Why Airbnb just hired a former Disney theme park boss

January 30, 2020, 2:16 PM UTC

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Good morning, readers. This is Fortune writer Aric Jenkins, filling in for Adam.

Yesterday, Airbnb announced the hire of former Disney theme park boss Catherine Powell as head of “Experiences,” its division of tours and activities by semi-amateur guides for travelers.

If you haven’t heard of Experiences yet, you will soon. Airbnb is keen to beef up Experiences ahead of its expected IPO later this year, especially as investors will surely be wary of regulatory roadblocks and safety concerns plaguing the company’s primary homesharing business. The company is in the process of expanding its current offerings of about 40,000 Experiences available in 1,000 cities and towns. Go to the company’s homepage and you’ll see the Experiences tab placed right next to Stays, a sign that Airbnb is giving equal prominence to this newer business.

Back around Christmas, I published a magazine feature about Airbnb and how Experiences represents a huge opportunity for the company to capitalize on the fragmented tours and activities market. The industry altogether is worth a lot of money (an estimated $183 billion) and remains primarily offline (roughly 80% of listings), unlike the accommodation and airfare markets. A company with Airbnb’s level of tech savvy and brand loyalty could sweep in and become the go-to hub for travel excursions. After all, the point of traveling is not just to stay somewhere, but to do things when you get there.

Powell’s hire is a big deal for the future of the company as it looks to evolve into a “one-stop shop” for travel. That’s how co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky described the goal to me when I interviewed him for the story. Besides Powell, he hired former aviation exec Fred Reid as head of transportation last year. Chesky envisions a future in which the entire travel process, from start to finish, can be completed through the Airbnb app.

The question going forward is whether Airbnb can do all of this without sacrificing the authenticity of its main homesharing business that travelers so love. Will Airbnb simply end up becoming Expedia or Booking.com?

What I do know for sure is that Airbnb is easily shaping up to be the hottest IPO of 2020.

Aric Jenkins

Twitter: @aricwithan_a

Email: aric.jenkins@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


It's the end of the world as we know it. The week has been filled with bad new about some former Silicon Valley darlings. As WeWork tries to get back on track, some of its prior signature moves are being retired–now free beer and wine are out at North American locations. And ride sharing service Lyft is cutting jobs, about 2% of its workforce, as it seeks profitability.

Furies breathing down your neck. On that same theme, the too-good-to-be-true story of MoviePass finally reached a conclusion, as the parent company of the film subscription service collapsed into bankruptcy on Wednesday and said it will liquidate. Helios & Matheson Analytics is also under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and state officials in New York and California, according to the bankruptcy filing.

Speed it up a notch. Still in too-good-to-be-true land, startup Practice Fusion offered a cheap medical records system to doctors backed by advertising. Turns out, the company was taking kickbacks from a leading opioid supplier to push prescriptions of the drug. In a settlement on Wednesday, it admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay $145 million in fines. Facebook disclosed an even larger settlement on Wednesday–$550 million to settle a class action lawsuit that charged its facial recognition efforts had violated Illinois law.

Feeling pretty psyched. Wasn't the end of tax rebates for its customers supposed to hurt Tesla? That wasn't the case for the fourth quarter, as the electric car maker's sales rose 2% to $7.4 billion, better than expected. It delivered a record 112,000 cars. Tesla stock, already nearly double over the past year, gained another 10% in premarket trading on Thursday.

Birds and snakes and aeroplanes. Elsewhere on Wall Street, Facebook and AT&T bummed out investors, while Microsoft got them smiling. Facebook sales rose 25% to $21.1 billion, slightly better than expected, but expenses rose 34% and Facebook's operating margin declined. The stock, which had been up 51% over the past year, slumped 7% in premarket trading on Thursday. At Microsoft, sales grew 14% to $36.9 billion, more than $1 billion better than analysts forecast. The stock, up 60% over the past year, gained 3% premarket. And AT&T saw revenue shrink 2% to $46.8 billion despite all its new entertainment assets, as the company shed almost 1.2 million video subscribers in the quarter. AT&T's stock, previously up 21%, lost 4% on Wednesday.

Undo. We listed the wrong title for Alyssa Henry, Intel's newest board member, in Tuesday's newsletter. She is general manager and head of the seller business unit at Square.

(Headline reference explainer, in case you missed one of the big songs of the 1990s.)


New technologies are helping to make clothes feel softer and more luxurious. Startups like MeUndies and Allbirds have developed less expensive textiles and fabrics to put in their products. But columnist Virginia Heffernan is feeling a little creeped out by the ever softer synthetics showing up everywhere. In an essay for Wired, she explores what's behind the new wave of high-tech wear.

Polymer chemists use the Kawabata Evaluation System, a set of extremely precise instruments developed at Kyoto University that measure the subtlest properties of textiles—the ones associated with what the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State calls “comfort perception.” By manipulating fabrics and exerting exceedingly low force on them, Kawabata instruments gather data sets including stretch, rigidity, compression, and surface friction on human skin. Of these, compression (thickness and loftiness) and friction (roughness) are believed to be what comprise the aesthetic of soft.


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first close up picture of the sun

They look kind of like Rice Krispie treats or bowls of Corn Pops, but the first up-close pictures of the surface of the sun are stunning to behold. The National Science Foundation on Wednesday released images and videos taken by the new Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii. Some of the clips of boiling plasma are almost hypnotic. Luckily, all of the super-hot action remains 93 million miles away.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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