A Business For the Customer, By the Customer

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In 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia were strapped for cash. Needing to find a little extra revenue, they decided to rent airbeds out on their living room floor and made a website called airbedandbreakfast.com. As you might have guessed the pair didn’t stop there. Now operating in 191 and worth $3.2B, AirBnB is the most successful tech start-up of this decade? Yet, up until last year, you could still find Brian Chesky’s sofa available to rent in San Francisco.

You might think this sounds like a gimmick, that Chesky’s sofa was a tactful listing to present the company as accessible and down to earth. Perhaps it was. However the story as a whole has a deeper significance. The most successful entrepreneurs of late whether it’s Will Shuh, Jonah Peretti or indeed Chesky and Gebbia, have been patient X, the first customer. This is no coincidence; their success is part down to their affinity with their customers. It’s an approach that is functional, applicable and that ultimately makes the most sense.


You’ll learn what needs to change

From the top, it’s often hard to make out the detail of what’s below. As a CEO, your involvement with the daily running of your company is extremely limited, to the point where it can become difficult to actually gauge how to expand or improve your company. Gaining inspiration for innovation, when your day is dominated with metric data can seem next to impossible. This is why CEOs need to be using their own product, to stay up to date and understand where. As a customer you have your finger on the pulse of a business.

For Fat Lama, a peer-to-peer rental platform, one of the most successful innovations came about from staff using the site personally. In looking to list their own items, the team were rooting through our search data to find out what would be best to list, when the idea occurred: why not put this on the site?  Now Fat Lama has a Live Search bar, where any search can be viewed publicly, giving potential listens an idea of what is trending. This idea was totally homegrown: no boardroom meeting, just a few customers who had a good idea.


Re-connect with your customer.

Your customers are the blood of your business, without which you would have nothing. Yet they are an area that lose attention the bigger a company gets. To nail your customer service think about a waiter going into a restaurant: they always leave a handsome tip. The shared pain, the mutual understanding here leads to a perfect relationship between business and customer and should be the aim of every CEO.

It’s easy to get bogged down in emails, reports, and meetings with investors, so start spending a little to reconnect with whom you built this business for.  From their vantage point it the needs of your customer will crystallize and you can spend time building a service that works for them. If you are unsure, the proof is in companies like Deliveroo. Will Shu, spent a whole year workings a deliveryman in West London, before launching his company, so that when it came to designing his service, he knew exactly how to keep the customer on-side.


From Intern to Exec

Although this has been aimed for the CEOs and executives so far, it certainly isn’t an exclusive piece of advice. The more your middle management get into the customer’s frame of mind, the better because they will be the ones fronting innovations and pushing the business forward.  It also leads to a far more positive, proactive office environment. As an employee you want to be psyched about what you’re doing and getting invested in the company personally as well as professionally is a great way of feeling part of the vision.

It’s something companies like AirBnB are really dogged about achieving. In all of their offices throughout the world, every conference room is modelled after the city’s most populist listing. It might sound a little quaint but in reality it’s all about keeping people excited about the vision, keeping them involved in the company.