I am slightly disturbed. I don't mind startups using Craigslist to market and heck, they might even be allowed to do this if they have an option on AirBnB to "market my property on my behalf" to just post the properties on CL every two weeks but what bothers me is this:
1) They explicitly violated the posters request to not receive "commercial" mail of any kind. This is basically the same thing as SPAMing. Would HN condone any type of unsolicited SPAM from a YC startup? I think not. The intent of the poster was to receive only credible inquiries from people interested in renting their property, not from competing services or people wanting to sell them on services, etc.
2) They tried to hide the fact that it was SPAM by using fake Gmail aliases and pretending to be normal folk just trying to help that vacation rental owner out. If you're going to push your service out there to people, be transparent about who you are and allow people to tell you to not contact them anymore.
I think startups are held to a looser standard and of course we all love to be "hustlers" but the idea that this behavior should be applauded regardless of it's ethnical nature seems wrong.
The analysis seemed to be from 2009, perhaps things are much different now.
What bothers me more is that Craigslist is one of the great Silicon Valley stories of something that grew from nothing (an email list that one person created). They weren't always big. Long ago they were a small, scrappy startup. It took years of perseverance, hard work and providing a useful service.
It's a story startups should aspire to. Instead AirBnb seems to get a pass because they are a YC company. I can't wait for irony to strike when another startup does this to AirBnb.
This. I used to think they were clever, but now we know they're such repellent scumbags willing to abuse public resources for private gain that it's actually a black mark against Y Combinator to have been partly responsible and holding dirty money.
Of course. Email is the main immediate worldwide communication medium that isn't under the arbitrary control of one private owner. Spam is an existential threat to that, which makes it pretty much unforgivable. It's the price of a free society (and here's where I try to remind myself that really is worthwhile) that we can't impose an http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/I/Internet-Death-Penalty.htm..., but if we had some legitimate way to pull the plug on these douches today I surely would.
How is spam an existential threat to email? Spam filters have gotten exceptionally good, to the point where I find it hard to believe that anyone using a decent filter receives enough true spam in their inbox to make them stop using email altogether.
It's hard to say. Microsoft can push out new products with splashy announcements, TV ads, etc. Similarly, they can afford to do "proper engineering" these days. But Microsoft as a startup, and as a growing company, was extremely unscrupulous. Likewise, the majority of the "scrappy" web startups cheat on their tech and cheat on their marketing, in the hope that they can find traction before they lose goodwill, and get profitable so that they can go back and fix the system before it blows up.
On a personal level this is very frustrating, because we like everyone we know to behave in a honest and straightforward fashion. But from a business standpoint there is a huge tradition of using some amount of misdirection to push new products to people. Parallels can be made with the animal kingdom and the use of camouflage, bright colors, and social interactions. Sometimes your business is in a position to strut your stuff, because you're the lion in the room. Other times you have to sneak around or be deceptive. Sometimes, fragile, trust-breaking tactics work - at least for a time.
In the end, the real condemnation for this behavior has to come from yourself, not from others. The market sees what is in front of it at the moment; it rarely knows the truth.
I agree. Likening this to spammers sending out millions of wholly untargeted emails is incorrect. These were extremely well-targeted communications likely sent out one-by-one by humans who had done some research.
I started my own company to get away from the do-anything-for-a-sale attitude of corporate america. I do not admire or respect AirBnb for this behavior. I don't care that it worked. I don't care if it was legal or not, it was dishonest. I know it's common, but it takes a fundamental lack of respect to lie directly to another human being.
I'll just continue to toil in obscurity; self-respect intact.
I didn't spam. I talked with customers before the product was even finished to make sure we were solving a real problem, to make sure they understood our marketing message, and to make sure we really understood the space.
This led naturally to a situation where I had paying beta customers, and even more customers who signed up and started paying as soon as we launched.
There's a fundamental difference between building a product that doesn't depend on others for its functioning, and a marketplace, where the core function is access to other users.
It is about impossible to get a marketplace going from a standing start. I've commented on it before elsewhere: picking off Craigslist users was always critical for Airbnb to get going. There are dozens of startups trying to build companies off the back of what Craigslist doesn't provide.
