That’s not spelled wrong. While “serial entrepreneurship” refers to someone who starts many new businesses in a short period of time, “cereal entrepreneurship” refers to a certain boot strappyness that was displayed by Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia when their company was floundering. After several launches that did not produce the results that they anticipated, they desperately needed to raise capital in order to keep their new venture, airbedandbreakfast.com (which was later shortened to airbnb.com) afloat. In the summer of 2008, their website traffic fell close to zero. In response, they decided to create “Obama-O’s” and “Cap’n McCains,” which were illustrated cereal boxes to sell to the public during the election.
This decision to sell cereal helped them raise $30,000 which held them over prior to receiving more official funding from Y Combinator ($20k) in January 2009 and Sequoia ($600k) in April 2009. Two years after their cereal adventures, they were able to successfully raise $112 million. Airbnb is now traded on the stock market as ABNB and valued at $113 billion.
It’s easy to look at this story from the ending and look backward, and not think much of their cereal ventures. It is easy to think, “well they did what they had to do.” It’s so easy to think that way. I like to put myself in their shoes in the moment before they decided to produce one cereal box. They likely had to be facing fear, disappointment and a feeling of looming failure. They looked at their website traffic and saw “the facts.” Their goal was to drive traffic to their website, not to produce cereal. I wonder what Brian Chesky thought when Joe Gebbia brought in a thousand pieces of giant cardboard that they had to fold, glue, and pack cereal into. Chesky’s mom called him and said “look if you need money, I will send you money. You don’t need to have strangers in your home to make money.” What did that week feel like, folding cereal boxes?
Brian Chesky’s net worth is currently valued at $13.8 billion, and Joe Gebbia’s is $11.98 billion. It’s so easy to see the end of the story, and think, “of course.” But it was Chesky and Gebbia’s boot-strappyness, resourcefulness, tenacity, experimentation, focus and drive that enabled them to bridge through the tough times to be able to achieve success with their vision. It was those qualities that also enabled them to issue their IPO in the midst of a global pandemic.
Their desire to remain “cereal entrepreneurs” is now listed on their annual report as a core part of their culture. They want all of their employees to be bold and to be resourceful. If you are going through a tough time in business or life, think about how the core principles of boldness and resourcefulness relate to your situation. Don’t give up on your dream. You just may need to make cereal for a minute.