B1 Intermediate US 135 Folder Collection
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- 2020 was supposed to be the golden year for Airbnb,
it was supposed to be the year that Airbnb went public.
They were supposed to be the hottest offering
of this year.
- [Narrator] In just under a decade,
Airbnb went from a single air mattress for rent
to a global company valued at more than 30 billion dollars.
The home sharing giant has thousands of employees,
over three million hosts, and seven million listings
in over 220 countries.
It even branched out with a new division called Experiences.
Which allows guests to book outings.
But travel is now at a stand still.
Airbnb's planned listing is in doubt.
Expected revenue is down by at least half,
and CEO Brian Chesky said 25% of staff will be cut.
So how did one of the most successful startups of the decade
become such a vulnerable company?
- Airbnb was founded in the aftermath
of the 2008 financial crisis.
A lot of ordinary people had lost their jobs
and were looking for secondary income.
Once the idea of sharing your home with someone took off,
a lot of people bought into that promise.
- You know we had revenue from day one.
And we didn't actually need to raise money
at any given point.
We decided that we invest ahead of growth
and we've always tried to think about it like a throttle.
So that we could at any given point
throttle into profitability.
- Airbnb was profitable by a certain measure
in 2017 and 2018.
So that gave investors a lot of confidence
and excited everyone, really,
about the prospect of a startup like this
that has become a household name
around the world to go public.
- These are beautiful homes.
- [Narrator] The company spent big
during this period of growth.
Administrative costs increased 113% between 2017 and 2019
as they hired thousands of employees
and built out a corporate headquarters
in a trendy San Francisco neighborhood.
Then 2019 ended with a tragedy.
- Airbnb now says it is banning house parties.
That after a shooting left five people dead
in San Francisco in a suburb there on Halloween night.
- This mass shooting was really a moment of reckoning
for Airbnb and that's what led them to invest
over 100 million dollars into safety initiatives.
- [Narrator] These expenses helped bring Airbnb's
total costs to 5.3 billion dollars last year.
More than double what they were in 2017.
- You had board members grilling some of the executives
and saying, "Hey, your costs
"are outpacing your revenue growth.
"Lets reign that in, let's control that."
And then of course the pandemic hit
and changed everything for Airbnb.
- China says the number of people infected
by a mysterious respiratory virus
has more than tripled over the weekend.
- [Narrator] In January, officials in China
issued local travel warnings and restrictions
following the spread of Covid-19.
- It wiped out bookings over night in China.
So remember at the time,
no one thought this would become a global problem.
- [Narrator] And then on March 11th, President Donald Trump
announced new international travel restrictions.
As Airbnb bookings fell, Chesky held in-person meetings
with employees to discuss what these new developments meant
for Airbnb and their plans to go public.
- What was happening was a lot of anxiety
was building among employees
because a lot of them have stock options.
And those are set to expire later this year,
which meant that if they didn't go public this year,
a lot of valuable options that employees hold
would just be worthless.
So Mr. Chesky really took it upon himself
to reassure employees, to say,
"It's gonna be okay.
"We are still very much going to list this year."
That changed in a matter of days.
By the end of March, he struck a more cautious tone.
He held a video conference with employees
where he said everything is on the table.
- [Narrator] Around this time many guests
began to demand refunds for reservations.
But Airbnb had a long time practice
of allowing hosts to set their own cancellation policies.
- But in a world where you have guests fighting back
and saying, "Hosts are not giving us any refunds,
"what's Airbnb gonna do about it?"
I think that really shook the company as well.
- [Narrator] This led to a sudden decision by Chesky
to give guests refunds for certain bookings.
After backlash from some hosts,
Chesky issued an apology to them.
- I am sorry.
I'm sorry we didn't consult you as partners.
And I've heard from you ever since that decision.
- [Narrator] Airbnb said it would pay hosts 25%
of what they would have received for canceled bookings.
They also created a 17 million dollar mortgage fund
to help top rated hosts cover mortgages.
By April the company had barely any revenue
coming in from short term stays.
- So they ended up raising a billion dollars in debt
at a very high interest rate
that is associated with distressed assets.
So overnight Airbnb went from being
the Silicon Valley unicorn
that is a household name around the world,
to being reduced to business that is in distress.
- [Narrator] On May fifth, Brian Chesky announced
massive staff cuts in a memo
that has drawn praise for addressing the impending layoffs
with compassion and clarity.
Chesky said nearly 2000 employees,
a quarter of Airbnb's workforce would be cut.
He also said 2020 revenue would be less
than half of what it was in 2019.
- I think everyone would be very surprised
if they choose to go public later on this year.
What I'm hearing from investors
is that Airbnb would need at least two good quarters
before they go public.
- [Narrator] The pandemic has shifted Airbnb
in fundamental ways.
The company is pivoting to longterm stays,
and recently rolled out cleaning guidelines
to help guests feel safe whenever they do return to rentals.
The sudden collapse of the Airbnb economy
that was a lifeline for many
has also exposed deep cracks in the sharing economy.
- [Preetika] If you think about it,
Airbnb is really a property manager
without the property risk.
Unlike hotels that run and manage their properties,
Airbnb doesn't own any of the properties.
The pandemic has really held a mirror
and has really made us all question
the very fundamentals of the sharing economy.
Who takes on the risk.
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How Airbnb Fell From Successful Startup to Crisis Mode | WSJ

135 Folder Collection
chengye.cai published on July 24, 2020
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