I'm sure the Airbnb guys probably started with the honest approach, realized it got them nothing but cease and desist notes, so switched to the craftier fake emails from girls interested in the well-being of vacation renters everywhere. I bet it felt icky at the time, but here they are. And "you know what's cool....?"
There are two-sided networks that have launched without spam, or deceit.
The standard approach would be to pick a city like NYC, and pound the pavement selling the site to every high-influence group you can possibly identify, do that to get a decent inventory built up and then launch with that inventory and start proving the model.
Then, pound the pavement in other high-influence cities, work to get inches in the media, do biz-dev deals with travel/vacation sites, get yourself interviewed on local radio and tv, find every possible way to insert AirBNB into the news stories of the day And frankly, with the real estate crash, there were a lot of possible ways to insert themselves into the news.
Or they could just spam craigslist.
That said, my big question continues to be 'did they disclose this behavior to their investors'.
I have not released the product I am building. I have been supporting myself doing contract work.
My bad experience came when I was the first employee (not founder) at a VC backed startup. I was originally a developer but was promoted to be the technical liason in sales. My job was to sell the incomplete product. We went back and forth between government and enterprise sales while I was there. The company is still around but is doing something completely different now.
In the interest of not burning any bridges, I'll only say that when we would bid on contracts, every vendor from big guys to the other pre-product startups were stretching the truth beyond what I consider simply being optimistic about delivery schedules and ROI.
So yes, I do know what I'm getting into. My plan this time is to build a product that has obvious value to the customer on day 1, and leave selling by 'hustle' to someone else.
I am not trying to be pedantic. In my experience there is an enormous difference between having a user and having a paying customer. They may be a user before they are a paying customer, but there is a very significant difference.
You agree not to post, email, or otherwise make available Content:
k) that constitutes or contains "affiliate marketing," "link referral code," "junk mail," "spam," "chain letters," "pyramid schemes," or unsolicited commercial advertisement;
l) that constitutes or contains any form of advertising or solicitation if: posted in areas of the craigslist sites which are not designated for such purposes; or emailed to craigslist users who have not indicated in writing that
it is ok to contact them about other services, products or commercial interests.
m) that includes links to commercial services or web sites, except as allowed in "services";
I wonder if Craigslist could legitimately sue Airbnb.
While it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's happening here, it takes a bit more than connecting the dots to make a legal case stick.
[EDIT] Just to be clear I'm certainly not a fan of this. It strikes me as unethical and a little low on the "sleazy marketer" scale. I don't however beleive that this is illegal unless you can somehow prove that JillSmith03@gmail.com is professionally connected to AirBnB, and that this was done under corporate directive.
It's actually very easy to prove, because the same email was sent from several different accounts: you go after AirBnB directly and shoot for discovery, get them under oath to answer whether they did this or not.
If you have ever been questioned under oath, you know how tough it is to lie (ping me offline for details).
No point in chasing the gmail accounts themselves, that would be a dead-end.
I doubt it. I worked at a company that aggregated job listings from Craigslist. We actually didn't do anything insidious; in fact, we served up their jobs with attribution and if the job was clicked, it would take the user to the Craigslist site. So basically we were feeding them extra traffic.
They sent a cease and desist relatively early on (not waiting until we got bigger).
It's likely that they didn't know and have either just sent them a cease and desist or AirBnb has chosen to ignore it.
this is correct - I've tried to reach out to CL ads to obtain early customers for a web app that would seem to solve their problem (and I'm very honest about it, saying it's our app), but it gets flagged as solicitation, with a note to post it elsewhere.
Is this something the the AirBnB guys would put on their YC app form if they were applying again? And then what would PG & co make of it? In fact, did pg know about this or encourage it in the first place?
Answers to these questions might be a good test of whether they should have done it or not.
Everyone's focused on the ethics here, but if this is indeed what AirBnB was doing, isn't it a massive (and repeated) violation of Federal laws on unsolicited emails (for one thing, you're required to identify yourself properly) and likely other rules as well? What this article alleges isn't just questionable marketing practices, it's potentially deceptive / illegal marketing.
