Hard Problems, Big Opportunity

About Nathan Blecharczyk

This post is being re-posted from our general audience blog.

Airbnb is creating a new marketplace for space, and is facing many of the challenges that eBay faced back in 1998 when they created a new marketplace for goods. Though Airbnb doesn’t move petabytes of data or process thousands of messages per second (yet), we facilitate a massive amount of commerce. This post is for the software engineers in the audience who are curious about the types of challenges that we face.

Here are some illustrations of how we are innovating:

Payments. Each month Airbnb collects and pays millions of dollars in over 100 different countries. To facilitate this exchange we integrate with dozens of local payment providers and maintain bank accounts in several currencies. What are the local services we can leverage? What are the benefits/limitations of those services?

Search. In New York City alone Airbnb has 3,600 diverse properties— more choices than any other accommodation site. How do we compute relevance when the factors are at a minimum a combination of availability, location, price, reputation, type of space, etc? How do we sort by price when it is a function of dates and a multitude of business rules? How do you make the comparison process manageable to the user?

Standardized Processes. Airbnb has over 40,000 available properties. The property owners ultimately dictate the quality of the Airbnb experience. Some of the owners are first-time renters; others have rented for years and have their own modus operandi. How do we get them to adopt a standard set of operating practices relating to cancelations, cleaning fees, communication, payment, scheduling, security deposits, etc? How do we train them to cooperate through a balance among education, incentives, and penalties?

Fraud. With commerce comes fraud. Deviants from around the world are trying to “beat” our system everyday. We have to proactively identify suspicious behavior and quarantine users until additional verification steps can be taken. What are the patterns that we can identify? How do we avoid false positives? How do we allow users to prove their innocence? How do we share our intelligence with the greater community?

User Acquisition. Airbnb makes money when owners make money. Airbnb has a unique product that converts visitors to travelers very well. How do we use the targeting capabilities of ad networks combined with our backend tracking capabilities to maximize ROI? What we can learn from click tracking? How can we monetize our existing user base through follow up marketing? What network effects exist?

We are seeking talented engineers to solve problems like these. Please check out our job openings.


About Nathan Blecharczyk

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  1. NewArtRiot

    Love this site. I was thinking about the Search problem, it was probably properly solved by now, but couldn’t you simply use different database views giving different weight to each criteria?

  2. Jula

    I signed and posted my properties few month ago, but did not have any decent inquiry yet, all though is a high season.There are few thing that should be considered in my opinion. 1. flexibility with currency /missing Polish Zloty for example/look at Letmego.com has all currency.2. Calendar app-lays only to one apartment, room etc. so if you have 12 units you will have to post each one separate and update calendar for each one. Paranoia. It should be better option. Again Letmego has better system for this settings as well.3. As a member I made reservation for my vacation in Krakow. Did not get any respond from owner, and when I check the owner website I so the room is available for requested and already paid apartment. I panicked and canceled reservation. It was no problem, but I was charge over $25. It should not happened. Reservation was made for August. I think I should dispute charges.

  3. jonthepirate

    On a recent system I worked on, we used WorldPay’s “High Capacity Gateway” in order to perform transactions in many countries throughout the world and to settle the collected funds in banks local to that country operated by our company. If I could do it again, I would have gone with Digital River who has a similar service because I believe the Digital River system is probably a much smarter implementation of this service. Dealing with WorldPay for global payments processing has been a very long, drawn out, and time consuming process with an API which is extremely cryptic.

  4. Just

    You built a great company… But it is all on the back of crimes (CAN-SPAM).I really hope they charge you.

  5. Dean Summerfield

    I found your site while looking for accomodation in Vancouver BC. BUT it was frightfully SLOWCan you look into it?

  6. David Andersson

    I love the idea and everything – but the site is awfully slow!

  7. Super hans

    Not a great site

  8. Patrick

    I don’t know then but now the site is fast and ridicously easy to use. The site is really great!

  9. lsblakk

    Searching on Airbnb must be a really interesting problem to work on. When I was searching yesterday for places in a certain date range I found that after sending a message to a prospective property, the suggestions that came in the popup would not necessarily be available for my search dates. There must be a way to fix that but I have no idea how complicated it looks like on your side.

  10. Eric

    Wow. Such cool.