Kara Swisher: So we’ve had a lot of great interviews. This is someone I’ve known for a long time. I seem to know everyone for a long time, I’m really old. I brought out with me Dan Frommer, who is the editor in chief of Recode who is also a travel expert, too, and we’re going to interview Brian Chesky. He’s the co-founder, head of community and CEO of Airbnb. Come on out, Brian.
Brian Chesky: Hello.
Kara Swisher: Thank you for coming.
Thank you for having me.
Dan Frommer: Thank you. So we’re going to talk about responsibility, regulation, travel, all the fun stuff. I want to ask you first, last night we got to see in Evan Spiegel the joy and agony of being a young CEO and everything that comes along with that, and since we’ve had you out here a few years ago, how have you changed? What’s your style as CEO, and how are you learning and evolving as a leader?
Well, I came here in 2015, and around that time, we were like a really big adolescent. When you start a company, you’re really building a product, and at some point, you have to build a small team and you learn all these things that made you successful. Like you can dive in, you can help people, you can solve problems. And one day, it feels like everything you do doesn’t matter because the company is too big, and you have to start to run the company fairly differently. The last couple years, it’s been very very clear that part of what I need to now be doing is building an incredibly strong management team and spending a lot more time building the team and building the platform for all future innovation. So we have this very successful single product, Homes, and we thought to ourselves, “Well, we want to be a company that’s going to be around for a long, long time.”
So to be able to do that, I want to be able to have an executive team that’s going to be with me for a dozen years or longer, the way Steve did or Jeff did at Amazon. So that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve been doing more recently.
Kara Swisher: Talk about that, because you’ve had some turnover. There was a high-profile departure, especially, and there was a lot of talk about different ideas of how to run Airbnb. What happened there? Tell us honestly what happened there.
There wasn’t too much, LT [Laurence Tosi] wanted to go start his own company and we did have subtly different visions, but all of us in the management team disagree quite a lot. We’ve had not a ton of turnover on the team. We’ve had two executives leave, and we’re going to need to get another CFO. But what was reported, the amount of disagreement, wasn’t actually nearly what it was. There was a report that we were disagreeing about aviation that was actually not true, so we definitely had some differences in what we thought the mountaintop was but it wasn’t nearly what was played up.
Kara Swisher: What was your mountaintop? I don’t care what his is because he’s just the CFO, but what was yours?
It was really about building this end-to-end travel app where you could be this global travel community, and I think the key that makes Airbnb so different is the fact that we’re a community, not just a series of commodities. The people who miss under Airbnb, they tend to just see a bunch of real estate, and they’re like, “This is real estate company.” People have a bunch of opinions about real estate being rented on a short-term basis, but if you look a little deeper, what you’re going to see are three million people are hosts and that’s in many ways what you’re really buying. So I think the idea of building a community marketplace is kind of the big idea here.
Kara Swisher: Meaning you wanted to build it slower or not as profitable or ...?
I don’t think there was a fundamental misalignment, I don’t want to get into a ton of details about any misalignments, but we really have a huge ambition and I think an extremely long time horizon. There’s a lot of areas you can invest in, and we’ve decided that we want to focus on the things that are most differentiated, the things that are most oriented around community. Whether that’s going into experiences or doubling down on China, these are things that really strengthen the global network effect, and they are really important for us.
Dan Frommer: So let’s talk about Experiences, because that was something that you rolled out over a year ago [at a] big event in LA, impressive event. I don’t really hear about them, though. I don’t see them. I don’t see friends bragging if they’re on a cool Airbnb Experience. I see, “This is my beautiful Airbnb,” but not, “We’re on a great taco tour,” or something like that. Are people using them? Are they a success or a failure?
Kara Swisher: Let me say, I’ve done four of them.
What have you done?
Dan Frommer: She’s done them.
Kara Swisher: Sake tasting, ramen making.
Kara Swisher: That’s such a ridiculous San Franciscan ... A photography one and then a crabbing one. Yes, they were great. They were fantastic.