Do you drive 66 MPH in a 65 MPH zone? This is hardly breaking the law. This would have been perfectly legal in CAN-SPAM if they added three things: an unsubscribe link, a physical mailing address, and mentioned it was an ad. It probably would have been even more effective.
If you want to stop spam, don't rely on bureaucratic processes to resolve it through legislation. Build a spam filter, or do some simple pattern recognition so you know that the same message sent 100 times isn't a legitimate inquiry to a posting.
No, unsolicited email is never legal, CAN-SPAM only allows you to send email to people you have a prior business relationship with e.g. they signed up for your service/mailing list. Someone who posted a property to Craigslist hardly fits the profile.
Clearly the unethical part of this discovery is that Airbnb used 'shell' gmail accounts to do their work. Instead they should have found a way to present themselves with honesty and integrity to future members.
What are the good reasons for Airbnb's success and valuation? Are there any stories about their actions that inspire both confidence and congratulations. (aside from their Obama O's and Capt'n McCain flash success).
> After harvesting email addresses (I only grabbed real email addresses, not anonymous craigslist addresses) I did one email blast to people that were advertising vacation rentals on craigslist...My results: 1,000+ vacation rental owners signed up and listed their properties on my test site.
He's missing a few steps...
How many email addresses did this dude harvest and blast to get 1,000+ people to sign up for his special vacation rental site?
What did the email say that he sent out?
Was he also sending them from throwaway gmail accounts?
What were his tactics?
This guy needs to follow up with more details. All he's shown is that at some point he posted 4 vacation rentals to Craigslist and he got 5 emails linking to AirBNB.
His findings rely on the fact that he got 1,000+ people to sign up their vacation rentals on his site after spamming some number of emails he admits to harvesting.
The "test" site he made (he's since edited it out), but google cached it http://bit.ly/iOPWi5 is www.mimbeo.com.
> "It's a no-brainer" said one of the founders. "We are offering owners and managers the same great service they receive from the pay-for-placement sites like VRBO & Homeaway. Not only that, but we broadcast our members listings to Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and more - and we do it all at no cost. We like to think of ourselves as the 'craigslist' of vacation rentals - with the added bonus that the listings do not expire - which is the main complaint we have heard from craigslist users."
Seems odd to go through all that for a weekend project "test" website. What's this guy's deal? This seems weird...
I'm sure that their attorneys have let them know that acknowledging that they sent out spam would expose them to massive damages under the CAN-SPAM laws. So AirBnB can't really acknowledge what they did and try and move on... financially, it would be ruinous for them. They are probably hoping that the controversy will blow over, until the statute of limitations expires at which point they can apologize and blame the previous regime.
> It never fails that I get at least 20 marketing emails a day from airbnb when I post a property on craigslist. I hope they do more of these PR stunts than filling up my inbox with unsolicited messages.
Is this 'grey' ? In the sense that it can be interpreted as 'shady' ? Hell yes. But is it "wrong" ? I don't think so.
I always thought that getting that first set of customers that will take you to product/market fit was going to be easy. What with the Twitterverse, Facebook and all and sundry. But let me tell you, from experience, it is DAMN HARD!
I guess the true test of whether or not this is 'unethical' is whether those people that signed up felt scammed after using the service.
If I were one of those people that got that email, sure I might feel a bit 'weird' that they presented themselves as 'Jill D' and not AirBnB, but after going through what I have been doing the last few weeks - trying to get customers - I can't say I would be upset.
"Is this 'grey' ? In the sense that it can be interpreted as 'shady' ? Hell yes. But is it "wrong" ? I don't think so."
I post a listing on Craigslist specifically saying it's not "ok for others to contact me about other services, products or commercial interests" (an option in Craigslist) and then a business tries to convince me to use their site using a disguise DESPITE clearly stating that I don't want to be contacted?
No, I'd say the true test of whether something is ethical or not is whether it violates rules and/or the choices of a user. Then again, I'm the type that actually wants businesses to respect my decision.
But wouldn't you say that's a bit unreasonable given that if you listed your apartment/house for rental on Craigslist - it can be safe to assume that you are interested in renting your house/apartment, no ?
