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Airbnb Nightmare: No End In Sight (ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com)
1017 points by moonlighter 2250 days ago | hide | past | web | 482 comments | favorite



Airbnb & YC, just fix this please:

1. Get a new place for EJ. Furnish it fully. Pay for everything.

2. Help her restore her virtual identity. Use any resources at your considerable disposal.

3. Help her find her irreplaceable stuff. A few private detectives and a small team of scouters can make more progress in 2 weeks that the SFPD can make in a lifetime. Publish pictures of her grandmother's jewelry to enlist a giant army of spotters.

4. Hire her and pay her well (perhaps even with equity). She is obviously an excellent writer and an empathetic persona. But more importantly, she is an expert in addressing what is clearly the weakest link in your business model's chain.

5. Fuck the business models, projections, and funding rounds and just "do the right thing".

This appears to be a royal fuck-up. But nothing compared to the lost goodwill for Airbnb, YC, the startup community, and the "new order" in general. Many of us had thought that you all had deprecated the era of Ford Pinto thinking. Current data appears to be to the contrary.

Turn this lemon into lemonade before the window closes. Tick. Tick. Tick.

[EDIT: This has nothing to do with assigning blame; this incident was clearly an outlier and nobody's fault (except the obvious bad guys). And it has nothing to do with solving this class of problem. All I'm saying is that fixing this instance will lead to solving this class. It presents an excellent opportunity to fix things in a way that never could have been imagined before. Airbnb has a compelling business proposition with an obvious Achilles heel. This unfortunate situation presents an excellent opportunity to address that weakness head on. But only with a 179 degree change in thinking. I don't know what the ultimate solution to this problem is, but now is clearly the time for Airbnb to get moving on it...]


I've just learned more about this situation, and it turns out Airbnb has been offering to fix it, from the very beginning. 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. He asked a company spokesman what Airbnb was doing to help her. The spokesman, who'd been told by their lawyers that he couldn't go into detail about that because of the precedent said "I can't comment on that." So Arrington, in typical Arrington fashion said "Well, unless you tell me I'm going to write that you're not willing to do anything for her." And he did. Really not cool.

I've talked to the Airbnb guys and they are already doing everything they could be doing to help this woman.

Even if you don't believe they are nice guys (which they are, among the nicest of all the people we've funded), do you really think they are so dumb that they don't realize it's not worth the bad PR to save money and effort in this situation?


In this response from Paul Graham we have an example of how this crisis could taint ALL Y Combinator companies. I say this as a fan of Mr Graham, Hacker News (which he created), and his essays. But this is 100 percent the wrong reaction by Paul to the sickening -- sickening! -- disclosure that Airbnb tried to get this guest to hush up the utter sacking of her apartment in order to close a funding round.

Paul, you should be condemning Airbnb's pathetically slow response (which you do not dispute), attempted cover up (which you do not dispute), long silence when they thought this was going to fizzle out and disappear (which you do not dispute), and mammoth hole in their security procedures (which you do not dispute).

Instead you are complaining about some detail of how TechCrunch covered this big story, and parroting a single, one-sided conversation you had with the people who have the most to lose from the situation.

If you want the lack of ethics on display at Airbnb to cast a PR taint over legit YC companies, this is exactly the way to do so.


> you should be condemning Airbnb's pathetically slow response (which you do not dispute)

Yes, he does dispute it. Read his post.


He really doesn't, though I can see how you might get that impression. In the post you suggest I re-read, Paul is referring to financial assistance, which will reasonably take a period of days to offer. When Paul says "Airbnb has been offering to fix it, from the very beginning," that may well be true.

But that statement does not dispute or otherwise speak to the fact that it was hard and time consuming for the customer to get in contact with Airbnb in the first place, just to get basic information and to let them know what happened. EJ said in her original post that it took 14 hours to get a call back from the "urgent" phone line -- and even then only after she contacted a friend who freelances for them.

(Edited for clarity)


Just so you know, the phrase "shocked -- shocked! --" (which you seem to be referencing here with your invocation of "sickening -- sickening! --") is a reference to the movie Casablanca, where it is uttered cynically by a corrupt police chief who is not shocked at all as he's been participating in the illegal activity himself from the very beginning. So, if you are genuinely sickened, it's inappropriate.


I was not referencing that movie line; the movie line is itself a reference to a common style of emphasis that predates the movie by... well, by quite some time.


Even if you don't believe they are nice guys...do you really think they are so dumb...

Of course not. I'm not even sure what I said to imply either of those.

The story Arrington wrote yesterday about Airbnb not offering to help was bullshit.

I never read the Arrington story. I was just responding to EJ's blog.

From the beginning they offered to pay to get her a new place and new stuff, and do whatever else she wanted.

Great! Sounds like Airbnb is several steps ahead of most of us here on hn. We just never realized it.

What I meant in grandparent: Difficult situations like this one are also often great opportunities to make things better and learn. This one is a doozy. Looking forward to learning from its resolution.


If that's the case, either EJ or AirBnB are lying.

Just one example:

> I've talked to the Airbnb guys and they are already doing everything they could be doing to help this woman.

From EJ's post:

> I arranged and paid for my own transportation while dislocated (with Airbnb's assurances that this expense would be compensated - which it has not been)

If EJ is lying, it should be easy to prove. But even if that's the case, AirBnB has dropped the ball in pissing her off so much that she has to continue to make an effort to paint AirBnB in a negative light.


it turns out Airbnb has been offering to fix it, from the very beginning

No one really cares what Arrington wrote. Everyone knows Arrington's rep.

What people are upset about is how the blog post that Chesky wrote sounded like. His post sounded like...

"Ummm...here are our security features..."

The correct public and private response is:

"This is a horrific. This is unacceptable. As CEO, I'm not going to rest until this is made right. I've assigned 3 people to this problem to do whatever is necessary to make this right.

We are extremely concerned about this, and we have a lot of work to do to make sure something like this will never happen again. Safety is job 1." Of course backing up those words with actions.

That way, even if the lady is lying. Even if it's a hoax... Even if it's complete crap... it doesn't matter, because people know that you take this seriously, and you're pulling out all the stops.

If there's a follow up blog post that details more horror stories... And, you have indeed made those phone calls.. then you say, "I'm really sorry that our response has been less than what you have needed or less than what you expected. That's on me, (as CEO). I will personally make this right. Call this number, they will put you directly in contact with my cell phone. and, I will make this right." And, of course, backing up those words with actions.

That way, no one can accuse you of having a less than stellar response to this. You are above reproach...

Because you've done the right thing for the person. The right thing to do is to do the right thing for the person.


Exactly. First, it doesn't matter if the AirBnB guys are nice or not - it wouldn't be the first time in the history of mankind that a nice guy did the wrong thing faced with a woman in distress.

The problem is that this woman sounds like everybody's friend/sister/cousin. She sounds totally believable, and her story taps into a fear that a reasonable person would have a priori with the AirBnB model ("what if I rent to a wacko?").

So there is zero point in nickel-and-diming her with whether it was 8 hours or 24 before she heard from them, whether the dude is in custody for this crime or another crime - the point is that this story is now apocryphal. There is no point arguing the facts - AirBnB must focus on the concerns that every single person out there who read that story now has.

For the record: I live in a popular holiday destination, and yet dismissed listing on AirBnB when I first became aware of them because I have a child in the house, and did indeed think "what if I rent to some wacko, risking my own safety is one thing, risking my child's is another". If AirBnB want to move beyond the so-young-they-feel-immortal single set, they have to plausibly deal with these fears.


How does this fit with the linked article, where the lady in question claims her personal liason at the company hadn't even contacted her in a month? How does that possibly match up with "doing everything they could be doing to help this woman" when she herself clearly feels ignored?

Edit: I'm not accusing the AirBNB guys of being bad guys: I don't know them. But this doesn't seem to address, and seems somewhat contradicted by, the concerns raised by the linked blog.


Brian told me that someone from Airbnb called her just a few hours before she published this most recent post.


With respect, I don't see how this answers estel's question.

Is she crazy? Did she stop checking email, SMS, and phone? (or maybe change number post break in?) Did you misinterpret what the AirBnB guys told you?

