Will Airbnb Ever Be "The Airbnb For X"?

“If your company is ever used as the subject of the “X for Y” analogy, that’s success. AirBnB used to be the eBay for vacation rental. Now other companies are the Airbnb of things.”

far33d, Hacker News

With Airbnb about to enter the billion-dollar startup club, we’ve seen an influx of “X is Airbnb of Y” headlines. While the “X for Y” trope is extremely common in the notoriously unimaginative realm of tech reporting, the real reason “Airbnb for X” has become a cliche is that it’s a lot easier to write (and read) than “collaborative consumption.”

The collaborative consumption space, which basically includes almost all marketplace startups that provide accoutrements like payment and reputation platforms for users who want to buy and sell from each other, is SO HOT RIGHT NOW.

As Forbes writer Nicole Perlroth put it, “The Airbnb of office space!, The Airbnb of tutoring! Airbnb for cars! And my personal favorite, Airbnb for experiences!” (Note: I am probably the worst this offender on the TC team).

Airbnb seems to be the one that got away for many investors, who are now closely watching the roster of startups that are slowly disrupting certain sections of Craigslist (and in the case of Airbnb, doing this literally).

With over 60K listings on the site and 50% bookings growth monthly, its no surprise that the pioneering peer to peer accommodations marketplace is raising 100 million in funding. And its no surprise that collaborative consumption startups like Taskrabbit, Vayable, Skyara, Tutorspree and Getaround and others are also generating buzz and cash.

Getaround (Airbnb for cars) founder and TC Disrupt winner Jessica Scorpio tells me that the “Airbnb For X” phenomenon rests on the fact that getting used to the idea of one means that you’ll get used to the idea of others, “When users adopt one collaborative consumption service like Airbnb (new way to travel/offset housing cost) other collaborative consumption services are preferred like Getaround (new form of car rental/offset vehicle costs).”

And where users go investors follow. Scorpio tells me that she feels that investors are more likely to invest in Getaround because of the success of Airbnb.

Investor Fred Wilson admitted to making a mistake ignoring the model in March:

“We couldn’t wrap our heads around air mattresses on the living room floors as the next hotel room and did not chase the deal. Others saw the amazing team that we saw, funded them, and the rest is history. Airbnb is well on its way to building the ‘eBay of spaces.’ I’m pretty sure it will be a billion dollar business in time [Editor’s note: Good call Fred].

We made the classic mistake that all investors make. We focused too much on what they were doing at the time and not enough on what they could do, would do, and did do … The cereal box will remain in our conference room as a warning not to make that mistake again.”

Vayable (Airbnb for experiences) founder Jamie Wong explains the rush of investor interest surrounding the space, “It’s interesting that these two side-by-side questions seem to be dominating tech discourse right now: “Are we in a bubble?” and “What’s up with all this collaborative consumption?”  I think the latter helps answer the former. Startup entrepreneurs interested in ecommerce and consumer products are gravitating toward collaborative consumption models (or in tech jargon, “The Airbnb for…”) because it provides a sustainable economic model.”

According to TaskRabbit  (Airbnb for services) founder Leah Busque, “2011 will be dubbed the year of The Sharing Economy.  I think we are finally at a place in time where technology has become savvy enough to provide solutions to stale business models.  People are getting more and more comfortable with sharing their space (instead of booking hotel rooms), sharing their cars (instead of purchasing their own), and utilizing people sharing their free time and skills (instead of hiring a personal assistant).”

And perhaps Airbnb itself will save us the pain of having to use “Airbnb for X” repeatedly in headlines? In an interview Brian Chesky did with Om Malik in February (when the pressure of a $1 billion valuation wasn’t so high) he alludes to his company expanding into other verticals.

“I’ve seen the Airbnb for tutoring, I’ve seen the Airbnb for food, the Airbnb for cars. I think that our model can work for a lot of verticals. Very candidly I think that we’ll probably enter some other verticals as well. I don’t think we’re going to get to all these verticals. There wasn’t an eBay for stamps, and eBay for collectibles, and eBay for cars.  There was just eBay.”

It’s easy to talk about an expanded vision, and hint that your company will enter other categories in 2011, but it remains to be seen whether the practical execution of “entering other verticals” in this case means either acquiring or getting into the markets of other collaborative consumption startups or just limiting your model to lodgings (the company plans on launching sublets soon).

Chesky told me in an email, “We think that this new economy of consumption, which Airbnb pioneered, will eventually consolidate into a few marketplaces, rather than having the ‘Airbnb for’ hundreds of categories.” When repeatedly asked the (pretty annoying) ‘Does Airbnb want to become the Airbnb of X?’ question marketing director Chris Lukezic told me that company is currently focused squarely on accommodation and wouldn’t elaborate further.

Fair enough. They’ve a hard time enough making sure all those headline writers aren’t spelling it “AirBnb” (true story). In the meantime, please leave your suggestions for alternate ways of writing “The Airbnb Of” in our headlines, in the comments.

Image: Andrew Parker