Airbnb Chief Brian Chesky: “The world is super uncertain”

When Silicon Valley visionaries are ordained multi-billionaires, it usually happens surrounded by enthusiastic bankers, investors and colleagues in a Wall Street trading floor.

Instead, Brian Chesky’s moment came home to San Francisco, in the company of his golden retriever Sandy. “She loves the frenetic energy,” Mr. Chesky said in an interview with the Financial Times.

The chief executive and co-founder of Airbnb saw his company’s stock price immediately double when it went public on Thursday.

At the end of the trading day, his stake in the colocation company was worth just over $ 11 billion. Airbnb itself was worth almost $ 100 billion.

In private, Mr. Chesky had long hesitated to make Airbnb public. Fearing the influence Wall Street’s short-term thinking might have on his business, he had at the very least hoped that the hype around his prospects could be tempered as Airbnb introduced new products and invested in growth. .

Obviously, it’s now out of the window. Investors gave the company a higher valuation than the three largest US hotel chains combined.

He is putting pressure on a 39-year-old chief executive to meet dizzying expectations at a time when the company has yet to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic on its business.

“I think a lot of people who buy stocks know that the world is very uncertain,” he said. “Things will go up, things will go down. . . We don’t know when the trips will reopen. I think we’ve tried our best to disclose this.

He added: “I think we will just have to take a step back.”

Mr. Chesky grew up in Niskayuna, a small town in upstate New York. Her parents, Debbie and Bob, were both social workers.

“I never heard the letters ‘IPO’ when I was young,” Mr. Chesky said. “An entrepreneur for me was someone who ran the local pizzeria.”

He meets one of his future co-founders, Joe Gebbia, while studying design. By 2007, both had moved to San Francisco, where they met their third co-founder, software engineer Nathan Blecharczyk.

Together, they launched “Airbed and breakfast”, offering a cheap place to stay – their apartment – for attendees of a design conference. While the first guests were still in the house, they worked on a pitch deck to show to potential investors.

Struggling for money, the team would land a coveted spot on Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s famous accelerator program for up-and-coming startups. Michael Seibel, who is now the Managing Director of Y Combinator, pushed the team to apply.

“I think what’s interesting about Brian and the co-founders is that they were the early adopters of their product, not just as travelers, but as hosts,” Mr. Seibel. “Whenever there was a challenge, they didn’t think about it theoretically. They could get back into those shoes and say, “What would we have wanted in this situation?

However, Mr. Chesky’s instincts did not always serve him well. He was slow to recognize the presence of racial discrimination on the platform amid troubling evidence that it was harder for blacks to book rooms due to discriminatory hosts.

In 2015, the company was ridiculed as being deaf when it ran a series of commercials in San Francisco with “suggestions” on how the city should spend its tax revenues.

And during the pandemic, some hosts have lashed out at the company for forcing them to offer full refunds to guests kept out by the lockdown and travel restrictions. He would later write a letter of apology and create a fund to recover a quarter of the hosts’ lost income.

As a state-owned company, this type of control will intensify, especially when it comes to tensions between Airbnb and the cities in which it operates.

Longtime mentor and strategic advisor Chip Conley said Mr Chesky has learned that long-term success requires working with regulators rather than against them.

“He wanted over time not to be Uber,” Mr. Conley said. “A little more gracious and less competitive in terms of relationship with competitors, as well as with regulatory authorities.”

Supporters of Mr Chesky say surviving the pandemic, which has involved the removal of a quarter of his staff, is proof enough that he can handle the pressures now placed on him by outside investors.

“I don’t think the challenge of being a CEO of the public market comes close to the challenge of shaping global travel over the next decade,” Mr. Seibel said. “That’s Brian’s challenge.

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