Peer-to-peer housing marketplace Airbnb has reorganized its international team in an effort to improve its customer support and boost the number of local options available to visitors traveling overseas. With the re-org, the company has shifted some of its regional operations team to work in customer support, while putting more effort on getting others into the field to get local activations.
Reaching the community overseas is increasingly important for Airbnb, for which about 75 percent of its bookings have an international component. That includes U.S. guests booking accommodations overseas, as well as international travelers coming to the U.S. or visiting other countries around the world.
For Airbnb, the new organization is designed to move it out of land-grab mode and toward a more sustainable long-term structure, a representative for the company has said. When it first started investing in its organizational structure in early-to-mid 2011, Airbnb was in a whole different spot. The company had just raised $112 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, DST, and General Catalyst, and was ready to aggressively expand.
It was also facing intense competition from Samwer-backed clones Airizu and Wimdu, the latter of which had raised some $90 million in funding around the same time. At that point, Airbnb was all about getting local activations in international markets — that is, educating hosts and guests about the service and getting them to sign up and start using it.
Now, however, the company feels that it has overcome those competitive challenges. And as a result, it’s moved to re-organize its overseas employees to work toward a new phase of its international presence. That’s mostly resulted in regional employees being asked to move into roles that were more about customer support than they had been previously.
The company’s goal is to combine the existing customer service organization, which revolved just around solving immediate problems that hosts or guests had with stays that they had booked, with its efforts around local customer education. With that in mind, the local customer service representatives are being trained to answer all queries that might come their way, creating a flat infrastructure, rather than one in which different representatives can answer different questions.
At the same time, Airbnb is also hoping to find ways to make its regional employees more entrepreneurial. As a result, it will be asking some of the folks to go out into the field more, rather than just working from whatever regional office they are in. To a certain extent, that would follow Airbnb’s early efforts to recruit users in different major markets like New York City (and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham’s advice to “do things that don’t scale“).
As part of the reorganization, Airbnb is also looking to create a regional hub in Europe. The company has offices in London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Milan, and Copenhagen, but it could also open a single major office for that region. It’s not yet picked a spot for that office, according to sources within the company, but in other parts of the world, it has hubs in São Paolo, Singapore and Sydney.
While making changes to its international structure, Airbnb has also been working with local regulators to get them on board with its peer-to-peer marketplace for short-term housing accommodations. That’s important, as the startup has faced scrutiny both here and abroad. The city of Hamburg, for instance, recently enacted a law to make Airbnb legal in the city. The company is no doubt hoping to have other local governments and regulators follow suit.