They say there is no “school” for startups, and that no matter how many blog posts or Paul Graham essays you read, you can only learn how to do a startup by experience. I disagree – if you want to see if you’re well-suited to running a startup, set up a profitable Airbnb first.
Airbnb? Startup? What does one have to do with the other, you ask?
By running an Airbnb, you will learn the following skills: assessing markets, hiring people you trust, customer service, cutting costs, growing revenue, legal compliance, copywriting, contract law, and hustling hard. If you are doing an Airbnb in New York, for example, you will have to aggressively negotiate with everyone from your landlord to shady contractors to mattress wholesalers.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be your own apartment; in fact, it’s better if it’s not. Rent an entirely separate apartment and treat it like a business. Incorporate a legal entity (for tax purposes) and track your revenue and expenses. Hire somebody to clean it between stays or do that part yourself. Learn how to systematize guest checkin (Keycafe or a Master Lock Key Box) and how to deal with guest complaints. Rent multiple rooms or Entire Apartment rentals. You will learn a ton about business.
The major upside of Airbnb is that it is not nearly as hard as a startup, and won’t take much time after it’s set up. Airbnb is growing rapidly, and as long as you’ve chosen your location correctly, you will become profitable in two or three months. There is a big safety net, the tools are already built out, and you should be able to afford the startup costs with your own money or the help of a relative. If you can’t make money off Airbnb, you have no business running a startup.
And here’s the thing: after running a successful Airbnb, you may realize, “Hey, this is pretty sweet” and not want to run a startup. You may actually be more suited to running a lifestyle business, which is a great gig if you’re cut out for it. Quit dreaming of raising capital and read The Four Hour Work Week and subscribe to the AppSumo mailing list instead. If all you’re dreaming of is “being your own boss” and generating a recurring monthly revenue that frees you up to do the things you love, DON’T DO A STARTUP.
However, if you decide that yes, you will still commit yourself to quitting your job, building a product, raising money and everything else, keep the Airbnb – you’ll need it when you’re broke. If you don’t think you could go broke running a startup, you almost certainly will at some point. The Airbnb money will increase your “personal runway,” meaning even when times are really tough and you’re living off ramen and sleeping on couches because raising money has taken a lot longer than you thought it would, you will have an advantage over other startup guys in your situation. Hell, you may even be able to make a pretty normal American salary on Airbnb in just your spare time, and be able to test out a few different ideas for your startup instead of saying, “This one has to work.”
So before you decide to double down on a single startup idea and risk it all, see if you’re really cut out for it, and give yourself a safety net, by trying out Airbnb first.