Celebratory biography of the upstart companies that regulators love to hate.
It was just eight years ago that Barack Obama was sworn into the presidency for his first term, a time of newborn hope in the heart of a grim depression. Enter an air mattress, a couple of smart youngsters, and the realization that unused guest rooms could be leveraged into extra bucks, and you have a new player in the service economy: Airbnb. You also have, writes Bloomberg News senior executive editor Stone (The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, 2013, etc.), a mess of controversy: housing costs go up, desirable neighborhoods get more crowded, hotels that pay their taxes go unfilled as guerrilla operators offer cheaper alternatives. In all this, there’s the new middleman, those smart youngsters. The same story plays out with the rise of Uber, which turns every driver into a potential cabbie. Stone charts the transformation of Silicon Valley since 2008, and he writes winningly of how people with good—commercially if not ethically—ideas can take them from inspiration to reality. In this aspect alone, the book makes highly useful reading for budding entrepreneurs, who should also take Stone’s point that the winners in this Darwinian struggle were the players who studied the market exhaustively to figure out just the right angle of entry. Granted, in this anecdotally driven account, there is also plenty to pepper the ire of anyone who’s not on board with the thought that a speculator, alive with realization of “lost utility,” can build a robust economy on the backs of others alone. And, as the author notes, these new Silicon Valley firms seem to represent “the overweening hubris of the techno-elite” as much as they represent a disruption of the service sector.
Despite patches of gee-whiz formulaic prose (“the Airbnb marketplace had the most incredible structural momentum that many of the company’s investors and executives had ever seen”), Stone’s account is illuminating reading for the business-minded.