In a world increasingly obsessed with disruption, Airbnb has made a name for itself. It has dominated the rental marketplace and in the eight years since its founding, it has become a global phenomenon and a verb on its own. However, its founding story has been overlooked by people amazed by its success, but in her recent book, Leigh Gallagher takes a peek inside of the company that is changing the way people travel. The author produces a book that is obviously in awe of a success story without glossing over its flaws and the struggles it has faced along the way. The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions…and Created Plenty of Controversy is a must read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship and the miracles of successful start-ups.  It’s definitely a pro-Airbnb book. If you’re looking for a harsh look at the pros and cons of the sharing economy, you’ll want to look elsewhere, but this book is definitely a great in-depth look at the company.

Gallagher starts off the book with a deep look into the trials and tribulations that lead to Airbnb becoming what it is today, including its several soft launches, a foray into the cereal business with Obama O’s and Cap’n McCains, and lots of meetings with investors that didn’t go as planned. One of my favorite stories about those failed meetings was the investor who got up and left, without offering a reason, mid-meeting and left his half-drank smoothie behind.  The success of Airbnb was a long time coming, and Gallagher’s book looks not only at its founding but dives a little bit into some of the avenues they had to investigate to be successful, including Y Combinator, venture capital, and more. For someone who has never even explored that world, it was very eye-opening.I’m sure it is even more so for people interested in starting their own business.

A persisting thread throughout the book was the abnormal but successful combination of leadership that has made Airbnb what it is today. Two of the founders were good friends. They came up with the idea while problem solving for themselves, but the third founder, an engineer, was brought on later and had several bouts of doubt with the start-up. However, this actually worked out for them in the end, which is absolutely remarkable. Their leadership styles are all so different and can offer something to every reader in the brief glimpse that we get from Gallagher.

This book does not gloss over the issues that Airbnb has had, especially with its guests and its handling of major situations like a sexual assault and several trashings of their listings. The book, as well as the company, emphasizes that you cannot control people and that Airbnb is a platform, not a provider, but they could definitely use a little better branding on that front.  They have grown to such a massive level that they can’t afford to simply say “We can’t control racism” or “If your home gets trashed by strangers we can provide monetary compensation but not help your peace of mind.” They claim to want to build a community or belonging but they’ll have to find a way to protect that image while growing rapidly.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book was the end, when it explored where Airbnb is going in the future. They aim to become a full-fledged travel company and specialize in custom experiences and one day, maybe even flights. This future might include going public on the stock market.  It will be interesting to watch unfold as Airbnb continues to grow and change with the times.

Get the book here.

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Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member