How Airbnb hosting helped me become a better product designer
For about three months earlier this year when I had a lot of weekend travels to California, I listed my place in Las Vegas on Airbnb and after hosting about a dozen guests, I learned a lot of interesting things that can be related to product design.
1. Establish credibility
A majority of users before requesting to book for a place will take a good look at the host’s profile. By using a friendly image along with honest, casual and personalized description about myself, I created an initial positive touchpoint. In addition, reminding the user to give me a rating (given that I am a good host) enhanced my hosting profile as time went by.
Establishing an up-front credibility for a product is important, especially if the product is the new kid in the block.
2. Know your audience
Unlike any other major cities, hosting in “fabulous” Las Vegas could be tricky. I don’t want to maximize my earnings by hosting whoever that requested to book. Who would want college students to crash in my place for hangover parties, trash my place and bother my quiet neighbors? But it’s Vegas, so who should my audience be? Well, I live close to the far west side of town where there are a lot of nearby outdoor activities. I did my research and there were actually a lot of people coming to Vegas for the outdoors or just for mellow weekend getaways. So I narrowed it down.
If you don’t know who your audience is, you will be very likely end up designing a mediocre product that only a few people can actually benefit from and the rest of them might use it for a wrong reason.
3. Be accurate and informative
Taking the time to write a proper description about my place, in my experience, is hugely important as it helps the potential guests to learn more about the place that they will spend a few nights at. By being accurate, I also gained the trust from them. In contrary, if I made things up, they will find out and negative words will spread.
One big challenge of product design is to make sure it does not mislead its users to a wrong understanding or behavior. Therefore, accurate information is critical.
4. Use the right visuals
Choosing the right photos to post can be the deal breaker when I competed with other hosts in the same area. Taking the time to tidy up my place before taking the photos not only enhanced the credibility of the listing but also made it more attractive in the user’s eyes. It also showed respect.
The quality of photography, including techniques and contents, plays a vital role in product design. It tells stories and it captivates the user’s emotion. Be creative with it!
5. Think about MVP (minimum viable product)
I put my place up on Airbnb for a comparably cheaper price so I could compete with the local favorite hotels. That means I couldn’t spend too much on the supply. Yet, not spending too much didn’t mean cutting things out. I still had to meet the minimum expectation from the guests regarding toiletry and some essentials in the kitchen. To do that, I went to Costco and bought things in bulk for a cheaper price. For items that didn’t have to be brand names, I got the most affordable items on the shelf. The saving may be not substantial but it added up overtime. If later on I want to increase my list price, I will upgrade the supply to meet the expectation from the paying customers.
Building an MVP is usually the way to go at startups, especially during the beginning phase. Designing for a basic product that could scale later is always a good practice.
6. Pay attention to details
Most of my guests had positive experiences staying at my place, except for one guest complaining about the dust on my desk, which I completely forgot to clean the day before. At first I was a bit irritated by such meticulous notice. But when I thought about it more thoroughly, paying attention to details was important because that very tiny broken experience may cause my guest to never return.
The final product should be as close to error-free as possible. That goes all the way from the pixel-perfect design, typo-free copywriting to the final robust software deployment.
7. Break complicated information into easier junks
One of the most challenging tasks for me as a host when I traveled out of town was to communicate the direction of where my parking spot was in the big apartment complex and also how to walk to my apartment from there. I tried using words at first but that didn’t work really well. Then I tried drawing it out, worked okay but still confusing. Finally, I recorded the path and boom, all my guests were able to get in easily.
An important and unique task for designers is to use the right visual aids to help break down a complicated piece of information into a comprehensible materials so more audience can perceive it at ease.
8. Be responsive and be there for your customers
When I was out of town while having a guest at my place, I always made myself available via my phone. One time, this couple got bad traffic driving in from Phoenix and had trouble entering the place at 2am. They reluctantly had to call me and I was happy to assist. They felt like at home and they left me a warm-hearted note.
Customer support and FAQs are equally important when it comes to first-time users. Therefore, guiding them through the learning curve will increase the chance of them coming back.
9. Take feedback seriously and improve
Most of the feedbacks I got were positive. I also got a few honest feedbacks that I took seriously and improved for the next guest.
When you listen to what your customers have to say, you are making your product more robust and likable.
10. Adding the wow factor when you can
I once left a hand-made good luck card for a guest whose little daughter was competing in a dance competition in Vegas. She was moved and promised to come back to my place next year!
With product design, that extra mile of creativity can bring you very far. Try it.
So, whether you are about to become an Airbnb host or become the next awesome product designer, I hope you learn something from this post.
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