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How Airbnb’s Founder Conquered The “Trough Of Sorrow” With Enlightened Empathy

When they couldn’t seem to get their idea off the ground, Airbnb’s founders got close with their customers–really close.

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In the early days of a new company there are problems. It’s inevitable. Maybe there are no customers, you realize everything you thought they knew is completely wrong, or, everyone thinks your idea is crazy.

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“What they call this in the lifecycle of an idea is the trough of sorrow,” says Joe Gebbia, cofounder of Airbnb. “It’s a very bleak, dark time where you’re just trying to kinda figure out how to get your idea off the ground.”

Of course, Gebbia and Airbnb made it out of the inevitable trough of sorrow, but it’s something that tests the resolve–and legitimacy–of any new enterprise. How, exactly did they persevere? Gebbia and his crew got close with their customers–really close.

“We used to travel and actually stay with our customers,” says Gebbia. “It was the ultimate enlightened empathy–you were so close to the people you were designing for that it informed you in a way that, you know, an online survey never would.”

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“So by being so close to our customers we were able to listen to their needs and then design a product that they loved.”

Video produced by Knack Factory for The Feast.