Why Everyone At Airbnb Is A Pirate

How do you get more ideas and better products from your team? Raise the pirate flag, says Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia.

Why Everyone At Airbnb Is A Pirate

Airbnb has a buccaneer attitude about how to find value, cofounder Joe Gebbia tells First Round:


If we have an idea for something … You go be a pirate, venture into the world and get a little test nugget, and come back and tell us the story that you found.

Somewhat similar to the way that people at Yammer and GitHub recruit others to whatever feature they’re pitching, at Airbnb one pirate follows the flag of another: One person will make a bet about what could work. If the bet’s subsequent measurement shows that the feature is a good call, then a team will organically assemble around that project–kind of like an ant colony, right?

It leads to products: Since everybody on the team has this cavalier attitude inculcated into them from day one–Gebbia makes a point that everybody ships the first day they come on–the company becomes an experiment-oriented engine of piratey possibility. One such story is how their wish list add function switched from the star:

Our new designer comes back and says I have it. I go what do you mean you have it? You only spent the day on it. He goes, well, I think the stars are the kinds of things you see in utility-driven experiences. He explained our service is so aspirational. Why don’t we tap into that? He goes I’m going to change that to a heart. I go, wow, okay. It’s interesting, and we can ship it so we did. When we ship it, we put code in it so we can track it and see how behavior changed.

And what happened? The star-to-heart switch led to a 30% jump in engagement–all from some a little pirate adventure. That’s the kind of booty we’re after.

The Bottom Line: Make everyone a pirate. They’ll bring back gold.

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.