1,500 of the top Airbnb hosts descended upon San Francisco this past weekend to attend the first inaugural Airbnb Open, a free conference held by the shared economy giant. Limited information leading up to the event created excitement about potential new products and big company updates. Unfortunately, the event didn’t live up to the hype for me. Too much pep rally and too few insights into what’s next for Airbnb and the sharing revolution.
Meeting the Founder
The trio of founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk presented incredibly well. They came across as a diverse team with unique skills and personalities. A team that can steer this ship into the future. Their ability to hire top talent, particularly in Marketing and Regulatory Affairs, is a great sign for the future of the firm.
Airbnb vocalized a commitment to treating each of its hosts like partners and less like customers. The first step towards this goal started at the conference. The company seems committed to involving their top hosts in the development of new product features. I was struck by the diversity of hosts at the event, young, old, tech savvy, and computer illiterate. It gave me a new appreciation for the simplicity which they have to build into a system that can be used by the masses.
Here are some of the things they are working on for 2015
- Calendar Improvements: To make managing availability easier.
- Pricing Tool: To understand how much to charge to get additional bookings.
- Messaging Tool: To make it easier to manage inquiries.
- Demand data: To help understand business trends.
- Faster Mobile: Improve the mobile application.
Regional Growth Opportunities
It’s easy to forget what a global force Airbnb has become. The largest opportunities for growth exist abroad. Here are some insights that they shared about their global growth plans.
- China will drive half of the industry growth in the next 5 years.
- In Asia, they will be focusing on growing the markets in Japan, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea.
- London has not adopted the movement as quickly as other markets, Airbnb will be marketing to create awareness there.
- Focus on domestic travel within the US.
I’ve had the pleasure of hosting the CMO of Airbnb, Jonathan Mildenhall, at my place in Santa Monica. He is a bigger than life personality with ideas to match. The most inspiring moments of the 3-day event came from viewing the advertising campaigns that are in store for the coming months. The marketing team has demonstrated the ability to sway citizens and politicians with the positive impact of the shared economy movement. They are building the brand based on actual user experiences. They are calling this the world’s first collaborative brand.
Sure, the shared economy is still in its infancy. But I was surprised by the lack of basic business and hospitality understanding for the top hosts. It made me realize that the market for my own analytic products are probably way ahead of their time. Most hosts are still trying to figure out how to upload a digital photograph. They are far from understanding data driven decision making and creating competitive advantages. Host education needs to become a bigger part of the Airbnb growth strategy.
Uninspiring Pep Rally
People had shown up from across the world to learn how to improve their business, but their time was wasted with pom poms and personal triumph stories. “Life is hospitality”… gag me. I’m the first to emphasize the impact of Airbnb on people’s lives. The new moms that get to spend more time with their kids, the family that keeps their home during tough times, but spare us the endless tugs at the heartstrings. There is so much critical information that could have been covered yet too much time was wasted on personal stories. Send me the video, this conference was not the right venue.
Host Led Information Sessions
Collaboration has its limitations, and they were revealed during the host led sessions at the event. With session titles ranging from “Making a Paper Lantern” to “Wine and Hosting” we wasted half a day hearing bad advice from uninformed and uninspiring speakers. I’m not sure how they hand picked this motley crew of presenters, but Airbnb needs to rethink their selection process. The authors of Get Paid for Your Pad, myself, and several other legitimate experts weren’t given the floor.
Airbnb Partners Shunned From the Event
Airbnb invited the most irrelevant companies to showcase their products and services at the event. All of the companies that assist with Airbnb property management, dynamic pricing, education, and marketing were shunned from the event. They cited liability concerns or other equally transparent excuses. It appears that Airbnb intends to expand into all of these adjacent markets and doesn’t want to promote potential competition. To me, it indicated that Airbnb does not truly have their customers best interest in mind. They are only focused on their own success.