A Website like Airbnb: How to Build and How Much Does it Cost

May 18, 2020·13 min read

Airbnb started with empty credit cards and turned to a $38 billion worth platform. Get inspired by its story, find out about essential features and hidden tricks. Here you also learn how to build a viable marketplace like Airbnb and how much does it cost

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It was a typical autumn day in San Francisco. People rushed to their workplaces, traffic jams tried hard to interfere, California lived its life for the fullest. But two roommates, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, didn't enjoy that day much. They ran out of money and couldn't afford their rent. Somewhere between desperation and a decision to go back to live in parents' basements, they came up with an idea. Those days, the city hosted a design conference, and hotels were full of attendees. It was pretty hard and unreasonably expensive to book a one-night-stay in San Francisco. So Gebbia and Chesky built a simple website offering people to stay at their place and spend a night on an air mattress in their living room.

And people did stay at their apartment.

Today, Airbnb is worth $38 billion; and operates in more than 220 countries. But their story started with a simple, poorly designed MVP: a minimum viable product that helped Chesky and Gebbia to pay the rent, engage users, and… attract investments.

In this article, we will tell you how to build an MVP for a website like Airbnb, start to collect users' feedback and attract angel investors. We will share with you the list of essential features and the best tips on how to build a website like Airbnb the right way. Get ready for a startup take off.

How people use a website like Airbnb

Airbnb is a P2P marketplace, which means that the host may become a traveler and vice versa. However, these two sides of cooperation need different Airbnb features.

How hosts use the website

Everything started from hosts: Gebbia and Chesky were the very first ones. Of course, 13 years ago, the functionality (as well as design) was rather poor and quite different from the one we can see now. There are several steps to take to add the listing on Airbnb website:

1. Create a profile

Provide necessary personal data, tell a few words about yourself, and add the credit card details so you can get paid after each stay.

2. List a space

It may be an entire apartment, private or shared room, unique accommodation like a boat or a cabin, etc.

3. Add descriptions

The host can add photos of the property, its features, location – all the information that potential guests may need.

4. Define your conditions

Here, price, requirements, house rules, etc. should be added.

5. Communicate with potential guests

A website has a built-in messaging system, and founders highly recommend to communicate only via Airbnb for security purposes.

6. Welcome a guest

Once everything's ready, potential guests can reach out and stay at the place.

How guests use the website

On the opposite side of the platform, guests are interested in booking accommodation for their vacation or business trips. Here's how everything works:

1. Create a profile

Enter the website after the simple login.

2. Add the details

Fill your profile with personal information, set notifications, tell the website about preferred language, currency, time zone, etc.

3. Look for a place to stay

To browse the available listings, enter the city or area and define dates.

4. Use amazing filters

The platform offers well-designed filters that help to find everything you need in a matter of minutes.

5. Leave a request

You can leave a booking request by clicking the Reserve button.

6. Plan a trip

The request can be approved automatically or manually, depending on the host's settings. The payment for the approved booking is charged from your credit card.

Airbnb business model

How do websites like Airbnb make a profit? The service fee is the main answer. A platform charges both parties a percentage from each transaction.

  • Hosts pay 3%;
  • Guests pay 6-15% depending on a listing.

Airbnb monetization model

The process looks quite straightforward. And now, it is time to define which features to add to your Airbnb-like marketplace.

Key features for a website like Airbnb

Here, we will describe the particular features each side of cooperation needs. Besides, we will take a look at another significant role: a platform administrator.

Common features for hosts and guests on your website

Several features are essential for both groups of the platform's users:

Feature

Description

Login

Make a login process as simple as possible. Airbnb allows using email, Facebook, or Google account to enter the platform swiftly.

Verification

On websites like Airbnb, it is critical to be aware of who exactly registers on your website. Require email, phone, and government ID to verify the user's identity and minimize possible risks.

Personal profile

Both hosts and guests should have access to a personal profile. Allow adding a photo (or get it from a user's Facebook profile). Ask about users' preferences (language, currency, time zone, etc.) to make them feel comfortable when using your website.

Calendar

Use a calendar to inform a host about dates the real estate is booked, to demonstrate a guest when the listing is free.

Messaging

As we've mentioned above, the easiest and the safest way for your platform users to communicate is your built-in messenger. There are many ready-made solutions like Facebook Messenger for business your development team can easily integrate with your marketplace.

Payment

A payment system is an essential component of websites like Airbnb. Choose Stripe or a similar product to make payment fast, simple, and convenient.

Notification

Use push notifications to inform a host about a new booking request or an incoming message. Push notifications would be of great help to notify a guest that booking is approved or payment is successful.

Specific features for hosts

Besides, allow hosts to enjoy the following features:

Feature

Description

Listing Management

It should be easy to add a new property, its description, and pictures. Prioritize intuitiveness to guide hosts through the entire process and save their time.

