Based on EJ's description of AirBnB customer service, and the 2,000,000 bookings the founders cited earlier today, we'd be fools to think this was the first time someone broke the law using AirBnB -- I'm guessing the others just gave up on support after being ignored, and focused on talking to the police.
The real black eye here is the kind of support EJ received before she wrote her blog post -- most people can't write that well and don't have readers who will submit the story to HN.
In the comments to the other story, people kept talking about how it is safe to rent using AirBnB. If the owner here had been less understanding, I'm guessing you would have at least spent the night in jail (assuming you speak German and everything else went well).
Someone who was not the real owner of the apartment (presumably thief/criminal) put the place up on AirBnB. You unknowingly rented the place from this person, and during your stay, the real owner showed up and asked what you were doing in his house?
In practice, most Berlin landlords won't ever notice their flat being occasionally sublet to tourists by the tenant, but they will probably not be too happy when they notice.
From when I lived in Berlin it seemed subletting rental apartments wasn't uncommon. Subletting where you live has been common practice in Germany for a long time predating the rise of AirBnB, etc. Typically on classified ad sites or through specialist agencies. I've seen stores like yours before from a few years back discussed on toytown (an expat forum for people living in germany), so it's not just an AirBnB thing.
I tried to contact ABnB, to find alternative place for me and nothing. No reply or anything that day, even though it was office hours. Really abysmal customer service. I'd hate to think if it was a more serious case...
It was a hot summer day, we had the door open to get a cool breeze going and hadn't noticed the apartment manager fixing some lamps in the hallway. Suddenly he pops his head in, surprised to see a bunch of folks he'd never seen before instead of the tenant and asks "Are you the tenants? If you are staying here, I need your name on the lease!".
Turns out our landlady wasn't supposed to sublet in the first place and hadn't told the manager about it (she had always paid the rent though). Fortunately, the situation could be rectified and we could stay for the rest of the summer as subtenants.
We figured the manager was cool with us when he realized we were behaving well (in contrast to some of the deadbeats in the complex like the dude next door who scammed one of our guys out of a hundred bucks, or the lady across the hallway who had just gotten out of jail and whose nutjob sister would yell around for hours threatening to call the police when she wouldn't open the door for her).
They don't have a 24 hour hotline? Crazy. Hotels do. Seems like this would be something worth spending the money on.
Handling this situation should be a top priority for AirBnB. There's the potential that the mainstream media could have a field day with this. The incident will undoubtedly be part of the hotel lobbyists' list of reasons AirBnB should be made illegal. And if the investigation reveals that they were cooking drugs in the place, that's even more damning.
It's disappointing to see this happen to one of the most interesting startups as of late, and I hope they turn around their attitude for the better. This is already really damaging, but it could be way worse if things don't change.
In any case I wasn't taking a position (I simply do not know enough to do so), rather I wanted to provide some balance to the assertion that they spam which was stated as if it was absolute fact.
EDIT: took EJ off the parenthesized list of victims, as she was not the victim of a contractor.
1. Whether there was an ongoing culture of doing the wrong thing - NotW yes, AirBnb not so much (afaik).
2. Whether there is an indication that the defence is actually completely false (i.e. whether the guys in charge actually did know and sanction these things) - again there are some strong indications that this was the case at the NotW, especially if you take the culture into account (i.e. - how did that culture come about if there wasn't some degree of either asking for hacking to be performed or not wanting to know whether it was - both equally worthy of blame). Again AirBnB - not so much.
3. And of course, scale, though I didn't mean to criticise that particular difference.
The victims might not care about the finer points, but in terms of determining who is to blame it does matter. Obviously there is the point that employees are the responsibility of the company, however if they do something the employer was not aware of then that seems to me to be a sort of technicality.
Anyway, getting into  territory now so should probably just leave it at that :)
When you're first starting off a company, anything you do is your company culture.
UPDATE: Deleted. Sheesh. I know it was a meta-point, but legitimate - downvoting for trying to actually provide balance? I think it's worth calling that out.
Instead AirBnB stuck their heads in the sand and ignored it until it went viral. Bad, bad sign. Which new company-breaking disaster is going to be ignored next?
It's on the front page of the Financial Times today (Friday 29 July) in London. The article is fairly short, is based on the original blog post and the reaction to that, and it also talks about AirBnB's finances (as is appropriate for that newspaper).
It's below the fold - the headline is about US government debt. But still.
