Airbnb's Brian Chesky | Disrupt SF 2014 | Summary and Q&A

September 9, 2014
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Airbnb's Brian Chesky | Disrupt SF 2014

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Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb, discusses a range of topics including the recent Apple event, the valuation of Airbnb, the comparison to other companies, the concept of Airbnb as a hospitality company, the future of Airbnb, partnerships with other companies, the role of government regulations, lessons learned in politics, the design process of the Airbnb logo, the support of investors, managing the marketplace, handling incidents, the importance of hosts, hosting a conference for hosts, and the future of the economy.

Questions & Answers

Q: What did Brian Chesky see at the Apple event?

At the Apple event, Chesky saw a fantastic production and got to witness the new iPhone in person. He also mentioned the overwhelming majority of attendees being Apple employees.

Q: Why did Chesky and his co-founder get invited to the Apple event?

Chesky and his co-founder got invited to the Apple event because they are friends with Johnny, a designer they admire. It was a personal invitation rather than a perk due to the value of their company.

Q: Is it fair to compare Airbnb's valuation to companies like Intercontinental and Windham?

Chesky doesn't think comparing valuations is an important metric. He sees Airbnb as more of a marketplace like eBay, particularly during its early days when it was referred to as the "eBay of space."

Q: What does it mean for Airbnb to be a hospitality company without owning any real assets?

Chesky explains that most hotels don't actually own the properties they operate, as they are often franchisees. Similarly, Airbnb acts as a decentralized marketplace that connects hosts with guests, making it comparable to traditional hotels.

Q: How is Airbnb working to improve the hosting experience?

Airbnb is looking to become more present throughout the entire trip, not just during the accommodation phase. They are exploring initiatives like offering curated experiences, partnering with other companies to provide additional services, and enhancing the overall travel experience for guests.

Q: Why did Airbnb change its name from "Air Bed-and-Breakfast"?

Chesky explains that when they initially launched Airbnb, they were called "Air Bed-and-Breakfast" and were often referred to as the "eBay of space." Over time, they expanded their services beyond just providing rooms and homes, leading to a rebranding and a broader focus on the entire trip experience.

Q: Why did Airbnb comply with the subpoena from the New York Attorney General?

Airbnb complied with the subpoena after challenging it in court. Chesky explains that they realized there were a few bad actors among their hosts who were not adhering to Airbnb's own standards of enriching cities. Ultimately, they wanted to work with the authorities to improve their operations and ensure compliance.

Q: Does complying with the subpoena set a precedent for other markets?

Chesky mentions that they are already in discussions with other cities around the world to collaborate on compliance and regulatory matters. They aim to work together with cities and regulators to enrich the communities they operate in, while still complying with narrow and reasonable requests.

Q: Why doesn't Airbnb have a blanket policy regarding hosts running multiple listings?

Chesky explains that the situation varies from city to city and that not all cities consider managing multiple units a problem. While they have been taking down multiple listings in different cities, it is not a widespread issue as the majority of hosts are ordinary people renting out their primary dwellings.

Q: What have recent incidents taught Airbnb about managing a marketplace?

Chesky remarks that incidents like the "trash meth house" have highlighted the need for proactive measures in managing a marketplace. Airbnb has become more proactive in terms of trust and safety, removing bad actors, providing insurance, and engaging with regulators to improve overall safety and quality standards.

Q: Why did Airbnb change its logo to the "Bélo" symbol?

Chesky explains that the new logo symbolizes the concept of belonging, which is important to Airbnb. While some people may perceive it differently, the aim was to create a universal symbol representing the idea of love and embracing. The new logo also helped shift attention away from the old logo and create a conversation around Airbnb.

Q: Who has been the most helpful investor for Airbnb?

Chesky mentions several investors who have been instrumental in providing support and guidance, including Alfred Lin, Chef Joudan, Ron Conway, Marc Andreessen, Reed Hoffman, and Paul Graham. Chesky emphasizes that every investor has been helpful in their own way.

Q: What has Airbnb learned about politics and managing a marketplace?

Chesky shares that understanding people's opinions and building relationships with politicians is crucial in managing a marketplace. He has also learned the importance of being proactive instead of waiting for issues to escalate. Additionally, Chesky mentions that Airbnb now views itself as a hospitality company, just like hotels, but with a unique and more personalized approach.

Q: Has Airbnb become immune to negative incidents due to its size?

Chesky acknowledges that incidents do occur but puts them in perspective, considering Airbnb's scale with over 400,000 people staying each night. He points out that incidents are decreasing as a percentage of total activity, but there is always room to do more in terms of trust, safety, and improving the hosting experience.

Q: Why is Airbnb hosting a conference for hosts?

Chesky explains that hosts are essential partners for Airbnb, with some relying on Airbnb for their livelihoods. The conference is a way to bring hosts together, make them feel like partners in the Airbnb community, and provide education on being better hosts. The conference is starting small, inviting passionate hosts who truly care about hospitality.

Q: What is the future of the economy being powered by people?

Chesky believes that more and more people will have the power to participate in the economy and unlock their assets for monetization. He sees this as a positive trend, enabling individuals to have multiple income streams and potentially become professionals in various fields. Chesky cites the rise of platforms like Lyft and Uber as examples of this shift towards a people-powered economy.

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