The conversation about exactly how Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky saw his company seemed a bit confusing during his 20 minute panel on the Disrupt SF stage this afternoon. Chesky was adamant that Airbnb is like a hotel until it isn’t.
Chesky started off comparing Airbnb to eBay, saying the travel booking service was “like the eBay of space in the early days.” He then went on to admit to moderator Ryan Lawler that Airbnb was like a hotel until it wasn’t convenient for it to be one, “The big misnomer about hotels is that they own hotels. Their model isn’t that different from ours. Hotels are basically like a franchisee – we are but more decentralized.” Chesky then said that Airbnb also wasn’t like a hotel because it was in the trip business. “We had to ask ourselves a couple of years ago we’re not in the business of homes, we’re not in the business of space, we’re in the business of trips,” Chesky told the audience. “But you’re not a hotel?” Lawler asked him. “Not a hotel,” affirmed Chesky.
Lawler would later bring up the Airbnb run-in with the hotel lobby. The hotel industry had accused the peer-to-peer hospitality startup of having an unfair tax advantage. The claim was that Airbnb should be paying the same tax as they did for putting people up for the night. The hotel lobby would later recant, saying they did not want Airbnb held to the same standards. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had also subpoenaed Airbnb’s customer data. Schneiderman believed Airbnb was running a massive illegal hotel operation. Airbnb contended that individuals were renting out their own, individual rooms and apartments, not running a hotel. Airbnb later reached an agreement with the Attorney General to hand over customer data, sans any info that would ID the host. This allowed the Attorney General to investigate without revealing individual hosts who might be breaking their rent lease by renting out their space.
Chesky did seem to squirm a bit when Lawler asked him, “What about the sex parties and squatters and listings with 22 beds backed up against each other? Are we just sort of immune to this now?” Chesky paused for a bit and then answered back with, “I think we need to put these incidents in perspective. [Airbnb] is the size of a small city and you can imagine a small city so there’s a percentage of things happening like this but there’s only so much you can do.”
Chesky and Lawler also discussed the rent problem currently plaguing SF and the criticism from an article in the SF Chronicle. According to the Chronicle, professional property managers were renting out over 5000 empty homes on the Airbnb site – homes that went to travelers instead of into the SF rental market, thus upping the rental market price. “The thing is some people are renting homes on behalf of other people while they are gone and these people are being thrown in with property managers,” explained Chesky. This was a bit odd to defend, especially after Chesky added minutes later that many of the hosts on Airbnb didn’t have an income before. “A third of our hosts depend on airbnb for a job. They say they think of us as partners.,” he said, reffering to the new Airbnb host meetup.
Lawler drew laughter from the crowd when a giant picture of the new Airbnb logo went up on the screen. “What body part does that look like to you?” Lawler asked. “I think it’s an ear,” Chesky joked. “I guess it’s whatever you are thinking about,” he added. Lawler asked him exactly how many people actually worked on this logo without telling the CEO it may look like any number of private parts. “I know where you are going with this and the answer is yes, but we fell in love with this.” Chesky then gave an expected answer that he’d given before – the logo symbolized belonging. The interesting thing here is that a)he then admitted that the idea that the new logo might look pervy had been brought up numerous times and b) he then said the logo actually had the effect he was hoping for – that everyone not even think of what was there before. “I guess this is a really good way to get ppl to forget the old logo,” said Chesky.