Well, no one really heard about Airbnb Homes when they first started, so to give you a sense, Experiences are doing about a million-and-a-half bookings a year on an annualized basis. It’s growing about 10 times faster than Homes, so it’s growing much much faster but it’s obviously on a much smaller base. Now, you expect it to grow faster because we have all the traffic. The review ratings for Experiences are significantly higher than Homes: About 91 to 92 percent of people leave a five-star review.
The big lesson here is we learned a lot of lessons from the Homes business. See, when we started the Homes business, my role models were eBay and Craigslist, those were the big classified sites, and they basically had an idea that a website should be like an immune system. In other words, let the community moderate itself, and three hundred million people later, I will say there are limitations to letting the community moderate itself.
Kara Swisher: We’ll get into that later.
Yes, yes. So what we ended up doing is saying, “We are actually going to verify every single Experience.” We actually didn’t verify them and we had a beta, and a woman had an Experience where you’d go to a beach with her and you’d pick up trash while she yelled at you. That was the moment when we realized we should absolutely be verifying, because a bad house is only so bad — you have to live in it. But a bad Experience could be kind of this nightmare you can’t escape.
Kara Swisher: I’m really sorry I posted that —
Exactly. With Kara Swisher it can be kind of fun.
But the truth is, they’re doing incredibly well, and I think over the next year you’re going to hear a lot more about them.
Kara Swisher: And in terms of getting them ... one of the things that was interesting, when I was on the Experiences, there were a lot of sites like this. There were like 10 companies, I don’t remember the names of all of them, that were trying to do these things.
They’re not working.
Kara Swisher: They’re not working, or they’re not ...
There’s two problems with these sites. The first is most of them don’t have traffic. Everyone needs a Home, most people don’t consciously search online and Google or think they need to have an Experience. So these sites lack the traffic, and we have more than half a billion a people a year searching.
The other problem that’s less obvious is I think these sites are basically doing tourism. Basically, stuff that if you live in the city, you would never do. Like, “Let’s go to Fisherman’s Wharf and hang out and do things that nobody in San Francisco ever does.” That’s what tourism is: Doing what a local person would never do. So we said, “Let’s create these Experiences in the eyes of a local. What would I actually want to do if I lived there?” And that’s basically the difference.
Kara Swisher: Yeah. They also like the centrality of it, the numbers, because they were on Google doing it, a lot of these things. It definitely should work, it’s just a question of how big a business is that for you?
Somebody once said ... I don’t know how big it is. I mean, that’s anyone’s guess.
Kara Swisher: Well, no, you need to guess. You can’t just guess.
Nobody knew how big Airbnb was going to be when we started. The market size was something we were creating. When you’re creating a market, the ceiling of that market is unknown. Here’s what I will say: If you combine the market capital of Amazon and Alibaba, these are greater than a trillion dollars for physical goods sold. How big could the opportunity for Experiences be? I don’t know, but it should rival it. Doesn’t mean we’ll take all of it, but three in four millennials said they’d rather by an Experience than a physical good. And there are more millennials in the world than non-millennials, especially outside the United States if you look at the emerging economies of China and India.
So I actually think ... We talk a lot about the sharing economy, and that term frankly got misappropriated and it’s not even clear what that term even means anymore. But the experience economy — not to create a new term because that will probably also get turned into something else — but there will probably be a massive economy of Experiences and we’ll just be one player in that economy, but I think it will be really, really big.
Kara Swisher: So what about other businesses?
Well, we have the China business. We’ve had 10 million people in China use Airbnb, and we have 200,000 Homes. We are probably one of the most successful American companies in China.
Kara Swisher: So Senator Warner just talked about American companies selling their souls in China. Talk about the problems. You have a different situation, you’re not trading content.
Kara Swisher: But information, certainly in data about people.
One thing we’ve decided to do ... When we went to China, we said, “We have to identify the bright lines that we don’t want to cross, and then we’ll do this so long as those are in our bright lines.” And there were kind of obvious stuff about protecting user data.
