A lot of companies talk a lot about being obsessed with their users and customers.

Airbnb however, takes the thinking to a different level altogether.

Here’s Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, in conversation with Reid Hoffman in his podcast titled Masters of Scale, describing how Airbnb thinks about crafting its customer experience.

Just look at the thinking that makes Airbnb one of the most customer obsessed companies in the world.

If you want to build something that’s truly viral you have to create a total mindf*** experience that you tell everyone about. We basically took one part of our product and we extrapolated what would a five star experience be. Then we went crazy. 

So a one, two, or three star experience is you get to your Airbnb and no one’s there. You knock on the door. They don’t open. That’s a one star. Maybe it’s a three star if they don’t open, you have to wait 20 minutes. If they never show up and you’re pissed and you need to get your money back, that’s a one star experience. You’re never using us again. 

So a five star experience is you knock on the door, they open the door, they let you in. Great. That’s not a big deal. You’re not going to tell every friend about it. You might say, “I used Airbnb. It worked.” So we thought, “What would a six star experience be?” 

A six star experience: You knock on the door, the host opens. “Hey, I’m Reid. Welcome to my house.” You’re the host in this case. You would show them around. On the table would be a welcome gift. It would be a bottle of wine, maybe some candy. You’d open the fridge. There’s water. You go to the bathroom, there’s toiletries. The whole thing is great. That’s a six star experience. You’d say, “Wow I love this more than a hotel. I’m definitely going to use Airbnb again. It worked. Better than I expected.” 

What’s a seven star experience? You knock on the door. Reid Hoffman opens. Get in. “Welcome. Here’s my full kitchen. I know you like surfing. There’s a surfboard waiting for you. I’ve booked lessons for you. It’s going to be an amazing experience. By the way, here’s my car. You can use my car. And I also want to surprise you. There’s this best restaurant in the city of San Francisco. I got you a table there.” And you’re like, “Whoa. This is way beyond.”

A ten star check in would be The Beatles check in. In 1964. I’d get off the plane and there’d be 5,000 high school kids cheering my name with cars welcoming me to the country. I’d get to the front yard of your house and there’d be a press conference for me, and it would be just a mindf*** experience. 

So what would an 11 star experience be? I would show up at the airport and you’d be there with Elon Musk and you’re saying, “You’re going to space.” 

I know all of this sounds crazy, but Chesky is saying all of this to make this key point.

Here it comes, right at the end of his conversation with Hoffman.

The point of the process is that maybe 9, 10, 11 are not feasible. But if you go through the crazy exercise of keep going, there’s some sweet spot between when they showed up and they opened the door and I went to space. That’s the sweet spot.

You have to almost design the extreme to come backwards. 

Suddenly, doesn’t knowing my preferences and having a surfboard in the house seem not crazy and reasonable? 

It’s actually kind of crazy logistically, but this is the kind of stuff that creates great experience.

At The Ken, one of the biggest feedback loops we’ve used to understand what stories to write and what products to build has been our subscribers, but last month, we decided to invest a bit more in that direction.

Raveena 

Raveena joined The Ken thanks to a Twitter thread. True story.

A few months back, as part of her capstone project for 10K designers, she decided to interview subscribers to find out how they read, experience and consume The Ken. At the time, Raveena was freelancing on a number of projects, and she did this as an experiment — and published her findings on Twitter.

Well, she definitely caught our attention.

When we spoke to Raveena, she shared more ideas and insights with us that she’s learnt from her conversations, many of which were quite counterintuitive and challenged our assumptions. Fast forward a few more conversations, and Raveena joined us full-time in a position we created for her — user researcher. Primarily, she’s here to do just one thing i.e help us understand our subscribers. Over the last several weeks, she’s already interviewed dozens of subscribers, across geographies, plans and verticals. Thanks to her conversations and insights the voice of our subscribers will form a key part of our decision-making all across The Ken.

Raveena has a breadth of varied experience and education. She graduated in Political Science from the prestigious Miranda House in Delhi University. After this, she completed her post-graduate in journalism from IIJNM. She’s spent several years learning and working on UX design. It’s this rare and unique combination that makes her perfect to understand The Ken’s subscribers.

