Airbnb CEO talks his roots, entrepreneurial success

Alice Zhang, Contributing Writer

In order to encourage student innovation, the Entrepreneurial Institute has partnered with Newsweek to offer “Founders Unplugged,” which will offer students the opportunity to hear from some of the biggest names in the tech industry.

Thursday’s inaugural edition saw Newsweek reporter Kevin Maney and CEO of Airbnb Brian Chesky discussing the journey of Chesky’s company, which started in a San Francisco apartment and eventually grew into a worldwide hospitality website with over 1.5 million unique listings.

Thursday’s on-stage presentation began with Chesky clarifying the concept behind successful entrepreneurial ideas.

“Don’t worry about anyone stealing your idea,” Chesky said. “If it’s any good, everyone will dismiss it. The whole point of ideas is that you just have a solution for your own life.”

Chesky went on to explain how the concept for Airbnb started accidentally when he and a friend needed to pay rent. They decided to charge travelers to use an airbed in their apartment, and Chesky joked about creating a company named ‘Airbed and Breakfast.’ That’s when the idea for the $25.5 billion company was officially born.

Although the logistics in carrying out the idea were a restricting factor in the company’s starting years, Chesky and his friends were able to reverse the situation by approaching it with a positive outlook.

“In life, we’re so focused on the result, and that can be debilitating,” Chesky said. “Constraints force creativity.”

As the company grew exponentially, Chesky realized he had to focus on public relations and shaping a good culture in the company. He started offering 24-hour customer service and created a policy that insured homeowners against theft and damage to their houses. He also tried to hire people who were passionate about Airbnb and who agreed with his ultimate goal of connecting with customers.

Hunter College junior Maimouna Balde said Chesky’s goal of connecting with others has certainly worked, attesting to his gregarious nature.

“He was really humble and didn’t talk to us like he was on a pedestal above us,” Balde said. “It felt like we were up there on the stage with him.”

Airbnb continued to expand rapidly as a result of Chesky’s focus on his clientele. With every challenge he faced, his innovative thinking allowed the company to jump ahead. GSAS student Junyi Wang expressed her understanding on the importance of flexibility.

“Bryan had a very optimistic attitude toward every obstacle his business encountered,” Wang said. “This presentation was very encouraging.”

The session ended with an open forum where audience members could ask Chesky questions. CAS junior Fernando Troeman said this portion of the night’s interview was especially helpful.

“I found it really insightful because I’m interested in being an entrepreneur,” Troeman said. “Airbnb is a company that I look up to, so getting to meet Bryan was a huge privilege.”

Email Alice Zhang at [email protected]