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Three Entrepreneurship Lessons from the Founder of Airbnb

Put these lessons to work for you in the New Year and build your business

Since the New Year is a time when people commit themselves to betterment and goals, I thought it would be helpful to share the inspiring story of Airbnb co-founder, Nate Blecharczyk. If one of your goals is to become an entrepreneur in 2018, Blecharczyk’s story has some valuable lessons to keep in mind.

In an interview with Boston’s WBUR radio station, Blecharczyk shares that “he always knew he was an entrepreneur.” In fact, at the age of 12 he learned how to code through some books and started sharing his work online. When he was 14, someone contacted him and offered $1,000 for Blecharczyk to code something for him.

According to Blecharczyk, his dad’s response was, “Son, nobody from the Internet is going to pay a thousand bucks.” Nonetheless, Blecharczyk took the gig. This eventually led to a coding business he started in high school that made him almost a million dollars before he’d ever graduated college.

There are some important lessons to learn from this early story of Blecharczyk’s life.

Lesson1: Age is not important

I’ve written a few times in the past that age should not be a determining factor when it comes to starting your own business. Whether you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, or something else entirely, you have the capacity to start your own thriving business.

That Blecharczyk started a coding business at age 12 does not make him special. It simply makes him smart and opportunistic. Sometimes opportunity will come knocking at your door, like it did for him in the form of an email request. Your job is to strike when opportunity comes.

This is not to say that Blecharczyk wasn’t a part of his success, after all he taught himself valuable skills and shared them with the world, which led to an initial request for service.

But the point is that anyone at any age can do this—including you.

Lesson 2: You will run into naysayers

The response of Blecharczyk’s dad is a good reminder that if you choose the path of entrepreneurship, most people will think you’re crazy. This is because they are trained with the mindset of an employee.

I learned this at an early age. My poor dad, my natural father, constantly pressured me to follow the traditional path of most people: to go to a good school and get a good high-paying job.

I ended up going to a good school, the Merchant Marine Academy, and I also had opportunities for high-paying jobs, both in the shipping industry and as a pilot after my tour of duty in Vietnam.

In honesty, it was tempting to take those offers. I could have make the equivalent of a six-figure salary at a very young age. But I knew that if I did that, I would sacrifice a part of who I was and my freedom.

In talking with my rich dad, my best friend’s father and a successful entrepreneur, he taught me the single most important skill to master if I wanted to own a business was sales. So, I took a low-paying job at Xerox to learn how to sell. I was horrible at first, but by the time I left, I was the top salesman in the company. That is when I learned the value of working to learn rather than to earn.

My poor dad hated that decision and couldn’t understand why I would give up a high-paying job. Later, when I was making a lot of money at Xerox, I decided to leave and start my first company. Again, my poor dad said I was crazy. After my first business failed and I started a second business, he said I was crazy again.

If I had listened to my poor dad’s naysaying, I would never have achieved my dreams. Similarly, if Blecharczyk had listened to his dad’s opinion that nobody would ever pay him off the internet, he wouldn’t have made his first million in high school and then gone on to found one of the most successful businesses in the internet age, Airbnb.

How Airbnb got its name

Another interesting story from Blecharczyk’s interview is how Airbnb got its name. According to Blecharczyk, it started as way to make some extra cash since he was living in San Francisco and could barely afford his rent after it went up 25%. He and his roommates decided to rent out an extra room to people who were in town for a conference. They made $1,000 doing it.

As Blecharczyk relates to WBUR, “The bedroom had no furniture, but they set up an air bed and instead of calling it a bed and breakfast they called it an air bed and breakfast. So, Airbnb is short for air bed and breakfast.”

Based off this one experience, Blecharczyk and his roommates decided that if they could make money one time, they could do it multiple times. The seeds for the multi-billion dollar Airbnb were born.

Lesson 3: Always be looking to solve pattern problems

This part of Blecharczyk’s story brings up perhaps one of the most important thing any aspiring entrepreneur can remember: your job is to solve problems, so you should always be looking for problem patterns to solve.

Most people would be content with making an extra $1,000 by renting out a room. Only a few would have the mindset to realize that a larger problem could be solved by short-term room and house shares. The fundamental difference between Blecharczyk and his co-founders, and most other people is that they didn’t solve a singular problem—the need for a few people at a specific point in time to rent a room—but instead solved a problem pattern, the need for millions of people to rent a room short term.

By thinking about the pattern problem, they were able to create a solution that could be deployed at scale—and make a fortune doing it.

What problems do you see around you? And what are the underlying patterns you can solve to build a business around?

From all of us at Rich Dad, Happy New Year! May it be your most prosperous one yet.

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