Caroline Clark

Being unreasonable

This past month, I rented out my house to people on Airbnb. They were difficult. They complained a fair amount, including about the number of forks included. However, I did not push back on their demands and supplied an additional ten forks. Towards the end of their stay they decided that they had to leave a few days early for a personal obligation. I then refunded them a few days.

Right after, I questioned my decision. Why was I leaving money on the table? But I surmised that at the end of the day, this is about being unreasonable. It was about the principle of investing more than guests expect, and by providing unreasonable hospitality, there would be returns somewhere.

It ended up paying off. They loved the apartment and left a five star review. That first five star review was very valuable as it allowed me to increase the prices significantly for future guests. They then offered their house in Ibiza to use whenever I wanted. Finally, they requested to come back for another stay in a month. I got 10x what I left on the table.

I am inspired by the book Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidera, the former general manager of Eleven Madison Park. He shares a lot of great stories, but the biggest concept that stood out to me is the 95/5 rule — a rule which provides a guideline about how 95% of costs should be tightly controlled, but the remaining 5% are directed towards unexpected delights for customers.

Building a startup is unreasonable. We are fighting against incumbents and dogma, and for every dollar. And sometimes it’s worth it to be unreasonable. For the first hundred paying customers, I wrote a handwritten thank you note.

The team does unreasonable things, too.

Just last week a customer wrote in asking for a feature request. We ask everyone on the team to contribute, including our engineers and designers. For the person on rotation, they just shipped the thing that they asked for, and this what the customer responded with:

Doing these unreasonable things during the moment can seem wasteful or distracting. But hopefully long term it will build our brand and keep us close to our roots. Sometimes, it could even return 10x in value.