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<nettime> The future of Airbnb in cities
michael gurstein on Wed, 5 Nov 2014 01:05:33 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The future of Airbnb in cities


Since its founding, in 2008, Airbnb has spearheaded growth of the sharing
economy by allowing thousands of people around the world to rent their homes
or spare rooms. Yet while as many as 425,000 people now stay in
Airbnb-listed homes on a peak night, the company's growth is shadowed by
laws that clash with its ethos of allowing anyone, including renters, to
sell access to their spaces. In this interview with McKinsey's Rik Kirkland,
Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky explores how the company's
relationships with cities can evolve. An edited transcript of Chesky's
comments follows.

It's a currency of trust, and that used to live only with a business. Only
businesses could be trusted, or people in your local community. Now, that
trust has been democratized-any person can act like a brand.

Airbnb is a way that you can, when you're traveling, book a home anywhere
around the world. And by anywhere, I mean 34,000 cities in 190 countries.
That's every country but North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Cuba.

The reason we started was I was living with my roommate, Joe, in San
Francisco, and I couldn't afford to make rent. That weekend, the
International Design Conference was coming to San Francisco. All the hotels
were sold out. Joe had three air beds. We pulled the air beds out of the
closet, we inflated them, and we called it the "Air Bed and Breakfast."

The reason it's grown so fast is, unlike traditional businesses, we don't
have to pour concrete. The infrastructure and the investment was already
made by cities a generation ago. And so all of a sudden, all you needed was
the Internet.
The 'disruption' debate

I never really loved the word "disruption," because it suggests that maybe
it's the kid in a class who was disruptive, who probably didn't add a lot to
class. I think that we have a lot to add to society.

Over time, cities have gotten so big that the sense of community has gotten
lost. And I think once you know everyone, that community can reemerge. And
as far as our relationship with cities, we can't succeed without a city. Or
we can't really thrive without a city. We don't want to thrive in spite of a
city. And I think if we work together, it's going to be amazing. I think the
people win. And I think if we don't work together or if we fight, the loser
isn't really us or the city-it's the people in that city.
Getting cities to embrace sharing

Fundamentally, the idea of the sharing economy is going to be great for
cities. It means that people all over a city, in 60 seconds, can become
microentrepreneurs. And they can be empowered. And they can make an income.
Now, this is amazing, but it's also complicated because there are laws that
were written many decades ago-sometimes a century ago-that said, "There are
laws for people and there are laws for business." What happens when a person
becomes a business? Suddenly these laws feel a little bit outdated. They're
really 20th-century laws, and we're in a 21st-century economy.

It's probably going to be a fair amount of work to revise some of the laws
and rethink the way cities and platforms work together, but I think that
work is worth it. Because what cities don't have to do is invest billions of
dollars in infrastructure to create jobs. Whereas historically, to create
opportunities, cities would need massive projects and investments, these
jobs only require the Internet. Now what they need to do is navigate the
legal framework, which is typically outdated. We want to work with the
cities. We're not telling them that their laws are terrible. The world
continues to change. Laws must continue to adapt for that world.

We want to help cities understand what our world looks like so they can
modernize the laws to make sense. We're not against regulation. We want to
be regulated because to regulate us would be to recognize us.
Airbnb's plans for growth

We want travelers to be able to book homes anywhere. Anywhere includes Asia.
Asia's a nascent market for us. Number two, we're also looking at other use
cases. Airbnb started as a way for travelers to find a budget way to
vacation in a city. But now we're starting to see people who aren't on a
budget. They want a much more high-end experience. And the third is that at
the end of the day, if you're traveling to Tokyo, you're not traveling to
Tokyo to stay in a home or a hotel. You're traveling to Tokyo-if you're on
vacation-because you want to have an experience. And we'd love to do more to
make that experience special and memorable.
The future of sharing: Your free time

I don't think people would view the jobs created in the sharing economy as
jobs. I don't even know if they get counted as jobs when the White House has
a new jobs report. They are jobs. As far as I can tell, people are working,
they're making income, and they depend on that income. Half of our hosts
depend on it to pay the rent or mortgage. Maybe it's a new kind of job.
Maybe it's like a 21st-century job. Tom Friedman talks about how in the
future people may not have jobs. They'll have income streams.

I believe that the sharing economy broadly can probably provide tens of
millions of jobs or income streams for people all over the world. This is
going to have a pretty big effect on the economy, mostly a good one.

The sharing economy started by democratizing and creating access to probably
two of the biggest assets people have: their homes and then their cars. But
I think the whole idea of ownership is changing. When my parents were young,
owning things was a privilege, and there was a sense of romance to owning a
house, owning a car.

Today's generation sees that ownership also as a burden. People still want
to show off, but in the future I think what they're going to want to show
off is their Instagram feed, their photos, the places they've gone, the
experiences they've had. That has become the new bling. It's not the car you
have; it's the places you go and the experiences you have. I think in the
future, people will own whatever they want responsibility for. And I think
what they're going to want responsibility for the most is their reputation,
their friendships, their relationships, and the experiences they've had.

So I think the biggest revolution will be in the biggest asset of all. The
biggest asset is not a house. It's not a car. It's people's time. People's
time may start with just gigs: waiting in line for you, delivering something
for you. Over time, I think it's going to move upmarket. And eventually,
menial tasks become real trades, and real trades become art forms.

Somebody may say, "I cook a great brunch. I wonder if people would enjoy
having brunch at my house?" And you could be able to book a brunch at
someone's house, instead of at a restaurant. That person isn't trying to
create a restaurant, they're just allowing someone to have brunch. They
build a reputation. One day, that person can be a Michelin-rated chef in
their house.
About the authors

Brian Chesky is the CEO and cofounder of Airbnb. This interview was
conducted by Rik Kirkland, senior managing editor of McKinsey Publishing,
who is based in McKinsey's New York office.

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