Using purpose to pivot in a time of change

For years, we’ve seen how the application of modern technology and automation can kill a traditional business model overnight. With low overheads and minimal physical assets to manage, combined with deep customer insight and personalisation, these businesses have been successful in disrupting the status quo so much so that our own behaviours and habits now look starkly different to how they looked just ten years ago.

We know all the classic examples: the taxi industry thwarted by the arrival of Uber and its ride sharing contemporaries, network television and movie theatres out-smarted by Netflix and video streaming services, bricks and mortar retail decimated by Amazon and online shopping, and of course, the hotel industry usurped by Airbnb and the business model of home sharing.

So what would happen when the largest pandemic in modern times swept through the globe in a matter of weeks? How would the disruptors in the hardest hit industries manage being disrupted themselves?

When a Masters of Scale podcast interview of Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb popped up in our feeds, the Werkling community became immediately curious. This is a brief summary of the conversation.

In the podcast episode, Chesky described how the pandemic had completely flipped their growth plans upside down. He described the need to get back to ‘scrappy’, the attitude that had seen the founding team manage ups and downs in the early days of the company. But most insightfully, Chesky shared how this crisis forced him to centre himself and the company back onto its core purpose: to connect people.

“When we started Airbnb it was about connecting with people. That was the roots of Airbnb and that's what we're meant to do. And if it took a crisis for us to get back to basics, back to our roots, then a new, better Airbnb will emerge and we'll be back and this mission is going to live on.” - Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder, Airbnb

Purpose is, at its simplest, the reason why something exists. An authentic purpose grounds an organisation and provides an emotional anchor for employees and customers alike. A purpose shapes the decisions and experiences that influence the culture and brand of a business, and provides both constraints and opportunities for growth, strategy, and innovation.