Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman
Airbnb’s Brian Chesky in Handcrafted
Masters of Scale is a podcast hosted by Reid Hoffman that looks at how companies can grow “from zero to a gazillion”, says sound engineer and contributor James Millar. Reid Hoffman is a legend around Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur and now investor. With a resume that sports titles such as COO of PayPal (before it was acquired by eBay in 2002) and the co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, Hoffman is an expert on the topic.
Each episode covers a different aspect of the scaling journey and includes not only Hoffman’s own theories, but also the insights and stories of many top-level founders (Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and Netflix’s Reed Hastings to name a few). These interviews are usually pretty candid, which makes them great for advice you may not hear otherwise, but also for debunking some of the myths around starting a business.
Brian Chesky, founder of Airbnb, uses the example of how every process was manual in the early days of the site. From finding and onboarding hosts to taking photo’s of each property for the website, everything was done by hand and kept track of in an excel spreadsheet. Airbnb’s approach was, “do something until it hurts, then hire someone.”
This is great advice for early-stage Startups and founders, and something that is not regularly talked about. Most often, businesses in this early stage will not have the financial or technical ability to build scalable systems and solutions for the problems they are trying to solve. In a lot of cases, and I am speaking from my own experience here, to get the business off the ground early, everything must be done the long way. This can put some people off, and might explain why starting a business can be so difficult. Hoffman notes in the Podcast that “the natural reaction of the scaled organisation will be to kill” anything that requires a “handcrafted” approach. In this way, while it may be painful and laborious getting an idea off the ground, it usually means you will have the advantage over larger companies and competition going forward.
This is the first episode of the series, and focuses on Airbnb’s journey from a small Bed and Breakfast site (that manually managed individual hosts on the platform) to a multinational accommodation behemoth. The mantra of the episode is that in order to build a business that can scale, you need to do the things that don’t scale first. So often, the focus of a Startups journey is on the scaling process. Everyone wants to know how a business is going to be able to scale and so the early groundwork that leads up to this process is often forgotten.