Airbnb’s Joe Gebbia: The Intersection of Art & Business

Joe Gebbia is best known as the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Airbnb, a company you’ve probably heard about once or twice – valued at $31 billion at the moment (yep – that’s billion with a B). But this isn’t his first rodeo – he’s been a passionate advocate of design and an entrepreneur since his childhood, channeling that passion into everything from his college side hustle of selling his specially seat cushions for the uncomfortable stools in his art classes to various earlier online businesses, designing a furniture line called Neighborhood, and his current project, Samara, Airbnb’s internal design studio.

It wasn’t easy putting this episode together – as you can imagine Joe is a busy guy – but I am so, so glad we did because this one is FIRE – his career is basically one big proof point of all the things we talk about on this show. But the one thing that I think Joe really embodies is the idea that stamina wins. That so many of his successes have come from simply persisting when others would have given up – from literally refusing to take no for an answer and just grinding until it happens. I know you’ve heard this so many times, but there is a reason why: it’s the damn truth! And if you weren’t a believer before today, I think you will be after listening to this.

Today on the podcast,

  • The role of sports in Joe’s life and how in many ways they paved the way for his path as an artist and entrepreneur – I absolutely love this part of the conversation because it so closely mirrors my own path, growing up as an artist living in the body of a jock
  • So many of Joe’s biggest moments have come from doing what I call “the other 50%” – how he met Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb by starting his college basketball team, how they got the idea for Airbnb by engaging with the design community – my friends, this is how it works – this is why you gotta do the other 50%!
  • We talk so much about pushing past “no.” Anyone who wants to be a creator or entrepreneur is going to hear this word so, so, so many times – but the key isn’t to simply ignore it, but to unpack it and understand how to get past it in a deliberate, thoughtful and strategic way


Constantly be in that moment, the act of creation

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Some Questions I Ask:

  • What’s your backstory? [2:00]
  • When you were younger, did you identify with your creative spirit? [4:12]
  • Did you feel any of the pressure to NOT be an artist growing up? [7:05]
  • Did you ever question the path that you were on? [8:55]
  • Are you stubborn as hell? What is it about your personality that made it important for you to challenge yourself and push? [16:55]
  • Were there times where you’ve thrown yourself in the deep end and sunk? [18:54]
  • What role does grit play in building your company? [19:40]
  • What role has the Eames brother’s quote “the details aren’t the details, the details are the thing” played for you? [23:15]
  • How did you meet Brian Chesky? [25:00:00]
  • Did you feel and struggle between playing sports and making art? What role did sports play for you? [33:10:00]
  • What role does practice play for being successful as an entrepreneur? [35:20:00]
  • How did you push through being told “no” repeatedly? [45:33:00]
  • How did you get here? [49:30:00]
  • So worked once. Did you think to do it again? [1:03:50]
  • What happens when people tell you your idea is crazy? [1:07:43]
  • What role did photography play in changing the trajectory of Airbnb? [1:11:42]
  • What’s something that if people found out about you, they’d be surprised to know? [1:15:00]
  • What is something that you’re surprised about every day when you go to work? [1:15:24]
  • What’s next? [1:16:14]

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Joe’s first entrepreneurial pursuits; selling TMNT drawings to his fellow second grade classmates. [2:20]
  • Even though there wasn’t a history of art in Joe’s family, he found art and fell in love with it. [4:45]
  • How Joe’s love for sharing his art (code) with the world led him to San Francisco. [9:15]
  • How one big haired British instructor challenged Joe to put his grades on the line to make a lifesize chess set with life size furniture. Not only did Joe finish the project but I got his school to pay him for it [10:19]
  • Joe’s junior high basketball coach offered some advice that he’s carried with him in basketball and through life; “play with people who are better than you” [18:08]
  • How learning from the architecture department and the Eames brothers launched a new way of thinking about design and improving people’s lives for Joe that led him to switch majors [22:20]
  • His freshman year in college Joe pieced together what he considers his first startup; RISD’s first ever school basketball team. [26:30]
  • How Joe met Airbnb cofounder and fellow sports entrepreneur, Brian Chesky. [31:00]
  • The two big things Joe learned from playing sports; relying on others, and having the self discipline to put in the work even when there isn’t an immediate payoff. [34:00]
  • The beautiful story of CritBuns, a seat cushion for art students. [38:00]
  • How Joe’s intrinsic passion is what he credits many of his successes to. [46:16]
  • “No is simply an invitation to keep going. You can accept it or not.” [47:40]
  • The story of Airbnb’s first accidental customer started with an internship at Chronicle Books in San Francisco that led to a garage sale in Rhode Island to a drink at Custom House with a guy going into the Peace Corps with nowhere to stay for the night [50:00]
  • While building CritBuns, Joe realized how hard it was to find sustainable materials. So he built and pitched “Google for sustainable materials”. [55:00]
  • The birth of Airbnb. [57:00]
  • You know you’re doing something right when you feel like you just got paid to make friends. [1:04:00]
  • Joe and Brian both knew they were on to something with when they realized that people either loved it or hated it. [1:06:00]
  • Joe used his initial customer’s feedback to shift who Airbnb was targeting. This wasn’t a tool just for conference-goers- it was for travellers of any type. [1:08:35]
  • How sounded to early investors. “strangers=dangers” [1:09:50]
  • The great advice that Paul Graham gave Joe and Brian at Y Combinator “go where your people are.” Don’t worry about scale. Throwing scale to the wind, Joe and Brian set off to New York to take pictures of the host’s apartments [1:13:00]
  • This is what Airbnb is working on now, spurred by Hurricane Sandy, people’s generosity, and nimble engineering. So far, the program has assisted with 65 disasters across 16 countries. Check it out at [1:16:18]


This podcast is brought to you by CreativeLive. CreativeLive is the world’s largest hub for online creative education in photo/videoart/designmusic/audiocraft/makermoney/life and the ability to make a living in any of those disciplines. They are high quality, highly curated classes taught by the world’s top experts — Pulitzer, Oscar, Grammy Award winners, New York Times best selling authors and the best entrepreneurs of our times.

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Chase Jarvis is the co-founder and CEO of CreativeLive, a world-renowned photographer and director, and lifelong student.