Renting an apartment instead of staying in a hotel has become a popular trend for travelers. For locals, it is a good way to monetize their property. This model of business cooperation has become viable thanks to Airbnb, a peer-to-peer marketplace connecting travelers with local property owners.
In this article, we will consider Airbnb’s success story and their journey from a one-page website to an internationally known company valued at $31 bln. We will tell you about the business life hacks that Brian Chesky used to improve his product. Also, we will consider the functionality and workflow of Airbnb in detail.
Do you want to create an Airbnb-like business? We will outline the development process and its components. You will also learn how much it costs to build a website like Airbnb, and how long it will take.
The company was founded in 2008, and its value is currently estimated at $31 bln. Like most profitable modern-day businesses, Airbnb started their success story from MVP. Let’s look at their success story, and uncover tips for developing a startup.
How did Airbnb start?
The story of Airbnb began at a design conference in San Francisco. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, the founders of Airbnb, were short of money and decided to rent out part of their apartment to conference visitors. They created a simple site called airbedandbreakfast.com and added photos of their property. Over the next few days, they hosted three guests who paid $80 each.
Tip 1: Start with a simple and usable MVP that will demonstrate your idea.
The idea seemed to be promising, yet it was a challenge to attract investors. In 2009, they got their first $20,000 via the incubator Y Combinator. They spent the money on market analysis, with both Chesky and Gebbia meeting the first Airbnb users in order to find out what could be improved. Having implemented the ideas of the early adopters, they managed to increase the number of travelers and apartment listings, and gathered a further $600.000 of investments.
Tip 2: Use the product yourself.
In 2010, the founders decided to focus on their initial location and traveled across San Francisco staying in Airbnbs. This helped them to find out the areas of improvement for the hosts, for example, one common problem was the poor quality of apartment photos. They rented a professional camera and took attractive pictures of the property.
Tip 3: Concentrate on the narrow niche and use your product.
In 2012-2013, Brian Chesky concentrated on improving the quality of the service. The company hired the owner of a successful hotel network and focused on improving proficiency. They held numerous educational events for the apartment owners and developed a set of rules and standards. It helped to improve the user experience of both tourists and apartment owners, and united users into a community.
Tip 4: Constantly improve the user experience of your audience.
Since Brian Chesky was a designer, Airbnb was initially created as a user-friendly platform with a simple and attractive interface. In 2014, the company focused on the development of its brand identity: they changed the logo, and the design of the website moved closer to its current version. In 2014, the company was worth $10 bln and received $500 mln of investments from TPG Capital, an amount considered huge even by Silicon Valley standards.
Tip 5: Pay attention to the branding and developing the community.
To sum it up
Having considered the history of Airbnb development, we figured out some key factors in successful development of an apartment rental marketplace. To summarize:
Start with MVP
Before launching the idea, it is necessary to test whether it is viable, and interesting to the audience. An MVP that has the key features for solving the user’s problem is the first step. If it fails, the monetary loss will not be so significant. If it succeeds, you will have a loyal first audience and a direction for your business development.
Use the product yourself
This will help put you in the shoes of the average user, showing you areas of improvement which you will not have seen before.
Select the niche
Do not try building a huge business at the very beginning. Select a narrow niche and small audience and perfect the product for their needs.
Improve the user experience
Having gained an established audience, it’s time to concentrate on improving the product performance. Make it look professional and expensive, provide the ideal experience to all group of users. In the case of Airbnb, satisfied clients lead to the prosperity of the hosts’ business, which in turn leads to the success of Airbnb. Everybody is happy.
Develop the brand identity
While creating a recognizable product, pay attention to uniting the users into a community. People love being a part of a big social entity and will happily support your rapidly growing brand.
What are the Core Features of Airbnb?
Airbnb is a classic marketplace: acting as a mediator between two groups of users – travelers and apartment owners. Let’s look at the key features of Airbnb’s online platform.
- Peer-to-peer marketplace
Airbnb helps a large number of users find a suitable supplier or offer their services to the relevant audience. The users can be both individuals and businesses.
The traditional e-commerce marketplace connects buyers and the sellers from around the world. In order to use the services of a location-based marketplace, the parties need to be physically close to each other. In terms of the development process, such platforms need to be integrated with online maps.
- Online payment
Airbnb not only connects customers, but also acts as a mediator for handling their payments. It is safe for both parties since the apartment owners can be sure that they will receive the money from the clients. On their end, the clients can send money securely and be sure that they will receive the necessary service. The marketplace has a built-in payment system that enables users to securely send and accept transactions.
- Reviews after transactions
Having finished their business relationships, the parties can leave feedback about their cooperation. The traveler can comment on whether the apartment’s conditions and location match the description (ie, if it was clean and convenient, or if the communication with the host was adequate). The property owner can provide an assessment of the guest’s behavior and communication.
