Are You a Market Mercenary or Missionary? Business Lessons From Airbnb

I’ve heard this paradox posed a couple of times. The first was when I was listening to a successful entrepreneur who used the paradox to describe the first half or more of his career where he was all about making money, and the second half of his career where he was giving of his wealth and wisdom to others out of the goodness of his heart. Recently, though, I heard Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, use the paradox to describe his and his company’s everyday choice: to either be on mission to “belong anywhere” or to make the Airbnb effort about making money.

Chesky has it right. Why? In the book, The Airbnb Story, it’s reported that Brian believes so deeply in the vision and mission of belonging anywhere that you can’t move him off center. Those who use Airbnb for their travel and boarding when doing so, swear their allegiance to the effort to make boarding while traveling more human. Employees at the company are expected to do the same and commit fully to this mission and become “hosty.”

The passion for the mission proved itself in arguably Airbnb’s most existential threat in the growth years of their business. One host had her home nearly destroyed by a set of guests who hid their motives when renting her home for a weekend. (This is one of the reasons investors were so skittish about putting money at risk with Airbnb; a significantly uncontrollable risk of bad actor hosts and/or guests.) When the news broke about the incident, it went viral and Airbnb had to respond. Chesky, known as a perpetual and tireless learner, sought advice from those he trusted, including his Board and several of his informal advisors. With one exception, the advice given was to not speak, don’t take responsibility, and “this is a risk each host takes when renting their property.”

This advice did not sit well with Chesky. It violated his beliefs and values, along with what he believed Airbnb was and did. He decided to unequivocally pay for the repairs to the home that was damaged and make-right the host’s situation. He also proposed implementing a $5,000 guarantee for all hosts whose homes were damaged by guests booking through Airbnb. When presenting this to his Board and advisors, only one advisor agreed, with one caveat: he added a zero to the $5,000 guarantee, making the guarantee $50,000! Chesky agreed and did exactly that against the council of many others.

Had Chesky been a mercenary in his young career, he likely would have listened to more risk averse or legal-biased advice, saving his best for later in life. But he didn’t. He’s chosen to be a missionary now for the benefit his customers, his fellow executives, his hosts, and his shareholders. The value of Airbnb in the market tells the rest of the story.

Are you mercenary or a missionary in your business?
What do you have to change in your life to adopt a missionary lifestyle, where your company mission becomes the driving force to improve humanity, it’s flourishing, and our communities?

Image: O’Reilly International.

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Dave Geenens

Dave Geenens is an Associate Professor and is the Assistant Director of the Thompson Center for Integrity in Finance and Economics in the School of Business at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. His over 30-years of executive experience in addition to his Bachelor’s Degree, MBA, and CPA license (inactive) add a realism to his research and teaching. Dave has written four books and speaks often on the integration of faith and work and the critical role Christian virtue plays in protecting free markets and liberty. Since Dave writes on multiple topics including investing and philanthropy, nothing in this article is to be construed as investment advice and any investment of any kind includes a risk of loss.