As Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” spread throughout San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center, the 1,500 in attendance yesterday afternoon at the Airbnb Open 2014 were still on their feet. Just moments before, they had given a standing ovation to founder and CEO Brian Chesky as he concluded his keynote address by invoking the words of Victor Hugo:
“He said you cannot kill an idea whose time has come. And our time has come.”
The crowd howled. The energy at Fort Mason Center was palpable—even after seven-plus hours of talks and panels, on Day One of the Open.
In the morning, the first person to take the stage was a familiar face to those who have seen this host story: Nalin had traveled from Delhi and, on Thursday night, visited with a family he hosted in 2013. One member of the family holds the distinction of being Nalin’s youngest-ever guest: Olivia was born in his apartment. A photo of a three-day-old Olivia, along with her father, Dan, and Nalin, elicited a collective aww from the room.
“Here we are today, to celebrate the spirit of one big family, spirit of hospitality, spirit of belonging, and spirit of generosity by which we open our homes, welcome our guests, take care of them, and embrace them as a part of our family—even for a brief moment of time,” he said.
It was a tough act to follow, but judging from the applause and laughter, Chip’s conversation equally captivated the room. He also offered a little teaser: Next year’s Open is already in the works, and the location, which is outside of the United States, will be announced at tonight’s Host Awards dinner. (Those who couldn’t attend this year—the event sold out in four hours—will be happy to know that the 2015 version will accommodate more people.)
Chip recounted his own travel experiences, including a trip to Germany when he was 20 that left a lasting impression: “The innkeeper, Maria, took me in, did not take a dime from me because she could tell I was sick,” he said. He immediately slept for 24 hours straight—until the aroma of Maria’s homemade chicken soup awoke him.
Once he recovered, she showed him around her town, taking him to her favorite spots. “When I left Maria … I felt like I was leaving a long-lost friend,” he added. “What Maria taught me was my definition of hospitality—which is a generosity of spirit that comes from the heart. And for the rest of my life, I’ve dedicated myself to hospitality.”
Chip yielded the stage to Fred Reid, who rounded out the Friday morning session. A travel industry veteran—he was the founding CEO of Virgin America—Fred hosts Airbnb guests at his bucolic Sonoma County property, which features a trio of treehouse-like structures, built for his visiting sons.
A couple of years ago, he was living alone and had an epiphany: “You have cherished this isolation—this has been your escape from your skyscrapers, from your airplanes, from your meetings, from your conferences,” he said, referring to his home.
He continued: “I thought, Well, instead of cherishing isolation, what about cherishing sharing? What about sharing this hard-to-find refuge with everybody in the world—everybody who wants to come.” Fred is now a Superhost, with a five-star rating.
Of course, everyone at the Open could probably tell you who the first Airbnb hosts were. Seven years ago, roommates (and founders) Brian and Joe Gebbia opened up their San Francisco apartment to out-of-towners. “When we launched, maybe five people used us,” Brian recalled during his keynote.
Over a span of 18 months, Brian, Joe, and Nate Blecharczyk re-launched Airbnb four times—“just to get people to pay attention.” Why did they keep going? “I thought back to those very first guests. … We knew that if people could experience what we experienced, then this idea that we had together could spread around the world. And look where we are today.”
This is where Airbnb now stands, according to Brian: 640,000 hosts; 975,000 listings in 34,000 cities worldwide.
The growth, he acknowledged, has resulted in Airbnb the company and Airbnb the community. The goal is to eliminate any perceived wall in order to create a unified entity. To this end, he explained, there will be better listening, collaboration, and communication; more attention paid to helping hosts develop and further their business; and increased recognition.
“You make people feel like they belong, and many of us go through our entire life never really feeling that way,” he told the gathered hosts, adding: “What you’re doing is creating a world where people can belong anywhere. And that’s incredibly, incredibly powerful.”
This is a guest post by Anh-Minh Le who attended Airbnb Open and is the editor in chief and cofounder of Anthology Magazine, as well as a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and SFC&G. She is also an Editor at Large for California Home + Design. Travel and design are among her passions, and browsing Airbnb listings never fails to give her a serious case of wanderlust.