The business started life in 2007 when co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia subsidised the rent they could not afford to pay on their San Francisco loft apartment by offering out the living room to lodgers. Over seven years later and the platform has now facilitated over 30m trips since inception (20m of which were in 2014) and has in excess of one million listings globally. As a mark of its potential, the business has also raised nearly $800m of venture capital investment to help fuel this growth.
Being a global-first business, growth around the world has been handled by country managers – those charged with leading the awareness push. At the head of UK effort since the beginning of 2015 is James McClure, someone who has experience in both working for a large technology company and handling a multi-region remit.
Prior to applying for the UK and Ireland country manager role on a whim after booking a weekend away using Airbnb, McClure ran Google’s emerging markets business in South East Asia. He spent eight years overseeing Google’s activities in places such as Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan before seeing his Airbnb move as a way of “coming home”.
When quizzed on why he wanted to join Airbnb, McClure drew an interesting comparison between his new and previous employers. “Airbnb is about promoting interactions with people, just using technology to do that – whereas people ask Google a question but never actually get to meet anyone,” he explained. “I found that quite an interesting difference in that both can be labelled as tech companies, but the way in which that manifests is quite different.”
Describing himself as a “passionate user” of Airbnb while working at Google, McClure went through a “rigorous” recruitment process involving the company’s founders and has now been given the task of leading the UK and Ireland.
Growth outside the US has arguably been more impressive than that inside, with Europe home to seven of the ten most popular Airbnb cities. With Paris sitting top of the tree, 60 per cent of nights stayed are in Europe, as are 58 per cent of listings.
Describing how he and Airbnb are going about building the company’s brand in a continent which has as diverse a set of cultures, attitudes and preconceptions as a meeting of the UN, McClure said: “It’s about thinking what people are after when they’re travelling. They’re interested in living like a local, visiting that great coffee shop round the corner or experiencing a different suburb.
“That’s a common trend whether you’re in the US, Germany, the UK or Australia. People’s experiences are what make a trip, so being able to meet someone who is from the place where you are helps.”
Picking on the UK, which has a track record for having people who are particularly guarded and private in nature, McClure emphasised that the concept is not that different to what has gone on before – only this time it has a tech overlay. “Everyone will have stayed at a friends or relatives place, or had someone to stay. Going back to the generation who had lodgers, it’s quite common. This is just about being able to do this at scale with trust, knowledge, conversations and using the internet.”
Airbnb underwent a dramatic rebranding in 2014, attracting attention and conversation that is still present nine months later. Employing the services of London-based creative house DesignStudio, the end result was Airbnb’s “Belo” logo. Devised as a logo that could be drawn by anyone, the tech firm ended up with a new website, mobile interface and business identify. Perhaps stemming from the fact that both Chesky and Gebbia were design graduates, indeed Airbnb started as an accommodation alternative for those that couldn’t find a hotel during the 2007 Industrial Design Conference in San Francisco, the business wanted an identify that didn’t need translating as it moved around the world.
“The fact that it is still being talked about nine months later shows the mileage we’ve got from it,” McClure added. “Thinking about where it’s had large benefits, when you’re expanding internationally in places such as Asia, where we have a big focus, having an iconic name and logo certainly helps. We’re happy with what it represents and have enjoyed the various discussions on what it may or may not look like.”
Read on to find out about Airbnb’s One Less Stranger campaign and see James McClure on camera discussing the sharing economy.
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