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The Difference Between Uber and Airbnb

They're sort of like the Goofus and Gallant of the sharing economy.


Uber and Airbnb have a lot in common: They are the tech startup darlings of the moment, they are valued in the tens of billions of dollars and make significant revenue, they connect the convenience of the Internet to the offline world, they are unpopular all over the world with incumbents and regulators and they exist by virtue of the non-employees who do the real work of renting their homes and driving their cars.

But where Uber is increasingly seen as an untrustworthy company due to its cutthroat handling of pricing, drivers, passengers and critical press — Airbnb is working to cultivate a very different image.

This weekend, Airbnb invited 1,500 of its hosts to San Francisco for a summit called Airbnb Open to celebrate them, ask for feedback and connect them to one another. And also, to generate goodwill while its legality is being challenged in municipalities around the world.

On Friday, I dropped in to the hangar-like space at Fort Mason. The spread wasn’t excessively fancy; the big room was divided up with plywood into temporary rooms and covered with hundreds of throw pillows.

Attendees came from 40 countries, the company said, and had an average age of 44. On Friday night, the hosts were divvied up into groups that dined in the homes of Airbnb employees, who have an average age of much younger than 44.

The scene felt like a new-agey life-coaching conference. Just a sampling of positive affirmations from panels and speeches: “If all of our hearts were bigger, this world would be smaller.” “You taught the entire world that people are fundamentally good.” “A world where we could all live as one would be such a better world.” “Airbnb helps me live the life I want to live.”

 Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky

The keynote on Friday came from Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, who was greeted with a standing ovation and paced the stage and his speech cadence like a politician campaigning to a room of supporters. He said Airbnb now had 640,000 hosts with 975,000 listings in 34,000 cities.

Airbnb is not a movement. It’s a company. And while Chesky was preaching to the choir, it’s a self-interested choir that does the grunt work of actually hosting guests, some of whom are less than perfect.

Chesky told the crowd he acknowledged that hosts may not have felt that Airbnb listened to them in the past. Now, he said, it’s committed to “breaking down that wall” between the company and the community, starting with this event.

“What I’m here to tell you, is that you are all here as leaders of this community. That’s why you’re here, you are all leaders,” said Chesky, revving up the crowd. “I know many of you have faced some hardships on Airbnb. Maybe it was a city that was giving you trouble, maybe a landlord, neighbors. And at times you may have felt alone. But right now, as you look around, you are not alone.”

Then he went in for the climax. “You know, Victor Hugo had a saying. He said, ‘You can not kill an idea whose time has come.’ And our time has come. So together, what I’d love for us to do, is to build this better world, and I’d love for us to do it one guest at a time.” The applause, and another standing ovation, lasted almost a minute.

Hard to imagine Travis Kalanick getting that kind of a reaction from Uber drivers.

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