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This Pro Poker Star Is Helping Airbnb Harness Big Data — And His MBA Got Him The Job

Jonathan Diamond says analytics skills crucial to get hired by home-sharing site

By  Marco De Novellis

Fri Mar 11 2016

Jonathan Diamond is using big data as he leads a business operations team at Airbnb, the popular home-sharing platform valued at $24 billion.

Jonathan, who works at the sharing economy company’s Silicon Valley headquarters, says that data analytics skills are crucial for MBA students looking to work for a business like Airbnb.

Big data is revolutionizing the way businesses operate globally. From management to marketing, data is playing an increasingly dominant role in decision making across all departments.

Such skills Jonathan has in abundance. Before graduating with an MBA from the George Washington University School of Business, he spent five years travelling the world competing in professional poker tournaments and accumulating career earnings of more than $300,000.

After his MBA, he relocated to San Francisco, working in e-commerce for children’s clothes retailer Gymboree Corporation and at online ticket marketplace StubHub, before joining Airbnb.

What is the future for Airbnb?

There are lots of opportunities. Airbnb will invest in new segments like business travel and vacation rentals. In the long term, I can see Airbnb expanding beyond accommodation and into other areas of the hospitality and travel industries.

Asia is a big area of focus for my team and China, Japan and Korea are some of our fastest growing markets.

What does Airbnb look for in its job applicants?

Applicants should be smart, entrepreneurial, and great teammates.

The company has grown quickly and maintaining its culture is one of its most important objectives. We have a set of core values and every candidate goes through a round of interviews specific to those. It’s not uncommon for someone with an impressive resume to get rejected for not being a strong cultural fit.

How important is it that applicants have data analytics skills?

It’s crucial. Data plays at least a supporting role in every decision.

I highly recommend that all MBA students take basic data analysis classes, learn SQL and make sure that they’re comfortable with topics such as experiment design.

What is it like working at Airbnb?

It’s a special place.

The founders have done a great job in instilling the right values, and it shows. People are genuinely happy to be there and are excited about working in a new space that is fundamentally changing how people travel and connect.

Can you tell us something about working at Airbnb that most people wouldn’t know?

Despite its size, there’s still a scrappy, entrepreneurial nature at Airbnb.

The lack of a well-defined process on certain projects can be a challenge, but that’s part of why it’s exciting to come to work.  There is no shortage of interesting problems to solve.

How did your experience playing poker prepare you for a career in business?

Poker refined my analytical abilities. It helped me think critically and solve problems quickly.

I learnt how to calculate expected value and make decisions based on incomplete information — skills critical in my current position.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at GWSB?

After a few years playing poker, I was ready for a change.

I liked that GWSB had an international focus, both in terms of the student makeup and the courses on offer. Some of the highlights included a consulting trip to Vietnam and studying abroad in Mexico City.

How have you profited from your MBA experience?

GWSB gave me a broad understanding of different business functions and practical experience working with people from different countries.

After moving to San Francisco, I landed my first job by networking with a GWSB MBA alumnus.

What is the future of the sharing economy?

The future is bright. Millennials are living in cities for longer periods of time and owning a car or a house has become a burden.

I had a conversation with a colleague in Paris and he doesn’t want to own anything. What’s the point if you can share or rent something for a fraction of the cost, and not have to worry about storage or upkeep?

What challenges do you face at Airbnb?

Working with governments can be a challenge. However, we’re committed to collaborating with cities to ensure that we’re paying the right taxes, being transparent, and promoting responsible home sharing.