Building an Airbnb marketplace MVP

Airbnb is one of the most famous marketplaces out there, changing the vacation rental game and unlocking new revenue streams for property owners. But even Airbnb had to start somewhere. The company launched with just a few couches and properties in San Francisco and almost didn’t make it off the ground, resorting to selling cereal boxes to cover expenses. But fortunately for everyone, they persisted and are now one of the most successful marketplaces in the world. If you’re thinking about launching a similar vacation rental marketplace, here’s a playbook to build a no-code MVP.

Overview

Airbnb has two audiences it must cater to: property owners (“hosts”) and renters (“guests”). For hosts, it gives them a platform to rent out an extra bedroom or entire home and generate revenue. For guests, it provides a substantial list of different types of places to rent all around the world. The platform handles searching and discovery, managing booking calendars, facilitating the transaction, and providing insurance to hosts. For the marketplace to work, it needs a few things:

  1. Host onboarding
  2. Adding listings
  3. Rental search
  4. Messaging
  5. Booking and payments
  6. Reviews

Airbnb’s primary business model is taking a service fee at the point of transaction. Airbnb typically charges the hosts 3% and guests 10-15%, though they’ve started rolling out fees just to hosts. In the end, it doesn’t make a huge difference in net fees, just in the psychology of who is paying for what. To simplify things, this guide will just outline a standard transaction fee at the point of purchase. 

Host onboarding

With a marketplace like Airbnb, getting hosts on board is the place you want to start with as you’ll want to have properties to browse through when you start marketing to guests. You’ll want to capture basic profile information and create their account. Below are the onboarding components to focus on.

Account sign up

Start by having the hosts create an account so that you can save their information. For an MVP, a simple email and password signup is likely enough, or you can consider adding social logins as well. You will likely want hosts to be able to be guests too -- they may rent another home while renting out their own. You can have two versions of the signup process, one for guests that is quick and gets them to browsing options (they can always become a host later), and one for hosts which leads them to add properties. Sample sign up

Additional information

Next, you’ll want to capture some additional account information such as their location, what they want to call their shop, a bio, or anything else you’d want to display. To make it easier on the seller, you can break this into sections and walk them through with a step-by-step flow. Sample info gathering flow

Admin approval

Early on, you’ll want to ensure only high quality sellers make it on your platform. One way to do this is to have an admin approval step where you manually approve sellers after they complete their profile. To do this, you can set up an admin dashboard and add a place to approve new sellers and email notifications for sellers alerting them of their approval. Sample admin dashboard

Managing property listings

Once hosts have created their account, they will need to add their properties. You’ll also want to have a place for hosts to view and manage their listings once they are added and change the availability or rates. Below are some of the components to include. 

Adding a property

You can create a simple form page where hosts can add the listing, rates, description, photos, and amenities. You can use different field types such as free-form text, checkboxes, selection fields, and image uploads. Sample form input page

Managing calendar availability

For each listing, hosts will need to manage available days. This is typically done through a calendar interface where they can mark date ranges as available or blacked out. (Note: this can be more sophisticated when considering dynamic pricing by day, recurring schedules, and limits on how far in the future dates can be arranged. Sample calendar interface

Managing listings

You should create a host dashboard where they can see all of their listings, and click in to edit or modify them. This can be done with a table giving them a quick overview of all their listings that they can drill down into. Sample dashboard table

Listing discovery for guests

The next thing to think about is how guests will search for and view the listings on your platform. Guests will generally be looking for a specific location and date window, so you should include filters up front that allow them to narrow those down. Allowing for a map and list toggle is also a good approach.

Searching through listings

Guests will likely want to search and filter through listings by dates, location, and price. Making it easy to narrow things down while presenting visual cues is a great way to help buyers find what they need. Sample product search page

Viewing individual listing

Guests will click into the specific listing they are interested in to view more details and see if it fits their needs. They will also want to browse through the photos so they should be front and center. This page should also include a clear way to move forward in the process, either by messaging or booking the listing. Sample listing page

Messaging

If a host wants to manually approve guests, it is critical to include messaging on the platform. This will allow guests to give additional details about what they are looking for and ask questions, and allow hosts to vet potential guests if needed.

Messaging

You can add a simple chat widget to the bottom of the product page. New messages can trigger emails to notify either party that a message is in their inbox, and they can log in to view it. Sample messaging widget

Booking a rental

When a guest has found a listing they like, and the host has approved them if needed, the next step is to book it and charge the buyer. Having a streamlined and trusted checkout flow will increase the likelihood of getting to a completed transaction. This is one of the most critical parts of your platform, so you’ll want to focus on setting this part up correctly.

Checkout page

This should include a summary of the rental, cleaning and service fees, taxes, and a way to enter payment information. Sample checkout page

Payment processor

A third-party payment platform such as Stripe will handle the actual payment itself. You will set up the payments to send a portion of the money to the host and a portion (such as 10%) of the money to your own Stripe account as a platform fee. Stripe Connecte

Sales Tax

Sales tax can be complicated, so it’s best to integrate with a tool that can calculate taxes on a state by state basis and automatically add that in upon checkout. Stripe has a tax tool that can be easily added. Stripe Tax

Reviews

For property rentals, it can be helpful to include reviews on the platform so that future guests can get additional details and information about rentals from previous guests. This also encourages hosts to provide a quality experience so that they get more business in the future.

Reviews

A few days after the stay has been completed, you can trigger an email to the renter prompting them to log back in and fill out a review using both stars (1-5) and free text. You can even set up a reminder email a few days later if the review has not been filled out. Review popup

Administration & analytics

After setting up the guest and host sides of the platform, you’ll want to add a few administrative things to manage your platform overall. Being able to see all the users on your site, the transactions that have happened, and general metrics will allow you to get insights into how your marketplace is performing and give you a place to handle any problems.

Dashboard

To manage users and view transactions, you’ll want to set up a dashboard page that displays the happenings on the site. Sample admin dashboard

Basic Analytics

You can view simple metrics such as number of visitors, time on site, where people are coming from, etc. using a tool like Google Analytics. Google Analytics

Event Analytics

If you want to include more advanced analytics, you can integrate with a more advanced site that looks at specific event triggers and aggregates the data for you. A tool like Amplitude can track specific user behavior over time and has a basic free plan. Amplitude

Launching your MVP

Now that you’ve finished your basic Airbnb MVP, you can launch your marketplace and start getting feedback! Early on, it’s helpful to be hands-on and talk to your users directly, and to start in one specific area or with a specific focus. Find out what users like or don’t like and where you can add or modify things on your platform. Check in with hosts that may have lapsed and with those who are active to fix the things that aren’t working and double down on the things that are. And remember to take time to enjoy all the progress you’ve made - you’ve gotten past the hardest part which is starting!

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