How can these two drastically different accounts make sense together?

(edit: if you only read the TC coverage, the link you are replying to is EJ's account)


While I greatly sympathized with her plight originally, I do note that she is somewhat disingenuous in her post today.

For example, she quotes AirBnB as saying someone is in custody and then says local officials have not contacted her saying that's the case, implying that this somehow invalidates their claim. But then she goes on to show detailed knowledge of someone being in custody, even though they haven't been charged yet.

Next, she quotes AirBnB as saying that they've been in close contact with her, and says that this is false. However, she goes on to write that she has been in regular contact with an AirBnB founder, and talked to another founder, and details some of their conversations.

While I still sympathize with her, that doesn't mean she can characterize events any way she pleases and have it be true. I would not be shocked in the least to find that she left out details that would paint AirBnB in a nicer light.


Interesting. I read her post as responses to AirBnB's word twisting in the TC press release -- most of what you call being "disingenuous" is her refuting impressions people might have gotten from the press release and telling her side (instead of just telling her side).

Breakdown/example follows:

re: suspect in custody.

AirBnB was quoted saying "a suspect is now in custody, and our information will now become important evidence"

She starts by refuting an impression you might have gotten (the bad guy will go to jail for what he did to her): "no charges or arrest warrant has been issued for my case" (which means AirBnB's information can't be evidence for anything she knows about - she also notes that they might have information that she doesn't)

She then describes her case to the best of her knowledge for those interested.

re: contact with AirBnB.

AirBnB was quoted saying "We have been in close contact with her ever since [5 weeks ago]"

She starts by refuting an impression you might have gotten (she has been in contact with AirBnB team members [other than the founder], or had any AirBnB labor tasked full time with helping her) "Since June 30, this co-founder has been the only person at Airbnb from whom I have received occasional contact regarding my situation, his messages directed primarily at my blog post and its activity on Twitter."

She then describes her contact with AirBnB in rich, concrete detail for those interested.

tl;dr - EJ wasn't being disingenuous/equivocating, she was doing two things with one post (responding to press release and sharing concrete details)


My sympathies are for the victim but I think it would help to post the full context of her statement. She said

"One month ago an individual was apprehended, however as far as I know, this person was transferred to a neighboring jurisdiction for prosecution of previous crimes, and no charges or arrest warrant has been issued for my case within San Francisco County." (emphasis mine)

I don't think Brian Chesky or AirBNB can have much influence on what crimes the DA prosecutes these perps for. For all we know they committed a more serious crime in the neighboring jurisdiction and so were transferred there. AirBNB could have submitted the evidence they have and the DA might have decided to use it later, or not use it in favor of another case that is stronger.


Right. She explained that in her blog post because she wanted us to actually understand what is going on.

To you it might not matter as long as a suspect is in jail, but I'm sure that having an investigation paused while you wait on neighboring jurisdictions feels very different than the way you'd expect reading what AirBnB said: "a suspect is now in custody, and our information will now become important evidence"


It seems very likely to me that in the information they gave us, AirBnB was just relaying the information the police gave them. It's very likely the police told AirBNB to give them all the evidence they had so they could use it to prosecute the suspect they had in custody.

If I were the victim, I would not be satisfied until the perp got prosecuted for my crime either, but this pause in investigating this crime to pursue other crimes first, does not falsify AirBnB's statement that the perp is in custody, and that their information will become important evidence.

Anyway, AirBnB should have done a much better job of helping the customer and communicating both with her and the rest of the world.


On its own it could have been innocent, but there are too many of these too close together in the press release to believe that


Someone's not telling us the whole story, and it's unclear whether that someone is the company or EJ. (Or maybe even the police).

Whatever the case, Airbnb increases its PR risk the more people it puts in contact with EJ. It should have assigned one person to talk to her, so as to keep the story straight and maintain a consistent line of communication with EJ. And that person should have been a founder / C-level exec from the get go.

You could argue that a co-founder's time, especially in the middle of a giant financing round, makes the opportunity cost too high. Nonsense. The opportunity cost of the PR hit, versus the potentially massive positive PR of a crisis turnaround, is nigh incalculable. Possibly even worth tens of millions in intangible value and impact on future growth.

Take a page from the old 1980s-1990s Disney playbook on crisis management. Whenever a big PR fiasco popped up at the theme parks -- which was often -- Michael Eisner was the face of the crisis management effort. Now, obviously Michael Eisner himself wasn't personally up all night working exclusively on the crisis in question. No doubt he had a team on the case, feeding him his talking points. But he was the single public face of the company in all communications related to the crisis. Not some PR flack, or some customer service rep. Not some vice president. The CEO himself. It counted for quite a lot, even at times when it was bullshit.

(Note, of course, that I would never advocate the use of bullshit, especially in the EJ case).


I had a similar reaction to this post. Surprised that she depicted the issue being escalated all the way up to the cofounder as somehow a reduction in customer service. Not that they've seemed to have handled this well by any stretch, but they certainly seem to be taking this seriously.

Is it me, or does it take a significant amount of melodrama to negatively construe being asked to grab coffee with the cofounder of the company with whom you have some dispute as bad customer service (he didn't ask if she was alright? really?).

What happened to her sucks, and AirBnB certainly doesn't sound like a service i would use personally, but to be honest, I wasn't shocked to hear people calling into question whether or not this was a real person. She seems to be going out of her way to characterize events (as the parent mentions) in as negative a light as possible.


Is it me, or does it take a significant amount of melodrama to negatively construe being asked to grab coffee with the cofounder of the company with whom you have some dispute as bad customer service (he didn't ask if she was alright? really?).

It is you. She objected to what he said, which she perceived as superficial and focussed on reducing their PR damage rather than helping her. Who it was does not matter one bit when it's not helpful.


Of course "someone is in custody." There are many thousands of people in custody in the US. The question is, how many of them have demonstrated ties to EJ's case? AirBnB's comment implies (but does not state) that the number is 1. Unless AirBnB know something different that they are not sharing with EJ, it would appear the real number is 0. That's what she was correcting.


But the correct answer is "1 or more".


Agreed. I don't want to sound totally callous, but while this is a dramatic and terrible incident in it's own right, her writing style does seem to be magnifying the drama for maximum effect/ attention, in which case it's a truly difficult problem for AirBnb to solve. Even handing her a big sack of cash/ new apartment (just an example, not recommending that course) would probably just lead to an expose blog post about how they tried to buy her silence. How do you satisfy someone if a large part of what they want is attention? Create a new security policy and name it after her?


"EJ's Law". Perfect.


I have some idea on the discrepancy. Neither party are being deliberately disingenuous. It is more of a point of view issue. This mess take a long time to fix even in the best circumstance. So it is natural for EJ to still feel violated and frightened. She say "Since June 30, this co-founder has been the only person at Airbnb from whom I have received occasional contact regarding my situation". I think she is too shaken to appreciate the direct involvement of the 2 founders. I'll be lot more piss off if the customer service is the only one to talk to me.

Airbnb does sound like they are doing their part. Although if they really do pressure EJ to take down her post it will be the dumbest thing to do. It is lot more useful to publicize they own effort to help and perhaps compensate the victim.

Arrington present only the worst point of view. The sky is falling if you only read his post.


And a lot of this is probably a rehash of those WTF moments the founders have with their girlfriend. Look at this statement:

<i>(the second co-founder) suggesting we meet for coffee as he “would enjoy meeting” me. He made no inquiry into my current emotional state, my safety or my well being.</i>

So Airbnb do all they can to escalate the case, to compensate her, to assist the police, etc, or as least it is the best for a tech company to do. All these seem secondary to the victim. What she really want is for someone to ask her if she is ok.


Who at Airbnb called her?

That's like saying to me when I walk into the office; "Someone called you about something." It means nothing.

Names. Times. That's the way to handle this. You know, you guys REALLY need good PR people.

Number 1 rule of damage control: Make sure everyone involved (on your side) is on the same sheet of music. Number 2 rule: Never lie. Number 3 rule: Give the victim what they want.


Doesn't seem to add up with their other claim that they offered to pay for everything from the beginning.