I think every 'savvy' user always checks those boxes, but if there is an option that allows you to actually fulfill your original intent - i.e. you got no hits on Craigslist, but with AirBnB you have tons of requests and make a ton of money, wasn't that a win/win - even though they used a 'grey' tactic to reach you.
You say you don't want to be contacted, but that's to protect you from emails from the Nigerian prince and the blatantly obvious annoying spam. But things that are targeted at you, and can add value - I think it would be safe to say it makes sense in those cases.
This is spam pure and simple the seller can't decide their product is so in line with what you need that they can spam you. Who is then the judge of what is spam. Contacting user that haven't specified they don't want to be contacted by commercial interest is OK, but not someone who said no.
This is probably why the post is only interesting now (after a huge valuation).
I expect lots of the CL folks were perfectly happy to list their places on AirBnB and so far I've not heard complaints from users about they were approached (although I've not been looking for them either).
It is both "wrong" and WRONG: if you have to fake the real fans and the real efficiency of your startup, no matter how good your idea you think it is, it's just a bubble. Your startup sux, big time. As did and does Microsoft's (someone mentioned MS took quite the same savage approach when they launched).
I lead a group of guys trying make money online with the rental business, so they can travel.
Each one is responsible for an area and it's hard to get new owners and apartments, believe me, but we never resorted to spamming.
Instead we contact the Owners directly and openly, then we go to meet them personally and see the apartments, when possible.
This way is much slower, but at the end we have much better listings for our customers.
We'll never be a billion dollars company of course.
I do not want to argue if this type of stuff is good or bad. But I do want to point out to you all that list of tech gods is full of similar stories. Off the top of my head:
MySpace started out purely through spam...Tim Ferris started out in online supplement sales...People complained about Plaxo doing black hat stuff... they sold ok. People complained about Zynga ripping off other games and about breaking every Facebook platform rule there was... look at Mark Pincus now. People complained about Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg stealing their idea... he does not care.
i think people would have a much different view if this wasn't airbnb and was a less reputable company. The things described in the post definitely constitute as spam and violate CAN-SPAM...but these types of tactics do work (if they didn't we wouldn't have spammers) and there wasn't anything malicious about it.
There's no such thing as a generic investor. Every investor is different, with unique values and tolerances.
Some investors would reward this; many would encourage it. It depends on why they are investors, right? Those looking for a significant return would take a fairly hard-lined "and the problem is?" position.
Of course it's blackhat. They're sending unsolicited, automated spam to people who explicitly stated that they didn't want emails regarding commercial interests. There is a big difference between advertising and spam.
I think it counts as "blackhat", but I'm not really outraged. To me, its equivalent to cruising the singles section of Craigslist and responding as a sock puppet recommending a particular dating site. Not a huge deal, but its not 100% above board either.
When someone says "Craigslist spam!", is the first you think of a) spam posted to craigslist as listings, or b) emails advertising something (surreptitiously) to people that have listed their property on craigslist?
Not that the latter isn't "spam" of a sort, but it doesn't feel quite like "craigslist spam".
Why doesn't and didn't craigslist check for the almost identical emails if they are going through their servers? They could likely dig them out if they keep archives by searching on airbnb, nicest, largest, page, views. Airbnb have the funds now to cough up.
Probably for safe-harbor laws. As soon as they start inspecting things for content instead of server abuse, they are then way more involved and become liable for a lot more shit. They already got a lot of heat from their adult services section, they don't need any more. It's the same reason banks do not want to know what is in your safe deposit box, even if it's mundane.
I hear you, however this is a competitive issue. It's an offense to craigslist by airbnb on craigslist, not an offence from person A to person B via craiglist. I suppose the first issue to look at is whether harvesting and then spam is against the terms of service. The content of those emails isn't genuine, Jill and Sarah aren't real people, they cannot judge the beauty of the properties they proclaim to have seen. It wouldn't be completely Winklevossing for craiglist to be pissed off.
If they turked each property one-by-one, I think that might be fair game.