Part of the issue is that young fast-growth CEOs don't major on empathy, typically. It's somewhat contrary to the necessities of the job. These co-founders have absolutely no concept of how this woman feels, or if they do, they have determined that they won't let her know about it. The best thing say Paul Graham could do would be to hire them a crisis management coach, stat.
While the co-founders are reportedly worrying a bit about valuation right now, they could (and should) be turning this into an amazing PR story; massively over-compensating her, setting up a Lloyds-based insurance coverage program, appearing on something like Oprah to talk over how it felt, and what we can all do as we're moving into this awesome social-based home sharing..
I know that people were doubting the veracity of the story in the first place, but I think the initial AirBnB PR statement laid that to rest. At this point, what would EJ gain by lying? Anything that's a blatant lie could just be replied with by "Nope" by AirBnB, and she could only hurt her case by lying about anything right now.
Honestly, after what appears to be a month with no help, no reply, no customer service, veiled threats, and an offer to "get a cup of coffee"...I'm honestly surprised this essay isn't more vitriolic.
> what would EJ gain by lying?
AirBnB has the potential to become very disruptive for the whole hostel industry. This means that there are people, some of them with deep pockets, some of them less than honest, and some of them both, who really want them to fail.
What's AirBnB's main challenge? It needs people to trust each other, in a society which promotes mistrust. The easiest way to destroy them is to prevent this trust from being created and maintained. If you wanted to destroy them in a shady way, your best bet would be to create a smear campaign based on a traumatizing violation, exactly such as what allegedly happened to this woman.
Moreover, if you were to create such a smear campaign, your best bet wouldn't be to have an accomplice playing the victim: it would be to choose a perfect genuine victim (likable, vocal, blogging, emotionally sensitive, and with good writing skills), and send real thugs actually destroy her home in the most traumatizing way, including psychopathic "nice" e-mails sent while wrecking the place havoc.
At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter who caused what to happen to this woman, does it? AirBnB have obviously given credence to the basic tenants of her story (she is a person, she used AirBnB, she was ransacked), that is enough. The only thing that matters after that is the way they handled the situation.
I only said that if one wants to destroy them in possibly illegal ways, making such an event occur looks like an excellent move.
Bonus point, from the attacker's point of view, if AirBnB reacts inappropriately of course. But even if they had been faultless, people would still have remembered this story every time they considered renting their home. Notice that the focus is on the emotional harm rather than the financial one, i.e. the one AirBnB cannot fix even if they want to.
I don't think EJ gives a flying monkey's back side about how "disruptive" AirBnb is, or has spent any time thinking about how her story would impact their financing and business model. Because, really, who thinks like that?
I'm not going to defend AirBNB but I do have to say that I have an incredibly hard time identifying with this woman's writing.
Ultimately, some tweakers trashed her apartment and stole her stuff. Is that a bummer? Of course. If that happened to me, would I be angry, furious? Absolutely. Would I change the locks, clean up, and lawyer up on AirBNB? I guarantee it.
But the sheer levels of emotion she's experiencing over an event where, basically, her stuff got trashed, suggests to me that she probably had so many emotional stability issues to begin with that she shouldn't have been participating in something where "strangers trash your apartment" is obviously at risk of happening.
Being traumatized by someone violating your home, privacy, and personal life is not evidence of "emotional stability issues", it's a perfectly natural and common reaction.
I think you're seriously overestimating the extent to which everyone else in the world's mind works just like yours. You may be too cool and rational to get upset at this experience (or think you are, at least), but that doesn't mean everyone else is--or should be.
An inability to return to the place due to panic (five weeks after the incident, no less)... lying in a fetal position outside the door.. these are not the actions of a well-balanced person who is in a difficult emotional state due to circumstances. These are the actions of someone who really needs some serious help.
What's not the action of a well-balanced person is telling her or anyone else how they should feel in response to traumatic events. There are many, many people--men as well as women, so you can't write this off as some kind of weak-minded feminine hysteria--who are mugged, for example, and consequently develop serious neuroses that take them years to overcome. A former school mate of mine, an ex-special-forces martial arts bad-ass who you'd think would be fearless, had that happen to him and could barely get himself to leave his apartment for an entire year. That kind of response isn't based on a calm and rational risk assessment, but that doesn't make it any less genuine and deeply felt. Sufferers are often aware on a conscious rational level that they're overreacting, but that doesn't make the problem magically vanish.
1) They are furnished with the basics and that's it. No valuables and nothing that can not be easily replaced.
2) The owner or an employed managing agent interacted with us (either at the apartment or when we fetched the keys) when we arrived and left.
