• Sylvester

First Versions: Airbnb's Growth from Air Mattresses to Accommodation Empire

Starting something new is scary for anyone even if you have all the experience in the world. Starting your own business can be extremely rewarding but it takes a certain amount of effort and drive to accomplish such a task. All major successes no matter the area or field of work begin with a plan and a product. As new companies form and these business owners begin to develop their company’s mission and goals for success it is easy to look at the big names we are familiar with and be intimidated. To the untrained eye these companies always have and always will be successful, but this isn't the whole truth. These businesses begin with failed attempts or small products that were perfected and built into what we know today.


Airbnb is an excellent example of a company that started (very) small and grew to household name status. At its conception Airbnb was intended simply for its founders to pay their pricey San Francisco rent - they offered air mattresses in their loft as a place to stay when local conferences caused hotel shortages. The first expansion of Airbnb beyond the founders' own residence offered very few features including renting out shared spaces from friends and family members; the platform was nowhere near being polished. Several years of learning and new iterations gave us the site and app we all use today.


The inspiration for the very first versions of Airbnb mimicked hotel and travel websites but with far fewer features and less savvy design. Their platform provides an excellent example showing the importance of getting your product out there and evolving with the needs of the customer as they hop on board as consumers. Airbnb's first website iteration had only these few features: search by city, review listings and book it. While this may seem like nothing, they were still able to acquire customers.


Just like people, companies need to evolve. This is how they stay current, stay trending, and keep appealing to their audiences. Once users of Airbnb became loyal customers and more and more people wanted to be a part of this platform, they needed to add features. With each new feature, they were surprising users and making them more excited to keep up with the product. If Airbnb had launched everything at once not only would it have taken them longer to reach the market, but they would not have had the feedback and support of customers or gained the strong community that they were able to establish with the original feature sets.

Below are screen captures of the Airbnb home page from 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018, and 2021. You can see how in addition to branding and user interface updates, features were added, removed, and evolved over time.


Today, you can practically do anything with Airbnb. The original crew of features - search by city, review listings, and book - have exploded into so much more. You now have access to features such as flexible searches including nearby locations and adjacent dates, wishlists, and access to nearby experiences. Our society is complex and there is so much more that could be offered and Airbnb, even as big as it is, still is growing and evolving.

All businesses start somewhere. They do not touch down in the market with finished ideas and completed features that aren't going to be improved over time. Instead your very first version of your company or your idea is the evolution of something smaller, a means that replaces the services of something else. We at Mile Marker believe that fast is better than perfect, because by simply getting your name and product out there, you can begin to develop a loyal consumer base that will help you to grow into the company you have always dreamed of.