Except if they offered it and EJ declined, then she could be paying herself and not be lying.


That'd be a bizarre scenario though, and you'd think at least one of the parties involved would've mentioned it publicly.

Instead, we have Chesky saying they've offered nebulous "help", commenting personally on TC. Not mentioning a single step they've taken to actively provide help, no specific offer. What he says in no way conflicts with anything EJ wrote, and the only contradictory information we've had from Airbnb is coming secondhand via pg, posted only on HN. Which is pretty damn weird when you have this kind of situation blowing up on the internet.

I like to think that Airbnb wants to do the right thing, but they've made an utterly disastrous mess of communication and PR.


Arrington aside, EJ's own blog post here seems to contradict what you're saying.

The story she paints is one of AirBnB doing as much as they can in terms of damage control, but precious little in terms of repair.

If they've offered to "fix it", and are doing "everything they could be doing", why is she talking about feeling neglected? I quote:

"But the staff at Airbnb has not made a positive contribution to me personally or my situation in any way, particularly since June 30."

Is she lying? Is that what you're telling us? Or is there some grand miscommunication, where even EJ doesn't understand what AirBnB has offered?


I don't know her so I couldn't say.


Excuse me for strongly disagreeing, but one doesn't need to know her to answer whether she's lying.

The facts of what AirBnB is, or is not, doing to date are known and demonstrable.

So far, and after far too much time has passed, only words and assurances have surfaced. No one from AirBnB, nor you yourself, has mentioned any concrete assistance already provided directly to this AirBnB customer. In this very thread, the founder says, more or less, "We're here for you." What has that meant so far? What does it mean now?

Without knowing her, by seeing proof from AirBnB you would know if she is lying. If you don't know, that would imply you haven't seen proof of concrete support to date.

I recently listed a property on AirBnB. AirBnB could make $8,500 a year from me in fees -- it's a nice property. I'd hate to see it damaged.

You can see I have a high degree of interest in seeing how AirBnB handles customer service, to decide whether I should instead be using an old school Realtor™ or VRBO w/ manual listing and screening. I'm sure there are others thinking this same thing, and we early adopters talk. A lot.

Will AirBnB be like Nordstrom and Apple, or will it be like Chase Bank? So far, I'm seeing inaction followed by hand-waving once word got out. Let's see AirBnB's no-spin action approach if there is one.


@pg I think you should consider that your portfolio company is possibly not telling you the whole truth after they screwed up in a major way. I have no idea what happened -- just asking you to consider the possibility, which you seem to reject out of hand.


Given that there are (at least) 2 sides to a story, don't you think you should have spoken to her instead of just taking what you have been told by Airbnb at face value?

Something obviously is off here (disregarding whatever Arrington had to say) and my impression is that Airbnb is still coming off as not being on top of PR given most of the comments in this thread and others.


Nobody cares about Arrington. That's not AirBnB's problem. AirBnB's problem is "EJ".

I've talked to the Airbnb guys and they are already doing everything they could be doing to help this woman.

If they've been offering to fix it from the start, why haven't they said that? Certainly the victim doesn't believe they've offered much, if anything at all... either that or you've just called her a liar. (I obviously have to allow this as a possibility - that this whole story is fake.)

They clearly need to talk to her more than they are though. Somebody in charge needs to pick up a phone. They need to convince her that it is no longer in her best interests to spout the gory details on her blog. That hasn't been done yet, clearly, so it's hard to say that they are doing everything they can.

I don't think people - at least from what I've read here - are questioning their integrity. People are questioning the optics of what seems to be a decision to defer to lawyers worried about an unknown future possibility rather than to do the right thing in this very real situation. That's what is causing the bad PR, not exaggerating reporters. Cut out the middle men and get one of those founders to pick up a phone already.


It's tacky and even grandstanding to say "hey, we offered to buy this lady a new pad..."

From the start, there are ways to deal with this stuff, you do some analysis, figure out what this person wants or needs, you offer them a bit more than that in exchange for their silence. It's just how it is done. Once she started blogging about it, how do you fix that? If she takes the blog down for any reason then she looks pressured.


You talk to her. Yes this takes some skill.

You don't need to tell everyone the specifics, but you need to tell her... provide her with more than any rational person would consider reasonable and say publicly that you are doing what it takes to make the situation right.

Most rational thinkers won't continually bad mouth you if you genuinely show remorse, offer compensation (thereby providing something, in theory, she could lose) and approach the situation honestly. As any person that has ever done any customer service knows, the quickest way to placate an angry customer is to admit when you are wrong and look to find solutions that would make said customer happy. It's amazing how powerful a "Crap, I screwed up, I'm sorry, let me fix this" is.

She shouldn't be asked to do anything... she should be given enough reason to produce a positive blog post on her own. It's not as good as it would have been prior to her posts, but lesson learned.


The thing is, Paul; I am fully willing to believe that TC are grabbing the sensational as best they can - and twisting the story. I more than believe the spokesman spoke in careful legal terms and inadvertently caused the fuckfest. I can totally get that we are getting tiny snippets of the story - even from EJ herself.

however

EJ has posted a blog in which she clearly feels upset, distraught, confused and worried.

Whether legitimately or not she doesn't feel happy.

This is the point where a big corporation goes into PR drive. But a startup and indie company such as Airbnb should, and could, be doing this:

* Fuck laywers, who cares about legal when a person is upset and distraught

* The Company is in SF - go and meet her tomorrow, forget the internet and the blog, make the person feel safe and cared for

* Pursue the culprits like the plague, hire a PI and pressure the police. Call in your big-guns contacts in SF and the Valley. Get millionaires calling the PD until they have a task force on the issue. After all; it is the reputation of the company at stake

* Take this girl on an apartment hunting spree, buy her something nice and replace the kit she lost.

And then tell the internet about it!

Ultimately there are two factors to consider here. Firstly her welfare, of course. After that it is OK to think of the company. If you can combine these two factors then no one is going to moan at them. Yes, the ideas I set out there are "above and beyond" - but we live in this shitty culture where everyone seems to have to consult lawyers when the shit hits the fan. Speaking for myself, if I heard about this issue (even if I heard about it after the first blog post went viral) my first response would not be to call the lawyers and see what I could say, it would be to call the damn girl, find out she was in the same city and turn up on the damn doorstep with a lawyer and a phonebook of people to ring and fix the issue. Perhaps this is just me.

This company just got over $100m of funding; there appears to be cash to spare to make this right.

Going back to pont #1; for whatever the reason Airbnb have a customer who is feeling terrible, upset and distraught. And no amount of "we are working to help this women" comments are going to help that. Fix the girl's situation, the rest will follow naturally. Companies can be Samaritans as well.


buy her something nice

If this is all playing out in her head the way she is blogging it, I don't think she wants something nice. First, she probably wants what nobody can giver her (her peace of mind back). Secondly, she probably wants her dignity back - and that is the kind of thing where only a totally honest public apology for any wrong AirBnB have done to her, real or imaginary will achieve.

I mean, if she perceives that they have publicly denied things that she believes are true, I don't think they can buy her off at this stage, so one is down to "Grovel long, grovel hard and make it believable".


PG - I can't believe I'm defending Arrington but it is hard to say that he's the one at fault here.

- Most of the damaging content is from EJ's blog. The original TC article only has a couple of bad parts where it says "Airbnb’s response so far has been tepid at best. It turns out that when something like this happens, Airbnb isn’t financially responsible." but that's arguably very fair editiorial opinion given EJ's reaction and the company spokesperson not revealing anything.

- TC has been good about airing the AirBnB side of the story - from Brian Chesky's guest post to updating their initial posts with comments from him.

- All the follow-up brouhaha has been caused by EJ's second post. Now, you seem to be implying that she might be lying with your comments - that's a separate issue. But TC and Arrington have mostly stayed on the sidelines.

There is a lot of he-said, she-said here but all of it is between EJ and Airbnb (or AirBNB through PG's comments here). Arrington, for once, has played it fairly straight and it really isn't fair to blame him for this particular situation.


