经济学人官方译文 | 爱彼迎的文化凝聚力和非同寻常的财务纪律另它卓尔不群



A different breed of unicorn

Airbnb's cohesive culture and unusual financial discipline mark it out

UNTIL recently “Uber envy” afflicted many top executives at Airbnb, a platform for booking overnight stays in other people’s homes. So admits a big investor in the firm. The two companies often raised money at the same time, and the ride-hailing giant reliably received more cash and closer attention. Uber is America’s most valuable private technology firm, with a valuation of close to $70bn at last count; Airbnb is still in second place with a value of around $30bn. But with Uber facing a series of setbacks, including allegations of intellectual-property theft, departures by senior executives and a consumer boycott, jealousy in Airbnb’s hallways has largely evaporated.
直到不久前,“优步嫉妒症”还困扰着短租民宿平台爱彼迎(Airbnb) 的许多高管。该公司的一个大投资者坦然承认自己也是如此。这两家公司经常在同一时间融资,而网约车巨头总是能融到更多资金、得到更密切的关注。优步是美国最有价值的私营科技公司,最新估值近700亿美元,爱彼迎仍然位居第二,估值约300亿美元。不过随着优步经受了一连串的挫折,包括窃取知识产权的指控、高管离职和消费者抵制等,爱彼迎公司内的嫉妒情绪已经基本消散了。

It helps that the firm is on a tear. Last year 80m people booked stays on Airbnb, double the number in 2015 (see chart). It now plans to expand into other bits of the market for accommodation, including luxury trips and business travel. New products, such as bespoke city tours, are in the works.

经济学人官方译文节选 | 爱彼迎的文化凝聚力和非同寻常的财务纪律另它卓尔不群

The firm’s ultimate aim is to evolve from being a platform for overnight stays into a comprehensive travel company, capturing an ever-greater share of tourists’ spending. In 2017 it may notch up as much as $2.8bn in sales, up by around 65% from a year earlier; forecasts suggest it could reach $8.5bn in revenues by 2020. An IPO may be in the offing, yet pitfalls also lie in wait. Chief among these is regulation, ensuring guests’ safety and, increasingly, the need to fend off rivals such as Priceline, a fearsomely efficient online travel-booking company.

Airbnb’s founders started as complete outsiders to the hospitality business and indeed, to commerce. Brian Chesky, its 35-year-old chief executive, had no previous business experience or technical expertise. Instead, he and one of his co-founders, Joe Gebbia, had studied design at Rhode Island School of Design before teaming up with a software engineer, Nathan Blecharczyk, to launch what was then called Air Bed and Breakfast, with the aim of renting out air mattresses in apartments. They were so untutored in investing that when an early adviser suggested raising money from small investors known as “angels”, Mr Chesky thought people in Silicon Valley believed in celestial beings.
爱彼迎的各位创始人一开始完全是酒店业的外行一一实际上他们和整个商业都全无接触。35岁的首席执行官布莱恩·切斯基(Brian Chesky) 之前没有任何商业经验技术专长。相反,他和另一个联合创始人乔·杰比亚(Joe Gebbia)是在罗德岛设计学院(Rhode Island School of Design) 学设计出身,后来与软件工程师内森·布莱卡斯亚克(Nathan Blecharczyk) 合作成立公司,当时叫作Air Bed and Breakfast, 目的是出租公寓里的充气床垫。他们几个人在投资方面一窍不通。早期,一个顾问建议通过被唤作“天使”的个人投资者融资时,切斯基还以为硅谷的人信奉各路天神。

Both Airbnb and Uber—America’s two most valuable “unicorns”, private startups worth over $1bn—operate platforms without owning the underlying rooms and cars that are being used; both take a cut from every transaction. Airbnb charges both guests (6-12% of total rental fees) and hosts (around 3% of their total earnings from the site). A particular feature of Airbnb’s model is that its rental listings are usually not available on the websites of any of its competitors, because hosts tend to be loyal. So while Uber is locked in a fierce competition with rivals in most markets for customers and drivers, and has chosen to subsidise journeys to avoid losing market share, Airbnb has no need to pay up to keep hosts and users.

Anattention to costs that is uncommon in the startup world is also paying off handsomely. In 2015 Airbnb hired as its chief financial officer Laurence Tosi, who had previously done the same job at Blackstone, a private-equity firm. Heis regarded as the adult supervision. Airbnb reportedly achieved profitability for the first time in the second half of 2016 and will make money in 2017. It has raised $3bn and spent only around $300m of it (Uber is said to have lost $2.8bn in 2016 alone).
关注成本在创业公司中不常见,爱彼迎却因此得到了可观的回报。2015年,爱彼迎聘请劳伦斯·托西(Laurence Tosi) 担任首席财务官。托西之前在私募股权公司黑石(Blackstone) 担任同一职务,人们认为他在爱彼迎扮演了成人监护的角色。据报道,爱彼迎在2016年下半年首次实现盈利,2017年将继续盈利。爱彼迎已融资30亿美元,仅花掉了3亿美元左右(据说优步单在2016年就亏损了28亿美元)。