3) They had insurance in place and 80% of the time when I signed for the apartment I was also signing my own liability.
If you are prepared to rent out a fully furnished (and in this case full of valuables) apartment to strangers you need to be prepared for the potential massive downside. 99% of your guests may be hassle free but it just takes that 1% to wipe out any financial upside and even then they may not even do it on purpose - accidents can and do happen.
Original blog post:
HN submission of that blog post for discussion:
ADDED IN EDIT: Clearly this is contentious - it went up to two points, now as I write this it's down to zero, and who knows where it will go next.
Yes, I agree, sometimes TechCrunch adds information, but I claim that in this case it doesn't. Further, I claim that by reading only the excerpts they include, you are not being given the whole picture as written by the blog author. The post is well-written and well-crafted - providing summary excerpts does not give the full impact or the full situation.
And, given that the crunchy bits don't actually add anything, let me quote from http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html where it says:
Please submit the original source. If a blog post
reports on something they found on another site,
submit the latter.
The important details are in the news cycle itself:
1) EJ post tops the HN front page
2) HuffPo-owned TechCrunch reblogs it
3) TC posts a defense from an AirBnB cofounder
4) EJ posts a "still no help from AirBnB" followup
5) TC reblogs that as well in an attempt to cover both sides of the story
Their whole business model pretty much is built on the fact that things like this will happen. A lot.
If they truly expected these types of incidents to happen a lot, they would require more information from people (to be able to trace and hold visitors accountable) and have some sort of legalese to ensure that they would never be held liable.
Seems like we are all still waiting for the "good news" ending to this tale.
I don't know what they're expecting but I'm hard-pressed to think of what they could do worse, short of joking about it on twitter.
Edit: Holy god, I didn't realize the actual timeframe of this was five weeks. AirBnB is going to have to crucify someone for a "bad judgement call" in terms of the sudden Customer Service cutoff if they want to have any positive spin coming off of this, I think.
Also, props to this brave lady for the point-by-point shutdown of their PR statement. I don't know many people who would have the guts to stand up to a company, especially after what she's been through, both from the original incident and AirBnB's response after her initial blog post.
(That the victim portrays it that way suggests they may have had better rapport with the original CS liason. Perhaps that person included more social/emotional niceties in more frequent communications. Not everyone is as good at the sort of 'inquiry into my current emotional state' that this victim might find comforting.)
Heck, if the original CS rep had good rapport, maybe the right response would be to keep him/her as the main contact person, but escalate the CS rep into more of a personal representative of the founders, with more authority to provide assistance, and a direct line to keep them updated. Of course, that's a guess with hindsight.
Yeah, I get it, the business is his baby. But it's just a business, and it's just ruined someone's life for who-knows how long. Get your priorities straight. The business is just effort and money, it's not worth doing this kind of damage to other people, not even 1.
But EJ is a person who is still, by her own descriptions, hurt and angry. She's paraphrasing many communications down to just the excerpts that explain her feelings.
It's easy for misunderstandings to multiply. A recent less-emotional example was the Steve Yegge speech. He thought he said he was resigning from a project, based on context and word choice many thought he was resigning from Google.
If communicating over email and the phone with a person you've never met, who's still emotionally suffering, the potentials for hurtful misunderstandings are much higher.
You might say things that you think are reassuring/hopeful, that instead sound indifferent. When you ask, "are you OK and do you have a place to stay?", and get an answer like, "I'm set for the next few days and then have other friends to talk to", you might think things are settled, where the answerer is really just putting on a strong facade. If you close with, "contact us if you need anything else", you might think you've left an open door for all other needs, and will hear if there are any, when in fact she needs and expects more check-ins about her well-being. And so forth.
It's wrong to condemn someone's tone based on the accounts of one aggrieved side of the communication.
I wonder what pg thinks about this.
I'm just guessing, but it seems likely Airbnb see themselves as "underdogs, displacing the hotel industry". The fact that they care so much how EJ phrased her post after her home was completely destroyed (look around you right now --- imagine all of that being gone and never coming back) indicates they have an ego to match. So no, pg can't help them, and no one else can either. It's up to them to fix or break their billion-dollar company.
Yeah this is their biggest problem here they seem to have no crisis plan at all. Nothing.
Note: i feel terrible for the Airbnb folks. I hope they get out of this mess.
This is their first significant black eye (the Craigslist stuff was far more limited in its audience reach), and has the potential to derail a company that's only 2 years old. Of course they're going to be responding emotionally, and unfortunately that means perhaps doing too much or doing the wrong thing (like suggesting to meet for coffee without asking how EJ is coping).
