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Airbnb Co-Founder On San Francisco, Discrimination And Growth

AirBnb announced this morning that it is suing the city of San Francisco, home to its headquarters. The city has enacted a new law that would force all AirBnb hosts to register with the city, or AirBnb would face a $1,000 fine per host.

In Here & Now’s regular View From The Top segment, Jeremy Hobson speaks to AirBnb chief technical officer and co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk about the controversies surrounding the company, how it’s dealing with accusations of discrimination, and its plans for future growth.

Interview Highlights: Nathan Blecharczyk

Is the goal of AirBnb to put all hotels out of business?

No, What we’re doing is allowing people to feel like they live there when they travel. We’re really creating a whole different kind of travel experience. One that really celebrates the different places, different cultures, the different cities and immerses you in that culture.

On what he sees the company doing in the future:

Well I think it’s just the beginning to be honest. Travel is a very big space. A lot of our growth is coming from China, Asia more broadly. We’ve been focused on Cuba as well. We now have 4,000 homes in Cuba. Just a year ago Cuba was a place you couldn’t travel to.


What about the issue of racial discrimination? The idea that even if someone has a really good review, the owner of the apartment or house could say “Well they have an African-American sounding name, I don’t want to let them rent my apartment.”

I think the key to addressing that specific issue is surfacing more information so that such a person can understand and overcome whatever biases and prejudices they might have. Hopefully we can play a positive role in changing the way people think. And we already have, because frankly 8 years ago many people would have discriminated for reasons other than racial, for reasons of simply I don’t trust strangers.

It’s something that in the case racial discrimination, of course we do not stand for, and if there are specific cases of that happening we remove hosts from our platform. I think challenge though is, such cases aren’t always obvious, and so we have to design the system to overcome any implicit biases that might exist.

How do you respond to claims that AirBnb is driving up rents in San Francisco?

Well this is a general point of frustration for San Franciscans, and that’s understandable. However, AirBnb’s role in that is not the source of the issue. There’s been no data to suggest that AirBnb has any meaningful impact on the price of housing. However, we have partnered with cities to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t become a problem.

So for example in San Francisco, we’ve made sure every home being offered is a primary home in which someone lives there. There aren’t any people renting out multiple homes on AirBnb in San Francisco, unless it’s a licensed traditional, hospitality provider. So we firmly believe, as a company that hopes to be around for a long time that it’s unsustainable to not have a good relationship, so we really have tried to reach out and engage on some of these local issues. The narrative you hear about is fueled by those who probably don’t want us to succeed in the first place.

On how life has changed, since founding the company 8 years ago and becoming a billionaire:

Well, that’s not something I honestly think about too often, of course that’s an unreal thing to think about. I often wonder, how did this happen? The way I describe is like hiking up a mountain, you place one foot in front of the other, one step at a time and you don’t necessarily realize how far you’ve come until you take a moment to stop, turn around and realize you’re above the clouds. That’s how I would describe it. It is certainly surreal.

Do you ever think you should just retire at this point, or is there something more you want to accomplish with this company?

Oh, I think it’s just the beginning. I never think about such things. We’re really focused on continuing to innovate and realize the full potential of what we’re doing.

I think the big idea here is the democratization of travel. Now, ordinary people can participate in the global industry of tourism, whereas before, only well established businesses that were well funded could participate in this industry. It’s opening up opportunity to many more people. I think that’s a bit of what we’ve done today, and I think we can still do so much more in this concept.


Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and CTO of AirBnb. He tweets @nathanblec. The company tweets @Airbnb.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet in Berlin on April 28, 2016.
(John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet in Berlin on April 28, 2016. (John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

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