Blackhat or not, this is a great example of how there are very viable alternatives to SEO in terms of internet marketing. The ever changing rules and laws of search engines unfortunately make or break a vast majority of online businesses.
For the record, I don't think this is that bad of a thing. If all of this is actually true (I'm not 100% sure it is), then it's certainly not on the level "actual spammers" perform at. Spam is basically unwanted and harmful advertising, and nobody complains when someone gets e-mailed an actual useful relevant thing out of nowhere. If the thing you're being e-mailed is more relevant than the ads GMail is showing you then I'm not sure you have a right to complain too much. Sure it may feel slightly off, but calling them "completely unethical" is going slightly too far.
"Some very famous investors have alluded to the fact that they look for a dangerous streak in the entrepreneurs they invest in…and while those investors will never come out and tell you what they mean, this kind of thing is probably what they mean."
Eg, be naughty, not evil. Whether they crossed the line or not, dunno. It's a far cry from Microsoft intentionally leveraging their OS monopoly to destroy companies and corner industries back in the day.
In Startups Open Sourced, he says Airbnb "tried everything" but he says that press is the single best source of their growth. Having the happy customers came in second, but would be interested to hear if this helped them much. It's hard to believe that Craigslist is the reason why they'd be so successful when the product is so easy to spread by word of mouth and press.
Nobody here knows how much of Airbnb's growth is driven by Craigslist, it's purely speculative. Until Airbnb confirms, you'll never know but you'd have to be naive to believe that you can build a company up to $1 billion by firing off a bunch of emails. Nobody here has even suggested the possibility that "Airbnb became a billion dollar company" by suggesting how many Craigslist rentals are posted each day, along with a standardized conversion rate.
I'm surprised to see how negative the comments are on this. This is like Yelp paying people to write reviews. Shady? Sure. Illegal? The only part of the CAN-SPAM Act Airbnb broke was (1) not including a physical mailing address, (2) not mentioning it was an ad, and (3) not including an unsubscrive link. Otherwise, CAN-SPAM is laughable at best. It's hardly enforced. Don't expect Craigslist to come at Airbnb with a lawsuit, it'd probably not hold up in court.
I see this instead as one of Airbnb's many tactics to try and reach out to users. If you look at this logically, they've been covered by the press a lot. The amount of growth they might (or might not) have reached doing this would hail in comparison to how much they obtained by press and simple product and customer development.
It's true. It's the difference between 'hustle' and 'hustler'. I think most confuse 'hustling' in the sports sense, with 'being a hustler' in the black-market sales sense.
I think Fred Wilson's quote is referencing entrepreneurs who 'hustle' and try very hard/use alot of energy in the sports analogy --- and NOT entrepreneurs who are 'hustlers' and use shady means to fulfill their needs.
A state law cannot pre-empt a federal law; when a federal law and a state law are in conflict, the federal law takes precedence over the state law. (U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2.) Notably, the CAN-SPAM Act expressly pre-empts any state law that "expressly regulates the use of electronic mail to send commercial messages, except to the extent that any such statute, regulation, or rule prohibits falsity or deception in any portion of a commercial electronic mail message or information attached thereto" (15 USC 7707). (So, a CA law against fraudulent email would survive pre-emption by CAN-SPAM, but a CA law against simple bulk spamming would be pre-empted by the federal law.)
I think you misunderstood my comment. It is legally impossible for a state law to pre-empt a valid federal law. However a state law may, in certain situations, enact additional regulations on types of conduct already covered by federal law.
Man oh man, there are a lot of (very bad) armchair lawyers on HN.
You might consider AirBnB's actions unethical, but they certainly aren't illegal - which would be obvious to anyone who bothered reading the CAN-SPAM wikipedia page. It's not illegal to violate Craigslist's TOS, and AFAICT the "spam" messages were sent from a legitimate Gmail account.
For those of you claiming "I'd rather be poor than violate craigslist's terms of service": Bullshit.
They most certainly are illegal. They are unsolicited advertising (which is fine under CAN-SPAM, sadly), and contain none of the requirements of CAN-SPAM - a legitimate business address, and a clear unsubscribe link.
Just because they come from gmail accounts does not exempt AirBnB from the law.
