Being a reporter means you’ve got the privilege to ask whatever questions you have in your mind. So while everyone else spoke up about how cool AirBnB service has become so far and how lucrative the business opportunities for being a host may seem, I hurled a rather outlandish question about co-founder Brian Chesky at Leander Yohanes, a rep from the startup presenting mostly about the experience of being a host and guest via the service. “[We] always think the company first before making any decisions.
Answering in full English, Leander recalled the ‘intimidating’ looks of the co-founder who used to be a bodybuilder at the first encounter in 2013 when he applied a job at AirBnB. “You know him..,”Leander paused and shrugged his shoulders. Chesky must be significantly bigger than Leander and the authority Chesky has in hand makes him look even more authoritative and domineering. Leander said Chesky asked him a series of randomly-picked interview questions. “So he’d know how fast one can think and solve problems as we know startups are so dynamic and full of unexpected things,”Leander explained further.
Though AirBnB has so many rivals, they’re confident to compete in the niche. As Leander put it, when compared to platforms like CouchSurfing, AirBnB has its own stregths. One thing CouchSurfing doesn’t have is the guarantee of accomodation type. Because you pay for it, you can demand or expect a certain kind of service you deserve. While ChouchSurfing is free but makes one more prone to fraud or any crimes or sheer disappointment because it’s overrated.
While CouchSurfing is inclined to be a pure backpackers community, in my opinion AirBnB also has to compete with budget hotels such as Amaris. Leander begged to differ,”I don’t think we’re competing with them because we provide different experiences.” One of the avid users of the service coming that night, Vivek, prefers AirBnB to “connect with the local beats”. Leander argued budget hotels can’t provide it.
From the perspective of a non-user (I’m an AirBnB service virgin myself), I was curious if I could choose a guest based on my preference, such as avoiding guests who don’t snore or smoke or so on. He claims we can. How? “By reading reviews,”he said. To some extent, we can avoid annoying guests but rarely can we find reviews about someone’s snoring. The different thing applies to filthy guests. These filthy people can be easier to detect from reviews.
I read on Quora that AirBnB has quite a few negative reviews, which made me wonder whether they have a strict moderation system. When I asked if it was right, Leander told us that there’s no such a thing in the company he works for. “We have no moderation system for reviews,”he confirmed. But he missed mentioning about the non-anonimity for reviewers, which according to someone on Quora doesn’t allow them to leave reviews without names. So there’s a high chance if your previous host can find and read it and gets raged if s/he find bad reviews about him/ her written by you. Retaliation or vengeance could happen. And that’s no good.
As I asked Leander how it feels to work at a hyped and fast-growing startup like AirBnB, he said it feels like being thrown to a world where he has to figure out everything himself. That explains why AirBnB is so rigorous when it comes to hiring people. “They want people they hire understand the goal,”said he. The level of trust and autonomy as an employee is also higher. The employees of AirBnB are also expected to be thinking and solving problems like their founders do.
That said, I challenged the proposition of hiring likeminded people asking if it’s really what the company does all the time. “Yes and no. Because if you hire someone likeminded to you, you would find creative solutions, right?” Leander thought it’d be better to hire someone who understands the goal like you do (the founders) but brings also something different to the table. Different strengths, different ways of thinking.
To get the insider’s view of why AirBnB succeeds, I asked Leander. And he just giggled, seconds later saying,”You shouldn’t ask me this actually. You should ask the communities. Because essentially we’re just a platform. The success is very much dependent on our users.”
Knowing the huge contribution of communities to the success, AirBnB must have some strategies to maintain or nurture their communities. According to Leandern, some of the strategies are the group channel introduced lately which is designed to provide space for communities to share tips, stories, help each other. They can also organize meetups, thus strengthening the relationship amongst members of AirBnbB communities. The communities, Leander stated, dictate the experience of AirBnB service. He stressed on the aspect of authenticity and being real as they can stay with local people living in a city.
Speaking of the 1 million dollars host guarantee given by AirBnB, I was wondering if there was any case of it occuring in the past. “Not the full amount of course.. haha,”he told me. When a claim is filed, the AirBnB would make sure the claim is genuine and complies with the conditions.
AirBnB reportedly has no plans to file an IPO this year, and Leander said he knows nothing about when the company is set to do so.
In Indonesia, as Leander put it, the company has no specific plans like opening a branch office like what Twitter does. “A lot of our growth has been organic initially. And now that we have our staff presence here to accelerate the growth so there’s no plan to open our local office just yet.”