What is Airbnb in the first place? It is a property-renting marketplace that gives an alternative approach to perceiving hospitality. With more than 150 million users, it’s one of the biggest peer-to-peer platforms in the world. The marketplace revolutionized hospitality: now investors purchase and renovate entire apartments only to rent them on Airbnb.
On the one hand, this success is awe-striking. Investors and business owners are eager to repeat the success of the platform and consider making similar marketplaces. On the other hand, if there’s already Airbnb 1.0, who needs a clone platform?
The key to succeeding in building an online marketplace like Airbnb is in figuring out where the original platform falls short and implementing unique features in your project.
In this article, we’ll help you figure out how to build a website like Airbnb. The platform gives us valuable lessons, but it’s not perfect. There are still open business opportunities in the niche.
Airbnb is a peer-to-peer marketplace for location-based property rental.
Rental marketplaces are different from the buying ones. Renting itself is a transition state between a purchase and a service. Although the effort of the seller is not required (which is why it’s a passive-income approach), the level of responsibility is higher than on Amazon or eBay. Sellers are expected to walk buyers through the process and provide step-by-step assistance.
From the perspective of marketplace development, this hybrid nature presents challenges. Airbnb allows sellers and buyers to interact on a regular basis, participate in community discussions, leave detailed reviews, and consult other users. The selection process is much more intricate than on Amazon.
There’s good news, though. Because Airbnb is already highly established, users are accustomed to trust rental platforms. Business owners can ride the hype wave, stirred by Airbnb, and use it to set their platforms afloat. For the team behind the original marketplace, the starting process was much harder – users were reasonably skeptical about living in strangers’ apartments or letting someone live in theirs.
A lot of entrepreneurs heard the basic gist of the story. Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, roommates at the time, decided to make extra cash by letting other people stay in their apartment. At first, this was just a way to make a few bucks to spare. However, when they saw how high the demand was, they understood the scaling potential of the business. So, the two built the Airbnb website to promote their apartment. Shortly after, they allowed other owners to advertise their property.
The main challenge of Airbnb growth was to build trust. The founder, Joe Gebbia has an entire Ted Talk about building trust between people. In particular, he asked the audience to pass their phones to strangers, and demonstrated ways to increase the trust for this risky enterprise.
Joe Gebbia focused on providing information. He says that if a stranger introduced himself, showed personal photos, told the names of wife, kids, and dog or backed his reputation with hundreds of reviews, we would be much more open to entrusting our phones.
Airbnb leverages user trust with three key values:
If you are building a rental marketplace, taking a page from Airbnb’s book is a good start. On the organizational level, this means establishing support teams, selecting moderators, and partnering insurance providers worldwide. When the startup scales, partnerships with government authorities and legal firms are another crucial step.
Principles, applied by Airbnb, are crucial for all kinds of rental. You don’t have to limit yourself to houses and apartments – anything can be listed, from pools to musical instruments. So, if you don’t yet have a clear idea of what kind of rental business you’d like to start, we might pitch in with some.
A marketplace that rents venues for parties and business meetings. The listing range is almost unlimited – you can talk about offices, cafes, apartments, houses, and even yachts. The only condition is, the owner of the venue approves of a party program and is ready to prepare the property.
Both in the web and mobile versions of Airbnb, we can consider the user flow and all the ways in which the marketplace interacts with the client. Another aspect to take into account is the underlying infrastructure – data structure, server APIs, and the software architecture.
Let’s dive in.
As one of the most elaborate rental marketplaces out there, the platform covers hundreds of features. They can be roughly divided into 20-30 major flows in the Airbnb website design – the main paths that users follow on the platform:
Airbnb is a good example of an on-demand app that knows the needs of its target audience to a tee. The development team made sure that the marketplace has no redundant features (else it’ll be too hard to use), is fast (so that it runs even on slow networks) and secure (there’s a system of account verification that protects both landlords and tenants).
How does Airbnb check all these boxes? Let’s take a look at the platform’s signature features:
Airbnb makes money by charging two sides commissions for each transaction, namely:
As a marketplace, Airbnb prioritizes scalability. Unlike most large players in the industry (e.g. hotel chains like Hilton or Marriott), the platform is infinitely scalable as it doesn’t depend on the capacity of physical facilities.
High scalability potential is the key reason why the Airbnb business model is referred to as exponential.
Other than scalability, the development team focuses on:
Building a complex marketplace like Airbnb is intimidating at the first glance – however, once broken down into actionable steps, the process gets manageable and straightforward.
