A fast-moving, well-researched account of the founding and surprising growth of home-sharing company Airbnb.
Fortune assistant managing editor Gallagher (The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving, 2013) tracks the founding of the company in 2007 by two 20-somethings who met at the Rhode Island School of Design and their friend, a software engineer, all of whom still remain in charge of a company now worth billions. The author has obviously spent hours interviewing all three principals, and she has a good sense for intriguing anecdotes, so the founders come compellingly to life for readers. She also brings to light the business lessons inherent in the struggles of the young company, from the founders’ decision to “just keep launching” to their publicity-generating scheme to stock hosts’ pantries with a cereal they christened “Obama O’s.” Gallagher follows their struggles through the company’s growing pains to their present decisions about a possible initial public offering and new services to promote growth. If the author is a little starry-eyed about CEO Brian Chesky—with his “near-pathological curiosity,” “intense focus,” and “fanatical belief in and devotion to what he sees as Airbnb’s higher purpose”—she doesn’t let her fondness color her understanding of the possible flaws in the company’s highhanded approach. She covers the disregard for zoning and safety regulations built into the structure of the business, the cases of racial discrimination experienced by potential guests, and the possible whitewashing of the fact that many Airbnb units are not personal residences but rather ungoverned hotels. While she generally comes out on the company’s side of these controversies, she also allows readers to reach their own conclusions.
A quick and instructive read for readers with a casual interest in this quickly changing company as well as those fascinated by the fates of startups.