Skip to Content

The Incredible True Story of Airbnb

Fortune’s Leigh Gallagher has written a new book that I’ve just put at the top of my reading list. The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions…and Created Plenty of Controversy is emerging as the definitive look at the incredible rise of Airbnb, the now break-out star of the sharing economy. You can read an excerpt on Fortune, but this caught my eye to share:

In July 2014, Airbnb introduced the rebrand, as well as a redesign of its mobile app and website. [CEO Brian] Chesky explained the concept in a cerebral, high-minded essay on Airbnb’s website: A long time ago, he wrote, cities used to be villages. But as mass production and industrialization came along, that personal feeling was replaced by ‘mass-produced and impersonal travel experiences,’ and along the way, ‘people stopped trusting each other.’

Cofounder Nathan Blecharczyk is Airbnb’s CTO, but his role has broadened over the years. He’s also a host: He has had 178 guests in his home in the past two years. Airbnb, he wrote, would stand for something much bigger than travel; it would stand for community and relationships and using technology for the purpose of bringing people together. Airbnb would be the one place people could go to meet the ‘universal human yearning to belong.’ The Bélo itself was carefully conceived to resemble a heart, a location pin, and the ‘A’ in Airbnb. It was designed to be simple, so that anyone could draw it. Indeed, the company invited people to draw their own versions of the logo—which, it was announced, would stand for four things: people, places, love, and Airbnb.

The idealism of the company pales in comparison to its financial success. Airbnb is projecting it will earn (before interest and taxes and depreciation) as much as $3.5 billion a year by 2020. This would be huge, if true, since it would be a 3,400% increase from what the company had in similar profits last year. “It would also make Airbnb the first company to prove that the so-called sharing economy can be turned into sustainable success,” writes Gallagher. “That’s something that Uber, the sector’s other superstar, has yet to prove.”

Money tends to be all the proof that investors need. Airbnb laudably continues to work hard to funnel their signature idealism into addressing the issues of race and discrimination on their platform—their decision to offer free housing to refugees and their moving Super Bowl ads about inclusion are recent examples of their reputation rehabilitation tour. But the business case for scaling fast in the sharing economy is now the benchmark; designing an inclusive product first remains a distant plan B. This is a pattern we’ve seen repeatedly in tech and one that Airbnb has yet to solve. But if they do, it would be more than a happy ending to a great business story.

On Point

Silicon Valley Bank on diversity and tech startups: Not much to see here, folksPando’s Sarah Lacy digs into the latest report from U.S. Silicon Valley Bank, an annual review of the contours of the startup ecosystem. I’ll get right to it: There has been no meaningful improvement in the number of women and people of color on boards or executive ranks, and only a quarter of startups have programs in place to address this. And some 95% of white men in the startup tech world report not seeing diversity as an issue. “We now have three surveys showing the same thing: White men in tech simply DGAF about increasing tech’s diversity,” says Lacy. “It’s the kind of thing everyone says is a problem on social media or on stage, but less than 5% of the industry actually believes it’s a problem.”Pando

On Hollywood, diversity and the Oscars
Justin Gomer breaks down the horse race that has emerged between the two best picture front runners, LaLa Land and Moonlight, two very different films. This category, more than any other, he argues, can help prove that these Oscars are more than just a diversity blip in an otherwise persistently white landscape. “[T]he results of the Best Picture category will send a far more forceful message about Hollywood’s commitment, or lack thereof, to racial justice,” he writes. LaLa Land is a love letter to the Hollywood dream, whereas Moonlight is a “freedom dream,” which “imparts value in lives so thoroughly dehumanized in our society, thereby opening up space to dream of their liberation.” Will Hollywood choose to celebrate itself or the broader world?
AAIHS

NYC: Kids of color with learning disabilities are not getting the services they’re entitled to
The services the kids need, like specialized attention and assessments, are guaranteed by federal law. But parents are entitled to get things like tuition reimbursement for private schooling if the city is unable to provide the services themselves. And herein lies the big problem; parents are forced to sue the city to get it. Now, only 2% of the city’s students with disabilities receive tuition reimbursement, most of them affluent and white, while 80% of students in need of specialized learning services are Hispanic and black. 
Bright Reads

Why you shouldn’t bring your phone on an international flight
On January 30th, Sidd Bikkannavar, a U.S.-born scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was detained at the airport in Houston after an international flight, searched, and told he’d be released if he gave Border Patrol agents the password to unlock his phone. This, explains Quincy Larson, a technologist and teacher at Free Code Camp, is the nightmare scenario that extends far beyond a Muslim ban. “What we’re seeing now is that anyone can be grabbed on their way through customs and forced to hand over the full contents of their digital life,” he writes. Every thing you’ve ever done online is buried somewhere in the apps on your phone. Taken out of context, anything is suspicious, everyone a suspect.
Fortune

American Girl has added a boy doll to their collection
It’s the first time in the brand’s 31 year history, and he sounds pretty cool: His name is Logan Everett, he’s 18 inches tall, with brown hair, gray eyes, and a drum set. The move from Mattel, which paid $700 million for American Girl in 1998, is part of a broader strategy to appeal to kids in a more personal way. It’s also a way, says Fortune’s John Kell, “to play with gender in a way that moves away from standardized norms.” The doll will make his debut later this week at the New York City Toy Fair.
Fortune

The Woke Leader

A Valentine’s Day gift from Ava DuVernay
“Sharing a small film I made about falling in love with yourself. Wishing you that kind of love this Valentine’s Day,” DuVernay tweeted, with a link to her contribution to the Miu Miu Women’s Tales series, part of an ongoing collection of short art films by notable women filmmakers sponsored by the fashion brand. The film is about the friends and yes, fashion, that gets a broken-hearted woman back on track; but it’s less a commercial for clothes and more a short reverie on collective strength of black sisterhood and the promise of a new beginning.
YouTube

W.E.B. Du Bois drew his own infographics and they’re gorgeous
Since the Department of Education’s twitter feed misspelled the great historian’s name (DeBois) – people have really been talking about the great job Du Bois has been doing. Here’s another example: Starting in 1897, after he became a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Atlanta University, he began publishing scholarly works exploring the lives of black people based on his extensive field work. His work immediately found a wider audience: In 1900, the Paris Exposition hosted the Exhibit of American Negroes, which included 58 gorgeous hand-drawn infographics created by Du Bois and his students.
Public Domain Review

Dating while trans can be terrifying
Trans people face an unusual array of barriers in the dating world, not the least of which is almost certain violence. The “trans panic” defense, in which a defendant claims temporary insanity when they learn a trans person’s identity, is only invalid in California. Many trans women many err on the side of caution and stay away from bars and parties. “But if you don’t want to flirt with strangers in real life, the only other option is to flirt with them online, and that’s not much better,” writes Sam Riedel. Riedel gamely tries and reviews several new apps that promise to do a better job helping trans people find love. Although the results were uniformly disappointing, the reviews offer real insight into the issues that trans people face when products are not designed with their unique needs in mind.
The Establishment

Quote

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.
—Fred “Mister” Rogers