Here’s a step-by-step guide that covers how to develop a website like Airbnb.
There are two approaches to building a rental marketplace like Airbnb: designing a generic platform via a solution that enables marketplace development and building a custom product from scratch.
Here’s a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of each strategy.
Off-the-shelf platforms like Shopify, Sharetribe, and others save developers a lot of time. They support developers with a scalable infrastructure and interface templates, customizable in a matter of days.
On the flipside, there’s a limit to the customizability of ready-to-deploy marketplaces. The infrastructure might not support unique features and bold technical choices.
Also, building a rental platform on Shopify or Sharetribe makes developers reliant on a third-party infrastructure.
That presents a variety of security concerns, especially since an online marketplace like Airbnb stores sensitive data (addresses, credit card numbers, etc.) and will require a higher degree of protection than that supported by off-the-shelf solutions.
A different way to get a rental marketplace off the ground is by building a platform from scratch. This way, the development team has full control over data protection and resource usage, doesn’t have to pay fees for resource usage, slowing down scalability, and has no constraints in releasing unique creative features.
Naturally, there are considerations to custom marketplace development. For one, it’s a slower process since you need to hire a skilled tech team, choose a tech stack, and build an infrastructure from scratch, component by component.
Also, in the early stages of the marketplace lifecycle, maintaining the infrastructure in-house is more expensive than relying on a vendor-based setup. As the platform scales, however, custom development becomes more cost-efficient than using ready-made solutions that have exponential fees.
Determining a tech stack for the project is an impactful decision since it sets a direction for hiring campaigns, affects the time needed to complete the project, and puts scalability and performance constraints on the final build.
Airbnb is a complex marketplace with high scalability demands that stem from the platform’s 150 million user base. As a result, the development team relies on a robust tech stack.
Here’s the list of technologies the platform uses for sustenance:
Smaller-scale marketplace developers can settle on a narrower range of technologies. For Airbnb, the key component of the infrastructure is Ruby on Rails, superior in performance, affordable costs,and time to market.
An Airbnb-like platform has a robust feature set – to make sure you don’t miss out on key functionality, group all tools in three categories:
Here’s an example of a full feature breakdown for an Airbnb-like marketplace:
|Tenant-facing features||Owner-facing features||Extra features|
|Search and filters to sort through listings||Listing properties by filling in a precise form||360-degree property tours|
|A detailed description of each property||Vetting and connecting with prospective tenants||Comparing accommodations|
|Adding properties to the waitlist or saving them as “Favorites”||Adjusting payment details||Security encryption of user data|
|Managing upcoming reservations||Accepting or declining booking requests||Advanced search filtering|
|Getting notifications and real-time alerts from the platform||Accepting payments|
|Reviewing a stay and viewing the feedback of other users||Updating tenants on price and availability|
|Compensating property owners via a preferred payment method||Promoting listings in search rankings via sponsored programs|
|Filling in a personal profile|
You can also read: How to Build a Job Search Website
Before you commit to developing a rental marketplace, tech teams should validate their idea and estimate accurate development costs and timeline. The most common way to do it is by developing a minimum viable product – the basic version of the platform.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to building an MVP:
Once you process MVP testing insights, align the main features and the vision for the interface, the development team takes over and works on the product that will be shipped to the end user.
At Syndicode, we break the marketplace development workflow down into five stages:
To see how much time and resources you need to develop an up-and-running platform, take a look at our feature-by-feature breakdown based on the experience of Syndicode developers in marketplace development.
|Search and property filtering||96|
|Alerts and notifications||32|
|Booking management (for guests)||82|
|Booking management (for hosts)||84|
This is an estimate, not a definite cost and development timeline. Depending on the complexity and scale of your future projects, these values can fluctuate downward or upward.
Building a rental marketplace is a sensible idea from multiple perspectives. For one, you don’t need to own property to get started since your platform will be a bridge between homeowners and tenants. Also, unlike businesses tight to physical commodities, a market place has an infinite scalability threshold.
If you are committed to building a rental platform like Airbnb, reliable and easy-to-use tech infrastructure should be a priority. Since you offer no goods or services yourself, intuitive UI and a wide range of features is the only way to attract both property owners and accommodation-seekers.
To build a scalable and intuitive marketplace, reach out to Syndicode. Our developers are specialized in creating custom marketplaces that run on Ruby on Rails. The team prioritizes performance, loading speed, security, and quick delivery to market
To see our attention to detail and emphasis on ease of use in action, take a look at the projects our team completed. If you have an idea for a rental platform and want to discuss it with experienced developers, let’s get in touch!