And then there was something that emerged ... Every time you go to a hotel, you must give your ID to the hotel, and they give a copy of that license to these public security bureaus, these local police departments. And we had to make a decision: We can either not do business or do business. And we said, “We’ll do what the Hilton does because that feels within reason. So we’ll be transparent. If the Hilton collects your passport, we’ll collect your passport. We’ll give that to the public security bureau.” So that’s the primary thing we do. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same thing as what you’d see here in the United States.
Dan Frommer: Is the product dramatically different there?
It’s a little different. One of the things we learned is company after company after company had failed in China, and the reason they failed — and this is a story of basically every tech company that tried, like Amazon — is they were so successful in Brazil, and they go to India and it works. And you go to China, and you’re like, “Well, China is different, but so is India. And it worked in India.”
And every single person told us, “Just treat it like a separate universe. Decentralize it. Don’t have any reporting — other than the head of China report into San Francisco — well, some of the control functions.” So we decentralized engineering, decentralized design, decentralized all these groups. And then I took one of my co-founders, Nate, and we said, “Your focus is just going to be the chairman of China.” And that basically means we’re going to get local Chinese people to run China, not Americans. We’re going to have an American person here that’s going to be there every two, every three weeks. And that model has worked really well with us.
The other thing I’ll just say is, it’s not rocket science, we have a global travel network. When you’re a global travel network, you’re going to have hundreds of millions of millennials who want to leave China. If they want to stay in a Home, they’re going to have to choose a global platform, probably. So the model helped us there.
Kara Swisher: So, go ahead.
Dan Frommer: Speaking of global platforms, you say you have a lot of traffic. You’re hardly alone in having a lot of traffic for selling travel, and it seems that seeing your success, many of the global travel vendors have started to sell vacation rentals, basically non-Airbnb Airbnbs. I just got an email from Chase saying I can now book vacation rentals with my ultimate rewards points.
Really? With Chase?
Dan Frommer: Yeah.
Dan Frommer: Booking.com is massive ...
Chase BNB. Nice, okay.
Dan Frommer: Booking is massive. I’m curious, besides you know you say the traffic, what’s the real advantage ... Why does it matter that I would rent something from you as opposed to Booking or anyone else?
Well, it depends if you’re asking from a customer standpoint or from the business strategy. I can answer both if you’d like.
Dan Frommer: Please.
Okay. The business strategy, I’d say there’s four or five big differentiators. The first is the global network effect. Every company, by the way ... This is the most misappropriated term in tech, which is network effect. Our network effect is quite different than, say, ride-sharing, which is a local network effect. And after three minutes, you don’t really care if there’s more cars on the road. With Airbnb, we’re in 81,000 cities. We’re in all price points and we have a huge range of Homes. So the network gets stronger as we add more inventory.
Dan Frommer: They don’t? Only you have that?
We have a unique people-to-people network effect, so our No. 1 source of hosts are prior guests. So there’s a flywheel where how do you actually manage all these hosts? That’s a hard problem to solve.
Dan Frommer: Which I saw is in the site, quite a few ...
Well, there’s five million homes now. No. 2 is this incredibly passionate community. There’s many home rental websites, there’s not many communities. And the community’s important because of the five million homes, 3.5 million only list on Airbnb. And they choose to only list on Airbnb and they don’t seem interested in listing elsewhere. That’s pretty important.
Kara Swisher: Like a Lyft and an Uber driver.
It’s not who has the most homes, it’s who’s got the most unique inventory, because we can all add boutique hotels and B&Bs.
Kara Swisher: Which you have been doing.
Which we’ve been doing. We’ll add a lot more of those. So, that’s a second thing. The third is the thing I just said: Unique inventory. The brand is probably No. 4 and the last one is we’re trying to build an ecosystem. We want to build a one-stop shop for travel. Now, a lot of other sites are trying to do that, but we want to be truly integrated. So you can see Homes, you can see Experiences. We’re gonna kind of build it like a truly end-to-end system.
Kara Swisher: Where are you with actual travel? Plane travel? Airbnb Airlines?
So the idea is, we want to take what is a platform for homes and abstract it so it’s just a single platform where we can create 100 businesses or 100 categories and that’s the big technology thing we’re doing. We have dozens of incubations going.
