What an Air Mattress on the Floor Can Teach You About Business Ideas

Imagine you are an investor and someone describes this as an investment opportunity:

“My idea is for people to open up their homes to complete strangers and charge them for staying there. Additionally, we want people to pay to stay in the homes of complete strangers.  They’ll sleep on air mattresses.  Will you invest in this idea, please?”  

Personally, this not only sounds like a bad idea. It sounds really weird.  But today, we know this idea as Airbnb.  What started out as a rather, let’s say unique idea, has now grown beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Airbnb now has more rooms than the largest hotel chain in the world. 

Now, I have to confess. I’ve never done Airbnb and I’m not quite sure I ever will.  But that’s not my point. 

Airbnb started how most great and unusual ideas start: Defining a problem and connecting it with an opportunity.  That’s what happened with Joe Geibba, one of the co-founders of Airbnb. As a recent college graduate, he was living with a friend when they both got notice that their apartment rent was increasing.  Not increasing just slightly but dramatically... to the point where they weren’t sure what to do. That’s a problem. 

Joe was a designer living in the San Francisco area. He knew there was a large design convention coming to town some people wouldn’t have a place to stay due to hotel scarcity.  This was also a problem

And that’s where Joe saw an opportunity.  He had a few air mattresses in his apartment and extra room. What if he simply opened up his apartment and charged people to stay there?  This was an opportunity to solve two problems, Joe’s rent problem and convention attendee's hotel problem.  

And, as they say, the rest is history. 

Great ideas usually start with identifying a problem. If you want to rally people around your idea, start first with a problem that is impacting their lives, or the lives of others.  Then, they will be open and interested in hearing more. 

So, what problem is your idea going to solve?