Living in the heart of Techville, it’s easy to buy into the belief that the only entrepreneurs doing interesting things are youngsters. In fact, our Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky was recently tied for #1 on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 annual issue. I had lunch at Twitter’s HQ this winter with Karen Wickre. Karen doesn’t fit the profile of a tech leader. She’s in her 60s, she doesn’t love math, and she’s a woman. At times, I’ve also felt a little out of my element at Airbnb having joined the tech world a few years ago at the wise young age of 52. For those of you who are intrigued by tech, but worried that you might be a misfit, read Karen’s refreshing Medium article on Getting Into Tech If You’re not an Obvious Fit.
Similarly, some of my friends think Airbnb is only for Millennial travelers. Somehow, my friends think it’s a secret society for those under 40. That’s why I loved the New York Times article featuring Michael and Debbie Campbell’s retirement plan to travel the globe and stay at 50 Airbnb homes or apartments along the way. I’ve gotten to know these two and am very excited about having them on the main stage this fall at our Airbnb Open in Paris with 6,000 hosts from nearly 100 countries. One of the fastest growing segments of Airbnb hosts and guests is empty nesters so it’s important we give them the space to tell their stories. The reality is Airbnb’s success probably has less to do with technology and more to do with humanity as outlined in this insightful Skift piece on what modern hotel brands can learn from Airbnb.
FIRST THEY IGNORE YOU
I remember when I joined Airbnb two years ago. I gave a speech to all our HQ staff (which was probably one-third the size it is today) and quoted Gandhi based upon his perception of the Brits before India won its independence: “First, they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” Remarkably, two years later, that quote describes our relationship with many municipalities and even with the global hotel companies. During one week’s time in early spring, the Queen of England signed the UK home sharing law, the Olympics announced that Airbnb was their alternative accommodations partner for 2016 in Rio, and Airbnb opened up Cuba with more than 1,000 listings on the island. When you’re operating in 34,000 cities and the land use laws were written pre-internet, it’s quite an undertaking for a company to legalize the way short-term rentals are addressed, one municipality at a time. Of course, our biggest challenge has been in New York where I’ve spent quite a bit of time. I particularly appreciated this UK legislator’s point of view on why it makes sense for New York politicians to embrace the sharing economy.
If Airbnb is still somewhat controversial in a few places, it’s clear it’s become the default language in many entrepreneurs’ business plans. You might enjoy this MarketWatch story that shows that many startups want to be the “Airbnb of this” or the “Uber of that.” I guess imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. Don’t worry, hotels aren’t going away. I sure hope they aren’t as I still own 18 hotels and asset manage 10 of these. The good news is that the six largest global hotel companies have now become quite collaborative with Airbnb, as we have something to learn from each other and we’re starting to co-market certain destinations with hotel companies. I’m impressed with some of the new hotel concepts that are being launched focused on Millennials. It’s good to see that some of the largest hotel companies in the world are truly becoming more nimble and innovative.
ARE YOU CONSCIOUS?
Faced with the choice of being conscious or unconscious, I bet most of us would pick the former. Yet, a new magazine, Conscious Company, reminds us that business leaders are often less intentional in how they run their companies and how those companies affect the world. I’m honored that the magazine made me the cover story for their spring issue. I get to talk a little bit about why I created the Fest300 website (see the Fast Company article for more) and how I used Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to develop my PEAK model for Joie de Vivre Hospitality.
One of the other hats I wear is chief visionary for a very conscious real estate development in the southern Baja part of Mexico. If you’ve ever visited the historic village of Todos Santos, one hour north of Cabo San Lucas, you know this place is full of magic. Everything is fresh: the organic agriculture, the adventure sports from surfing to mountain biking to sea kayaking, the migrating whales and the hatching sea turtles. For decades, Todos Santos has attracted artists and healers. That’s why I was very conscious three years ago when an innovative real estate developer asked me to join the 1,000-acre Tres Santos community they were building. I told the developer I didn’t want to be involved with a gated community of golf courses. He told me their vision was something quite different, “Think farm to table restaurants, yoga retreat centers, and cottages in the middle of organic fields of produce, all connected to the local community.” The first phase of the project opens about a year from now with a cool Bunkhouse hotel on the beach. It’s such a treat to collaborate with hotelier/designer Liz Lambert as I assisted her when she first created the Hotel San Jose nearly 20 years ago.
TWO BOOKS TO CONSIDER
In the digital world we live in, we often talk of communities that are virtual. But, close your eyes for a moment and visualize a community that brings a smile to your face and a song to your soul. What community does your heart and mind conjure up? For me, it isn’t a digital community. It’s a place like Todos Santos or Burning Man where our digital devices gather dust. I’ve just finished reading Michael Harris’ “The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection.” This refreshing read reminded me how much static I have in my life in the “default world” where we spend most of our time (while sending 200 billion emails globally daily). The Internet is our “external brain.” Facebook is our “external personality.” YouTube is our “external eyes.” And, if you’ve ever had that frightening moment when you’ve lost your smartphone, the iPhone is our “external heart” (you lose it and have an abrupt reaction like you can’t breathe or your heart has stopped). We’ve lost the fine art of daydreaming by being so connected all the time. And, unless we meditate, exercise, or provide downtime from constant connection, we can lose something internal. Let’s hope Silicon Valley doesn’t create an “external soul.” Pick up this book and disconnect for a few hours.
Lastly, I’ve long been a fan of Robin Chase, the founder of Zipcar, who was an early adopter of the sharing economy model as a new means of sustainability. This June her book, Peers Inc., will launch. Mark my words that this will be a book that helps many of us rethink capitalism in an even more conscious way. Pre-order a copy so you can cocoon yourself away for a couple days relishing in this new way of thinking.
Henry David Thoreau wrote at Walden Pond, “In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post office.” In the modern era, think of how desperately you go to your Facebook page or to one of your many email accounts. I promise you your best ideas don’t often emerge in front of your laptop. Enjoy the spring and the great outdoors! Let some new ideas blossom while walking in nature.