Kara Swisher: Name a few.
Kara Swisher: Name a few.
Content. Travel content is a huge one. So the biggest problem with travel content, for us, is people open travel guide books, TV shows, and we don’t exist in any of the travel media. It’s obvious why. We’re not major advertisers. The other thing is that we’re step four in the travel-booking process. So you have inspiration, planning, flights then Airbnb, so everyone comes to Airbnb with a destination in mind. And so you’re really far down the final ... Content’s a big one we’re looking at. Service is.
Kara Swisher: Would that mean a magazine, a travel show, a whatever?
I would love to put content in the app. So you actually come to Airbnb instead of going to some other website to figure out where to travel.
Kara Swisher: Where to travel, right?
Yeah, like match and come to Airbnb to figure out where to travel and the content is so much more interesting because it’s not tourism. It’s like, here are local communities, here are local ...
Dan Frommer: It’s Instagram stories, right? Which you just kinda launched a small thing.
That was a bit of an experiment, but yeah. It’s going that ...
Dan Frommer: I’ve also seen a slide where you’re launching grocery delivery and things like that.
There will be a lot of different services like ...
Kara Swisher: Meaning if you go somewhere, the food ...
Yeah, we necessarily don’t have to do them all. We plugged in Resy, which is a restaurant reservation app. We said we don’t need to get in the business of restaurant bookings. People do that passionately, but what we’re differentiated about is typically community-driven travel.
Kara Swisher: Let’s get to the heart of the problem though: Regulation.
Kara Swisher: So you’re having some issues in every major city.
For the last seven or eight years, we’ve had, probably starting in 2010 ...
Kara Swisher: All right, where are the real vulnerabilities? Let’s talk about San Francisco and New York.
San Francisco and New York are two of our four worst cities in the world.
Kara Swisher: Worst cities?
Kara Swisher: Worst? Or biggest?
Two of the four most difficult cities from a regulatory ...
Kara Swisher: Talk about that. Like honestly talk about what is the ...
New York has been at a standstill since 2010. In 2010, I said, “This is going to be a one-year challenge,” and then in 2011, I said, “This is probably going to take a few years,” and in 2018, “It’s going to take more than a few more years.” It doesn’t seem like the end is in sight with that challenge.
Kara Swisher: “The challenge.” I like your use of “the challenge.”
Well, it is a huge challenge. But, we’re still there and we’re still really large and we’re a lot bigger than the last time I saw you in New York.
Kara Swisher: Right, right.
So the challenge is that you have this huge hotel industry ...
Kara Swisher: By the way, well done on that one.
Oh, thank you. There’s that massively powerful hotel industry in New York and hotel unions that have really galvanized people and created this perpetual battle. And so we have tried, for example, to pay hotel tax, which would have been hundreds of millions of dollars. And we’re accused of not collecting hotel tax, but we haven’t been allowed to. We’ve done it in 500 other cities around the world. So this thing is just a political standstill in just New York.
San Francisco is different. It was a political standstill and we had this new system last year, a pass-through registration where everyone, they list on Airbnb, we automatically register them through the city, share their information with the city (the hosts know this is happening), they get a registration number. They put the registration number on their listing and then we collect on their hotel taxes and give the hotel taxes to the city.
That’s a pretty reasonable solution. We’ve done this in Philadelphia and Chicago and cities all over the word. New York, many people don’t want that to get solved.
Kara Swisher: And do you leave New York? I think we’ve talked about ...
We’ve talked about ... We had dinner and your advice to me was to leave New York.
Kara Swisher: Yeah, so?
We haven’t done that yet.
Kara Swisher: All right, okay. Why?
I’ll tell you what I told you at dinner, that if it was just a business decision, it probably wouldn’t be worth it to stay there. But we’re not there just for business. There are 50,000 people that depend on it to make income. And if you were to shut a market down, that’s 50,000 emails, 50,000 really long stories about people who need this money to earn income, and so I can’t just make a decision from a purely business perspective. The moment you create something and people become dependent on you, you have a responsibility, and that’s the responsibility we have is to continue to do this for them.
