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Airbnb Founder: Best Way to Get Inside Your Customers' Heads

Airbnb co-founder and CPO Joe Gebbia says his company uses one tactic to really understand the customer experience.

While speaking at the 99U Conference in New York City, Airbnb co-founder and CPO Joe Gebbia spoke Friday about one important key to his company's success: empathy. Specifically, empathy with customers.

His talk focused on storyboards, one of Airbnb's favorite ways to get employees inside their customers' heads.  

“Bringing words to life, storyboards show you things that words can’t,” he said.

According to him, storyboards help bridge words and experience--a challenge that Airbnb, a marketplace for home rentals, faces on daily basis. 

He continued: 

“So how do we bridge from our script to these real world experiences? We storyboard. And we storyboard like crazy. Last year we embarked on an ambitious project to map the entire guest and host terrain of Airbnb and we did it through illustration. We looked at key emotional moments of the journey and we drew them. We visualized them. And what it’s done for us, it’s allowed our entire company to achieve a whole new level of empathy with our customers. ”

Gebbia also suggested that storyboards might be used to execute ideas and innovation for businesses that are just launching.

Airbnb was founded in 2008 by Gebia, Brian Chesky and Nathan Blecharczy. The company is based in San Francisco and has raised over $230 million in funds. Over the years, Airnb has connected hosts and guests in more than 33,000 cities and 192 countries.

Last updated: May 3, 2013


Jana Kasperkevic is a graduate of Baruch College, City University of New York, where she earned a bachelors degree in Journalism and Political Science. She covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurship for Inc. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, InvestmentNews, Business Insider, and Houston Chronicle, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.

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