Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky discusses the future of work and the one thing he’d do over

The travel startup is investing heavily in the supply side of the business

Airbnb announced over 50 new features coming to the platform this morning. The big ones include a new, smarter Translation Engine, a way to know if a rental has solid WiFi, an expanded Ask A Superhost program, more flexibility in search and tools to verify any accessibility features a listing might promise.

The biggest announcement of all, however, comes in the form of AirCover. It’s a new coverage policy that protects a listing from top to bottom (including most items in the home) from damage and theft. It includes protection for pet damage, deep cleaning and income loss.

This is particularly critical because right now, Airbnb suffers from a high-class problem, according to CEO Brian Chesky. Suddenly, as pandemic restrictions loosen and more people venture out of their homes to travel, supply is not meeting demand.

I sat down with Chesky to discuss growing the supply side of the business, how he’s felt as a leader of a massive travel company over the past year and the future of Airbnb as a whole.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: The last time that we talked, we discussed what it was like to be CEO during a pandemic. Obviously, you’re the CEO of a travel company, so that makes it 20 times more difficult. As we’re moving through this pandemic, it’s starting to feel like things are kind of swinging in your direction. You had a great Q3 earnings report recently. Interest in travel is up, bookings are up, borders are opening. How safe or secure do you feel Airbnb is right now compared to a year ago?

Brian Chesky: Much more secure. I feel like we’re on solid ground now. I felt like we spent 10 years building this company that was really a pretty hot company. If you think about it, in the 2000s, Airbnb and Uber were the two companies that were riding a lot of trends and we were very high. I felt like before the pandemic, I thought we were kind of on top of the world. But then the gods struck down on us and we lost 80% of our business in eight weeks. And we had to raise that. Let me just give you a point of reference. We had to raise an emergency round of financing of $2 billion, including a $1 billion loan from Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners. We just did a billion dollars in profit in Q3. So it’s almost like doing a billion-dollar round without having to give away any equity. I remember Paul Graham used to say the best fundraising round you can do is to be profitable because you never get diluted.

Just to summarize, the brand is as relevant as it ever was. It’s a noun and a verb all over the world. Travel is coming back. So, I think 80% of our business before the pandemic involved someone either crossing a border or going to a city, which is basically the two types of travel that weren’t really happening. That’s coming back. But the reason we’re doing so well is partly because all these new ways of traveling and living have emerged, which I think are here to stay. People are living on Airbnb on a monthly basis. I don’t think that’s going away, because I don’t think people are going back to the office five days a week. Those things are here to stay. And, we actually have a much better cost structure.

So, for all those reasons, I feel more secure. Maybe the most important final thing I’ll say is this: Having gone through managing a company in a pandemic where people were predicting our imminent demise, having to rebuild the company from the ground up and take it public on Zoom as a travel company … if I can get through that and we can get through, then I can get through anything. So I think we’re a lot tougher, a lot sharper. And once you’re in a foxhole with 1,000 people, you feel like you can do anything. That’s kind of how we feel now.

The brand is as relevant as it ever was. It’s a noun and a verb all over the world. Brian Chesky

You said that you believe that work from home or “work anywhere” is here to stay. So what does that mean for Airbnb HQ? Are you going to renew the lease, or what exactly does the future of Airbnb as a workforce look like?

It’s a great question. We’ll still have our offices. Not as many. Not as much space. But we’ll still have our offices. We’ll still have our main headquarters in San Francisco. We’re definitely going to adopt a flexible work policy. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be. I think every CEO is trying to imagine how everyone’s going to work in the future.