Brian Chesky (Airbnb): “Who you start a business with is more important than a good idea”

If you want to successfully grow a business, finding the right people to do it is more important than the concept, according to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

«I prefer to work with great founders on a not very good idea, than with not excellent founders on a very good idea»Chesky told the BBC series CEO Secrets.

He said there's often an obsession among founders with having a good idea and choosing the right market, but after 13 years he believes it matters more who you do it with than what you do.

Chesky co-founded the San Francisco accommodation rental service in 2007, along with his then-roommate Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk.

Chesky and Gebbia started the business as a way to boost rent, letting designers who needed accommodations sleep in their living room for $80 a night. Blecharczyk came on board when they tried to grow the concept.

“Was Airbnb really a good idea?”Chesky wondered. “It didn't seem like it.”

He said he was initially trying to raise $150,000 and sell a 10% stake in the business, but could barely get meetings with investors.

“But if you have a great team, you can take an idea that people might think is a little crazy and you can find a way in”said Chesky, who added that the main reason startups fail is because the founder quits, either because they lose motivation, traction, or run out of money.

«It's not about being snipped, but about crawling and fading away. So having great founders supporting you is the most important thing, I think.

Despite its initial difficulties, Airbnb would end up receiving initial backing from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, as well as an initial investment of $600,000 from Sequoia Capital in 2009.

The company went public in December 2020 and has a market capitalization of about $89 billion.

All three co-founders are still in business. Chesky as CEO, Blecharczyk as chief strategy officer and CEO of Airbnb China, while Gebbia is president of the charity arm and the company's recently launched Samara design studio.

When asked to share some career advice, Chesky said that optimism is an important trait for a business leader and that people shouldn't listen to their parents when it comes to choosing their career.

In April he told podcast host Dan Schawbel: «I wouldn't even advise you to “follow your passion”, because that assumes that you already know what your passion is. But most people have to discover it. And the only way to find out is to take the pressure off yourself.