needed what was called a product manager. Now, Joe encouraged me to settle in and dive deep into the website.
As I scrolled through the listings I noticed something: Those faces in the reviews? Several were walking around the office. My face became flushed. Had I just made the biggest mistake of my career? Did I join a pint-sized marketplace that was running off of the credit cards of its employees? My anxiety was quickly allayed by CEO & cofounder Brian Chesky who assured me that employee reviews only made up a small fraction of the 10,000 reviewed listings. I caught my breath.
What I’d joined, I quickly learned, was a creative team of problem solvers, wholly committed to making this marketplace work. When reviews proved essential to getting bookings, team-members traveled to get the first reviews of many listings. And as the company’s first product manager — hired when it had just eight engineers — I was going to have to think creatively too.
Marketplaces are notoriously hard to start, but amazing if they work. In my six years at Airbnb, I watched it scale over 100X on every metric: listings, users, revenue, employees, and, yes, sometimes complexity. I joined at an inflection point in the business, when the product was shifting from niche to early adopter, from a marketplace for air mattresses to a truly viable accommodation alternative. As the company boomed, we lived through many more inflection points, even existential challenges. But that creative, “we’ll get through this no matter what” attitude always got us through.