When she’s not making twitter threads, Raveena loves yoga and cycling. She has two dogs at her parents house in Jodhpur — Peach and Shiro.

If you are a subscriber and want to share your thoughts, just ping her at raveena at the-ken dot com. Chances are she’d love to talk to you. 🙂

Shreevar 

One of the things we’re focusing on is audio and podcasts.

Why?

Well, because subscribers have asked us for it.

Enter Shreevar. Or rather, Shreevar’s voice.

Shreevar has been associated with audio for as long as he could remember. As a voiceover artist, he’s lent his voice to brands like Mercedes Benz and PolicyBoss. Oh, he even has a podcast of his own, “That’s What Shree Said”- a homage to the protagonist Michael Scott’s catchphrase “That’s what she said”. Prior to joining The Ken, Shreevar was at JioSaavn, where he helmed South Asia’s largest audio streaming platform’s in-house music label, Artist Originals.

He joins The Ken’s podcast team to continue his journey into audio, and you’ll soon hear his dulcet tones hit your ears as we continue to ramp up production of our audio products. He’s a graduate in advertising from Symbiosis Centre for Media and Communication, Pune, and while he’s not podcasting, or listening to podcasts, he likes to photograph cities, and write comedy.

You can write to him at shreevar at the-ken dot com.

Tanmay 

Until now, despite being a subscriber focused company, we’ve never hired anyone to manage our community. The reasons for this are several — at various points in our journey we believed that it was too soon, or too abstract, or too tactical to hire a community lead.

Well, all that changed when we met Tanmay.

Tanmay reached out to us and expressed a desire to work closely to build, nurture and grow The Ken’s community. As someone who had worked cross-functional roles across consulting, media, and start-ups, and a long-time subscriber of The Ken, he believed that there were several initiatives we could run to create a memorable experience with our community of subscribers.

I’m biased, of course, but I think that The Ken’s community of subscribers is one of the most exclusive groups of career-focused and ambitious leaders, executives and individuals across India and Southeast Asia. From the hundreds of corporates who pay to unlock The Ken for their employees to the dozens of educational institutions like the IIMs and IITs whose students read us, all of our subscribers are united in one common view — they rely on The Ken to understand the world better.

Tanmay is going to take this one step further. He’ll work closely with subscribers, and drive all community activities including meetups and events to make The Ken even more valuable to all of our subscribers.

Prior to joining The Ken, Tanmay helped craft go-to market and marketing strategies at the consulting firm ZS Associates. He has also interned with Newslaundry and spent a year with Students for Liberty, an organization that aims to generate student activism around liberty. He’s also helped run The Millennial Man Co. to create awareness through conversation and community engagement about issues faced by men about sexuality, identity, health, etc.

He spends his free time reading and consuming content around economics, politics, and tech or exploring the variety of culinary treats that his home city of Delhi has to offer. His weekends are dedicated to a wide variety of books, sitcoms and movies, along with watching cars go vroom around a circle.

You can say hello to him at tanmay at the ken dot com.

Vanita

Vanita is the latest in what is quickly becoming a tradition of unconventional hires at The Ken. Our staff writers have a diverse range of educational backgrounds; from MBAs, economics graduates, and now, a lawyer.

She joins us as our latest staff writer in training, where she will focus on telling stories at the intersection of business and public policy, law, regulations and diversity inside organizations.

Vanita is graduate from Symbiosis International University and a post graduate in Human Rights Law from the prestigious National Law School of India University and has over 5 years of experience writing, researching and even training others on various aspects of law. She started her journey in the social developmental sector with a specialization in the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Laws at the Workplace.

She’s based in Alwar, Rajasthan. When she isn’t writing you can find her dabbling in streets, reading Super Mario adventures or doing latte art.

You can email her your thoughts at vanita at the-ken dot com

AUTHOR

Praveen Krishnan

Praveen has over 9 years of experience in product management. Prior to The Ken, he was the Director of Product at InMobi. He holds an MBA from IIM, Bengaluru and an engineering degree in Electronics & Communications from NIT, Tiruchirappalli.

View Full Profile