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Brian Chesky Doesn't Need to Be Like Uber's Travis Kalanick to Make Airbnb Grow

The home-sharing startup is seven years old. Now what?

Asa Mathat for Re/code

It’s been quite the year for Airbnb. The peer-to-peer home-sharing company was legalized in San Francisco and has raised money at a sky-rocketing valuation.

CEO Brian Chesky talked about regulatory issues and the differences in the approach of Airbnb versus ride-hailing service Uber onstage at the Code Conference. Going into its seventh year, Airbnb is facing new challenges as it grows.

“We’re in 34,000 cities, and every city has different requirements and expectations,” Chesky said. The legislature in Chesky’s childhood home state — New York — has been one of the biggest fighters of Airbnb, with its attorney general going so far as to pen a study saying 72 percent of Airbnb’s reservations in New York City have violated the law. Airbnb countered with its own study saying it brought $1.15 billion in economic activity to the city.

“I never thought the city I grew up in would be the hardest,” Chesky said. “Two years ago I said, ‘We’re months away.’ I still think we’re months away, but maybe I shouldn’t say that anymore.”

Airbnb faces similar struggles to its sharing economy cousin, the contentiously disruptive Uber, but it has a very different strategy, according to Chesky.

“You don’t want to have a business or a CEO that’s fighting if people are sharing rooms,” Chesky said, adding that the culture of sharing people’s homes lends itself to a different culture. He claims he’s on good terms with several big hotel chain CEOs and that they “don’t have major problems” with Airbnb because hotel occupancy rates are the highest they’ve been in 20 years.

Re/code Co-Executive Editor Kara Swisher quipped that she sometimes refers to Chesky as “the nice Travis Kalanick.”

In addition to international expansion, Chesky said the company is looking to jump into another aspect of the sharing economy: Time.

“The biggest asset someone has is their time,” Chesky said. “Hospitality shouldn’t be limited to sharing your homes.”

As an example, he said: “Imagine you were to get off a plane in Paris. What are all the different types of experiences you’d want in Paris?” Chesky said.

“A French person yelling at me?” Swisher offered.

“Imagine that happens on demand,” Chesky said.

The example was in jest, but you could imagine Airbnb testing new kinds of hospitality experiences, such as local residents offering tours, or throwing parties or events for tourists.

When asked about when we could expect to see Airbnb go public, Chesky said it’s a ways off. “The moment we start working on the IPO, that’s a two-year project,” Chesky said.

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