Remember nice guys can

  1. tell lies
  2. lobby for PR
  3. spam Craiglist
  4. fake listing counts
  5. hide robbery for 5-weeks
  etc
Don't poke your nose, drag journalists and damage YC brand. Just tell that you don't know.

[Edit: formatted]


> do you really think they are so dumb that they don't realize it's not worth the bad PR to save money

Well it was AirBnB that admitted that they (or contractor scapegoats) farmed Craigslist to grow its business without thought how that appears to the general public and what that does to their integrity and PR. So yes - it's quite conceivable that they could be 'dumb' enough.


From a strategy perspective - it's better to solve the problem first and only then attack someone who is, supposedly, making too much out of a problem.

From, a 'being a good person' perspective - there are lots of problems here. Isn't there someone at this company that can throw away legal concerns and just go talk to her and ask her what in her mind would fix the problem. It seems the company still can't get out of 'its own needs and wants' and understand that there's a human being affected by this who had her home trashed.

Perhaps the thing the lady wants most is just someone who CARES!

Not about the company's reputation or legal concerns but CARES about her as a person.


Having seen & read a lot about Brian Chesky, I really do believe that he is a genuinely nice guy.

But out of curiosity, do you know if EJ's note of Brian calling her, telling her how her blog post story will negatively impact AirBnB, requesting her blog post to be removed/limited/hidden, then asking for a "twist" of good news to "complete[s] the story" is true?


I haven't been following this closely, but this morning I spent a couple of hours reading everything. FWIW...

1. There is nothing inconsistent in either of EJ's posts. They are sometimes complicated (e.g. who contacted who when) and I can imagine HN readers imagining inconsistencies as they scan the posts, but there are none.

2. Either EJ is telling lies, or Brian Chesky's post on TC misrepresents/distorts the truth in several places. Indeed, setting the record straight seems to have at least in part motivated EJ's second post.

3. It is just weird for the "niceness" of the founders to be relevant to this situation, except as part of a cynical effort to turn this into an "nasty EJ versus the nice founders" narrative.

4. Attacking Arrington (who, like EJ, appears to be offering more solid information than PG or Airbnb) comes off as another attempt to turn the Airbnb founders into the victims of this story.

Unless EJ is a liar, focusing any attention at all on the "plight" of the founders (e.g PG's message here) demonstrates a detachment from reality. They are warm and cozy in their homes, while she is homeless and shattered.

They got some bad coverage on TC, their exit payday might be compromised and rich people will lose money because of it. But unless she is a bald faced liar, her home was violated, she lost all the precious items (photos!) she spent a lifetime accumulating and she will spend a long time recovering from this episode.

Seems like as good a time as any to focus on the end user. She's not a PR incident, she's a #$%@ human being.


Blame the victim? That's the plan?

The company needs to do this to come out ok:

1) Go overboard helping her reset her life 2) mea culpa: apologize for the handling of it 3) announce steps that will reduce the risk of it happening again 4) stop calling her credibility into account, or blaming Arrington. it's an international story now. 5) Control the message. PG--you shouldn't be posting at all. Your intentions might be good, your points might (or not) be valid, but you're creating more controversy.

The story goes away when 1) people hear a true apology for the handling and 2) EJ has been properly taken care of, regardless of AirBnB's culpability.

“On June 29 I posted my story, and June 30 thus marks the last day I heard from the customer service team regarding my situation. In fact, my appointed ‘liaison’ from Airbnb stopped contacting me altogether just three days after I reported the crime, on June 25, for reasons that are unknown to me. I have heard nothing from her since.”

“And since June 30? On this same day, I received a personal call from one of the co-founders of Airbnb. We had a lengthy conversation, in which he indicated having knowledge of the (previously mentioned) person who had been apprehended by the police, but that he could not discuss the details or these previous cases with me, as the investigation was ongoing. He then addressed his concerns about my blog post, and the potentially negative impact it could have on his company’s growth and current round of funding. During this call and in messages thereafter, he requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a ‘twist’ of good news so as to ‘complete[s] the story.’”

“I am not clear here if Chesky is trying to convey the message that Airbnb was involved in securing my safety, but the company was not. My safety was secured by my own efforts.”

“The positive contribution mentioned in this statement might very well refer to the criminal investigation and communication with police; I can’t know for sure. But the staff at Airbnb has not made a positive contribution to me personally or my situation in any way, particularly since June 30.”


"...do you really think they are so dumb that they don't realize it's not worth the bad PR to save money and effort in this situation?"

I think it's about not positioning themselves as some kind of guarantor of a situation which will open up an entire can of worms going forward with their business model.

They can't say "we vet people" (to the degree necessary) or they open themselves up to lawsuits from people who say "you didn't do your job here".

This happens with hotel, right? Person raped they sue the hotel "you didn't provide security" etc.

As another example, I saw a sign in an office parking lot. It said "security camera not always monitored" or something like that. In this litigious society the mere appearance of a camera gives the obligation to monitor the camera or a level of safety that the office lot is not willing to undertake.

Insurers don't have a model for an airbnb type operation. They will have a hard time wrapping their heads around insuring something that appears to be more of the business model that people would like airbnb to be. Insurers won't insure for reasonable prices what they can't calculate risk on.


First, let me say I am a huge fan of PG and YC, but...

I have to second (third, fourth, etc) the several opinions already expressed here. This is about the customer's response: http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011/07/airbnb-nightmare...

If she's a liar, let us know. Thanks.

Trying to silence a customer? - this is getting me to doubt how trustworthy HN is - who else is being silenced??? If PG supports guys like the AirBNB execs then what does that say about him?

Again, if the customer is the liar,just please let us know. OK? Thanks.


Now that this has happened, how (if at all) would you revise this comment about Arrington: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2719086


This is the worst thing I personally have seen him do. So he is not looking quite so good to me now.

On the other hand, I still don't believe he's deeply evil. His big weakness is the length he'll go to to get information out of people. I think he crossed the line in this case. But I still don't think he's a bad person.


Is this the worst thing you've seen him do because it personally affects you?

All the times that you said he was just being harsh, I'm sure the people who were impacted thought he crossed the line as well.


I have read EJ's two posts, two posts here - yours and one by Brian Chesky - and three related posts at TechCrunch including Arrington's response to this post (have you even read it?). I'm not a regular reader of any of these publications or their authors. As an observer without a horse in this race, I don't see where Arrington has done anything wrong. Your second-hand accusation of trying to strong-arm your spokesman for details seems one-sided and self-interested, while his response seems plausible and verifiable.

Whatever the truth of this PERSONAL conflict, which by the way is peripheral and inconsequential (except for negative consequences) to the issue of the crisis at Airbnb, you're not doing your professional self or the company any favors by continuing along this line of commentary. Emotions are influencing your behavior in areas where rationality would better suit your situation. Better to quit taking things personally and focus on taking care of the business at hand.


According to his most recent update http://goo.gl/TBLbf Michael e-mailed the company first, and then called. Further he claims to have read the comment back to Christopher Lukezic before hanging up. This to me seems to be a perfectly reasonable length to go to for information.

Is your contention that this is not what happened? If this is what happened, then I think you owe Michael an apology. He has done an excellent job of updating his article with more information from airbnb's side of things as he got it, and I think that if you misspoke or were misinformed you need to say as much.


>The story Arrington wrote yesterday about Airbnb not offering to help was bullshit. He asked a company spokesman what Airbnb was doing to help her. The spokesman, who'd been told by their lawyers that he couldn't go into detail about that because of the precedent said "I can't comment on that." So Arrington, in typical Arrington fashion said "Well, unless you tell me I'm going to write that you're not willing to do anything for her." And he did. Really not cool.

Sounds like legitimate grounds for pursuing a case of libel.


Its completely contradictory what Airbnb says and EJ says. Both being in SF should not be a big deal for Airbnb guys to meet her in person and sort out this thing. Why is this thing being pulled for more than a month? Airbnb should have taken the proper initiatives to deal with this in person than blogging or whatever or even on phone telling EJ to take down her blog etc. Meet in person and sort this out guys than pointing fingers.


