Oct 11, 2021 - Technology

Airbnb CEO warns Big Tech


Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told me in an interview for "Axios on HBO" that the biggest risk to Big Tech is that "the world is rooting against them."

Driving the news: "They don't think they have society's interest in their favor," said Chesky, whose unicorn startup is based in San Francisco.

We spoke about an hour outside the city in Marin County, at one of 3,000 treehouses you can rent on Airbnb, along with igloos, boats, castles — and, in Idaho, a potato.

In the wide-ranging interview, I asked Chesky about all the funding that big investors threw at Adam Neumann, the now-disgraced WeWork co-founder and former CEO.

  • "When I came to Silicon Valley," Chesky replied, "there was probably a lack of skepticism about the whole industry. And that can be helpful to a point — if you live in a world that's completely skeptical, it's hard for new ideas to be embraced."
  • "But a world of no skepticism can have some big downsides. I think that the lesson is that ... we have to be a little more skeptical of things, probably a little bit earlier. "

So how do so many rich people get duped by tech dreamers?

  • Chesky pointed to the fear of looking stupid: When his company — then called Airbed & Breakfast — was founded in 2007, "you gave us $150,000, you could have owned 10% of this company. And a number of people said no. In fact, almost everyone I met said no."
  • "So I think there's this perpetual culture where people ... completely swing for the fences. They have a fear of missing out. Maybe they were successful. They pattern-recognize. They're like: This person reminds me of something else that was successful. And that can get you in a little bit of trouble if you're not skeptical enough."

I asked Chesky about discrimination against Black travelers that had plagued the platform.

  • "Four or five years ago, there was this really concerning hashtag that was trending on Twitter ... #AirbnbWhileBlack," he recalled.

So Airbnb imposed a Community Commitment, requiring hosts and guests to promise to treat everyone in the Airbnb community "without judgment or bias," regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.

  • "1.3 million people decided not to do that," Chesky said. "And we kicked them all off the site."

Disclosure: Kim Kingsley, an Airbnb executive, is a member of Axios' board.

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