People associate Airbnb with vacation travel. But Airbnb was founded as a service for business travelers. The company began in 2007.
Then called AirBed & Breakfast, its founders' business model was simple: Buy three air mattresses, and build a website at airbedandbreakfast.com. Then, invite attendees of the city's 2008 Industrial Design Conference who couldn't find a hotel room to crash at their house.
They quickly realised there was demand in the world for this idea.
So they cobbled together investments, ditched the air mattresses, and shortened the name to Airbnb (I'm, of course, oversimplifying here).
Specifically, the original business model was to create accommodation supply out of nothing in a world with overwhelming demand created by business professionals.
And now the company has just done it again.
Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk told me that, because of the new world of remote and hybrid work, staycations, workcations, bliesure travel, and digital nomadism, Airbnb guests are booking much longer stays.
Long-term stays have doubled between Q1 2019 and Q1 2022. Around half of all bookings now last a week or more. And that's a problem because if more people want longer stays, the supply of accommodations with availability diminishes rapidly.
For example, to find an Airbnb for a month means there must be zero bookings during the entire month. One person staying one day during that month means that someone else wanting a month-long stay is out of the question.
So Airbnb did what the company was founded for: create a new supply out of nothing.
A new booking feature called "Split Stays" offers those looking to book for a week or more additional options cobbled together from two properties. Blecharczyk said you still get the same booking options as before, but they'll also split the time you're looking for into two comparable houses.
So, if you're looking for a one-month stay, they may offer you a week in one house and three weeks in another. Blecharczyk told me the company uses machine learning and human staff to match Split Stay properties.
"Split Stays" was part of a larger bundle of Airbnb announcements this month.
Airbnb is also working behind the scenes to enable the new workplace. For example, the company's “Live and Work anywhere” program seeks out local governments and international tourist organisations to partner on offering up far-flung locations as destinations for remote workers.
Why Airbnb thinks differently, but Apple doesn’t
Compared to Airbnb, Silicon Valley companies have proved remarkably visionless when it comes to their own employees in the post-pandemic workplace.
Instead, companies such as Google and Apple embrace hybrid work, allowing employees to work from home only a couple of days a week, even though employees generally want full-time remote work.
This push-back against the remote-work revolution is ironic, given that it’s companies like Google and Apple that enable remote work with their products and services.
Google and Apple don’t get it. But Airbnb does.
In April, the company announced that all Airbnb employees could, if they choose, work remotely forever, move wherever they like and not get a pay cut. (This is ironic because Airbnb has the best offices in tech.)
This policy does not mean everyone will work remotely.
Nor does it address the most important new-workplace demand of time flexibility. It also doesn’t guarantee that people at the company are compensated fairly (I have no idea one way or the other).
But what it does do — and this is a crucial point — is eliminate needless fear, anxiety, and resentment created among employees by more coercive policies. Blanket hybrid work policies of the kind dictated by Google and Apple are helping to drive the Great Resignation and needlessly cost those companies valuable employees.
In fact, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky recently proclaimed that traditional full-time office jobs are outdated, an anachronism “from a pre-digital age,” at least for people who work at desks doing all their work with computers via the internet.
So Chesky recently decided to live full-time in Airbnbs as a nomad.
What makes Airbnb so smart about what’s happening in the real world? Simple: it has the data.
For years, Airbnb could see the writing on the wall — guests obsessing over Wi-Fi performance and availability, workspaces, and proximity to business centres. And its leaders can see the pre-and post-pandemic data, which reveals a massive shift in how the world lives and works.
And because few other companies have the quantity and quality of data that directly reveal the new world of work, they should instead follow Airbnb’s lead on this.