Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb.com, shot straight into the hearts of delegates at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2016, with candid stories from the brand’s history and an appeal for building trust among human beings, which is at the core of his business.
Recounting the circumstances under which Airbnb was born in San Francisco in October 2008, he related how he and co-founder Joe Gebbia – both short of money- turned their living room into a bed and breakfast, accommodating three guests on air mattresses and providing home-made breakfast. Interestingly, one of the very first three people who they entertained at home was an Indian!
In conversation with Joanna Coles, Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan & Hearst Magazines, Chesky talked about the struggle to raise funds, mounting credit card debt, selling breakfast cereal for that year’s Democratic national convention, where they came up with ‘Obama Oats’ and ‘Cap McCains’ for the ‘Breakfast for Change’, and finally the chance to make money when someone agreed to print them 1000 cereal boxes for free.
The venture almost hit rock bottom, noted Chesky, taking pride in the fact that today, 1.3 million people across the world now sleep in an Airbnb home every night. In fact during the festival days at Cannes alone, 5100 people are reportedly sleeping in Airbnb accommodation.
ALL ABOUT PEOPLE
The magic of Airbnb has always been about people, said Chesky. “Our very first tagline was ‘Travel like a human’ and it did not just advertise the brand. We believe that people are fundamentally good and that whenever you go, wherever you go around the world, you shouldn’t be an outsider.”
“I don’t think we are in the business of providing places for people to sleep. I think that we are in the business of providing amazing trips for people where they feel that they can belong in a city,” said Chesky. On the future of travel, Chesky said, “In many ways, travel is inherently connected to the future. I think that the future will be very mobile. Not talking of smartphones, but a future when we travel and live in various cities. In fact, almost 20% of our business today is from trips that are 30 days or longer. This is a huge trend. In the future, it will not be as much about ownership as access. It would be really about the memories and moments that people want to have together. This is going to change so many things in the world.”
On politicians’ tendency to build walls between places, Chesky said, “Anyone who is trying to put up a wall or barrier between countries and cultures, is going to be on the wrong side of history.”
On allegations of racism, and that it’s harder for a certain kind of people to book a room, he said, “When we designed Airbnb, it didn’t really occur to us that this should be something we should design for. It is a problem, and so something that we do want to revisit. The approach I would take is to treat it as a design problem. Obviously, I am not going to solve this 400-year-old American problem or a global issue on my own. We want to allow the community to participate, in designing the system… We want to unleash the creativity of people all over the world. One of the reasons I am here at Cannes is I always believed in the power of creativity to completely change the world, and it’s not trivial. It is actually incredibly important because it unleashes so many people’s thinking. We want to turn this into a platform, and invite any creative agency, any brand to be able to do something like the highly successful Van Gogh bedroom experience where we recreated the artist’s bedroom and let people stay in it. People wanted to have an intimate connection with the brand. There is almost nothing more intimate than sleeping in someone’s home or sleeping in a space. It was the most popular thing that we ever did, and we would love to open this up to any creative person who wants to take it to wherever they want and do some really interesting things. Perhaps we can see a night in a shark tank, stay at a sports stadium, like the Chicago Bulls… we want to just open this up. For this, we just launched the website nightat.withairbnb.com.”
Take-aways from the session
“Chesky had simple ideas, and he executed them simply. What I take away from the session is everything that he said is simple, logical, makes sense… nothing is complicated. I think if you complicate it beyond a point, you become very operational. The success is in the simplicity and the clarity of vision. That’s my big take-away,” said Satyaki Ghosh, Director - Consumer Product Division at Loreal India. Ghosh has stayed in Airbnb accommodation in Paris and Greece, and had a good experience.
‘Gangs’ T Gangadhar, MD of MEC India, said, “I thought the Brian Chesky session was delightful. It was an honest and passionate recount of how Airbnb came to be – it came straight from the heart. Being a regular Airbnb user, the session really resonated with me.”