I hadnt heard about anything like this from the airbnb folks, but I do know they have had successful advertising campaigns since over a year ago. So the basic premise of this article, that their growth source is a big mystery, is false.
Interesting amount of negative feelings towards AirBnB, and as a disclaimer I am a big proponent of "Do, and ask for forgiveness". This is what startups are all about, using available resources to their advantage and getting out their and hustling (even if it involves bending the rules a bit). Obviously rental owners (their target) were not to upset about being told of another resource to list their site on otherwise they would not have continued this approach. I can see where some of you are coming from in feeling violated/disturbed by this but given that a.) it appears to have worked b.) they informed users of something they wanted c.) no one complained (until now). I this that it was a very effective/creative way to solve their supply problem and it obviously worked.
The method seems risky at first, but when you think about the risk and how they solved the problem, it is perfectly acceptable.
To catch danger from unsolicited email (from the end recipient), the mail must first be reported. A complaint must be made. If the recipient doesn't report it, there is no action taken. Most of the time, it doesn't take but a few reports and then there are people digging into the scheme trying to figure out who is abusing the end users. This is because most people sending unsolicited email are not able to directly target their market. Viagra spammers have to send out boat loads of messages just to hit their market of old men with erectile disfunction who are too embarrassed to get the pills through traditional means AND not web savvy enough to realize that giving out their credit card information to a fly by night company selling drugs isn't the smartest idea.
Simply put - if you can directly target your market AND you have something that is game changing to those people - eg a superior product / experience / service compared to their current business efforts, you won't get flagged for spam. They'll check out your site, think it's the greatest, and become your customer because you make them money.
The problem for AirBnB was that Craigslist has evolved to try and prevent unsolicited mail of all kind - because most people or companies are NOT able to hit the sweet spot where they are sure that what they have to offer is exactly what the recipient wants, but doesn't know it until the email is received.
Having interns, family, friends, or other people who are genuinely excited about your business send email recommending it to exactly who will want it, without revealing their relationship to the business, is an acceptable, if temporary solution.
But you only need to build momentum, because if your product is amazing, the recipients of the previously unsolicited email will do all the word of mouth marketing for you.
So before you go and try and repeat this alleged successful route, make sure you have all the pieces to the puzzle before giving the mission a green light.
[cite: personal past experience at an ESP watching and doing the digging in resolving spam/fraud complaints]
The value of X, for any X at all, is what someone else is willing to pay for it. That is how markets work. Any kind of market. And it works for everything from pricing apples to pieces of art to companies.
If people are willing to pay $1 billion for your company, it is a billion dollar company. If nobody is willing to pay you a dime for it, it is worth nothing. Your revenue is an input factor into what people are willing to pay, but doesn't determine the price.
If you study financial theory, the theoretically correct price for a company is the "expected present value of future revenue". Meaning that if you look at all future revenue that it should ever make, divide that revenue by a discount factor for the fact that a dollar tomorrow is not worth a dollar today (and further discounts for risk), that number should be the present value of the company.
So a company with little revenue and good growth prospects may be worth much more than a company with great revenue which is going off of a cliff. It is worth this both in practice and in theory. And anyone who says otherwise simply doesn't understand how to value companies.
Note that in practice, in illiquid markets (which stock in privately held companies always is) the variance of market value from the theoretical relationship becomes wider. We still price companies based on what someone, somewhere, was willing to invest in it. We do that because someone educated people, who is paid to get this right, with possession of more facts than we probably are, decided that this was a reasonable price after doing research. They may be wrong, but the last price paid is the best market indicator of the value of the company.
All this is true, but has no bearing on the common use of language. When a trader refers to Acme corporation as an $N company, he is indicating that $N is its annual revenue, not its market capitalization.
The other common usage that I've seen is to refer to a company as being worth X billion a year. In that usage the a year bit is not dropped, because dropping it would introduce confusion with the first common usage.
I have no horse in this race, but $x billion company has traditionally referred to revenues. The usage of "___ company" to mean valuation is new (last five years), rare among traditional press outlets, and overrepresented among the startup/Silicon Valley crowd. The idiom may be changing in meaning, but if so, it's in the early stages.