Dan Frommer: Let’s talk about this, because it’s a great slide. Up and to the right, Homes, listings, hosts. People make money but rents also go up and people have fewer places to live and there’s some element of ...
Kara Swisher: This is the tech responsibility part of the discussion.
Actually yeah, I’d love to talk about this.
Dan Frommer: How do you balance that?
It’s a hard balance. And listen, we want to make neighborhoods better. We don’t want to make them more expensive.
Dan Frommer: By the way, I love that I can stay in the Marais in an Airbnb cause there’s no good hotel there. And wherever else. So it is a great thing for the traveler but it kinda might suck for the person living next door. I don’t know.
It does sometimes suck. So what we’ve done is partner with cities, and some cities really want a lot of Airbnbs and some cities want to have more restrictions, and we go city by city. And here’s the end of the day: We want to be good for neighborhoods. We don’t want to be bad for neighborhoods. There’s sometimes a trade-off between what a neighborhood wants and what hosts want and what the business wants, and you have to find that balance. Oftentimes, we end up going on the side city, like in the city of New York, we removed all people that had multiple listings. In the city of San Francisco, we are smaller than we were pre-registration in San Francisco. That was definitely a trade-off.
Dan Frommer: But Amsterdam wants to kick you out.
Yeah, and this controversy with Amsterdam predates Airbnb.
Kara Swisher: Explain that please for people who don’t ...
People in Amsterdam feel like there’s too many tourists to Amsterdam. Now you also have big bus tours coming to Amsterdam and so I think this is a major backlash against mass tourism. On Airbnb, most people stay much longer, typically around a week, not a few days. It’s a pretty different use case. We want to be part of the solution but we are a tiny, little section of a much broader tourism economy in Amsterdam. 95 percent of people going to Amsterdam are staying in hotels and the pushback isn’t housing, as much as just mass tourism in the city. They call it museumification.
Kara Swisher: But they’re focused on you?
They are focused on us and our competitors as well.
Dan Frommer: This seems like such an important part of peoples lives but for whatever reason, and in many ways, you’re cut from the same cloth as Uber, a disrupter, using interesting new marketplaces, using technology to build them. And many cities hate you. How have you been managed to avoid, though, the “delete Airbnb”-type crisis, where people hate you more than they should?
Well, I don’t think we’re cut from the same cloth.
Kara Swisher: You’re kind of the anti-Travis in many ways.
Well, we’re different. And in 2010, New York passed this law and my instinct was to fight. And that was a natural instinct. My, also, instinct was: When people don’t like you, avoid them. Don’t talk to them. And then we hired this incredible woman — who is now our CFO, Belinda Johnson — and she told me two things: When people hate you, talk to them and partner with them. And I said, “This is absurd. Why would I do that?” And she said. “Give it a try.” And I meet with people who have entrenched positions that ... “You’re terrible” and “You’re ruining the city” and we’d say, “Okay, let me tell you about Airbnb, how it works. Let me hear your concerns.” And 99 out of 100 times, they would hate me less when I left the room.
And so I said, “I should just enter more rooms.” And I just kind said, “Who hates me the most? Let me just talk to that person.” It was fun, by the way, these conversations. One time, I met a politician and they said, “You’re ruining my city,” and I said, “Can you tell me more?” He says, “Let’s turn on the internet,” and they pointed to the television.
So it became very clear that people have fundamentally different amounts of understanding about Airbnb. But I want to say this: I don’t think all cities hate us. We’ve done 500 tax agreements, we’ve collected $500 million in hotel tax. We will soon be the largest collector of hotel tax of any company in the world. So you read about news, you don’t read about the 81,000 other cities we’re in.
Again, it comes down to partnership. Now, we’re not perfect. Absolutely not. There are externalities to all of our businesses. When I came to Silicon Valley, we all thought we were just good and benevolent and tech was making the world a better place. And I think that kind of bubble made us not ask hard questions about the ramifications of our products. And I think what’s happen over the last 10 years, and especially the last few years, is all of us are acknowledging that we have a greater responsibility. And Airbnb has a greater responsibility than I thought, probably even when I was back here in 2015. We do have a responsibility to neighborhoods, we do have to improve things.
