But design has proved crucial in helping Airbnb prevail. Walk into Airbnb’s Potrero Hill headquarters and you’ll see an enlarged, waist-high cereal box adorned with a cartoonish picture of President Obama. This is the cereal box that saved Airbnb. Back in the summer of 2008, the startup was barely pulling in a couple hundred dollars a week. With $20,000 in credit-card debt and no angels (as in angel investors) in sight, Chesky and Gebbia came up with a Hail Mary idea to put the "breakfast" in what they were then calling AirBed and Breakfast. They created two Airbnb-branded cereals, Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s, to sell online during the height of election fever. Airbnb found a small manufacturer in Berkeley who agreed to fabricate 1,000 cartons in exchange for a cut of the royalties. The team bought generic Cheerios and Chex, transplanted the cereal into their own boxes, and hot-glued the tops.
Somehow the plan worked. The boxes, which cost $40 a pop, received national coverage from CNN and Good Morning America; Katy Perry even auctioned off an autographed box to her fans. The promotion netted Airbnb $30,000, enough to keep the company afloat until Paul Graham and Y Combinator decided to invest.
Monday, February 27, 2012
"This is the cereal box that saved Airbnb"