Julie Tucker
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Meet Airbnb’s Billionaire CEO

Brian Chesky is the billionaire CEO of the online accommodation service Airbnb. The 40-year-old entrepreneur came up with the idea in 2008, as a short-term way of making extra cash.

Now, 13 years later, he has a net worth of $11.5 billion and has been named as one of Time’s 100 most influential people.

After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design from Rhode Island School of Design, Chesky moved to San Francisco in 2007. He worked as an industrial designer and began sharing an apartment with fellow designer, Joe Gebbia, with whom he co-founded Airbnb.

Airbed and breakfast
They weren’t well off and struggled to meet the rent for their apartment in autumn 2007. At the time, the Industrial Designers’ Society of America was hosting its conference in San Francisco. All the hotels were booked up, so Chesky and Gebbia decided to host three visitors who had nowhere to stay.

They bought three air mattresses and marketed their idea as “airbed and breakfast”, charging the visitors $80 per night. The money they earned covered the rent. Rather than being a one-off, the idea caught on.

The following spring, they officially launched their company, called Airbed and Breakfast, with Nathan Blecharczyk (a Harvard graduate and technical architect), who became Airbnb’s third co-founder.

Marketing genius
Chesky became CEO and structured the company so it would receive funding and expand. In a marketing stroke of genius, they created special-edition cereals called Cap’n McCains and Obama O’s, based on the presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. As a result, they were accepted on Y Combinator’s seed funding program.

Airbnb’s subsequent expansion happened rapidly. The company founders used the Y-Combinator funding to fly to New York to promote their website and meet users. They flew back to San Francisco with a profitable business model, presenting it to West Coast investors.

The site had 10,000 users and 2,500 listings by March 2009, when they shortened the company’s name to Airbnb.com and further expanded the site’s content to include a multitude of properties, including apartments, private rooms and complete homes.

Rapid growth
The San Francisco-based company differs from other accommodation providers in that it doesn’t own any of the properties. It acts as a broker and receives a commission from every booking. They received additional seed money from Sequoia Capital in April 2009 and from Greylock Partners in November 2010 for further expansion.

They revealed the company’s rapid growth, with 80% of the 700,000 nights booked having occurred in the previous six months. Airbnb announced its one-millionth night had been booked in February 2011. By January 2012, the five-millionth night had been booked, followed by the ten-millionth night in June 2012.

This meant the business had doubled in just five months, with 75% of bookings coming from markets outside the United States. By 2012, Airbnb had established international offices in London, Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Copenhagen, São Paulo, Moscow, Hamburg and Berlin. They announced Airbnb’s European headquarters would be opening in Dublin.

In November 2012, a new office was launched in Sydney, Australia, while plans were announced to launch the service in Indonesia and Thailand. They further expanded into the Asian market with an office in Singapore.
Chesky announced that Airbnb was to be the official sponsor of the Summer Olympics 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He revealed more than 120,000 guests had stayed in Airbnb homes during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Despite being worth $11.5 billion today, Chesky lives a relatively modest lifestyle. He reportedly goes on regular “staycations” and books into an Airbnb in a different location to experience the accommodation himself.

In June 2016, he joined the Giving Pledge launched by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. The group of billionaires have committed to giving most of their wealth away to help worthy causes. Describing his motivation, he said he wanted to help more kids achieve the type of journey he has enjoyed.

He said their dreams weren’t bounded by what they could see in front of them. “Their limits are not so limited,” he added, quoting Walt Disney, who once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Productivity hacks
Chesky has been recognised on Forbes’ list of America’s richest entrepreneurs under 40. He has revealed one of his biggest productivity boosts comes through making lists and says once you’ve made a list of 20 things to do, you end up realising, “I don’t need to do 20 things.” Speaking on the Masters of Scale podcast in 2017, he explained, “If I do three big things, the other 20 things will kind of happen.”

In December 2020, Airbnb became a public company and began trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange. This resulted in Airbnb’s value soaring; the market cap was pushed to $100 billion and the company’s shares more than doubled to $147 per share. Although Chesky sold 100 million shares, he is still in ownership of 77 million shares and is set to be worth $30 billion by 2028.

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© Paul Hennessy / Alamy Stock Photo

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