The Culture Focus at Airbnb

If you’re unsure of what Airbnb does, it provides a website that lets people find and list lodging throughout the world, but not the kind of accommodations you’ll find on Expedia. Rather, it’s a peer-to-peer concept where you can temporarily rent private residences from people almost anywhere in the world.

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The Start of Airbnb

A relatively young company, Airbnb was launched in 2008 after Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia found it unaffordable to pay the rent on their San Francisco loft, so they began renting out the living room as a bed and breakfast, providing air mattresses and even cooking guests breakfast in the morning.

In 2008, the pair added Nathan Biecharczyk to the team as a technical architect, and they started the company with a focus on providing lodging options for high-profile events. The site Airbedandbreakfast.com launched in August of 2008.

After the initial launch, Airbnb started included properties that were somewhere between a hotel and what you would get if you used the CouchSurfing service. In 2009, the company’s name was shortened to its current Airbnb, and the concept moved from one that focused on air beds and shared spaces to the renting out of entire properties, ranging from apartments and homes to rooms and even igloos and private islands.

In 2010 Airbnb employed only 15 employees, and each worked from within the creators’ loft apartment in San Francisco. In 2011 actor Ashton Kutcher made a significant investment in Airbnb and in the fall of this year Jersey City, New Jersey legalized Airbnb by adding it to their hotel and motel properties, so the company has to pay a city hotel tax on some of the properties found there.

The company now has twelve offices throughout the world, and the main headquarters is still located in San Francisco. The primary source of revenue for Airbnb relies on booking service fees.

Glassdoor.com says the following in its overview of Airbnb: Founded in August of 2008 and based in San Francisco, California, Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone. Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 192 countries. And with world-class customer service and a growing community of users, Airbnb is the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to an audience of millions.

Glassdoor also reports Airbnb employees between 5,000 and 10,000 people—a far cry from the 15 working in the co-founder’s San Francisco loft.

So how is it to work at Airbnb? Most would say great.

The Airbnb Culture

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Last year Airbnb held its first employee convention that included everything from wrapped programs to food drives. There was a lot of excitement among the 1500 top employees invited to attend, and it was particularly unique in the face of complaints about companies like Uber, which use similar structures and business models.

These startups are indicative of the greater sharing economy and the provision of peer-to-peer services and products, as opposed to goods and services provided by or regulated by the government.

While the basic premise and model of a company like Uber is similar in many was to Airbnb, time has shown that how they approach corporate culture and talent management really aren’t similar at all.

There’s a feeling of connectedness company executives are pushing for at Airbnb—even going as far as staying at hosts homes around the world. They really work to communicate and understand everyone who’s a part of their community, which is in-line with the sharing aspect of the sharing economy. On the other side of the spectrum is Uber, whose “employees” have raised frequent complaints about the lack of connectivity and training they receive as drivers.

More specifically, at the SOMA, San Francisco headquarters of Airbnb, you’ll find a creative environment where the company’s leaders attempt to make each employee feel as if they’re a founder. They speak on the merits of honesty, transparency and a sense of two-way communication, and the employees of Airbnb are nicknamed Airfam.

Despite the fact that employees are globally dispersed, there’s still a significant effort to maintain connectedness through endeavors like a weekly world meeting, where everyone joins in on live stream.

Each individual country or city office also has a more informal meeting weekly, and the executive team comes together weekly, and after that executive meeting each and every employee is set notes from it.

The goal of distributing these executive meeting notes is to have everyone ask questions and share their thoughts about what’s going on, even at the highest level.

Airbnb launched an Intranet to maintain employee birthdays and anniversaries so they can easily be shared and recognized by everyone while an internally hosted employee page lets everyone within the company not only get to know their coworkers, but build networks and relationships with them.

Airbnb has a group called Ground Control, which is an aspect of their broader employee experience team. This group’s goal is to make sure the workplace culture and environment are maintained in the right way, at least according to company standards. They also manage internal communication, employee recognition and celebrations. While this team includes more than 10 employees in the San Francisco headquarters, there’s also iterations of this team in each of the global offices.

Thanks to its meteoric growth and great culture, it’s no surprise Airbnb has a lot of interest from potential employees—in 2014 they received nearly 200,000 applications for just 900 positions. To begin with the daunting task of finding the best candidates Airbnb starts with internal recommendations.

The process then moves to interviews, where executives say their primary focus is on culture and values. The goal is to select employees that really get the mission of Airbnb—so talking about job title or being more interested in pay over connectedness with the world would likely be a no-go. The process then moves on from there and makes it to the point of getting an offer there’s a week-long “check-in” in which employees are introduced to the organization and its values that also serves as an opportunity for new team members to get to know one another and share about themselves.

Airbnb is rapidly becoming one of the biggest game-changers in travel and lodging, bringing continual focus to not just their business strategy but also their employee strategy. What do you think about Airbnb’s talent management approach? Is it sustainable over the long-term?

December 28, 2015   Updated :November 16, 2016      

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