Caltech Grad Who Is Leading Code Credentials For … One Snap At A Time

A few months ago I was at a friend’s apartment during an photo shoot. I was surprised and impressed that the company actually contracts professional photographers to shoot their lodging locations. I was even more impressed when I read about the guy who is leading the product efforts. His name is Joe Zadeh, he has his PhD in Bioengineering at Caltech, and he’s silencing the “Airbnb is not a tech company” critics.


Here’s how he’s doing it.


Those pretty photos are pretty complicated


In an interview with Marc Andreessen, VC at Andreessen Horowitz, Wired’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson had a hard time agreeing with Andreessen on Airbnb’s technology clout. But the numbers prove it’s difficult to refute the complexity behind the site’s gorgeous photos and the team that makes it all happen.


If you’ve been living under a rock, Airbnb is the insanely successful marketplace for people to list, discover and book places to stay all over the world—from castles to sailboats—in 13,000 cities and 181 countries. Started in 2008, it raised $112 million last year and was valued at $1 billion.


But what makes it stand out from other accommodation-booking sites, for me, is the beautiful photos. Unlike user-generated photo sites like Trip Advisor, Airbnb uses 3,000 contracted photographers to professionally shoot their “products” (in this case, real estate), and spends an estimated $3 million on their photo-generating system. Of course, they need a fearless tech warrior to lead their efforts.


Enter Joe Zadeh.


Now, this guy is no average Joe. To put things into perspective, he patented something called the System and Method for Nucleic Acid Sequence Design. I mean Airbnb bagged them a serious smarty here.


Joe has created sophisticated scheduling software for the site with functions that include shoot assignments, processing photo files and payments. Thank goodness too—there are now over 5,000 shoots a month to handle.


The Early Shoots

Co-founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky were the initial photogs for the company back in 2008, flying to New York, their biggest initial market, and taking photos of hosts’ apartments themselves. Luckily, they’re both trained designers from the Rhode Island School for Design so it wasn’t quite amateur hour, but with 200,000 listings, and a double-sale rate for pro-shot photos, a solid photo-managing army has essentially been assembled since.


Wish Lists

Airbnb is now using their huge library of gorgeous photos (thank you, Joe) to display in themed groups—such as Breathtaking Blues and Rest and Rehearsal Spaces—on their new Wish List feature, making discovering, saving and sharing places to stay a more magazine-style experience.


We knew they were going to do amazing things when we covered Airbnb in 2009 and we’re happy they’re still around.


I have stayed at some pretty awesome locations around the world; I love the site and I think the beautifully shot photos are just another reason why the company is so stellar. I’m also looking forward to creating my own wish list–perhaps Freelancer Retreats or Wanderer Abodes. I like the sound of that.


Photo credits