Milestones

About Airbnb

Many a brilliant business idea is born out of necessity, and so it was with Airbnb in 2008. Designers Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia couldn’t afford the rent on their San Francisco apartment, so they rented their loft out to visitors hitting the town for an industry conference.

They quickly put together a basic website showing pictures of the inflatable mattresses set up in their loft space, along with the promise of an authentic home-cooked breakfast in the morning, and bingo, they received their first booking.

After that, they started to receive emails from all over the world from budget-conscious travellers keen for good-value and valuable, genuine experiences of a foreign country.

The duo then brought onboard another former roommate, engineer Nathan Blecharczyk, and focused on launching Airbed & Breakfast as a serious company. It was a tough first year, but their focus and ‘think big’ mentality paid off.

Indeed, the whole hospitality and travel industry has had to take the challenger seriously because it has joyfully disrupted the old business models obstructing its path. It has particularly hit hotels where it hurts: their profits.

Along with Uber, it is one of the (few, as yet) darlings of the sharing economy and continuously held up as an example of the power of community when marketers get a proposition right. Its brand rhetoric stresses the importance of the voice of the community in decisions – decisions that Airbnb says are guided by the “ambition, honesty and humanity of our hosts, guests and employees around the world”.

The company has a market capitalisation of $20bn, and has predicted its annual revenue will grow to $10bn by 2020, at which time it will become profitable (Forbes).

In the third quarter of 2015, Airbnb generated $340m of revenue on bookings of $2.2bn, according to an investor presentation, reported on by The Wall Street Journal. This was roughly double the figure for the same period in 2014.

The Airbnb communications approach starts with a mission to “inform, educate and entertain, always”, which it shares with the BBC, but, arguably, interprets in a more modern fashion, laced with meaning for the ‘modern globetrotting millennial’.

Underpinning this is the core corporate belief that by sharing our homes, Airbnb is ultimately making the world a kinder place. While admirable, certainly, its worthy and earnest approach has been derided by critics, for example, in relation to its TV campaign “Is Mankind?”

Content marketing is a key pillar of this brand strategy and Airbnb pledges to create meaningful experiences, narrate authentic stories and produce content that captures the spirit of the community and engenders an appreciation of diversity.

Another tenet of its marketing approach is the fact it strives to create boundary-pushing work without getting too worried about controlling the message, but instead embracing the debate. A good example of this was in July 2014 when the brand unveiled a new logo to screaming headlines such as this from the Guardian: “Is it balls, vagina or both?”

The company is fast becoming famous, too, for its PR stunts, which typically garner much media attention. These have included its ‘floating house’, which sailed along the River Thames, past the Houses of Parliament, to celebrate the introduction of new rules meaning Londoners can earn a 15% ‘pay rise’ by making their homes available through house-share sites.

Similarly, in the US, for San Francisco Pride, its ‘Welcome Wagon’ traversed the city claiming more than 5.5m “deep brand engagements” as part of its #hostwithpride campaign.