The remarkable growth of Airbnb, culminating in its $10 billion valuation, has garnered significant attention in recent years. In a recent interview, Riley Newman, the company’s Head of Data Science, shed light on how data played a pivotal role in its extraordinary success.
Riley emphasized that “data is the voice of your customer.” He elaborated, stating that data serves as a record of actions taken by members of the Airbnb community, representing the decisions they made regarding the use of the platform. Data scientists are instrumental in translating these decisions into narratives that can be comprehended by others.
A key turning point in Airbnb’s journey was the enhancement of its search function. Initially, the platform struggled to provide precise guidance to users. The company’s approach was to return the highest quality set of listings within a certain radius of the user’s search location. However, as the user base grew and data accumulated, this model was replaced with a data-driven approach. Riley explained, “We decided to let our community solve the problem for us. Using a rich dataset comprising guest and host interactions, we built a model that estimated the conditional probability of booking in a location, based on the user’s search location. A search for San Francisco would thus prioritize neighborhoods where users who searched for San Francisco typically ended up booking, such as the Mission District or Lower Haight.”
Improving the search function was not the sole application of data. Airbnb also harnessed advanced data analytics to tailor the website experience to diverse demographics. For instance, the bounce rate on the home page was significantly higher in Asian countries. After a detailed analysis, it was discovered that users were getting distracted by clicking on the “Neighbourhood” links and getting lost in photos. In response, Airbnb’s data science team redesigned the website for Asian users by removing the “Neighbourhood” links and highlighting top travel destinations in China, Korea, Japan, and Singapore. This led to a 10 percent increase in user conversion.
Airbnb’s success story underscores the transformative potential of data for startups and businesses seeking to enhance their websites. By leveraging data, critical website functions can be thoroughly examined and refined, resulting in increased revenue and an improved user experience.