I do understand what you're saying. However, the fact that AAPL shares are more liquid than AirBnB shares makes a difference to the way I think about valuations. APPL could be up or down tomorrow based on the example you just described but the same won't be true of AirBnB. If they IPO'd tomorrow, would they get a valuation of $1B? I don't know.
I'm not disagreeing with the definition. I'm trying to point out that even though the maths might be the same, I see a difference between startup valuations (based on funding rounds) and market caps (shares * share-price) of listed companies.
AirBnB has a history of clever and aggressive PR, and this title is probably deliberate in that regard.
The first three google results for "billion dollar company" all refer to companies with billions in revenue.
According to Google and every economics class I ever took, people assume it refers to revenue. In common vernacular, "billion dollar company" means a company that actually generated a billion dollars in revenue, not speculative investment.
I mean come on... why is it fair to refer to AirBnB as a billion dollar company when there are actually companies generating a billion in revenue?
These types of messages definitely appear to fit the CAN-SPAM Act, which covers "any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service".
Airbnb may be spending that $100M sooner than they thought: "Each separate email in violation of the law is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, and more than one person may be held responsible for violations. For example, both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that originated the message may be legally responsible."
Nobody will ever be able to legally prove the gmail accounts were created for and by AirBnB. Actually, I don't think those accounts were created by AirBnB guys, but by a third party, for AirBnB use.
Ad extremis, the AirBnB founders might as well plead they never knew what was the exact method this third party will use to generate traffic and users.
Nobody? Get the IP addresses that access those accounts from GMail. You're going to find them all coming from one IP or a small number of American IP addresses. Ask the ISPs who they are. Job done, culprit found.
You think they'll be using anonymous proxies or something? I doubt it.
Whether or not it's wrong or right doesn't matter.. what matters is are there consequences? If not, then the guys at AirBnB probably could care less, and are laughing and enjoying cocktails in rooftop bars while the rest of us are toiling away at jobs...
Remember, we only got 1 life to live.. think about it. Arguing right or wrong makes little sense
Do you know what else is scummy? Writing a smear webpage about a competitor complete with intrigue involving leet "black hat software" and linking that page to your for-profit clone (mimbeo.com). For all we know this dude falsified the AirBnB e-mails himself just to make them look bad.
The author already claims he has access to professional spamming tools. All he has to do is spam people on craigslist pretending to be AirBnB in a way that can't be traceable to AirBnB. Then he writes an article complaining about AirBnB and asks "why would they hide behind shady tactics?"
You get maximum impact if you wait two years and post when your competitor gets really big so everything is forgotten and really untraceable.
Your comment is ridiculous. Can you really imagine someone making a two and a half year plan to set a competitor up like that? And in the meantime you're giving the competitor customers like crazy? Pull the other one.
Sounds like a lot of people on here are jealous. Obviously they weren't being ethical, but I think just about every popular web startup does what they need to do to solve the chicken and the egg problem. I think every single dating site puts up fake profiles, sends fake msgs, winks and flirts to get started.
I love this. Being scrappy is one of the best qualities among entrepreneurs. The attitude of "do anything" to succeed usually results in success not to mention it is one of the characteristics that PG looks for in founders.
I agree - maybe I'm just drinking the YC gatorade here, but to me it shows scrappiness and dedication and does not seem especially immoral. Who did it hurt? For the people who were annoyed by the spam, it took 30 seconds out of their life to read and delete the email. For the ones who went ahead and posted their rental on airbnb, it probably led to more business plus the added benefit of getting to use airbnb's elegant interface instead of trying to keep track of dozens of craigslist emails. The only money that airbnb made from this lie was by finding people additional renters for their homes, which seems like an everybody wins scenario.
If it was outright illegal then they'll have to face the repercussions of that, but I doubt they'll lose much sleep feeling bad about what they've done.
Have you been on craigslist? I fully expect to be spammed about anything I post on the site, it seems like a natural price to pay for being able to get the attention of hundreds of interested buyers instantly. And at least in this case the spam was a useful offer that was in line with what the posters were trying to do anyway.