In the magical world of Airbnb, ideals still trump earnings

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At their beginnings, tech companies birthed in Silicon Valley often talk in world-changing ideals—don’t be evil, move fast and break things, make juice easy—only to bow later to Wall Street’s thirst for quarterly returns.

Airbnb, it seems — at least according to an open letter published Thursday by company co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky — remains firmly in its idealistic phase, claiming immunity from such mundanities (and, in fact, as he states explicitly in the letter, the company views itself as having “an infinite time horizon”:


‘This is the magical world of Airbnb.’


Brian Chesky


Chesky’s letter outlines a vision that’s long on ideas for the future, if short on the company’s plans to grow its top and bottom line.

“It’s clear that our responsibility isn’t just to our employees, our shareholders, or even to our community — it’s also to the next generation,” Cesky writes in the letter. “Companies have a responsibility to improve society, and the problems Airbnb can have a role in solving are so vast that we need to operate on a longer time horizon.”

For the investing world, the important time horizon Airbnb has publicly committed itself to is two years: the length of time Chesky said it planned to take to prepare for its debut in the public markets. Though the CEO said it was halfway toward accomplishing that goal by October, he hedged and cautioned that being ready doesn’t necessarily mean the company will go through with it by the conclusion of that period.

Chesky writes in the Thursday open letter that the company will make an announcement Feb. 22 about the “next chapter to empower a host-led world with some substantial improvements to our service that set us up for an infinite time horizon.”

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One of the challenges for executives as Airbnb has grown into a massive $30 billion company has been operating in cities with affordable-housing shortages. Critics of the company say its short-term rentals exacerbate the matter by removing rentable units from local inventories. And over the years, Airbnb has vigorously fought municipal attempts to regulate its activities — often repeating the talking point that the company helps people cope with rising housing costs by supplementing their income.

Chesky addresses the issue directly in his Thursday post, writing that the company will “make sure” to help people “stay in their homes and share their communities and not negatively impacting housing.”

To wit, he plans to direct the company to release an “annual stakeholder report” that self-evaluates accountability much as quarterly reports set forth financial performance for shareholders, Chesky writes.

Former American Express Co. CEO Ken Chenault will join Airbnb’s board of directors, Chesky writes elsewhere in the letter, praising him as having excelled as a leader in a “trust” business. Chenault recently resigned from American Express












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and took a spot on Facebook Inc.’s












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 board.

As of September 2016, investors valued Airbnb at $30 billion, a valuation that had not changed as of the second quarter of 2017, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing mutual-fund disclosures. According to multiple reports, the company hauled in $1 billion in 2017’s September quarter, up from half that in the year-earlier period; before interest, taxes and amortization, the company was profitable.



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