Airbnb CEO: The future is about access, not ownership

Brian Chesky and Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOM RoadMapFor decades now, folks in America have generally prized the idea of ownership — and the more expensive and permanent the asset, the better. Owning a home and buying a car are seen as major, almost mandatory milestones in many people’s lives. But according to Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, as the world’s population gets larger and technology makes us more connected, the adulation of ownership is slowly starting to wane.
“We have an ownership society now, but we’re moving toward an access society, where you’re not defined by the things you own but by the experiences you have,” Chesky said in an onstage interview at the GigaOM RoadMap conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
And naturally, Chesky pointed out that his company Airbnb, an online marketplace which lets people rent out their apartments and homes, is well-positioned for this new world. “We give people access to those experiences.”
Of course, giving people this kind of intimate access to the hard-earned assets of others comes with its dangers. Earlier this year, Airbnb came under fire when one of its users’ homes was ransacked and burglarized by a person with whom she connected on the site. Chesky addressed the situation directly, and said that ultimately it was a learning moment for the company — albeit a painful one. “In many ways it was a wake-up call. We made some mistakes this summer,” he said. The company has since instituted a new safety program, and Chesky said it has more products and services aimed at securing user trust.
Ultimately, though, Airbnb still believes that many people are willing to share their cherished belongings with others. “It’s not a binary situation where you either want to share with whole world or nobody. Most people are somewhere in between and it’s a matter of where you are in the spectrum,” Chesky said. “For us, it’s about giving people that control.”
Photo by Pinar Ozger.