If AirBnB was smart, they would have made the offer in PUBLIC, so that we don't have this he-said / she-said thing going on. To be honest, it's hard to believe anyone in this story. Lesson learned: be quick, be open, be transparent, be thoughtful, be understanding. Basically, be human.


> Airbnb has been offering to fix it, from the very beginning. From the beginning they offered to pay to get her a new place and new stuff, and do whatever else she wanted.

Paul, could you clarify how you know this? Were you told this or have you confirmed this with the victim or some other way?


Responding publicly in this fashion was a pretty bad/unwise move on Paul's part. It's a cheap shot to fling blame in the direction of the easiest possible target: a tech blogger who is known for being opinionated and mercurial (I realize I'm putting it mildly). It's a desperate move and I think anyone can see that.

Arrington is nobody's problem here. The problems are: (1) a customer of Airbnb was victimized, (2) Airbnb did not respond in a satisfactory manner (whether that means not swiftly enough or with results that left said customer feeling unhappy/unsafe), and (3) Airbnb allegedly attempted to quell the story in a distasteful way, implying that their company's well-being was more important than the customer's.


Okay, look. As comments on TechCrunch have stated, MAJOR crisis coaching/high-level PR needs to be hired and step in, stat. This is just getting worse and worse.


I've just learned more about this situation, and it turns out Airbnb has been offering to fix it, from the very beginning. From the beginning they offered to pay to get her a new place and new stuff, and do whatever else she wanted.

I think this goes a long way towards confirming suspicions some people have held since the beginning of the debacle, namely that the victim here is blowing things out of proportion in an attempt to mar Airbnb's reputation as much as possible.

Granted her situation is very distressing, but weigh that against the fact that even if she had not been participating with Airbnb her home still could have been broken into and ransacked. The upside here is that Airbnb was involved and it seems is trying to do whatever they can to help her, up to and including paying for a new place. Now that it's been revealed she is misrepresenting Airbnb's reaction and handling of her case in her latest post[1] it becomes hard to deny this "victim" is utilizing their situation, i.e. manipulating it. So it seems she has a particular ax to grind, apparently with Airbnb...

[1] http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011/07/airbnb-nightmare... "Airbnb has not assisted me in securing my safety, if that is the implication being made in Chesky's article" and "But the staff at Airbnb has not made a positive contribution to me personally or my situation in any way, particularly since June 30." While maybe true in fact, clearly misleading her audience.

Edit: I can see the angry mob is already hard at work down voting me. At least provide some counterpoint if you feel you disagree; yes, my point of view is unpopular on this subject, but have I made incorrect observations here?


You're using pg's (apparently) second-hand information to discredit EJ's account of her experience. What proof do you have that EJ is misrepresenting anything? At best, this is a case of he-said-she-said. But given pg and EJ's positions relative to the situation here, it seems more likely to me that pg has been misinformed than that EJ is egregiously lying.

(I admit the latter is possible, but you seem to be taking the less plausible explanation as a given and using that assumption to attack the victim here. Hence the downvotes.)


Paul Graham would have a lot to lose by making such a broad, unfounded statement...unless of course that's what he's been told and has good reason to believe it's correct. If so, why should we disbelieve the pg and Airbnb account? Simply because EJ's is loaded with emotional appeal? I don't see how a random blogger is more plausible than pg and Airbnb?

I believe that most of her story is true (in the first blog post she even states that Airbnb has been incredibly helpful[1]; in fact this seems to corroborate pg's statement, they offered her financial support), that it was very traumatic for her, but what I don't believe is that pg and Airbnb are lying, that Airbnb has effectively made no attempt to help her; because they could have tried and she might have refused and now she's realized that the whole Internet is up in arms and on her side...so she can frame it however she likes, right or wrong. But I'm still inclined to believe pg would not spread disinformation; why should he? I think the man is much smarter than you're giving him credit for...

[1] http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html "I would be remiss if I didn’t pause here to emphasize that the customer service team at airbnb.com has been wonderful, giving this crime their full attention. They have called often, expressing empathy, support, and genuine concern for my welfare. They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD to track down these criminals."


> I don't see how a random blogger is more plausible than pg and Airbnb?

Yeah, that's status thinking and antithetical to rational discourse. You evaluate a story or its plausibility on _its_ merits, not on the status of who tells it (unless you have _real_ information about the author's credibility, which in this case neither of us, correct me if I'm wrong, have.)

> this seems to corroborate pg's statement, they offered her financial support

No, it doesn't. There's a difference between "offering" support and giving it. What EJ said in her follow-up post is that although she was initially offered full support, none of it has actually materialized in the weeks after.

> But I'm still inclined to believe pg would not spread disinformation; why should he? I think the man is much smarter than you're giving him credit for...

Maybe you should get your nose out of pg's behind and realize that pg too puts his shoes on one at a time and shits like you and me. Having psychological, reputational, and financial stakes in one party of a dispute can induce biases. What I mean is, even good and smart people can fuck up, even with the best intentions. AFAIC, his story gets weighed on the same scale as everyone else's.


> Yeah, that's status thinking and antithetical to rational discourse. You evaluate a story or its plausibility on _its_ merits, not on the status of who tells it (unless you have _real_ information about the author's credibility, which in this case neither of us, correct me if I'm wrong, have.)

What about in the other direction? I have no information about the author's credibility whatsoever, but from personal interaction I have ample information about PG's credibility.


That's still argument from authority, like saying "Colin Powell is known to be a highly educated man and honored soldier, how could he be possibly fooled by faked documents?"

there is the possibility that the anonymous blogger has just as much integrity and honesty as pg. We don't know whether or not she does. We do know what both parties have said in public. therefore, we need to limit our evaluations to that until further information is known.


I really don't mean to imply pg is being dumb or anything like that — my experience is that even intelligent people tend to trust what their friends tell them. His comments seem to indicate that he hasn't been involved with the situation (which makes sense) and he's just repeating what he's heard from the AirBnB guys.

I don't know, she could be lying. But she has little incentive to do so. It's possible that somebody might give up a free house and become a transient just so they could trash-talk AirBnB, but it would be deeply weird. But a business owner spinning the facts to the benefit of his business? That would be deeply normal. Some might even argue it's his job. And a smart guy not extensively checking up on his friends when they tell him something? Again, that's normal.

Anyway, I'm not trying to say that we have to assume AirBnB is lying. We don't have a lot of evidence, so it makes sense to be tentative. But it seems unfair to very non-tentatively accuse EJ of lying when the facts seem to be on her side at best and on nobody's side at worst. You asked why people were downvoting, and I thought it was a fair question, so those are my thoughts.


We don't have a lot of evidence, so it makes sense to be tentative.

But both sides are saying the same thing: she was offered, in her own words, "emotional and financial" support.

Yes, Airbnb needs to make changes, but focusing only on how they handle her individual case for the moment: how is this not an adequate response?

Clearly she isn't lying. I don't believe Airbnb is lying either. But there is a possibility she is framing her situation differently now that there is a near-religious fervor throughout the Internet. Now she's saying they aren't helping her, that they haven't been helpful. While in fact it's evidently true they haven't put her in a new apartment and furnished it as promised, do we know this is because they failed to make good on their promise or because she turned them down or never followed up with them on that offer? We can't know.


"While in fact it's evidently true they haven't put her in a new apartment and furnished it as promised, do we know this is because they failed to make good on their promise or because she turned them down or never followed up with them on that offer? We can't know."

We can't know. Exactly. So how is it you were comfortable stating "'But the staff at Airbnb has not made a positive contribution to me personally or my situation in any way, particularly since June 30.' While maybe true in fact, clearly misleading her audience." as if you do know?


This is the first time I've read a gray comment on Hacker News that obviously does not deserve to be so.

Hacker News is NOT a place for mob mentality and hasty judgments. Nothing in this comment is inflammatory, or rude, or stupid. It's another point of view that deserves to be considered; it certainly does not deserve to be muted.

The fact that you can scan this and the other five Hacker News posts about this subject and can find only one unified interpretation of the event (Airbnb is wrong and evil!) can only signify that the community has sharply steered away from its roots.