Rental health

Airbnb’s founders were early to recognise the importance of a strong, benign culture. (Uber, meanwhile, is under fire for its hard-charging practices.) Until 2013 the founders interviewed every job applicant, and today anyone who is hired still has to pass a “core values” interview, where they are judged not on their CV but on how they fit into the firm’s sensibility. This ensures that people have a sense of mission, even if some of the firm’s peppy idealism sounds naive to jaded journalists. Asked whether Airbnb is a technology or a travel company, Vlad Loktev, its director of product, looks cautious. “We’re more of a community company,” he says.
爱彼迎的创始人很早就认识到强大、良性的企业文化的重要性。与此同时,优步正因其强硬的做派而遭到围攻。2013年前,爱彼迎的创始人会亲自面试每位求职者。时至今日,任何被聘用的人仍须通过“核心价值观”面试,这时看的就不是简历,而是他们能否顺应公司的理念。这确保员工负有使命感,尽管公司某些劲头十足的理想主义在饱经世故的记者听来太过天真。在被问到爱彼迎是科技公司还是旅游公司时,产品总监弗拉德·洛克特夫(Vlad Loktev) 态度谨慎,说道,“我们更像是一个社区公司。

What of the future? Given its financial results, Mr Chesky maintains that “we don’t need to raise any more money ever again.” But the hiring of Mr Tosi and the push for financial discipline suggests the firm does want to go public, perhaps as soon as 2018. If so, Airbnb would come under scrutiny as never before.

Investors note that, although at first the website attracted cost-conscious millennials looking for a more authentic travel experience, growth now depends on broadening its base. Business travellers are one target. Airbnb has made it easier for firms to place roving employees in hosts’ rooms instead of in hotels. It has set up partnerships with companies, such as Hyundai, a car maker,and Domino’s Pizza, a food chain, to make it easier to find rooms that are suitable for their employees, whose chief needs are wireless internet, a desk and 24-hour check-in. Employees from 250,000 companies now regularly book travel on Airbnb.
投资者注意到,虽然该网站最初吸引了想要省钱又寻求更真实的旅行体验的千禧一代,但现在的增长要取决于扩大用户基数。商务旅客便是其中一个目标用户群。爱彼迎已经创造了条件,让企业能更方便地把出差员工安置在短租房而非酒店里。爱彼迎和多家企业建立了合作伙伴关系,包括汽车制造商现代和食品连锁店达美乐披萨(Domino's pizza),方便它们找到适合员工住宿的房间(主要的需求是无线上网、办公桌,以及24小时登记入)。目前,来自25万家企业的员工出差都在爱彼迎预定住宿。

The firm also wants to appeal to wealthy globe-trotters. In February Airbnb bought a holiday rental site, Luxury Retreats, for around $300m. This brings it a portfolio of expensive properties, many of which are rented for thousands of dollars a night. Bringing in more of the mass market will meanwhile require regular additions of new, mid-range inventory. Airbnb must decide how much to favour quantity of listings, which will help it become an automatic place for people to look for accommodation, over quality.
爱彼迎还想吸引富裕的环球旅行者。2月,它花费约3亿美元收购了度假屋租赁网站Luxury Retreats。这使它在租屋列表上增加了一系列高档物业,其中有很多每晚租金高达数千美元。而要引入更多大众市场用户,就需要同时定期增加新的中档房源。房源增加可以让爱彼迎成为人们订房时的首选,而爱彼迎必须在量与质之间做出权衡。

Either way, the rivalry between Airbnb and hotels will surely intensify. An analysis by Morgan Stanley, a bank, suggests that the number of overnight stays in Airbnb accommodation will reach 6% of all hotel nights in America and Europe by 2018, up from 4% in 2016. The chief impact upon hotels so far has been to stop them raising rates. Airbnb brings a supply of available rooms to market whenever there is demand, a blow to hotels that used to be able to charge dizzying prices at peak times.

You can’t handle the roof

Lobbying by the hotel industry has contributed to Airbnb’s most obvious challenge, which is regulation. Opposition to the firm is fierce in many big cities, especially those with limited affordable housing, where residents blame Airbnb for taking apartments off the market. Several cities that could supply large profits, including Berlin, Barcelona and New York, have imposed rules that make offering short-term rentals difficult. New York, which is Airbnb’s third-largest market, has banned short-term rentals in apartment buildings for less than 30 days, unless a host is present. Berlin has passed a de facto ban, by requiring a permit if someone wants to rent more than half of their apartment on a short-term basis and levying hefty fines for violations.

Airbnb has now opted for a new, more conciliatory approach, notes Leigh Gallagher, author of a book, “The Airbnb Story”. In Amsterdam and London it has agreed to police its listings to ensure they comply with local laws on the number of days a year each unit can be rented. Yet many investors worry that more restrictive laws will dampen its prospects.
《爱彼迎的故事》(The Airbnb story) 一书的作者利咖拉格尔(Leigh Gallagher) 注意到,现在爱彼迎选择了一种更能安抚各方的新方法。在阿姆斯特丹和伦敦,爱彼迎已经同意对其预定列表中的房源进行监督,确保它们符合地方法律对每套房一年之内可出租天数的要求。然而,许多投资者担心越来越多的限制性法律会打击爱彼迎的前景。

A second, ever-present risk is safety. The platform functions because people trust that user photos and blind reviews will help root out bad actors. It faced a crisis in 2011 when Airbnb guests trashed a host’s apartment and she blogged about the experience. Airbnb responded by offering insurance to all hosts of up to $1m in damages. There remains the possibility of a dramatic breach in personal security, which could spook hosts and users.

