Case Study: An Inside Look at Airbnb’s Data Science Journey

abby Angela Guess

Riley Newman of Airbnb recently wrote in VentureBeat, “Five years ago, I joined Airbnb as its first data scientist. At that time, the few people who’d even heard of the company were still figuring out how to pronounce its name, and the roughly seven-person team (depending on whether you counted that guy on the couch, the intern, and the barista at our favorite coffee shop) was still operating out of the founders’ apartment in SoMA. Put simply, it was pretty early-stage. Bringing me on was a forward-looking move on the part of our founders. This was just prior to the big data craze and the conventional wisdom that data can be a defining competitive advantage. Back then, it was a lot more common to build a data team later in a company’s lifecycle.”

Newman goes on, “But they were eager to learn and evolve as fast as possible, and I was attracted to the company’s culture and mission. So even though we were a very small-data shop at the time, I decided to get involved. There’s a romanticism in Silicon Valley about the early days of a startup: you move fast, make foundational decisions, and any good idea could become the next big thing. From my perspective, that was all true. Back then we knew so little about the business that any insight was groundbreaking; data infrastructure was fast, stable, and real-time (I was querying our production MySQL database); the company was so small that everyone was in the loop about every decision; and the data team (me) was aligned around a singular set of metrics and methodologies.”

He continues, “But five years and 43,000 percent growth later, things have gotten a bit more complicated. I’m happy to say that we’re also more sophisticated in the way we leverage data, and there’s now a lot more of it. The trick has been to manage scale in a way that brings together the magic of those early days with the growing needs of the present — a challenge that I know we aren’t alone in facing.”

Read more here.

photo credit: Airbnb

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