Please; take some time to re-read the Hacker News community guidelines:

http://ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html

"The most important principle on HN, though, is to make thoughtful comments. Thoughtful in both senses: both civil and substantial."

It is absolutely shameful that the Hacker News community has degraded this much. If you want to think and act like an average, shallow internet user, then go to Reddit. This is a place for thoughtful, intelligent discussion.


I'm with you. The discussions around Airbnb are a living example of how HN has turned into Reddit. When I read about this event elsewhere, I do expect to see mob mentality and cheap sentiment, just so I can confirm what the majority is reacting. Not on HN.


It's worse than Reddit. Reddit has funny photos and games.


Taking pg's wonky comment (second-hand information, shifting blame on Arrington) as confirming the conspiracy theory is a "Because the bible tells me so". He's not your deus-ex-machina.

And the conspiracy theory camp keeps calling the woman the most terrible names, accusing her of over-dramatizing, how dare she! She's not one of us!

...and so on. I really didn't like that. I didn't down-vote you, but I would have if I could.


Perhaps you didn't read her first post, pg's comment is corroborated by EJ: she herself claims they offered her "emotional and financial"[1] support. There is no conspiracy. I believe she's telling the truth. But I don't believe Airbnb is some evil company blindly exploiting her.

[1] http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html "I would be remiss if I didn’t pause here to emphasize that the customer service team at airbnb.com has been wonderful, giving this crime their full attention. They have called often, expressing empathy, support, and genuine concern for my welfare. They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD to track down these criminals."


Don't ignore the second post: She claims she hasn't been contacted by anyone since June 30th, until well, now, almost August, when the post went viral and this whole mess was brought to light.

reply-edit: It's follow-through that matters. Is this not one of our principles? Yet, she's still homeless, hurt, and scared, but who cares, right?

"For all we know!" is an excuse. Airbnb's, "we're on it, folks!, let us get past this round of funding first" is another excuse. "It's all Arrington's fault" is another excuse, and a stupid one at that ( Yes, I said it ), especially when this thread is about EJ's blog-post, not Arrington's.

It bugs me that this turned into a fight between camps, and getting uglier, sillier, and dumber as time goes on.


She chose to be homeless.

Any rational person would have changed the locks and moved on by now. The only difference here seems to be that Airbnb, i.e. an intermediary, is involved.

You do the math.


> She chose to be homeless.

>Any rational person would have changed the locks and moved on by now.

Wow. You're an idiot.

Another person that has apparently never have their house broken into and ransacked.

Add to that her home is in no state to live in.

Add to that the restorations can't start until first the police were done, and second AirBnb has stated how much they will reimburse.


I don't understand: can't she pick up the phone and say, "Hey what happened? You promised to helped me. Now where's the help?"

Anyway for all we know they offered and she said, "Thanks. But no thanks." (What I'm saying is we don't know what the exchange was between them precisely, we only know that both sides of the story are saying the same thing: she was at least offered help from the outset.)


I haven't downvoted, but I suspect the "she could have been broken into without AirBnB's influence anyway" is the anger-inducing part of your comment. I certainly don't like it.


But home invasions happen every day! This is a fact. And the likelihood only increases when you travel and leave your home... I'm not saying it would have happened if she had never been involved with Airbnb, I'm saying though that it's actually to her benefit it happened through Airbnb because now there's a intermediary offering to help her... Isn't that generally a good thing, someone saying, "Hey we'll get you through this"? If it had been a case of normal home invasion while she was away I doubt it'd be as high profile as this case is and as a result I doubt anyone would be offering to pick up the pieces for her.

It's awful it happened to her. But it's also awful to lay the blame on Airbnb and say they've done effectively nothing to help her. That begins to look an awful lot like someone is trying to make them look bad... I'm not sure that's how I feel, but I understand the detractors of her story more now that details are emerging.

Like all things: clearly there are multiple sides to this story, it isn't as cut and dry as Airbnb heartlessly ignoring one of their customer's awful cases in the name of profit.


Of course home invasions happen every day. That's not the point. The point is that AirBnB directly put the criminal in her home, though of course they didn't realize that.

I'll leave out the "is EJ lying or is AirBnB" question for now, but AirBnB made it much more likely that her home would be ransacked.


Technically this part of Paul's comment does not contradict the victim's statement; AirBnB has offered to fix it from the beginning (give or take a day), but perhaps just forgot to communicate after that. Any calls from her could have ended up accidentally ignored by customer support or some other gate keeper.

However, that leaves two big issues in my view:

1 - This should have been handled by the CEO from day one. He can delegate the work down later, but the victim should have his phone number in case his minions screw up. The fact that he still believes a blog post is sufficient and that he throws in PR gimmicks such as doubling customer support (in a company that's growing exponentially), is not helping. But that is not at all evidence for...

2 - There needs to be some clarity really soon about whether AirBnB has attempted to cover this up, with Paul being miss-informed (I'm not ready to doubt his integrity), or if it's the other way around. I understand it is hard for AirBnB to disclose evidence in their favor, because they would risk defamation issues, privacy issues, precedent issues and even risk screwing up the police investigation. It's also difficult for the victim and journalists to present any definite evidence.

Perhaps both parties can agree to let an independent journalist with a solid reputation look into the situation? It may be hard to find anyone who considers this important enough though; sadly this sort of stuff tends to fade out in a matter of days.


I'm assuming YC still holds an interest in Airbnb? Seems like I would be distancing myself from this instead of getting into the 'he said, she said' stuff. Neither side will provide proof, so why risk getting involved when you can't be certain of the facts. I realize these people are friends, but this seems like a weird strategic move.


> offering to fix it, from the very beginning

That does not contradict the victim's statement, but it ignores her statement that communications stopped after she went public with it and that she claims that she hasn't received any of this compensation yet.

There's a big difference between being nice and being on top of something before the media forces you to.

I think most people are much more interested in knowing if AirBnB tried to cover this up (with the victim and/or the journalist), than about details of miscommunication. As I commented elsewhere, it's very difficult for either party to provide evidence for or against this.

The elephant in the room needs to be adressed in non ambiguous language, to prevent Clinton-Lewinsky syndrom.


What if somebody gets raped?

Seriously. I am not trying to be stupid.


It's happened, on couchsurfing rather than airbnb, but it's happened:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1205794/Rape-horror-...

Doesn't seem to have stopped the growth of couchsurfing.


"So Arrington, in typical Arrington fashion said ..."

I don't think the ad hominem helps your case, at all.


Why is this getting downvoted? This ad hominem attack adds nothing to the discussion, and is specifically called out in the hacker news guidelines. It feels a little hypocritical.


This is another example of Arrington's increasingly low-grade "journalistic" standards. I wonder whether there are slander laws for sins of omission. Regardless, this, along with other recent infractions (like the @catarina bs), makes me want to check TC completely off my daily reading list. It is like the TMZ of the tech world.


I find it hard to believe they offered to buy her a new place and stuff before this story blew up, that just seems like bad business.

It seems like it would easily fix the PR nightmare if they sent all of their evidence of these offers to the media outlets which would quickly discredit EJ and put an end to this.


Heheh just read this - it 'turns out'. Love it. See, it turns out use of the phrase is still going strong after all these years.


You guys really need to quit pointing fingers and focus on doing something positive. You're getting the "bullshit" you complain of all over you. As you should well know, one of the first rules of business is never to take it personally. Here's a re-post of a suggestion I just made to Brian Chesky:

"Although there have been negative PR effects for Airbnb due to this incident, it appears that they have benefited as well, by wisely using the lesson learned to improve their business by adding essential insurance and pre-deal inter-member communications services, among other things. The future value of that benefit to a start-up company most likely far exceeds the damages suffered by this host, assuming the PR issue can be positively resolved. There was no similar benefit for the host, unless you count the lesson learned that they should avoid the sort of activity your business is built around.

"So here's a suggestion: acknowledge publicly that this incident exposed ways in which the service could be improved and offer to make this one host whole as compensation for that value. Solves everybody's problems in one fell swoop without accepting blame for something that isn't Airbnb's fault (and more importantly without resorting to blaming the victim - not the host's fault either). I'll bet it would cost far less than the usual media blitz companies commonly use to repair their images after incidents such is this. Consider it a good investment in the company's future."

