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Paul Graham looked at their plans for Airbnb and asked them the simple question, "Where is your market?"
The founders said that New York seemed promising. To which Paul, gesturing wildly with his hands, said, "Your users are in New York and you're here in Mountain View."
The founders were dumbfounded, saying they were in Mountain View for Y Combinator.
Paul repeated himself. "Your users are in New York and you're here in Mountain View." After a pause, he added, "What are you still doing here?"
At that moment, the duo realized that they didn't have to do things just to scale. Up until then, they had the mentaility that things that scale were the only things worth pursuing. As Joe said:
It wasn't up until this moment that Paul Graham gave us permission to do things that don't scale. It was in that moment that everything changed. He taught us the beauty of doing things that don't scale.
So they dashed off to New York and met with their hosts, learning that they had a slew of features they wanted, which they would never have learned had they stayed in Mountain View. The biggest lesson was giving themselves permission to do things that don't scale. A philosophy that continues to this day at Airbnb.
In the early days and even to this day, I have made an effort to do things that don’t scale. I’ve found that there are two key characteristics of “things that don’t scale”:
This is certainly a key factor, especially in the early stage of a startup. Any time you can save on an activity which you haven’t yet validated as beneficial is worth doing manually until you can no longer do it manually.
I think the more important characteristic may be that when you do the task manually to begin with, you actually get more benefits than if it was automated. For example, emailing someone personally and taking care to read a little about their interests and find something to relate to, will give you a much higher response rate and trigger fascinating and useful conversations.