Now, that emotional involvement with the business is considerably less than the emotion of coming home to discover your house has been ransacked, so I'm not trying to compare. I'm just observing that Airbnb's response (for better or worse) is not devoid of emotional triggers either. I do hope EJ is receiving the support she needs and am sure she will get through this. I similarly hope the ongoing support the Airbnb founders are receiving recognises the feelings element of running a large business through the prism of their emotional attachment.
down-voting is a community moderation tool, to be used on comments that are off-topic, trolling, spam, etc.
The article in question is about AirBnB's repsonse to the situation (or rather, about EJ's comments about their response to the situation). The comment you down voted is making a point about a possible reason they may be acting that way.
It's a direct and thoughtful response to the topic at hand, it's ipso facto "relevent" in the sense that matters re: down-voting.
The fact that you disagree with it, or think it is flawed is not a valid reason for down-voting; instead you would reply refuting their point. You seem to think that their comment is not "relevent" re: how one considers their actions...and that may be true...but that is not a valid reason to downvote and not the sort of relevance that matters re that.
I only bring this up because many people seem to be confused about down-voting, or abuse the system and I think it's helpful to have a dialog on it occasionally.
Edit: To add how good it was to see someone explain a downvote, so we could continue a discussion.
Criticism sucks, but with a company like Airbnb that's the deal, and the founders knew it from the get go. This is the price (one of many) they pay for their eventual big payday. Overall, it's a pretty good deal though =)
"Screw clients, acquire currency!"
I assume that if Airbnb got its start in Detroit, for example, and not San Francisco then safety and security would have a different context. For me, when I was in university I left the door to my apartment unlocked, a lot. I knew everyone in our building and had so many people coming and going from my place that it was easier that way. Plus, being a broke college student the most expensive thing in the apartment was the bottles of liquor :-). But this is definitely not something I would do in any other city.
EJ assumed that keeping valuables in a locked closet would be enough. Severely overestimating the role a locked closet plays in a house. Being a traveller myself I am constantly worried about the security of my house. Renting it out to a stranger with my valuables still inside would drive me nuts.
I like the idea of airbnb but I haven't used them because they don't have listings for the places I go. And the thought of having to move all the expensive stuff out of my place, pay for storage, and move it back when I arrive is a bigger hassle than I can deal with.
I get the feeling that it's pretty chaotic over there. My first AirBNB experience was filled with crazy bugs (the messaging system, logins). It seems they're trying to get huge fast rather than taking the time to polish the experience.
Story here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/9aac5f80-b924-11e0-bd87-00144feabd...
1) hire a PR firm, lawyer up and let the spin doctors handle things. With the amount of money they have, this is a real option. They could probably convince or coerce (bully?) the victim into accepting a settlement in exchange for keeping quiet. The PR machine would then be free to write (or rewrite) the story as they see fit.
2) Come clean. Realise that it's never the victim's fault. Compensate her financially for her loss. Offer to provide counselling. Help her with the logistics of finding and moving to a new place. Work with the victim (and other airbnb users) to figure out how to reduce the chances of this happening again. And all the while, document everything. Brian C speaks of openness and transparency - show us, don't tell us.
"brianchesky 3 minutes ago [dead]
Brian Chesky (Airbnb CEO) here. My heart goes out to our host. My co-founder has contacted her multiple times, as recently as last night, and we have again offered to help her in any way that she needs. We will continue to make ourselves available to her to do whatever she asks of us in this time of need. We have encouraged her to reach us so that we can help her through this, and we are standing by."
The London Metropolitan police typically deal with 50-100 crimes related to online classified ads a year.
People are incredibly poor at judging risks so things like this get blown out of proportion. You need to look at the context and compare against other risks. For example what's the risk of your house get burgled if you go on holiday and leave it empty for a few weeks ?
The only solution I can see is digging way deeper into the personal background of a prospective tenant than any hotel would dare.
Burglary is usually just breaking and entering plus some other crime. Breaking (the legal term) doesn't actually require anything be literally broken to gain entry (i.e. theft or duplication of keys and lockpicking still qualify), and you can still "break" into rooms of a home you've been invited into in some jurisdictions; so if you were not explicitly permitted into an area and a reasonable attempt to prevent you from entering was made (closed door, locks, gates, etc), it's breaking. Not all jurisdictions require a theft to occur for burglary to have been committed, there's a multitude of crimes that might qualify: kidnapping, assault, battery, rape, arson, theft, vandalism, and others might all be valid secondary crimes that would create a burglary and some places don't even require that, the mere act of breaking and entering is sufficient.
