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Airbnb is not competing with hotels says co-founder [LeWeb]

LeWeb Joe Gebbia

Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia had an easy ride from LeWeb Founder Loic Le Meur when the pair took to the LeWeb stage in London today. Perhaps it was well-earned: the platform has had an amazing time since being launched in 2008.

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If you don’t know what Airbnb is — imagine renting out your spare room for the night and you have the idea in its simplest form. Airbnb is now in 33 000 cities and 192 countries around the world, over 10-million nights have been booked and there are over 300 000 options for travellers.

Described onstage as a “massive social experiment”, many might not know that it was launched off the back of a design conference — literally emailing design bloggers who wanted to stay during the conference after making a tiny website in a day. But it isn’t competing with hotels, according to Gebbia, instead it is “making the pie” bigger.

Gebbia talked about inspiration (the idea came to him when his rent was hiked 25% in San Francisco) and gave some advice to people looking to get started on a venture “… marry the problem. Find a problem to you are so close to and solve it.”

Airbnb has not had a smooth ride when it started out — simply getting people to try it, as well as legal issues (subletting is usually not allowed) but its biggest lesson came from insights from the relationship it evokes — people exchanging money in person doesn’t work and actively “sours the idea”.

Gebbia then went on to talk about scaling after talking about initial growth, explaining its first big break was based on a political story. “We rode the coattails of the Obama press when newspapers were printing headline ‘Where will they stay?’ as 100 000 people had 20 000 rooms in Denver.”

Le Meur ended talking about the legal issues of subletting and the future of Airbnb. Gebbia used the analogy of progress and the automobile industry — ultimately coming down to “the people will decide”. Time will tell if they will.

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