How Airbnb funded their startup with cereal boxes.

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Today, Airbnb is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $31 billion.

It’s essentially the largest hotel chain in the world, larger than the world’s top 5 hotel chains put together… and it doesn’t own a single real estate listing.

But, you know all of that already.


Let’s rewind.

Once upon a time, a gent named Brian Chesky and his roommates found themselves in a bit of a pickle.

Rent was due and they had no money.

So, they got clever (and perhaps a little weird) and decided to test out a bat shit crazy idea…

“What if we offered complete strangers a night’s stay on blown up air mattresses and made them breakfast in the morning?”

Hence the name…

Air bed & Breakfast (Airbnb).

To everyone’s surprise, three guests showed up, shelled out $80 a pop and boom… Chesky and his roomies had their rent money (and they didn’t have to migrate to a cardboard box on the street).

But, more than this, they had an idea… a big idea… one big enough that they went all in, maxed out a binder full of credit cards and found themselves a whopping $20,000 in debt.

You’ve got to respect the chutzpah. But, Chutzpah or not, the debt collectors will still come a ringing.

Airbnb suddenly got put on the back burner as Chesky and the gang had a much bigger problem to solve…

How the hell do you pay off $20,000 in credit card debt, quickly?

The answer was the 2008 Obama-McCain Election.

And cereal… an assload of cereal.

The Airbnb squad had yet another bat shit crazy idea…

Design and sell limited-edition cereal boxes and call them Obama O’s & Captain McCain.

They contacted a print shop and had 1,000 custom boxes printed. They, then, bought a shit ton of Cheerios and Captain Crunch. And, finally, they put the boxes together with a hot glue gun in their apartment and slapped a $40 price tag on them.

And, they hired a leprechaun to tickle their nuts with a four-leaf clover, because their lucky asses somehow got featured on national television and in 24-hours sold 1,000 cereal boxes and with it… pocketed $30,000 in profit.

Now, all that said…

Buried in the box of the Airbnb cereal story is a sweet marketing idea.

If you’re bat shit crazy enough, a bit lucky and wildly creative… there is some serious money to be made outside the products and services your business is currently selling.

(MailChimp, the email software kind of taking over the world, once sold knitted monkey hats for cats).

Sometimes, bat shit crazy is a stepping stone for some serious innovation.

Other times, it’s just bad shit crazy.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.

Stranger than fiction by is a curation of stories about bat shit crazy marketing ideas that have made brands some serious cheddar. If this story made your mouth water, why not let me tell you when I write the next one?

Written by

I write pretty words and sometimes sell things.

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