Airbnb has become an ubiquitous name in travel lodging, right up there with Hilton, Marriott, Best Western, and Hyatt. Airbnb doesn’t physically own the type of assets that the hotels do, but regardless, today Airbnb is used in the same context as those companies. Airbnb is also young compared to those companies, officially starting in 2008.
How did Airbnb get here? How were three recent college graduates able to shake up the lodging industry? How did these guys build a company from scratch to become worth several billion dollars in less than a decade?
I read The Airbnb Story with the idea that I would have those questions answered. I am really interested in founders’ stories, so the subtitle had me hooked – The Airbnb Story: How three ordinary guys disrupted an industry, made billions … and created plenty of controversy. The author, Leigh Gallagher, has a legitimate journalistic background as the assistant managing editor at Fortune, so I knew it would be well written.
I also thought I was in for a real treat…
The Airbnb Story was a treat, for the first 79 pages. In those first 79 pages, we learn about the founders, before Airbnb was even an idea. We get to know them, their personalities, and their strengths and weaknesses. The book tells us about the light bulb moment when the initial concept of Airbnb was formed. It takes us through the early trial and error, the challenges to build the technology, and the founders’ squiggly line of direction. Then we learn about their big break, and how it almost didn’t happen. Then the book takes us on their journey to grow Airbnb from an idea into an actual company, and then explains the trajectory of growth.
Their story and the story of Airbnb are fascinating. We learn that the founders made many poor decisions (in hindsight) along the way, but they made the right decision at the most critical points. Had they not made those right decisions, Airbnb would likely not exist today. In that respect, Airbnb reads like a gripping novel.
Then Leigh Gallagher explains to us how the existence of Airbnb allowed many other entrepreneurs to create other businesses. Those businesses were created based on needs that users of Airbnb now had. Some businesses were started to help the hosts, and some were started to help the guests. This part of the book helps to complete the picture of the Airbnb community.
Then we get to page 80, and for the next 135 pages we read, in excruciating detail, about the regulations, about the legal side, about the one-off issues with people using their platform, about the hotel industry and whether they view Airbnb as a competitor or not.
Some of those stories are interesting, but Leigh Gallagher gets into the minutia of each issue that the founders had to deal with. I needed to take frequent breaks from reading just to clear my brain. It is apparent, in these 135 pages, that we are reading a book written by an assistant managing editor for Fortune magazine.
These 135 pages are important to complete the Airbnb picture. They are important to address the part of the subtitle that says …and created plenty of controversy. But the first 79 pages are written like a novel, and the final 135 pages are written like a Fortune expose. If any section of the final 135 pages were written in Fortune, it would have been a fascinating story. However, 135 pages of it becomes mundane and repetitive.
The Airbnb Story overall was a good read. If you are like me, then you will enjoy the founders’ story in the first 79 pages. Take time to read those pages, because they help give context to how and why people use Airbnb and give an inside look at the struggles of building a company that has become such a success. Then put your reading into overdrive for the final 135 pages. If you skip a few pages, don’t worry, because it becomes repetitive and you won’t feel like you’ve lost your place.
I give 5 stars to the first 79 pages, and 2 stars to the final 135 pages. So I guess that means that The Airbnb Story: How three ordinary guys disrupted an industry, made billions … and created plenty of controversy is a 3 star book.