Booking Management

Let a host cancel a booking in case of need or emergency.

Reviews

Allows a host to leave feedback about each guest after their stays. It will help to make your users' community safer and more trustworthy.

Specific features for guests

People who look for accommodation on your platform will appreciate several more features:

Feature

Description

Search and filters

Help users find the perfect properties as fast as possible. Focus on filtering by:

location (country, city, region or neighborhood),
price,
property type (entire apartment, hotel room, shared room, etc.),
available amenities (kitchen, heating, WiFi, terrace, or even a hot tub),
host language etc.

Geolocation features

Detect the user's location to offer the best real estate for rent nearby. Don't forget to ask about permission when tracking the location.

Booking management history

Access to planned and past trips will be your app's valuable feature.
Wishlists

Planning a trip, users may want to compare several options or discuss the available listings with a group. Let them do it with customizable wishlists. More items in a Wishlist – more chances users will prefer your marketplace like Airbnb over others.

Rating and reviews

Collect as many impressions about each listing as possible. Ask about basic amenities and communication with a host. Let guests leave the reviews and rate properties.

Admin panel

To regulate relations between hosts and guests, you may need a third role to take part in a process. Marketplace administrator should have access to the following features:

Feature

Description

User management

On an MVP stage, you won't be able to implement machine learning to verify a user's identity automatically. However, you can hire a person to check user data manually and prevent potential fraud.

Cancellation management

Booking cancellation is a complex process that requires a refund (either total or partial). At the very beginning, let your platform administrator handle cancellations.

Customer support

Specialists responsible for answering your users' questions will create a product's reputation. So let users contact the support team directly via your website.

How to build a website like Airbnb?

Thirteen years after Airbnb unicorn appeared, the rules of the game have changed. Due to intense competition in the market, now, if you want to succeed, you need to have a detailed, clear to-do list.

Even Brian Chesky recommends it: If you have a list of 20 things to do, you end up realizing, 'I don't need to do 20 things'. If I do these three big things, the other 20 things will kind of happen as outcomes, or outputs, of it. - he mentions during one of his interviews.

Here, you'll find not 20 but only seven essential things to do to build a marketplace like Airbnb.

Start with an idea and research.

One day, many years ago, Gebbia sent Chesky a short email describing an idea on how to turn the apartment they couldn't afford to a source of profit. That was a kick-off.

How the story of Airbnb started

Now, when the number of software products and services increases daily, you need to come up with a great idea and investigate the market.

  • Would you like to target a particular city? Or will you focus on a specific audience?
  • Do similar websites like Airbnb exist? How will you emphasize your app's difference?
  • What methods will you use to solve the chicken-and-egg problem?

Once you have answers to these questions, your goal gets closer.

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Define your initial budget

Airbnb founders had real financial problems starting their business. The initial version of Airbedandbreakfest didn't take them to the top; several more efforts were needed. And these efforts required money.

Bootstrapping was the primary source of the initial budget. "We used the money in our wallets, some credit cards, and a small loan from our parents.", says Gebbia. The great idea founders came up with was selling cereal boxes Obama O and Captain McCain: those were the days of Democratic National Convention in Denver. They've designed boxes that caught the attention and presented small ads about their service on them. Eventually, this step brought them $30,000 for product growth.

How to bootstrap your project like Airbnb

Following the example of leaders, you have to see clearly how much you are ready to invest in the product at the very beginning, and what financial resources you can engage at the moment. Before anyone knows about your product, there are no ways to attract investments. Now, the point is to start successfully, launch a striking MVP, and attract the investments.

Build a prototype

The first, first website was just a few simple pages. We knew basic HTML. If you actually look at the site today, it's pretty ghetto. It was very, very simple - says Brian Chesky.

Years later, it is a complex web solution with numerous integrations and fantastic logic.

How Airbnb website changed over time

To test your idea, to take a fresh look at the concept, you need to build a simple, Airbedandbreakfast-inspired app prototype. Create several screens and describe how they're connected. Use specific tools like InVision or find a team to deal with this task for you.

Start partnership

Once Gebbia and Chesky confirmed their idea is viable enough, they've engaged a third co-founder, Nathan Bielarczyk. Bielarczyk was the "technical guy," who developed the original version of Airbnb on Ruby on Rails.

Strong cooperation between Gebbia, Chesky, and Bilarczyk was a cornerstone of their product's success.

People ask me now, "Why did you keep going forward?" I think it's two reasons. The first was probably because we had each other. - Brian Chesky

Deciding to build a marketplace like Airbnb, you need to have reliable partners behind your back. If you've already tried to design a prototype on your own, you know that it's a time-consuming task. And this time you could invest in something more vital for your business.

