Do Startups that Scale Lose Their Soul?


Excerpt from “The Airbnb Story

Airbnb, Approaching IPO, Could Face an Identity Crisis

Photo: Airbnb Open 2016 — Trips Keynote.

Whenever Airbnb does choose to make its entry into the public markets, there’s one group of people outside of Wall Street that will be paying close attention: some of Airbnb’s hosts. There’s no doubt that many of the millions of Airbnb hosts will see the occasion as a victory and an important milestone for the company that has afforded them an income stream. But some are starting to feel that they should get some shares, too. They helped build the business, after all, and they control the product and experience that makes the entire platform possible.

Hans Penz and his wife rent out two rooms in their house in Staten Island, New York. Penz, thirty-eight, is a baker and originally started hosting as a way to raise money to grow his business; now, the couple do it because they like the extra income and having people from all over the world stay with them. Penz loves hosting and is one of those people who genuinely believes Airbnb “is making the world a better place.” He also feels that hosts, or at least the most engaged hosts, should be able to get pre-IPO shares. “The hosts are the company,” he says. He says he’s talked about this with other hosts and with the company. He says that if he were one of the company’s existing investors, “I would definitely ask the company how they’re going to make sure hosts stay with Airbnb and don’t decide to start their own business.” When I ask Chesky about this issue, he says the company has looked into it and talked about it internally. He says it’s hard to give a million people equity in the private market, where every investor must be given access to the company’s financials. “It’s not without its complications.” This same issue came up way back when eBay went public, but that company in the end did not end up granting shares to its sellers.

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