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Insights: Airbnb Tackles Transportation

March 19, 2019 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated May 05, 2020 18:08 PM UTC

Jenny Arden, Director of Transportation, Airbnb, discusses how she hopes to take the pain out of traveling to the destination.

[MUSIC PLAYING] JENNY ARDEN: Right now, in this sort of early-stage phase, we get the opportunity to just dream about what's possible for travel, and keep that focused on the user, and then figure out what the business will do. MAITHREYI SEETHARAMAN: So what is on the Jenny Arden wish list? Because your CEO has said that this entire entry that you're making into what is a very, very competitive field-- it needs to be seamless, but for it not to be just another place to buy a ticket. You've also hired someone who is well known for being in the airline industry that you'll be working with. So within all of that context, what is the wish list that you're going to aim for? JENNY ARDEN: Yeah. I have my own personal wish list. These are just my aspirations for those who want to travel at all. Our mission at Airbnb is to provide a world where anyone can belong anywhere. And this is really meaning you can travel to a community that you've never seen before and feel like you are a welcome member of that community, even if it's just temporarily for a few days, or months, or years. And my hope is that that mission and that vision can be achieved in all phases of a trip. So I'm pretty sure there's a universal truth that as you are traveling, say, through an airport, there are moments where you do not feel like you belong. In fact, there are moments in transportation in particular where it's designed to not make you feel like you belong. You need to be hyperalert. You hear these announcements in the airport, like stay alert. Look for suspicious packages. There's a lot of signals to users that puts them in a state of just guard. And so a lot of the things I just dream about and think about it as a world and a future in which every single moment of a trip-- not just the products that you buy when you book a trip, like you rent a car, and you rent a house, and you book a flight-- but every single moment in-between-- that we don't drop you, that there's no there's no lack of thought that went into the end-to-end experience so that there's this sense of like, OK, well, I belonged at that moment, but I didn't belong in that moment. And that's OK. We actually might say that that's not OK, that you should actually feel joy the moment you leave your house to the moment you return home. MAITHREYI SEETHARAMAN: Fred Reid is the new global head of transport at Airbnb. And I think that also defines a lot of the culture at Airbnb, where you're talking about bringing in two different kinds of people, two different kinds of teams, to work together to design something fantastic. Tell us a little bit more about that thought process that goes into bringing someone like that in. JENNY ARDEN: Yeah. Fred is a very special individual. He was the founder/CEO of Virgin America, which is one of the most celebrated airlines in the United States-- really special service that they thought through, forward-thinking in design, obviously, but also in service. I think what was really magical about what Fred worked through is baking customer service into the DNA of the airline from the very beginning, really thinking through hospitality as part of the airline from the very, very beginning. So obviously, it really aligns with how Airbnb and our founders think. Really, the community and creating that trust is baked in our DNA as well. And then we think about, throughout the company, when you're starting something new, when you're starting a new venture, whether it is a startup, that you're going to start on your own, you're venturing out or within your company-- there is sort of like a secret sauce, I think, when you're trying something brand new. And it's when you put someone that's naive with really fresh ideas and like no industry baggage whatsoever with someone who is an industry expert, and you put them together in a room. And you get this really lovely balance of creativity and reality that come together. And hopefully, you see what's possible in the world. So it's sort of like grounded, but also, what-if all the time. What if we did this? What if you do this? Like well, have you considered these things? No. What about this? And you're constantly pitching ideas at each other, and that's sort of the relationship that Fred and I are starting to form.