It appears that Airbnb has made moves in this direction. You say, and EJ confirms, that some financial compensation has been offered, but apparently EJ remains unconvinced that meaningful compensation will be forthcoming. Given the mixed responses EJ has reported from Airbnb staff and mixed messages we see from Airbnb in the media (claims of compensation offers and links to TOS policies denying compensation), I can't say I blame her. This needs to be remedied immediately, and all it would take is a press release and personal communication between Brian Chesky and EJ. Her remarks which were far less flattering toward Airbnb in her second post could have been avoided had she been contacted by someone in authority at Airbnb expressing concern for her problem rather than concern for theirs. You should have realized that her problem IS your problem.

The difference between "oh, they're the company that made immediate efforts to improve security and insurance options after being completely blindsided along with the host when somebody ransacked an apartment and went the extra mile to compensate the victim even though they weren't legally obligated to" and "oh, they're the company that was so concerned about the effects on their funding efforts that they tried to suppress the story and blame everyone else when one of their customers ransacked the apartment of another customer" when someone thinks of "Airbnb" depends wholly upon how the crisis is responded to. So far, Airbnb has done at least as much to reinforce the latter image as the former. You need message discipline and a positive message, and you need it now.


I think it's horrible that pg, a minor minor stakeholder in Airbnb, is handling the PR. Should be founders job. Where is Brian's apology for putting this poor woman's life on hold for 5 weeks?

Any goodwill that AirBnb gained from the namesake of YC has been lost from people I've spoken to.


My whole point is that as far as I can tell he hasn't, and therefore has nothing to apologize for.


Is it possible that the founders haven't been totally straight with you? There are wildly divergent accounts of what AirBnB has offered to EJ.

From her perspective, essentially nothing. Based on what they've told you, they've offered to make her whole. Unless there's been a seemingly unlikely misunderstanding, either she's lying, or they are.


But PR isn't about logic -- it's about storytelling. And if Airbnb isn't careful, the arc of the narrative here could seriously harm their business.

I agree with edw519: Airbnb needs to do something dramatic -- whatever it takes to transform EJ from a neglected victim of an unfeeling corporation to a hardy survivor who has moved on, thanks to Airbnb's caring and magnanimous support.


AirBnb is yc's baby, sure. But think logically. Either

- The woman is traumatized. The very first week, AirBnb does everything right to help. After a few weeks, the woman still feels mistreated and flips out. Writes an angry blog post. When AirBnb denies this, the woman doesn't feel like she's wrong. Keeps pressing her case. But also is touched by many people's help, and turns down free money.

- The woman is traumatized. After 5 weeks of run-around from founder and support (to buy time for funding), the woman is furious. Writes an angry blog. When AirBnb denies this, the woman is persistent in her case for justice. But also is touched by many people's help, and turns down free money.

which is more likely? Keep in mind, this woman, who feels that people are good and just, rents out her place with her stuff intact.


This woman has also had her entire faith in humanity destroyed.

I think option one is more likely.


I don't believe so. She seems to really appreciate all the help offers from strangers, and even turns down money and recommends others to enjoy their time by staying in a hotel room. That doesn't scream 'hating humanity' at all.

Also, when first AirBnb heard about this, they could've

a.) choose to protect her and other users from future incidents

b.) hide and hope it goes away

If they choose a, 5 weeks ago, they would've already either changed the business process, or blogged about it to their community to warn them of danger (heck, the perp hasn't been caught/IDed yet).

But because nothing was done, the fact that they kept outputting PR responses, and offered no tangible amount/receipt/proof that they helped her, tells me AirBnb is the one that is shady.


This is clearly contradictory to what the actual customer wrote yesterday. The customer is the source here we trust. Not Arrington.

She states she has only heard from two founders since posting the blog article, she received no offers of help, and no one has even asked how she was doing. From my point of view, it is quite clear the Airbnb team is lying to you or simply has had their communication wires crossed for far too long.

Airbnb may mean well, but meaning and action are different things.


In all my years working in health care as an ER and trauma nurse, I learned one thing: Do the right thing for the patient.

If the doctor is doing it wrong... do the right thing for the patient.

If the hospital is doing it wrong... do the right thing for the patient.

If a police officer is doing the wrong thing... do the right thing for the patient.

The ultimate policy is... Do the right thing for the patient.

AirBnb... Do the right thing.

Stop the spin. Don't tell the world what your security features are. Don't tell the Financial Times you are shocked.

Pull out all the stops and make this right, or this will be the end of you.

I've talked countless times with people about your service, and one of the things that comes up all the time is wondering what will happen, "When the first AirBnB murder happens".

It's not a question of "If it happens" it's a matter of "what are you doing to do _when it happens".

People get murdered in Hotels. People get murdered in rental cabins. I've been an ER nurse for years. Murders happen all the time. Someone is doing to die while using AirBnb. You're lucky this was just a robbery.

Learn from this.

Your policy needs to be: Do the right thing for the person.

Build a crisis response swat team that can get on a plane within the hour, fly to a destination and evaluate a crisis situation like this. For the love of gods you need to have 24 hour customer service. Give those people the authority and the responsibility to do the right thing then and there, on the spot.

Stop writing Tech Crunch posts.

Don't worry about telling us that you made it right. That's not important. Don't worry about the press. If you do the right thing, the press takes care of itself. Don't post in this comment thread. Ask your customer, "What do you need me to do to make this right?" "Is there anything at all that I can do to help?" Assign two or three people to the job of fixing this.

Do the right thing. Don't stop until this is right. Do it now.


I think all of this crossed their minds. Honestly, I don't think Airbnb wants to leave this person hanging.

If they pay for this incident, they are possibly opening the door for the kinds of schemes people pull on insurance. You know, the whole "rob my place and I'll collect the insurance" schemes.

If Airbnb pays for this incident, they effectively become an insurance company. Maybe what they should do is offer some type of actual insurance package on checkout. This way, they are providing a much needed service and indemnify themselves. Making their customers aware of this possibility rather than pretend it doesn't exist would also help create a safer environment.

EDIT: Let me be clear. I don't honestly think this person should be left high and dry. What I am saying is, to a criminal, the headline "Airbnb pays for all loss and damages", is enough to commit the crime again. We know criminals of this kind bet on low odds, otherwise there wouldn't be so many obvious ones. You might think on the side of a flexible entrepreneur, but criminals aren't looking at how Airbnb is going to look.


One of the big things about running a business is about being flexible and adaptable - particularly for a startup - there is even a cliched word that is bandied about for extreme examples of this - pivot.

The whole 'but if we do this it sets a precedent, it breaks our business model' is just an example of inflexibility. The circumstances that EJ is going through is not an outlier - it's a fundamental problem with their business model!

Pretending it doesn't exist, pretending that they can protect their model by not helping EJ isn't going to make the problem go away.

The only thing they should worry about now is making sure EJ has everything she needs. AirBnB's business model will no doubt adapt/change/pivot over the course of the lifespan of the business and few people will remember what it was in the past. What people will remember is their integrity and reputation - two things that AirBnB are burning to the ground at the moment. From the outside at least, it looks like AirBnB is focussed on protecting the former, when in fact, they should be protecting the latter.


AirBnB paying for one incident does not create any obligation on them to pay for other incidents. That's nonsense.

Apple replaced a friends phone that they abused and then made up a story about. Apple did this because Apple wanted to take care of their customer. Doesn't mean Apple is obligated to replace every phone, even when it is abused. Apple's only obligated to the terms of the warranty it promises. Apple promises little, but delivers a lot.

These are the incidents that test the true nature of a company. AirBnB is not coming off very well so far, and there is no negative ramification to doing the right thing-- except for the direct costs of doing the right thing.

If AirBnB thinks leaving their customer hanging is worth saving the money it would cost to "make things right" (Whatever that means) it is their right.

But lets not hide behind the spurious notion that the world operates like school.

Just because you give some gum to your friend doesn't mean you're obligated to give it to the whole class.

If it did, then I'd have the right to go to a party at the playboy mansion! Clearly other people were invited.