The third threat is growing competition. Airbnb was not the first firm to pursue the concept of alternatives to hotels, but it was the first to become a global success. That has drawn the attention of others. In many markets, including China and Europe, Airbnb faces competition from local firms, as well as from established global players. In 2015 Expedia, an online-travel website, bought HomeAway, an Airbnb rival, for a hefty $3.9bn.
第三个威胁是日益激烈的竞争。爱彼迎不是第一家主打酒店替代概念的公司,但却是第一个在全球获得成功的此类公司,这引起了其他公司的注意。在包括中国和欧洲在内的许多市场,爱彼迎都面临来自当地企业及老牌全球公司的竞争。2015年,在线旅游网站亿客行(Expedia) 收购了爱彼迎的竞争对手HomeAway,收购价高达39亿美元。

But Airbnb’s most fearsome competitor is Priceline, which owns Booking.com and is considered one of the best-managed internet companies in the world. Priceline has been speedily adding alternative accommodation. Mr Chesky insists that “there is fundamentally not a lot of overlap between what they’re offering and what we’re offering”, because Priceline is working mostly with property-management companies that “look more like hotels”. But this will be less true over time. Priceline is too astute to let Airbnb win a category worth owning without a challenge.
旗下拥有缤客(Booking.com) 的priceline是爱彼迎最可怕的竞争对手,被认为是世界上管理水平最高的互联网公司之一。priceline一直在加快发展替代住宿业务。切斯基坚持认为“他们提供的产品与我们提供的产品在根本上并没有太多重叠”,因为priceline的主要合作对象是“看起来更像酒店”的物业管理公司。但未来这种情况会变化。以priceline之精明,它不会坐视爱彼迎轻易拿下一个值得占有的市场。

The travel industry is a large prize to share. Globally, people spend around $700bn a year on travel accommodation, according to Euromonitor International, a research firm. With rising incomes and smaller families globally, travel is ever more popular. Many more people than first thought have been willing to forgo hotel luxuries such as gyms and concierges to get the proper feel of a place. That suggests that alternative accommodation will not be a fringe activity for the young, but a mainstream part of the travel business.
旅游业是一块很大的蛋糕。研究公司欧睿国际(Euromonitor International) 的数据表明,全球每年的旅游住宿花费约为7000亿美元。随着各国收入增加和家庭规模缩小,旅游变得越发流行。很多人为了更好地体验当地生活,甘愿放弃酒店的健身房和礼宾服务等奢华享受,这是市场一开始没有预想到的。这表明,替代住宿不会是年轻人的边缘行为,而是旅游业的主流组成部分。

In any case, Airbnb’s aspirations do not end there. It has created an innovation and design lab, called Samara, with the ambition of creating a new kind of travel offering. Last autumn Airbnb started selling “experiences”, which are customised activities that travellers can book, including special meals, tours and exercise programmes, typically arranged by Airbnb hosts. Your correspondent booked a bicycle tour of San Francisco’s Mission neighbourhood. The tour was enjoyable and included a visit to a secret bookstore, Bolerium Books, where works are arranged not by author but by social movement. But for $100, excluding lunch, the price seems even steeper than San Francisco’s hills. There are plenty of other firms offering tours and things to do.
不过,爱彼迎的抱负并不止于此。它创建了一个名为萨马拉(Samara) 的创新设计实验室,想要创造新型旅游产品。去年秋天,爱彼迎开始销售“体验”,即向旅行者提供定制旅游产品,包括特色餐饮、观光和健身计划,通常由爱彼迎的房东安排。本文作者预订了旧金山Mission区的单车之旅。旅程很愉快,还去了一个不为人知的书店Bolerium Books, 那里的书按社会运动分类摆放,而不是按作者来分类。但是,费用是100美元,还不包括午餐,这价格似乎比旧金山的山丘还高。其他提供定制行程的公司也不在少数。

There have also been murmurs that Airbnb will move into flights. Finding online flight options for travellers is a painfully low-margin business. Companies like Priceline and Expedia make the bulk of their revenue from hotels. But that is not the model Airbnb wants to embrace anyway, says Mr Blecharczyk, who declines to share more details on what Airbnb’s approach to air travel might look like. “If we’re going to do something, we should try to do it differently,” he says.

It is possible that Airbnb’s best idea will be its first one. It will be up to the firm and one day, perhaps, to its public shareholders to decide whether it is worth pursuing new, ancillary opportunities, when there is still so much to win in the market for travel accommodation. In chasing after a new dream before the first one is realised, Airbnb does bear one resemblance to its Silicon Valley peers.