What do billionaires know that you don’t?

Brian Chesky, founder, AirBnB

Brian Chesky, founder, AirBnB

The New York Times recently featured AirBnB soon to be billionaire Brian Chesky on its Corner Office feature page seeking to know what words of wisdom Mr. Chesky could impart to the rest of us who will never become billionaires. I was particularly interested in what Brian had to say because the guy was a Rhode Island School of Design graduate. Chesky’s primary career focus was not entrepreneurship but industrial design and landscape architecture. He cited Walt Disney as a man he looked up to. He later started working with entrepreneurs and “got the itch,” wondering if there might be a role for him as a future CEO of his own company.

In the interview, Chesky describes how he and his friends came about hatching the business idea of AirBnB serendipitously, having needed money while living in San Francisco and decided to convert their living arrangement into a bed-and-breakfast because there was an international design conference taking place and all of the hotels were sold out. Voila, a billionaire idea is born.

I agree with Chesky that “wanna be” entrepreneurs looking for new ideas should always begin by looking to solve their own problems. Chesky, however, learned this bit of wisdom by accident. He had no idea that providing extra rooms for those looking for a short-term place to stay would eventually turn into a billion dollar idea. He stumbled upon it. If you’ve got a problem that you eventually find a way to solve, you just might stumble upon the creation of your own billion dollar company.

Aside from the free public relations Chesky received on the NYT, one of the other insights he shares is that when interviewing for a job at AirBnB, the company is looking for “people who see the world as it could be rather than it is.”  Hmm, having applied for several jobs at AirBnB, and never received the call for an interview, I can’t speak or vouch for the authenticity of Chesky’s remark. I think it’s BS, to be frank. AirBnB, like any other startup, first values, above all else, your skill-set. What do you bring that can help the company solve its problems? Oh, you have a vision? Nice, but does your experience match the job requirements? No? Goodbye.

Second, Chesky says, “don’t listen to your parents.” I say, yes and no. If you’re lucky enough to have parents who love you, and support you, and want to see you happy, then I doubt you’re going to be the rebel Chesky suggests you become. Most loving parents I’ve come across want you to be happy. That means they will support you in your career choice regardless of the outcome. Yes, as you grow you up, you begin learning, developing, and coming to terms with who and what you want to be and value in life. I, for one, believe parents can still be a rich source of wisdom for any young, brash, individual, who thinks “they know it all,” and doesn’t need to use their ears when it comes to discovering what it is they wish to pursue.

Saying you should never take your parents “career advice,” is stupid. I know people who ended up working in the “family business,” and they are doing just fine. They are financially comfortable and very much enjoy their work. Some kids grow up to be a doctor just like their mother or father, and others don’t. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is not getting pressure to do either/or. Parents who truly love you will never pressure you to do anything when it comes to your chosen career. We all have our own paths to follow.

Finally, I agree with Chesky that in order to find success you must pursue what you love. When you pursue what you love, you will find failure first, more often than success. Of course, Chesky had no clue he’d find the success with AirBnB. That wasn’t his first career of choice. He was just hip enough and smart enough to realize that he had discovered a problem in need of a solution. I would ask that Chesky work just a bit more on his own humility.

Humility and helping

Asking for help is not an admission of weakness

Photo ofBrian Chesky
Brian Chesky
Job Title
Founder, AirBnB
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