[Editor’s note: Originally published on Vertical.]
In 2017, I had a quick day trip to San Francisco. I was visiting family just south of the Bay Area in Carmel-by-the-Sea and needed a place to stay for the night after some meetings.
I plugged into AirBnB and found a private room with Mimi and Mosh right in Presidio Heights (where I could run in the morning) for $193 per night.
I was probably impatient with them as I staggered in late that night after a day full of meetings and they walked me through all of the amenities of the place. But they were very kind with me and seemingly delighted in pointing out the little tea kettle they had bought for guests with assorted teas for the next morning.
It was a wonderful, inviting experience and I felt safe and it felt private. I left them a 5-star review and they did the same for me.
It was perfect. I was a stranger to them and they were to me. And it didn’t matter.
I had a safe, private, well-located place to sleep on a business trip and they got an extra couple hundred dollars. We were both happy.
That’s what Brian, Joe, Nate, and the AirBnB team created: a place for strangers to spend the night in the same house . . . happily. Peacefully.
Now, I’m sure you are reading all the same articles I am about AirBnB.
It’s fun to see who is going to be the big financial winner and all the ways they are taking care of employees and hosts. I’m sure plenty of people are scoffing at yet another Silicon Valley tech startup getting huge with hyper-growth metrics.
All of that coverage is warranted and usually worth the read. But I would encourage you to look a little deeper than the financials and think about something that AirBnB taught me and taught us about ourselves.
For context, if you happen to be reading this in some future year, you should know that 2020 has been pretty tough for most of us. We’ve had this crippling global pandemic that shut down the planet.
From Black Lives Matter to mask-wearing, somehow every decision or statement we made this year seemed to be about who we vote for.
Add to that the worst hurricane season on record, an escalating trade war between the US and China, and the death of James freaking Bond, and I am just done with all of this.
Suffice it to say – 2020 has been a pretty tough year and it’s easy to get bogged down in all the negativity.
And then there is AirBnB.
As a startup investor, I love a good origin story. With the tales of maxing-out credit cards, selling political cereal, and taking pictures of early listings in NY, AirBnB’s origins are legendary.
But one aspect of their story stands out to me and should give hope to all of us in this year of woe.
Any remarkable startup is a little controversial and AirBnB was no exception. Investors couldn’t deny the hustle and talent of Joe and Brian as they built it from the beginning. What they could question was human nature.
“Why would I want a stranger staying in my home?” went the common objection.
You see, most investors are so jaded about people that they assume the worst of our nature. We are inherently self-serving creatures and will revert to our most selfish and protective impulses more often than not.
So it’s highly understandable that your average venture capitalist would look at a young AirBnB, with just a few hundred listings on the platform, and assume that most of us would NEVER be comfortable letting a stranger sleep in our home.
That would be crazy. People are difficult and mean and rude and terrible towards each other.
Who would do that?
Well, it turns out more than a few of us. Mimi and Mosh weren’t the only ones willing to open their home.
To be clear, as with any endeavor that involves large numbers of human beings behaving around each other, AirBnB has had its problems with parties and illegal activity on their platform. I don’t want to make light of those and I do commend the ongoing work the team is doing there.
But that misses the bigger point – AirBnB created a place where strangers can trust each other enough to share a roof.
Doesn’t matter who you voted for. Doesn’t matter where you are from or what you believe.
We are all just people stumbling our way through our own stories looking for places to rest and feel safe.
AirBnB allows us to find strangers that want to provide that. Not hotel brands we trust. Not a college buddy’s couch. Strangers.
And that is truly remarkable.
So here in late 2020, I hope we can all take a moment to pause and reflect on that.
Try to forget about politics for a minute. Forget about how different we are from each other.
Just for a moment, think about the millions of people who have shared their homes with complete strangers. I know we can be terrible to each other, but we can also be kind, welcoming, and get special tea kettles for people we’ve never met.
Because when it comes down to it, we all just want a place to rest, feel safe, and belong. AirBnB not only created a place for us to feel that, but they made a place where we can feel that sense of belonging among total strangers in most cities and countries around the world. And in this terrible year we need that sense of belonging and connectivity more than ever.
So whenever Joe, Brian, and the team go ring the opening bell in the next few weeks to signal their company going public, stand up with me and cheer for them. Raise a glass or tweet your heart out.
Not because of the financial success and rewards, but for reminding us of something we seemingly forgot in 2020 – we are more similar than we are different and strangers can still be kind to each other.
From me and my family to the team at AirBnB, thank you! I needed that reminder.