Sometimes the best leaders are the ones at the back of the pack, helping to drive everything forward and sometimes they are out front, and other times it benefits to be both, just like AirBnb.
Around 2007, Simon Cooper was the CEO of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, where I was working with their senior leadership team. Simon and I were exploring how Ritz-Carlton could adapt to meet the needs of changing luxury travelers without losing the company’s legacy customer base. Simon offered an example of the challenges faced by the luxury hotel company in 2008, “I had a guest complain to me that he saw one of our bartenders serve a young guest a bottle of beer without a glass. When I looked into it, I informed the complaining guest that the service was a result of the young guest having asked for his beer to be served that way a day before. That is the challenge … to customize the experience to the guest, ensuring that traditional and new-generation guests are each treated respectfully in accord with their wishes.”
In that same year, two men in San Francisco (Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia) were facing a very different accommodation challenge. They were trying to make rent for their apartment after a third roommate moved out. Since Brian and Joe had recently graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and given that a design conference was coming to San Francisco, the roommates decided to create a make-shift website targeted to conference attendees. They planned to place three air mattresses in the spare room and offer breakfast (in the form of uncooked pop tarts) for $80 per night, per guest, for the duration of the conference. A little over a decade later, that air mattress bed and breakfast arrangement has turned into Airbnb (a company that lists more than seven million properties on its well-evolved digital marketplace – 14,000 listings are tiny homes, 2,500 are tree houses, and 5,000 are castles).
In my book, The Airbnb Way, I detail the business strategy that fueled Airbnb’s meteoric rise. For the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on the three elements of leadership, which set the foundation for Airbnb’s impact on the hospitality sector. Those three components are:
Identification of a Disruptive Gap and Innovation to Fill It
Open Mindsets of Founders and Leaders
Clarity of a Branded Experience