Urban Innovation

Airbnb’s Brian Chesky: The Sharing Economy Isn’t Really A Disruption At All

June 30, 2014  • Mauro Whiteman, Aspen Institute College Journalism Scholar


JB Brian Chesky

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky doesn’t view his big idea as a radical disruption — in fact, he doesn’t like the term “disruption” at all — but rather a return to how people interacted in a time before big businesses and corporations. In conversation with at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival, Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program Fellow Jennifer Bradley, Chesky discussed his thoughts on the sharing economy and a return to how humans used to do business. “Maybe hotels disrupted what we were doing in the first place,” Chesky said. “People used to stay in homes. We didn’t invent that idea.”

But the sharing economy is not a side thing, Chesky said, comparing the rise of the sharing economy to the rise of the Internet. In its infancy, the Internet could have been considered a small exclusive industry that needed to be regulated, but that would have fundamentally changed society. “We do want to be regulated. We do want to play by the rules,” he said. “But we also think some of the rules that were written were written for the 20th Century, and now we’re in a 21st Century economy where people aren’t the same thing as corporations.”

Chesky shies away from the term “disruption” or “disruptor” because he believes those words — outside of Silicon Valley, especially — frames change negatively.“Outside of Silicon Valley, to be disruptive means you’re changing the way I live my life, and I actually kind of like my life,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game. I think for us to win, people don’t have to lose. And I think if we’re labeled as ‘disruptors’ outside of the valley where the term really matters, I think we are viewed as a company where suddenly the old guard has to lose.”

In many ways, the sharing economy is already here, and it is expanding into many new industries quickly, Chesky said. “The biggest asset in the world is not homes, it’s people’s time.”

The crowd’s favorite new industry to adopt the Airbnb model was not DogVacay, but rather Airpnp — “Yes, pee. So if you have to go to the bathroom, somebody can rent out their bathroom to you,” Chesky said.