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Airbnb hits conference stage, ignores giant elephant in the room

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Airbnb.com has enjoyed glowing reviews from the media and public as the hottest on-line short-term rental site. In fact, this apartment sharing startup just raised $112 million with a valuation of $1.2 billion.

The site says “We connect people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.” I wasn’t really sure what the hype was all about. Sounds like you are just renting your home to a stranger while you are away. Is that really a $1.2 billion idea? But hey, they have been featured on a jillion media outlets from Forbes to Bloomberg to New York Times, so what do I know? Their PR peeps are working overtime no doubt.

They are the media darlings of the moment….that is, until Wednesday, when an Airbnb user’s home got completely destroyed by a renter. The renter stole her ID, credit cards, passport & savagely ransacked her home over a whole week. The media who were so quick to build Airbnb up, were just as quick to break the horrific story with headlines like “Woman Utterly Pillaged via Airbnb” (gawker), “Moment of Truth For Airbnb As User’s Home Utterly Trashed” (TechCrunch) to “Airbnb Horror” (Business Insider). This literally hits close to home because Airbnb is also headquartered in San Francisco where the vandalism happened.

Airbnb’s damage control

It’s admirable that Airbnb took to their twitter feed to do damage control. Their tweets from that day are peppered with updates. And they did not blame the Airbnb customer (that would have been a major doozie). Admittedly, the woman whose house was violated to the nth degree even said on blog that “They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD.”

What is most interesting to me about this whole sordid saga is how Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia broached it to an auditorium of tech savvy real estate agents the day after. He didn’t broach it at all. (Huh?!)

Giant elephant in the conference ballroom

The “Airbnb Horror” was splattered over the press Wednesday and Joe Gebbia was slated as a keynote speaker for Inman Real Estate Connect on Thursday. Talk about bad timing! At any rate, he was clearly there to extol the virtue of his site and that’s what he did. He praised it to high heaven.

All the while, there is a white elephant in the room. People in the audience wanted to know if is Airbnb dangerous? Is it a blow to their credibility? What is Airbnb going to do to prevent crimes against their users? Anyone who looked up Airbnb in the audience during Gebbia’s talk would have come across this horrifying experience. And yet, not a single peep.

Disconnect between Twitter feed and keynote speech

There was a total disconnect between Airbnb’s tweeter feed & the rosy picture painted on stage. What a missed opportunity for Airbnb to clear the air. Agents could be a huge proponent for a site like Airbnb. This would be great for our clients who need short term rentals, or another way to generate some rental income for clients with spare rooms.

But now in light of the grizzly incident, how can we recommend Airbnb with confidence? Any acknowledgement of the robbery would have been better than saying nothing. It is so crucial to be honest and upfront with consumers.

If you ask me, at the end of the day, it’s still letting a stranger into your home. There’s a reason why people don’t hitchhike anymore! Agents, what do you think about Airbnb? Is it a fancier version of house swapping on Craigslist? Has the Airbnb horror deterred you away from this service?

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Ken Brand

    July 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Bummer for everyone. But here's what I want to know and why I won't be cheering them on, until I do. Today it's rooms everywhere for everyone, super cheap – bleeding the hotel industry. What's to prevent them from scaling up to SELLING houses, everywhere to everyone, bleeding real estate brokers and agents like the hotel industry. It makes perfect sense once they have scale.

    I'm not against progress and innovation, more power to the disrupters of the world. In fact we should all be sprinting to reinvent, disrupt and improve what we do. What I'm not in favor of is helping the disrupters. They have plenty of money to push things forward. Seriously, if a broker/agent/competitor in your market introduces a new service that can (bleed) impact your business, do you fawn all over them, send promotional tweets and kiss their cheeks? I doubt it.

    We've seen this short sighted story over and over. First with RELO, then recently Trulia and Zillow. Basically we do all the work, hand over our data, then they sell us opportunities to monazite the very data we gave them. I get that once the cards are played, we have to play them, but personally, I'd like for us to collectively and individually disrupt the disrupters and regain the value-proposition power position. Collectively, mostly we help the tail wag the dog – the big brains at 3rd party companies have to be laughing behind closed doors. It's easier than taking candy from a baby.

    Ok, that's enough rant for now. What do you think about this? Am I a crackpot?

    Thanks for sharing.

    • hermanchan.com

      July 30, 2011 at 5:07 pm

      thanks ken! i responded on google plus when i saw your post.

  2. Matt Dollinger

    July 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Aside from all of this I had to share this thought brought about by Matt Lerner of Walkscore.com.

    We are all talking about buyers, local and the necessity for them to REALLY get to know neighborhood they potentially buy in.

    Enter Airbnb.com – your buyer goes onto the website, finds homes in a couple of the areas they are considering, and spends a weekend in each one.

    Thought that this was one of the smartest ideas I came home from Inman with… courtesy of Matt Lerner of Walkscore.

  3. hermanchan.com

    July 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    OMG, the PR for airbnb is only getting worse!
    Airbnb Pillage Victim Says Company Tried to Keep Her Quiet – @Gawker gawker.com/5825996/airbnb-pillage-victim-says-company-tried-to-keep-her-quiet

  4. Stephanie Crawford, @AgentStep

    July 31, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Well thus was BOUND to happen, right?

    • hermanchan.com

      August 1, 2011 at 2:16 am

      apparently this isn't a one time thing.

      Another Airbnb Victim Tells His Story: “There Were Meth Pipes Everywhere” via @techcrunch techcrunch.com/2011/07/31/another-airbnb-victim-tells-his-story-there-were-meth-pipes-everywhere/

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Opinion Editorials

The offensive myth of getting laid off being a blessing

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There’s an age-old trend in news to look for rags-to-riches stories. People love to hear about someone who’s down on their luck scraping together a genius idea and, through sheer grit (it seems), finding the motivation to finally strike out on their own and realize their dream.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Person X is laid off from their long-time but unfulfilling office job, say at an oil company in Alberta, or a marketing agency where their good ideas are consistently shot down.

What seems like a situation to for despair is actually an opportunity in disguise— see, with their newfound freedom Person X has the ability to fully commit to their small business pipe dream.

In fact, the story goes, getting laid off was actually the best thing to ever happen to this person.

This story is a myth.

Although I don’t want to discredit anybody who has had the willpower, luck, and resources to succeed at launching their business, there are many people who are laid off who are truly in critically terrible times.

The insidious underlying message of this myth is that anybody who is truly devastated by being laid off is being weak or lazy.

It serves to alleviate the guilt of those who may have survived the lay off themselves; it helps organizations justify the fact that they might have had to let an otherwise good employee go for their own, corporate-level problems.

The characteristics that many of these laid-off-turned-successful-entrepreneurs have in common are the same sort of privileges that many take for granted – health, youth, a personal support system to help keep the lights on, and an established network of people that can be turned into a market of clients.

What happens to the many workers who are victims of ageism when they are laid off in favor of younger, less expensive workers?

What happens if you’re laid off and you can’t use your newfound time to work on your business plan because you’re raising young children?

The entrepreneurs who find opportunity in being suddenly jobless were probably already on their way to striking out on their own, with their being laid off acting as the defined starting point for a plan they might not have known was forming in their heads.

If you, a friend, or a colleague have the unfortunate luck to be laid off, don’t let this myth get under your skin.

It’s okay to have a rough time with a huge life event that is absolutely terrifying and difficult.

Hang in there.

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Opinion Editorials

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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