Kara Swisher: What about in some of the things you got in trouble with in the early days? Remember, you and I — I’m gonna repeat this — but you and I, it was a weird place, an event, where we talked, and there were hotel people there and they were challenging you on that at the time when they had that problem with the woman that you guys resolved.
Oh, the woman’s home that was trashed.
Kara Swisher: And I can’t believe you said this, but there was crime in other places and you said — and I’ll never forget this — “Hotels have been having orgies for decades now,” which is the best answer I’ve ever gotten.
Well, they are great for them. Not from personal experience but ...
Kara Swisher: Me neither, me neither.
We’ve read about ...
Kara Swisher: I didn’t see you there ...
Kara Swisher: So one of the things you had an issue, like that issue you responded kind of cloddishly to the original one.
It was very bad, that was screwed up. You know why? Because I was listening to what I thought were experts and experts that don’t accept responsibility. If you do, you’ll be liable. And I didn’t and it got worse and worse and worse. And one day, it got so bad, I said, “If it all went to hell, how would I have wanted to act and been remembered?” And I said, “From now on, I’ll just do things like that.”
So we just said, “We’re sorry, we’re gonna do a host guarantee.” I call that a principle decision as compared to a business decision. And a business decision is trying to forecast what’s the right move based on how it’s gonna end. These business decisions, you end up on the wrong side of them because you can’t actually predict how they’re gonna end up.
Kara Swisher: And you just recently had an experience with some African-American women, is that correct? Explain what happened there for people.
There were some women that were checking out of an Airbnb and the neighbor said, “Those people don’t live here,” and they called the police. And it was an incredibly discouraging situation and there wasn’t too much we could do in that circumstance, because it wasn’t a direct community member, but we did reach out to the guests. But we have had a history of, in 2015, it was pretty well reported, discrimination on our platform.
Kara Swisher: Right.
And so from there we decided we’re gonna have a zero tolerance to discrimination. We made every single person click a box that said, “I will not discriminate based on age, sex, race, religion.” The tens of thousands of hate mail we got from community members was vast. Last year in Charlottesville, people were trying to stage after-parties for the rally in Airbnbs. That was actually happening.
And so we actually had a team. It was actually elevated by our community. We canceled these reservations. We tried to snuff out as much as we could. And we became a pretty big target of people. So what we decided was, we can’t intervene in every social issue, but when it’s related to our mission, you should lean out and lean into that line. And that’s what we decided to do.
Kara Swisher: What do you make of what has happened with Uber and Facebook where things haven’t been done correctly?
I think that tech has maybe been trying to stay out of trouble rather than the leadership place that the world wants them to be in. And I don’t think that’s specific to any company. I think that’s the culture. We thought we were good. Well, if we’re good, why do we need to do more? And suddenly, we’re so big that we have a huge impact on society.
And so if you walk into a company’s board meeting, for example, every chart is gonna be typically something oriented around the financials. And the customer of that information is an investor. Well, actually turns out companies have more stakeholders. We have employees, we have guests, we have hosts and we have communities we live in. Imagine at a board meeting, you would report on the results, not just for investors, but all these stakeholders.
I think these are the kind of things that we haven’t done yet, but us and other companies are gonna need to do. We’re gonna need to consider our impact on society. And what I’ve basically been saying is most companies are oriented around a 20th century model. It’s a little bit more short-term. You serve your shareholders. And I think society expects more of us. I know I think society expects us to have a much longer horizon. But more importantly, balance the needs of society with the needs of the business and actually measure your impact with these different stakeholders, then you make commitments.
This is Day One for us. And I hope more and more companies follow the lead, rather than just cherry-picking certain issues. Just think very broadly about the impact you have on the world.
Kara Swisher: Okay, we’re gonna get some questions from the audience. Are you gonna IPO next year?
We’ll be ready to IPO next year, but I don’t know if we will.
Kara Swisher: Why?
