Mastering the art of resilience

Airbnb’s Joe Gebbia on risk, rejection and revolutionizing the travel industry

When you last traveled, where did you stay? Was it a hotel? Or did you opt for the alternative and rent a room, or maybe an entire house, from a local? Perhaps you’ve taken a “workation,” renting a home for several weeks or a month and working remotely. 

The idea of staying in a stranger’s home may have blown your mind a few years ago. Today it’s not just a standard practice it’s actually the preferred accommodation for tens of millions of people worldwide. But it isn’t easy to become an entrepreneur or completely revolutionize the travel industry.

In this episode of the Tony Robbins Podcast, we are bringing you back to Business Mastery one more time. You’re going to hear from Joe Gebbia, one of the co-founders of Airbnb, about how they transcended cultural boundaries and were ultimately able to turn a floundering idea into a global business valued at $113 billion in 2021.

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The humble beginnings of Airbnb 

Airbnb started as a solution to a pressing problem: co-founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky couldn’t afford rent, so they opened up their San Francisco apartment for guests to stay in. They soon realized they were onto something bigger than just a way to avoid being evicted. So, along with their old roommate, Nathan Blecharczyk, they started building it into a business. That was nearly 10 years ago.

Airbnb has evolved substantially since then, though it was by no means a straight path to success. In fact, they launched and relaunched a number of times with no investment. They found themselves up to their ears in debt, rejected by investors over and over. They were very close to flatlining on more than one occasion. 

So what were their biggest pain points – and how did they find opportunities for massive growth where there were seemingly none? 

Building trust and raving fans 

Joe is straightforward about their initial challenge: “Our biggest obstacle was a bias we’ve all been taught since we were kids: That strangers equal danger.” Even more than the average company, Airbnb required their customers to trust them, both to protect their property and their personal safety. Listen to the podcast to hear Joe talk about how they overcame this age-old bias and unlocked the power of the sharing economy just as it began to rise. 

Once they earned customer trust, the second step was to make customers happy. Joe and his co-founders instinctively understood the importance of creating raving fan customers – and they were good at it. He says, “Through interactions with early adopters, we built up so much love with our early community that they started telling everyone about us.” With no ads and no marketing, they began to grow. 

Dealing with risk and rejection 

Many people make the mistake of thinking that starting a business is about taking a leap of faith. Joe says, “There’s this perception that successful people take these crazy leaps of faith … and I think nothing could be further from the truth.” Successful people take a step back and break down big risks into smaller steps. They de-risk their ideas. They know that it’s all about assuming the least amount of risk for the greatest reward. And they have backup plans – you can hear Joe talk about his plan in the podcast. 

Successful people are also familiar with the art of resilience. They know that failure and rejection are actually opportunities to become better. Or as Joe puts it, “Rejection is an invitation to keep going.” Joe chose to keep going, and his story is an inspiring one for any entrepreneur.

Want to become an entrepreneur who not only succeeds, but disrupts an entire industry, like Airbnb? It’s time to master your business skills and start learning the art of resilience. At Business Mastery, you can do both – plus hear directly from some of the most successful entrepreneurs in every industry.

Joe Gebbia


[01:05] Taking you back to Business Mastery
[01:30] Introducing Airbnb
[02:45] Tony introduces Joe Gebbia
[03:20] Airbnb’s mission to create community
[03:45] The humble beginnings of Airbnb
[04:20] Not being able to meet rent spurred them to find a solution
[05:00] Hosting people during a city conference
[06:20] Starting to get publicity
[06:40] The special experience of their first guests
[07:45] The original concept for Airbnb
[08:30] Pivoting their focus towards travel
[08:45] Leveraging the 2008 Democratic National Convention
[09:45] When local bloggers and news stations pay attention
[10:10] A live interview on CNN
[10:40] Entering the “trough of sorrow” – a prolonged period of zero growth
[11:30] The ideation of the Airbnb breakfast cereal
[14:00] Getting publicity from the cereal
[15:00] How the cereal helped them pay off their debt
[15:15] Facing every kind of rejection you can imagine
[15:45] Rejection is an invitation to keep going
[16:10] Maxing out their credit cards
[17:00] Finding a way to add consistent value
[18:20] How did they beat their competition?
[19:00] Design set them apart
[19:20] Optimizing the end to end experience for the guest
[19:30] Finding where trust is lowest and solving that pain point
[19:40] A proper reputation system is key to building trust
[20:30] Facilitating communication
[21:30] Airbnb was no overnight success
[21:50] Utilizing every nuance and detail to convey a brand identity
[22:30] Design is considering every single moment of the customer experience
[24:00] The real difference between Airbnb and a hotel
[26:00] Overcoming the inevitable challenges
[27:30] The future of the “economy of sharing”
[30:00] Handling the regulations around Airbnb
[32:00] How to make the decision to commit to a startup idea
[36:00] It’s okay to have a backup plan – it’s not all about massive risk
[37:30] Taking the least amount of risk for the greatest reward
[38:00] Richard Branson is actually risk averse
[39:00] Finding the way to straddle both lines until it’s time to jump in
[40:00] Monitoring quality control across the board
[41:00] Creating hospitality standards
[41:15] The power of a good photograph
[42:30] Organic growth through raving fans
[43:00] Finding 100 people that love you is more powerful than 1 million people that like you
[43:30] How to keep innovating and maintaining a competitive edge
[44:30] What’s next for Soul Cycle, Warby Parker and Airbnb
[48:30] Why you always have to be thinking about what’s next
[48:50] Expanding the entire experience of Airbnb
[49:10] Talk to your community and stay connected with your customers
[50:00] Managing the business you are in and the business you are becoming

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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