Some people scoff at the notion that Airbnb is a technology company—like Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson.
Tell that to Joe Zadeh, the guy with a bioengineering Ph.D. from Caltech who leads the online lodging marketplace’s product efforts.
What Airbnb’s sceptics miss is the clever ways Zadeh is insinuating technology into lesser-known aspects of its online lodging marketplace—like the gorgeous photos it takes of hosts’ listings, for free.
Taking those pretty pictures involves some complicated code. Looking at the numbers tells you why.
Airbnb now has 3,000 photographers on contract who have taken more than 1 million photos of 65,000 properties, a spokeswoman told us. It pays them $40 to $50 per shoot in the U.S., which typically produces 12 photos. (Rates vary by country.)
The company has roughly 200,000 active listings—so a large portion of Airbnb’s listings now have photos.
Just eight months ago, Airbnb had 1,000 photographers who’d done pictures for 13,000 verified listings.
Airbnb has sophisticated scheduling software, created by Zadeh, which does a host of functions from assigning shoots to processing photo files to sending payment. Shoots increased from 1,000 a month in January 2011 to 5,000 a month by February 2012.
A year ago, Airbnb raised $112 million in a financing round that valued the company at $1 billion. We estimate that it’s spent maybe $3 million on its photography program—so it seems like a good investment.
Here’s another way it’s paid off: Airbnb recently launched a new feature called Wish Lists which takes these photos and turns them into glossy, magazine-style features that highlight themed groups of properties. It’s a way for people to get away from searching by location and price and instead find vacation spots by type—say, houseboats or treehouses—or style.
That feature would have been impossible without the massive library of photos Airbnb had commissioned through Zadeh’s work.
The company wouldn’t share exact numbers, but it claims properly photographed properties get twice as many bookings as listings with host-submitted photos.
In the company’s early days, Airbnb cofounders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky started the photography program themselves by flying to New York, their biggest initial market, and taking photos of hosts’ apartments. (Both Gebbia and Chesky are RISD-trained designers, so they take pretty good shots.) Gebbia told us that adding professional photos to listings doubled sales right off the bat.