- Availability and booking management
While searching for an apartment, the guest can specify the date for the system to show available apartments. Having chosen the accommodation, the client books it for the selected date. The property owner gets a notification and the apartment will no longer be displayed in the search results for that date. This helps avoid double bookings.
- Delaying payments or holding funds
In order to make sure that both parties completed their part of the deal, the marketplace controls the transactions. Upon the client’s payment, the money is not transferred to the host’s balance, but is frozen by the platform. Upon completing the service, the funds are transferred to the host’s balance.
The functionality of Airbnb
Despite the simplicity of the interface, Airbnb is a complex platform combining numerous features. First, there are three types of profiles: guest, host and admin. The functionality of the guest and host profiles is created according to their needs. Let’s consider the features of each type of profile.
The guest’s side
On the Airbnb homepage, visitors see a search form for finding their first apartment. The platform also offers to create a profile, to login to an existing profile, or to register as a host. Having scrolled down, users see a list of the best offers from around the world.
Search & Filtering options
In order to make the first booking, the guest only needs to enter the necessary parameters: location, date, and number of travelers (adults, children and infants).
The results can be filtered according to basic and advanced criteria. The filtering options allow guests to find, for example, pet-friendly apartments, or accommodations suitable for handling certain events. All booking options are displayed in a map.
Then, the basic details of the apartment are displayed: the number of beds, bedrooms, bathrooms, and other accommodations.
By opening the apartment profile, the guest can see a detailed description: the full list of amenities, traveler reviews, and information about the host. The guest can see the final price of the booking, including services. There is also a map with the nearby sights. For security reasons, the exact address of the apartment is disclosed only after the booking confirmation.
Booking & Wishlist
The users then go to the booking page. There are two ways to book the apartment: to pass the verification by providing an ID document, or to send the request to the host. In the first case, the booking will be approved instantly. In the second case, the host must confirm it. It is also possible to add the apartment to a wishlist in order to save it for the future.
To confirm the booking, it is necessary to pay the full amount instantly. With Airbnb, you pay the cost of the apartment + additional host and marketplace fees and taxes. As previously mentioned, the funds will not be transferred to the host’s balance instantly, but will be held until the guest stays in the apartment.
The traveler’s profile contains a dashboard for managing the account settings. The users will be asked to enter the basic profile details and to tell a bit about themselves. To pass a verification, it will be necessary to provide an ID document and to confirm the email address and the phone number. In the account, the users can manage their feedback about the hosts and the hosts’ feedback about them.
In order to keep the customer updated of news and promotions, the application sends notifications to the user’s account, mobile device, and email.
Upon signing up as a host, the user must provide more information about the apartment: its type and basic characteristics (number of rooms, beds, bathrooms, facilities, etc), photos, if it is private or shared, etc. The host must also set the exact location of the property, even though it will be only displayed to the guests who confirmed their booking.
The verification procedure is similar both for the hosts and the guests: it is necessary to provide a photo of a government-issued ID and to confirm the mobile number and the email address.
Setting the price
After filling out all the necessary points, set the price for the accommodation. There is also an option to set discounts for the first three guests and long-term bookings.
Setting the payment details
The host selects the preferred payment methods and provides the necessary information.
How Can You Create a Website Like Airbnb?
If you want to start an apartment rental business and are willing to create a website similar to Airbnb, there are three methods. Each of them can be suitable, depending on your goals.
Airbnb clone scripts
There are numerous ready-made templates that allow you to build a similar website in less than a day. View the list of available solutions here. These are out-of-box solutions equipped with all the necessary features similar to the original site. These templates are an easy-to-use and rather a cheap solution – you will build an Airbnb clone website for about $1000. The ready-made script may be suitable for quick construction of a small platform. Yet it is impossible to customize these templates, and their abilities will be limited to the initial functionality. Additionally, such platforms are not scalable and are not powerful enough to handle high loads.
Ready-made marketplace templates
If you do not want to fully clone Airbnb’s platform, we recommend you consider using an open-source marketplace constructing platform. They will help you make an Airbnb alternative that will be a customized solution for a moderate price, with more space for creativity. Among the most famous constructing platforms is Sharetribe, written on Ruby. If you are interested in finding out more about the marketplace constructors, we have found an article for you. Such platforms offer wider functionality and more productivity than the clone scripts. All the information will be stored on Sharetribe’s servers, where thousands of similar platforms are located.
Custom development from scratch
If the only thing that likens your idea with Airbnb is the idea of an online platform for dealing with the real estate market, it’s high time to develop a custom solution. This will be a full feature web application created by a team of professional programmers. The end product will have the exact functionality and business logic you need. This is a complicated and rather costly project that can be performed by agencies that specialize in web development. Incidentally, the core specialty of Sloboda Studio is marketplace platforms. Now we will tell you about the process of developing a custom marketplace.
