Coming up with a good idea is the beginning, not the end

Airbnb has revolutionised the travel industry, so I was excited to have the chance to hear the CEO and Co-founder Brian Chesky speak recently at the Cannes Lions Festival.

Like many of these disruptive start-ups that appear to explode out of nowhere, there is an inspirational story behind it. And what a great story it was.

So the famous story goes: Brian and co-founder (and good mate) Joe had a dream of starting a business together. They also had a more pressing issue that they couldn’t pay the rent. Knowing a design conference was coming to San Francisco and the city’s hotels were fully booked, they had the bright idea of inviting conference attendees to sleep at their place. They didn’t have any spare beds, just a few air mattresses. They decided to serve breakfast too. And so the name Airbnb was born.

When you hear this story, you tend to hear about the idea and then the bit about the company being worth USD $25 billion. But there was nine years of hard work in the middle between great idea and success.

What I learned at his talk is the same lesson I find myself learning again and again doing what we do: coming up with a good idea is the beginning, not the end. 

As I listened to the things that took those ambitious young Americans from idea to success, I realised that these wise words were applicable to our industry too:

  1. Victory comes to the tenacious:  Is it a coincidence that the media agency known for ideas also has tenacity as one of its values? I think not. I believe tenacity is the most important skill in getting a good idea over the line. If you believe in an idea then fight for it!

Thomas Edison is famous for saying that a good idea is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. Brian and Jo demonstrated relentless tenacity.

“We tried CNN and they didn’t answer, so we tried the local papers and they didn’t respond, so we called the local bloggers….”

My favourite quote from Brian was “If you launch and no one notices, then just launch again”. Airbnb launched FOUR times before they got traction.

  1. Disruption is possible through exploiting a weakness. If you want to change the game, find something broken to fix. Airbnb was so successful because it gave people something they wanted and weren’t getting from the travel industry. It worked because it came at a time when the other options in the travel category were lacking cultural relevancy. In the same way, some of the best ideas, like Dove Real Beauty and Always: Like A Girl, are the ones that disrupt conventions in a category that is no longer culturally relevant.
  1. Sell the intangible– Sell the tangible and you make one sale, sell the intangible and you get a customers for life. Airbnb isn’t just selling a bed and a roof over your head, they are selling belonging. Brands are getting better at telling consumers who they are, why they are here and what they believe in. This really resonates with consumers. It is a trend that is not going away. Get on board or get left behind.
  1. Identifying emerging cultural trends will give you an edge. In November, Airbnb will be announcing some new developments. Chesky didn’t give too much away but he did indicate that they will be looking more at the end-to-end experience, rather than just offering a bed. They are looking at cultural trends to guide the future of their business: Two key emerging cultural trends they are using to shape their future business model: In the future we will be more mobile and people are more interested in experiences rather than owning things. 

OMD UK’s mission is to earn our clients’ brands a greater Share of Life by being Culturally Connected. Chesky put fresh perspective on why being Culturally Connected is important for ideas and business models alike: if you want to create something that will succeed in the future, you need to know what the future looks like.

How Airbnb started


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