Well, we have investors who are really patient, and I wanna make sure that it’s a major benefit to the company when we do it.
Kara Swisher: Do you want to? Watching Evan and others.
Well, just ... I saw Katrina backstage and we were talking about it, and she was very clear, for her it’s been a great experience. And most people I talk to have said it’s been a good experience for them. Mark is a big proponent of it, so ...
Kara Swisher: Zuckerberg.
Yeah. So I have no issues with it at all whatsoever.
Kara Swisher: So could ...
It could happen.
Kara Swisher: Could happen. All right. Questions from the audience.
Heidi Roizen: Hi, Heidi Roizen here. It’s interesting to hear you talk about the initiatives that you’re embarking on in major cities like New York and things like that. But there are also a tremendous number of small cities, and I own a couple rental properties in small cities that are adamantly against having Airbnb. And I’ve noticed that the residents of those cities are better organized than the people who own properties who don’t live there.
Are you a host on Airbnb?
Heidi Roizen: I am not, because I don’t have the rental permits, because the cities in charge of that are not allowing us to get the rental permits. And I’m literally selling one of the properties because if I can’t rent it, I don’t wanna own it.
And what I’ve noticed is that, I actually reached out to Airbnb, and I said, “Do you guys have any data or assistance or things that you can do to help organize the people in the community who own these properties, with data, for example, about the home values going up, or other things we can use to be helpful?” But there wasn’t any such organizing function. I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought of organizing the owners or the prospective Airbnb renters, hosts, with empowerment of data and some support. Because these smaller cities, I know they’re not as powerful in the short run, but if you lose those battles at the level with the local governments, it’s kind of over for a lot of those places.
No, you’re right, and most of our business is not in big cities. I mean, two-thirds of our business, it’s in small cities, what you would call the long tail. What you’re describing is what we’re doing in hundreds of cities. We just haven’t figured out how to do it in tens of thousands cities. The two most effective things that we’ve done in cities is organize our hosts. And I think we have a few hundred host clubs. We wanna have a thousand. I’m not sure if your city would be one of the thousand. And we do give data to cities.
I think what you’re describing is a little more of a kind of platform technology approach where the information could be a little more self-serve. People could become ambassadors for a city, get a bunch of information, get a playbook. So we haven’t systematized it, but I do agree. We kind of started with the big cities, so we’re probably not there yet, but I think that’s probably in our future.
Heidi Roizen: Thanks.
Thank you, though.
Heidi Roizen: Great.
Burt Blackarach: Burt Blackarach, Salamani Music Publishing.
Burt Blackarach: I’m actually an Experience host.
Oh, you are?
Burt Blackarach: So I can attest to a lot of things that you’ve said, and you’re absolutely on point. So I took some notes. I got two quick questions, and then I wanted to say something.
Kara Swisher: What’s your Experience?
Burt Blackarach: I started out with Be a DJ for a Day.
Kara Swisher: Oh, cool.
Burt Blackarach: And because I got to work out the kinks through there, it’s directly the reason why I have my intensive here at Code.
Kara Swisher: Cool.
Burt Blackarach: Through your Experience. Do you consider Airbnb an SBA? It seems to be the biggest thing in the world as far as an SBA. Was that the initial idea?
Like a small business?
Burt Blackarach: Yeah, because, I mean, you’re giving all these hosts an ability without a loan, without any startup costs. You’re absorbing all of that. You’re exposing it to the world, and then you’re just taking a small piece on the back end. And was that the initial idea?
Yeah, we do, I’d never used those words. I actually like that description. We basically say we’re a community of entrepreneurs or micro-entrepreneurs, because most people don’t think of our hosts as entrepreneurs. And again, that goes back to the thing I think people misunderstand. They just see real estate. And I think what I like about Experience is people will see what our community is. It’s people.
And so I do see us as a way ... Listen, Airbnb is not gonna solve the economy’s problems today. But it’s pretty clear hundreds of millions of jobs will be automated. And so a lot of what comes down will be thinking about creating new economic opportunities, and I think we can probably create tens of millions of entrepreneurs. I’d like, before I die, for a hundred million people to be able to say, “I earned income on Airbnb.” That would be what I’d love people to say.
