A lot has been written about the so-called sharing economy in recent times. Some of it has been negative, some reports have questioned the rising tide of legislation that may hamper its growth, while others have merely analyzed the staggering rise of this peer-to-peer product of the Internet age.
At the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit in London today, Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and CTO of Airbnb, was in the house to discuss all-things, well, Airbnb. He covered familiar ground, including the history of the company and lessons learned in those first years, but he also touched on the issue of what could be to come from the company in the future.
Just as Uber has previously indicated its desire to spread its proverbial wings and find its way into other (related) areas, Airbnb also has one eye on building things out from a simple room- or apartment-rental service.
“We don’t think we’re just in the business of providing accommodation,” said Blecharczyk. “Really, what our customers are caring out, is their trip as a whole. We want to think about that pretty holistically – and we think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to provide services to you, because we already know a lot about you. We have your payment information on file, you have our mobile app in your pocket…and so, how can we use the mobile app and our existing relationship with you, to deliver more conveniences to you?”
Certainly, there’s a lot of potential partnerships to be had here. If you’ve ever stayed in an Airbnb property in an unfamiliar place, other issues typically rear their head – for example, where are the best nearby restaurants? Do they deliver? Where are all the bars that open after your (late) check-in?
And what about transport?
“An example would be, you know, Airbnb properties are spread throughout the city – they’re not just down town,” continues Blecharczyk. “So you could be more reliant, potentially, on the taxi system, or Uber. If you’re not from San Francisco, or London, or Vancouver, maybe we can connect you with those resources in a seamless way.”
While Blecharczyk didn’t refer to any specific relationships, there could be many potentially interesting tie-ups, involving Airbnb integrations with companies such as Uber, Hailo, GrubHub, or Just Eat, right? Or even, perhaps, a brand-new standalone service, operated by Airbnb directly? Indeed, as with any company that’s raised multiple hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, the pressure does finally arrive to start delivering the big-buck returns as well, of course, as improving the end-user ‘experience’. By expanding its reach into the broader local economy, there is a lot of room for growth.
“We certainly want to promote the local economy, and we want to connect people with the local pleasures,” said Blecharczyk. “There are a lot of service-providers that are springing up to specifically cater for Airbnb hosts and guests, and that’s a very interesting recent development, to see this ecosystem develop. How do we want to work with these potential partners?”
It’s an interesting quandary indeed, but one that could work wonders for local firms. Indeed, last year we reported on a (currently) London-focused startup called I Hate Ironing, and company founder Matt Connelly revealed that washing and ironing bed linen for Airbnb hosts represented about 30% of its business, which is quite staggering really.
But what, perhaps, is more staggering is when you find your ‘guests’ have organized an, erm, ‘sex party’ in your humble abode.
While Airbnb constantly points to its impeccable track record in terms of trouble flaring between guests/hosts, for Blecharczyk, there was no escaping the recent headline-grabber from a rental that took place in the Big Apple. Yes, THAT orgy.
“I think what’s noteworthy about that, is not the sex party, but the fact that…stuff like that rarely happens at our scale,” said Blecharczyk.
“And when I say ‘our scale’…we have 150,000 people staying in other people’s homes every single night,” he continued. “Here’s the reality – there’s no silver bullet for that problem. We’ve done a lot of things, so that at our scale, these things become incredibly rare. But you can’t always prevent it either. I think the important message is that we’ve created a safety net, so that if anything goes wrong – regardless of the nature of it – we’ve got your back. We have 24/7 customer support line, and this host who had this unpleasant discovery, got help from us immediately. We also have the host guarantee, which is up to a million dollars [we'll reimburse you if anything goes wrong].”