How to create a website like Airbnb from scratch
Developing a full feature marketplace platform is a complicated project requiring the teamwork of backend and frontend developers, QA engineers, and a project manager. The process of developing a marketplace from scratch consists of the following stages:
- Back-end Architecture Design
The architecture for an application is like the foundation of the house. This is the main stage of the development process, and defines the way the server-side part of the application will work. During the architecture planning stage, the developers define the future functionality of the application and the way the functions will execute.
- API Development and Integration
An API is a programming interface for developers to interact with a program. Writing custom software implementations requires a lot of information, and integrating a third-party API allows developers to get the data they need in a convenient JSON or XML format. In order to develop a rental website like Airbnb, you’ll need to integrate the Google Maps API for the app to operate with physical addresses.
Your web app will also need to securely and conveniently store user information. For an Airbnb-like site, this will include data about the travelers’ trips, information about available apartments, and the billing details of both parties. To store this information, we use the PostgreSQL database management system.
Quality Assurance and Testing
In order to ensure the app performs perfectly, having a QA engineer to handle the process of testing is essential. We test the application’s workflow at every stage of the development process. This helps us create a higher quality product and to save our clients time and money. We use testing tools like Capybara, Postman, Selenium Webdriver, and others. You can read more about the testing process at Sloboda Studio here.
When the development process is completed, it’s finally time to deploy the application. The deployment process is designed to get the product ready to operate in the new system, or in the new version of the existing one.
The application development work does not finish with its release. In order to be sure that it works properly, to make upgrades and constantly deliver new features, we provide further maintenance services on our products.
- server-side: ElasticSearch, Grape, I18N [2 languages], PostgreSQL, Rack, Rails, Ruby, Sidekiq
- tools (hosting, monitoring, etc.): Airbrake, AWS S3, BrowserStack, Codeship, Confluence, GitHub, Heroku, Slack, Swagger, Testrail, Youtrack
- integrations: Intercom, localise.biz, Pexip, SendGrid, Stripe, Twilio
How much does it cost to build an MVP for a rental marketplace
A marketplace for apartment rentals can have any features and functionalities you need. However, if we are going to develop an MVP for this platform, there are some basic features that should be included for it to function properly. Let’s see what they are and how much it will cost to implement them.
This step requires the creation of two types of user profiles–travelers and property owners, registering the new users and logging in existing ones. To add this feature, we will use Devise and CanCanCan Ruby gems.
The host can create a profile for his apartment (or apartments) and accept payments. The traveler looks for the apartment in the necessary location and books it for the necessary dates. Having added their billing details, the traveler pays the necessary amount.
Having created the profile for the apartment, the host adds its physical address so the house can be displayed on a map. The property owner also gives a description of the apartment, adds photos, and sets the rules and the price. When the profile is published, the property becomes publicly available and is displayed in the search results.
Search & Filtering
In order to find a flat or a house, the traveler enters the location they desire and adds filtering criteria (type of apartment, price, number of rooms, beds, smoking/non-smoking, pet friendliness, etc). The system filters the properties available in this location and displays the most relevant results according to the customer’s requirements. The search & filtering system can be implemented with the help of ElasticSearch.
For users to stay informed about the activities on their profile, the system will send notifications to their mobile device or desktop, or send them SMS-messages and emails. For example, property owners will be notified about new bookings of their apartments.
In order to give travelers the possibility to discuss any details with their hosts, we will introduce a built-in messaging system.
To allow both parties to send and accept the payments, we integrate the Stripe payment system.
To make the application available to users from different countries, we will localize it to several languages–for example, English and the language of the target country. This can be done by using the internationalization & localization system gettext.
Upon finishing the trip, the traveler will be able to rate the apartment and leave feedback about the living conditions and the communication with the host. The property owner can also rate the customers who lived in his house.
An admin panel is necessary to manage user accounts and property profiles, handle financial issues, and handle other backend issues that arise. We can develop an admin dashboard by using the ActiveAdmin and RailsAdmin gems.
Now that you’ve read this article, you’ve learned a lot about apartment rental marketplace platforms like Airbnb. We have looked at their success story and discovered five tips that are useful for developing any startup business. Let’s see them once again:
- Start with a simple and usable MVP that will demonstrate your idea
- Conduct an analysis of your initial target audience
- Concentrate on a narrow niche that will use your product
- Constantly improve the user experience of your audience
- Pay attention to branding and developing the community
We have also studied the business model of Airbnb in detail–now you fully understand how it works, and probably have a more detailed vision of your future platform.
You have also learned about the ways you can make a website like Airbnb:
- Clone scripts
- Ready-made marketplace templates
- Custom development from scratch
Each option has its own pros and cons, and we hope that we helped you understand which variant would suit your needs best.
Marketplace platforms are a core specialty of Sloboda Studio, and we have a deep understanding of this type of business. We also considered all the stages of the development process, and figured out the core features of an MVP for an apartment rental marketplace. Now you know the approximate time and cost of building an online rental platform.
Should you have any questions or ideas, we are always here to help you.