Burt Blackarach: I mean, I’ve done mid-five figures through your program. It’s absolutely a real thing. I’ve been up to the headquarters and spoken with one of them.
Burt Blackarach: And anybody who’s been and seen me speak sees how passionate ... I’ve had people tear up coming to me.
Burt Blackarach: I wanna thank Fahrzad, Brett-
Kara Swisher: All right, all right, okay.
Burt Blackarach: Brett, Joe Bot, Joe Bot’s been wonderful, Lamar-
Kara Swisher: Oh, no, stop.
Burt Blackarach: — Pusher, and Wayne.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Burt Blackarach: They’ve all been really supportive, and I think it was important to share that.
Kara Swisher: All right.
Jolie Hunt: Hey, Brian.
Kara Swisher: I’ve had a terrible experience doing my trash-yelling thing. I wanna thank nobody.
Jolie Hunt: Hi, Brian. Jolie Hunt. How are you?
Hey, good to see you.
Jolie Hunt: As someone who has been a fan of yours for a while, I’m curious where you’re getting your inspiration these days. And this is loaded, because I remember years ago you were Uber’s No. 1 user. And I look at the parallels between the growth at Uber and that you’ve had for the last decade. And I’m just curious where a sweet guy from Niskayuna, New York ...
Jolie Hunt: ... is looking for inspiration these days?
Yeah, I was the No. 1 all-time rider at one point. So I’ve been pretty shameless about seeking mentors, people that I could get time with. Sheryl was here, I think, last night. She has been a very important mentor of mine, as has Warren Buffett and other members. So I’ve been pretty shameless about reaching out to people.
I remember meeting somebody who’s pretty well known, and I said, “How many people do you mentor?” And they say, “Hardly any.” And I say, “Why not?” They say, “Because no one asked me.” And I thought, wow, well, that’s a good sign. I should be pretty shameless in asking.
And every step along the way, I’ve been shameless. And I say shameless because I think people are really proud to ask for help. And I think, my point of view is, I don’t want thousands of people paying for my learning curve. That’s ridiculous. So I should fast-track that.
Jolie Hunt: Good to see you.
Jana Rich: Hi, Brian.
Jana Rich: Jana Rich from Rich Talent.
Good to see you.
Jana Rich: Good to see you as well. Also, like Jolie, a big fan of yours.
Jana Rich: You were here onstage three years ago and made a pretty public commitment to adding a woman to your board.
Jana Rich: I was just curious if there’s any update on that.
Yeah, so ...
Kara Swisher: I’ve been dying to find that out, by the way. And they’re very locked tight. It’s unusual. I usually can find things out pretty quickly.
Yeah, you’re very good at that.
Kara Swisher: So that’s either, you haven’t hired them, or ...
We haven’t brought them on yet. Literally yesterday, I was meeting with one of the people I’m very excited about. We will hire — I say hire — we will appoint one person at least, one woman this year. I’d like to add two this year, and we’re probably gonna add somebody who’s got an audit profile and then somebody with a broader business/general management profile.
Kara Swisher: And what is your board now?
It’s six people, so three founders.
Kara Swisher: Three guys.
Yeah, six guys. Ken Chenault is our only independent director, and he was CEO of American Express before he was ... So he’s the only independent director. So we have a situation where we need to add at least two or three independent directors at this point.
Kara Swisher: And how are you looking for those from ... What is your criteria? It’s an interesting thing, because there’s plenty of people to look at. What takes ...
There are plenty of people to look at.
Kara Swisher: What takes so long to do that?
Well, if you wanna add ... Two things. No. 1, we are focusing our pool on people that can add diversity to the board. That’s No. 1, really important. And No. 2, we really wanna add people that have a really long horizon, understand the nature of our community. And I wanna have really long relationships with these people. So it’s been really this kind of experience where you spend a lot of time with people. But I think we could appoint a few people pretty quickly.
Kara Swisher: All right, on that. Thank you, Jana. Thank you so much.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.