Going through someone's document may not be criminal, but copying the documents is probably criminal identity theft and that in tandem with them being in a locked away closet would probably add burglary to the charges even though the host had invited the guests into the house. From the original post's description of events, there'd still be felony vandalism and felony theft too, although if she actually reported to the police that she had essentially sublet her apartment through AirBnB, she's most certainly exempt from making insurance claims that would make her whole again.
"Who lets strangers into their home, unsupervised?"
Does make some sense, right? Who would?
They certainly don't seem to make the effort to inform hosts of those two points. Hosts should be completely aware that AirBnB, 1) does NO background checks or verifications on possible tenants, and 2) does NOT insure any damages.
How do you know the people who do the screening actually do anything? What's their "skin in the game"?
EJ is not "homeless". She almost certainly has never been homeless and will never be homeless; this is an insult to people who have been homeless, broke, and literally have nowhere to go. Choosing to not stay in a $3.8K / month loft in SF does not a homeless person make.
And she's at least a bit responsible for feeding the sensationalism of this; it is coming off a bit Drama Queen.
- she rants about airbnb, but not so much about the thieves.. in those Ebay scam cases the victim usually directs his/her anger and takes action toward the scammer, not towards ebay. She reports very little about the thieves and the progress of the police investigation.
- Are these psychotic rockstar thieves so expert at hiding their identity? its a very 'proffesional' job then.. which can raise more points to the hotel lobby conspiracy theory.
- I thought that you use airbnb to rent extra properties; not your home with your documents, jewels, money, personal diary and what not in there.
Nope. You use vrbo or an external agency for your extra property. You use airbnb for renting the extra room in the house or a week you're away from your place. That's how airbnb spins it and that's how most places are listed on the site
Maybe that's one of the keys to success here, figuring out how to deal with these cases at the business plan level.
But... there's something odd about the way the victim writes, and I don't understand why it's jumping out at me:
"bouncing between friends’ homes".. "clutching my pillow".. "breathing through panic attacks".. "scouring the city’s pawn shops".. "this too shall pass and I will be made whole again."
Granted, PTSD is highly individualistic, but if you read the relevant medical literature, this is not a classic case.
The thing though is that flashbacks are involuntary (though most often brought about by a sensory trigger). The way this victim is seeking to bring this forward is voluntary.
I'm not trying to attack the victim, merely I'm agreeing with this thread's parent comment - this case is nowhere near average.
Initially AirBnB may have been populated with California Apple fan boys (you can trust), but it's just a matter of time before Joe six-pack (who you maybe can't trust so much) gets on there.
If you rent out your place through AirBnB it should be YOUR responsibility to vet the person and / or make sure there is little to steal / destroy. This isn't the responsibility of the founders of AirBnB.
Yes, so far as we know, the persons who robbed and trashed EJ's home were not employees of AirBnB.
In just about every other respect, however, this has everything to do with AirBnB. Four big points that have struck me:
* From a business perpective, such incidents were inevitable and yet the company seems to have had no crisis management plan in place. That is simply astounding.
* From a consumer perspective, it's worth warning potential users of the service that the company's prior attitude was "Don't worry, no one will steal your grand piano". As EJ points out, if AirBnB's "service" offers no more protection and fewer warnings than a free Craigslist alternative, you may want to reconsider using them.
* Given that some small percentage of renters are intent on breaking through your locked doors and storage cabinets looking for valuables, you might just want to reconsider renting your home out to people you don't personally know and trust. At the very least, a viewing of "Pacific Heights" is in order. (A landlord acquaintence suggested the film be required viewing for anyone who is considering becoming a landlord.) This might not seem AirBnB-relevant at first, but when you consider AirBnB's facile "grand piano" Web page, it seems quite relevant.
* Imagine if EJ had gotten suspicious and decided to check up on the renters herself or asked a friend to do it for her. Scenarios escalating to rape and/or murder are not farfetched. Even if you can ignore the pain and suffering of the victims, imagine what a PR disaster that would have been for AirBnB. (Which brings us back to the first point.)
I gotta say, something about all this now seems like it's a set up for a big fat lawsuit. I've never been violated this way (or anything close to it), so maybe I'm being insensitive, but this is crossing into whining territory to me.
If you want to complain about a _really_ bad experience, a lack of customer support, and insensitive and money-focused founders, that's fine. But I don't really need to hear about your pillow-clutching and fading normalcy.