How Airbnb got its first customers?

obamaos cap mccains

Two guys from San Francisco, Brian Chesky, and Joe Gebbia, battled to make ends meet. By renting out their apartment for a night, they believed they might make some money. They made a website and bought three air mattresses. When a large conference took place in San Francisco and the hotels ran out of available rooms, they received 3 customers ($80/night each).

Their website was called AirBed&Breakfast. With the addition of Nathan Blecharczyk, the team's idea evolved into a website where hosts advertise their spaces for overnight reservations.

Hitting Craigslist was another of the Airbnb customer acquisition strategies. They used it to search for room-renting advertisements, and they sent emails to the advertisers. The guys requested that they mention AirBed&Breakfast in their writings.

When they entered Paul Graham's Y Combinator and modified their company branding and name (Airbnb).

Once they ran out of money, they released Obama O's and Cap'n McCain's cereals. The creators of Airbnb came up with the plan to create and market election-themed cereals, including "Obama O's, the Cereal of Change" and "Cap'n McCain's, a Maverick in Every Box." It was during the 2008 U.S. elections,  The guys created, produced, and assembled the cereal boxes. They stuffed them with regular cereals purchased from a nearby store. Then, they reached out to the media in an effort to pitch their cereal boxes; it was a successful Airbnb customer acquisition strategy, and a week later they were highlighted on CNN.

Obama O's & Cap'n McCain's sold $30k worth of cereal in only one week, which is about four times what the Airbnb primary business had previously earned.

They also visited their hosts to take great pics of the rooms, and after giving them a good review, they posted the photos on Craigslist to enhance UX and boost Airbnb customer acquisition. It made Chesky, Gebbia, and Blecharczyk attracted investors quickly.

Additionally, the guys "hacked" Craigslist.

  1. They posted fake rentals of the most beautiful apartments in places for 1/10 of the price. Once people replied, they auto-responded that the unit has been rented, but they should be looking for another unit on AirBnB.

  2. They built a bot that sent emails after searching for room-renting offers. Whenever someone posted a new rental listing, they received an email from a "young lady":

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