The importance of partnership for Airbnb

A prototype is just a beginning: software development is a hard work that requires patience, expertise, and tons of precious time. Make sure you delegate this part of your business to skilled people.

Typically, a software engineering team includes:

  • Designers;
  • Front-end/ back-end developers;
  • Mobile app developers;
  • Project manager;
  • App quality testers.

Hiring 5-10 professionals to your team may be a headache: recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding may take up to several months. Office rent, hardware, and devices are the brutal money eaters. Thus, startups opt for software development outsourcing.

Outsourcing is a method that allows you to cooperate with a development company overseas. It is a fast, easy, and financially effective method to launch an MVP and grow your business.

Choose technology stack and build an MVP

As we've mentioned above, Airbnb's server-side is built in Ruby on Rails. React is the base for user interface development. Besides, the PostgreSQL database, AWS hosting, and numerous other technologies provide fantastic web and mobile experience to Airbnb users.

That's not a "one and only" stack: your team can choose other technologies. For example, MEAN (MongoDB, Express.js, Angular, and Node.js) stack is a powerful combination of popular development tools. Developers can replace Angular with Vue as well. Keep in mind that users demand seamless experience on any device. React Native, Cordova or Ionic may serve well for cross-platform, cross-browser development.

Typically, it takes up to 6 months to launch a high-quality MVP. However, time to build an app depends on the features you include, the industry you enter, and specific requirements you may have. The development team you cooperate with will provide you with more accurate answers about MVP development duration. Besides, these specialists will give you a hand once you decide to upgrade an MVP to a full-featured app.

Attract the investments

In 2009, Airbedandbreakfast joined YCombinator and received $20,000 of funds. It wasn't easy: Brian Chesky even shared emails where angel investors rejected to support Airbnb (spoiler alert: 7 times!). However, step by step, email by email, Airbnb reached success. And later, the funds raised to $4.4 million thanks to venturing capitals.

With an up and running MVP, you can start to attract investments. Crowdsourcing, investors, local community support – it all can work. Promote your business, show your product is useful, demonstrate its potential, and use all the possible ways to raise funds for further product improvement.

Keep growing

One of the first guests that slept on an air mattress on Gebbia and Chesky's living room has left an impressive several-pages review on his experience. Later on, the company's founders kept talking to the hosts personally to find out about their impressions and ways to make their product better. Well, the number of Airbnb's users proves that was the right.

People told us what they wanted, so we set off to create it for them. Ultimately while solving our own problem, we were solving someone else's problem too. - Joe Gebbia.

Growth is a complex of iterations.

Once your MVP is live, you can collect users' feedback and build your growth plan on its basis. Talking to your development partners, you can discover some more ways on how to make the user experience better. Trying to impress the potential investor, you can reveal new ways for platform upgrade.

Collect feedback => Upgrade your platform => Ask for more feedback => Go back to upgrades

Three tips before you start

Now you know everything about how to build a website like Airbnb. Now, you are ready to start your path and create something prominent. Unless you'd like to find out some more actionable tips. Let's see what we have here:

Solve chicken and egg problem

This is a huge problem every P2P startup deals with. Airbnb faced it, too.

Founders built a script that used Craiglist landlords data and sent them an email offering to publish their listing on Airbnb. It led to 60,000 landlords coming to the website.

Airbnb Craiglist outreach

There are many ways on how to solve chicken and egg problem. Try different ones or mix them to solve it as soon as possible.

Make it intuitive

Take care of the customer journey. How many elements are there on one page? How simple is the design? Is the customer journey clear? From the initial version of your platform to its prominent feature-rich future, focus on intuitiveness.

Millennials prefer minimalism in everything, from daily life to web design. Targeting this group of users, opt for minimalistic design.

Remember that quality matters

From a software quality to the quality of photos posted on your website – everything should be impeccable if you want your MVP to be successful.

According to Gebbia, at the very beginning, "...the (properties') photos were really bad. People were using camera phones and taking Craigslist-quality pictures. Surprise! No one was booking because you couldn't see what you were paying for."

How did Airbnb founders fix that?

They just rented an expensive camera and went to NY (where the majority of Airbnb users were) to take beautiful photos of the listings. It has led to a 200%-300% booking increase by the end of a month.

So here we have it, the path from scratch to a successful marketplace startup:

How to build an app like Airbnb

Final thoughts

With full awareness of how the development process looks, powered by actionable tips, and inspired by the Airbnb story, all you need to do is just to start.

To sum up, take a look at some frequently asked questions:

  • How long does it take to build a marketplace like Airbnb?

4-6 months are needed to launch an MVP. A full-featured app development timeline depends on your project's specifics and requirements.

  • How much does it cost to build a website like Airbnb?

$20,000+. For more detailed information, reach out to your development partner.

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