GOOD & IBM present
Welcome to Figures of Progress

Big Data is empowering and driving 21st Century leaders, whether in business, city government, or even sports. This year, we’re expanding Figures of Progress and inviting you to take part in learning and doing. Join us as we continue the dialogue and explore how big data is being harnessed to change our world.

GOOD & IBM present

Nathan Blecharczyk

Chief Technology Officer & Co-Founder, Airbnb

Blecharczyk is the technical architect behind Airbnb. A pragmatist who translates vision and design into tangible product through fast iterations, Blecharczyk uses data to identify and pursue high-growth opportunities. Under his leadership, the engineering team has developed a robust, secure marketplace which now facilitates a massive amount of commerce each day. Blecharczyk got an early start in business and technology when he founded an online marketing company while still in high school. Since then he has worked as a program manager at Microsoft, engineer at OPNET Technologies, and lead developer at Batiq. Blecharczyk graduated with a degree in Computer Science from Harvard University. When taking a break from coding, he looks forward to the outdoor adventure of this listing in Hawaii near the Volcano National Park. A true technologist, he one day hopes to see Bill Gates's home featured on the pages of Airbnb.
As an industry leader, what most influenced you on the road to your current position?

I started my own business when I was much younger and was taken in by the adventures I had building new products and becoming an entrepreneur. I was able to express my creativity and develop a wide range of different skills. The amazing thing about software is that you can create something from effectively nothing—the only factors are time, effort, and imagination.

What type of data and technology would you consider the most valuable to your company?

I like simple metrics that are easy to capture; complex metrics can be distracting. The right metric is only part of the puzzle. Ample time should be spent mapping the metric to operations—how does tracking this metric truly help the business?

For example, we have a model for predicting the LTV (lifetime value) of a cohort. It enables us to try different initiatives and quickly ascertain the long-term effect of that effort. Our end-goal is to get people to buy travel, which is highly aspirational and is rarely acted on immediately. With an ad campaign, it takes 90 days until all bookings are made and return of investment can be definitively measured. With our model, we can use the initial data captured within the first 10 days and predict the final outcome. What used to take 90 days, can now be done in 10 days. This lets us iterate more quickly.

How has data changed and informed the way you can interact with customers and improve your customer service?

To improve our product and reduce our customer support cost, we developed a system for automatically bucketing customer service issues. This has become a real-time dashboard of high-level issues with the product and has helped us improve the product.

First, we are able to see when a certain issue spikes, which serves as a visual alert system for detecting problems with the product. The dashboard enables us to prioritize parts of the product that need the most help. For any given part of the product we can then do a manual review of those tickets to identify specific problems. Once a solution is implemented, we can quantify the improvement and cost savings.

What are the qualities and/or skill sets that you believe future successful leaders will need to have?

Successful leaders need to be data-driven and be able to map that data into actions or operations.

What is your greatest hope for how your work can influence positive change in our world?

I have a couple of aspirations for Airbnb. First, I think we can be a catalyst for a deeper, global understanding between individuals. I think, through bringing cultures together we can break down walls and allow people to have more meaningful interactions, develop a stronger level of cultural appreciation, and live richer lives.

I am also glad to see more people taking part in the Sharing Economy through companies like Airbnb, Getaround, TaskRabbit and Vayable. I think that this could be an important step in how we think about capitalism, ownership and the production of goods. It seems that traditional models are leaving a lot of people out—the global recession and high unemployment demonstrate that. This new Sharing Economy model is more fluid and technology will help it to scale large enough to have a real impact.

What’s one surprising fact that people should know about your company?
In late January we announced that we’d booked 5 million guest nights. It took us three and a half years to get there, but was a huge demonstration of our growth. The exponential growth we’ve seen since has been astonishing. In the past 5 months, we've doubled this number and now how over 10 million nights booked through Airbnb. Our biggest night so far was August 4th when 60,000 people were staying on Airbnb and two thirds of those people were from outside of the US.

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Airbnb uses technology to participate in the new “Sharing Economy,” which is changing traditional business models. What impact do you want to see through these new sharing models?

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