The story of one Airbnb user whose home was ransacked continues to play out in increasingly mainstream media. The victim, “EJ,” spoke pseudo-anonymously to USA Today and the San Francisco Chronicle, which both confirmed aspects of her story. She told Betabeat in an email that she’s been swamped with media requests and will have a statement later this week. TechCrunch also picked up a story of another Airbnb user who hosted a badly-behaved guest–this time with pictures.
Y Combinator founder Paul Graham took to the YC-administered forum Hacker News this weekend to defend Airbnb against accusations on TechCrunch and elsewhere: “I’ve just learned more about this situation, and it turns out Airbnb has been offering to fix it, from the very beginning,” he wrote. “From the beginning they offered to pay to get her a new place and new stuff, and do whatever else she wanted. The story Arrington wrote yesterday about Airbnb not offering to help was bullshit.” In another comment, he said “an angry mob” was upvoting any stories about the dust-up on Hacker News.
Airbnb has been something of a venture capitalist-darling with its remarkable story–co-founders couldn’t make rent, sold Obama-themed cereal during the election to bootstrap, etc.–and billion-dollar valuation. So it’s no surprise to see Boston-based Bijan Sabet blogged in Airbnb’s favor when the story first broke; locally, Charlie O’Donnell accused the media of fearmongering and comes off bullish on Airbnb, comparing it to horror stories about Craigslist or the consequences of blogging.
Notably the often discreet Fred Wilson, not an investor but a certified Airbnb megafan, has remained silent. When Betabeat interviewed USV’s Brad Burnham, he said he regretted passing on AirBnB:
Q: You always remember the ones that got away. Tell us about the startup you regret passing on the most.
A: That’s easy Airbnb. They fit our investment thesis perfectly – they are a network of engaged users differentiated by user experience and defensible through network effects. We invest in networks because they have the power to collapse inefficient intermediaries. We should have understood that Air B&B could do to the hotel industry what Craigslist did to the newspaper industry. Unfortunately, I let my personal biases dominate the analysis. Its been a long time since I couch surfed and I had lost touch with the population who finds it natural and convenient. In a way I am most disappointed because my squeamishness about crashing with a stranger reflects a loss of faith in our species. All of our investments celebrate and depend on human connection. I should have recognized that it is always more interesting to stay with someone who is a local that to stay in a hotel that feels exactly the same everywhere in the world. We were also very impressed with the scrappiness of the Joe and Brian. Bootstrapping their launch by selling cereal was brilliant. We keep a box of Obama O’s in our conference room to remind us that we are not necessarily the target customer.
In the context of recent events, Burnham’s squeamishness about renting from a stranger seems particularly prescient.