I'm not saying it's right or fair. I also think it's nonsense. You're thinking on the side of a smart entrepreneur, not a criminal.

All a crook is interested in is hearing or seeing the headline: "Airbnb pays for loss and damages to rattled user", or other more clever narrative. If you're a criminal, details aside, you've got all you need to scheme up an assalt.

Criminals don't work on high probability, if they did, there wouldn't be so many obvious ones. Just because they aren't likely to get the reward they desire doesn't mean they won't try.


I don't think this line of thinking works. Criminals aren't your customers. If you respond to incidents with non-customers in mind, you're going to create a negative response in current and potential customers.

This was an opportunity for AirBnB to prove that their service is excellent and worth using. This was a chance to prove to potential customers that if the worst happens they'll be their. Instead they proved they won't support their customers fully when worst case scenarios happen. Because they were thinking more about people who don't pay them then people who do.


Agreed. If AirBnB doesn't trust its customers, it can hardly ask them to trust one another.


The right way to handle this would be to make EJ right, then put insurance in place as part of the rental agreements that covers the future. Yes, insurance fraud exists, but insurance companies are good at ferreting that out. Since AirBnB is working on the latter, it makes no sense not to do the former.


If they pay for this incident, they are possibly opening the door for the kinds of schemes people pull on insurance. You know, the whole "rob my place and I'll collect the insurance" schemes.

If Airbnb pays for this incident, they effectively become an insurance company. Maybe what they should do is offer some type of actual insurance package on checkout. This way, they are providing a much needed service and indemnify themselves. Making their customers aware of this possibility rather than pretend it doesn't exist would also help create a safer environment.

Paying to make this right _should_ come out of a big, huge, hairy insurance policy. We haven't even begun to talk about the potential legal liability that AirBnb is under here. If they don't have an insurance policy that covers this stuf... You really shouldn't be in the hospitality business.

Dude, I work in an ER. When someone slips on a wet floor in a grocery store, they do _whatever_ _it_ _takes_ to be sure the person is cared for, taken to the ER and checked out. I've seen store managers drive people to the ER after getting hurt in their store.

Why? Because you take care of people. It's just good business.

Happy customers don't sue you. Angry customers sue you, even if you didn't do anything wrong, and you have no legal liability whatsoever.


"If Airbnb pays for this incident, they effectively become an insurance company."

If they don't, they very well might become a non-company.


AirBnB are on record saying one of their principles is that people are generally good. They have to believe this at some level or else their entire business model would be untenable. They cannot on one side claim that AirBnB is a safe proposition because most people are good and on the other refuse to take care of their customers because of the one-in-a-million who might cheat them.


Generally being the key word there. Even they recognize that there are outliers within their belief system. The real question is what their response is to an encounter with an outlier. If it is "Sorry, you're SOL". then this raises a huge red flag to the consumer. Now they're more aware of the stakes of the bet.

People are less likely to gamble once they have more understanding of the odds. AirBnB needs to make sure they mitigate "worst case scenarios" if they want to maintain a strong customer base.


ef that. take care of your customers or before you know it, you won't have any.


Blindly repeating a mantra without addressing the argument at hand is going to get you nowhere.


this is my argument: take care of your customers. contrary to your statement, it has gotten me somewhere since that is how i built my business. we've made mistakes and our partners have made mistakes, but we always put the customer's interests first in these situations, regardless of profit or precedent. solutions can be simple. this is one of them.


The are already introducing an insurance scheme, or that is what they claim. They simply will have to adapt - or it turns out their business model is not sustainable.


I am in full agreement. I am not going to use AirBnB unless they do the right thing and stop spinning this. When EJ posts about how AirBnB found her a new apartment, hired a team of investigators and has used precious funding to get her life back in order, then I'll sign up. That will put them above the rest. THAT kind of action will show the world that personal care is more important to this company than dollar signs. If the world sees more care, AirBnB will take off like a rocket. This is very much an opportunity to seize, and EJ is worthy of help.


It's already too late for that. They've made their bed.


I was going to write a lot about it, but your reply is everything I would write and more.

I really hope they do the right thing.


> Airbnb & YC, just fix this please:

Second that, and please do not try to instruct the victim in a way that can be construed as trying to cover things up, 'the cover up is worse than the crime' will come back to haunt you big time.

> 3. Help her find her irreplaceable stuff. A few private detectives and a small team of scouters can make more progress in 2 weeks that the SFPD can make in a lifetime. Publish pictures of her grandmother's jewelry to enlist a giant army of spotters.

Yes, and if what was written about 'a suspect is in police custody' was nonsense then apologize for that publicly and get it behind you as soon as possible. If it wasn't connect EJ to the right person at the police department. Your stories not being 'in sync' is a huge problem.

> 4. Hire her and pay her well (perhaps even with equity). She is obviously an excellent writer and an empathetic persona. But more importantly, she is an expert in addressing what is clearly the weakest link in your business model's chain.

That's one I really disagree with. She's not an expert in anything, she's a writer. AirBNB should not hire her, they should concentrate on fair compensation and then have her get on with her life as soon as possible. Any associations with AirBNB will likely be traumatic for her past the point where she's been compensated adequately.

After all that's done (and it should not take more than 72 hours starting now) if she comes around and writes a blog post on how great you guys handled this in retrospect that's great but do not ask for it and do not ask her to sign an NDA, it will make you look bad again.

Finally, make a point of linking to this story prominently (and how you dealt with it) from your terms of service / signup page as an example of how bad it can get (and let's be really happy she wasn't raped or killed, this is not the worst that could have happened by a long shot) and that you were able to fix this once but given that the people that own inventory on AirBNB have now been warned make it perfectly clear that you will not be able to do so again.

You may have to scale down a couple of notches but it's better to be sustainable at a slightly lower level than dead.


She's not an expert in anything,

She's the world's foremost authority on personal suffering from the elephant right on Airbnb's critical path. Do not underestimate the power of this. I can visualize a team of people working on this issue and thinking that they're done with EJ saying, "No we're not. This isn't right yet."

Sometimes the pain of experience provides enough determination to outweigh all of our business plans, projects, and code. She'll keep going when others want a break. Which is exactly what's needed on this issue right now.

I'd hire her in a heartbeat.

[EDIT: I'd recruit her in a heartbeat. Only she could decide what's best for herself. It's just that when I say, "Turn lemons into lemonade," the OCD in me takes over and wants to go all out.]


Victims need closure, they don't need a job by the one organization they associate with their plight. Likely this will haunt her for years as it is. Just having your place burgled is bad enough and reason for plenty of people to move out and/or never feel safe again in their own home. Imagine what this does to you.

There is a tremendous breach of trust here, especially in the part where AirBNB says that a suspect is in custody and she says that is not the case.

If the police would inform anybody it should be her, not AirBNB so one of them is not truthful here and that alone should preclude any relationship beyond getting this behind them asap, employment does not even enter into the equation.

That requires a basis of trust that I think that AirBNB will not be able to re-establish with this person barring some kind of miracle.

AirBNB needs a team that handles this sort of thing because it likely happens with some regularity, even if not this public or of this magnitude. But that does not mean that they should hire this particular person, or that it would be even reasonable to assume that she would be interested in such a position.

She's a traveling writer, not a psychologist and saying 'AirBNB should hire her' is taking away her ability to govern her own destiny, it is not AirBNBs call to make.


I appreciate the sentiment, but it would seem gratuitous and over-reaching on AirBnB's part. Your other suggestions I agree with.


I get exactly what you're saying, but what about point 6? What do you do when this happens again? And I see absolutely no reason why it won't happen again.

Let me put it another way: I think this problem kills the business model. What they currently do is not sustainable. They can't swoop in and replace everything for every person who is a victim of a scheme like this with their current model. If that becomes their strategy, then they're really an insurance agency. It's not unprecedented, ebay and PayPal spend most of their resources doing fraud detection. But it will completely change what AirBNB is.

So, yeah, in this case, I think what you suggest is probably best. But they have to change their company to address this problem, even if what comes out the other side is not the company as it is today.


> And I see absolutely no reason why it won't happen again.

It will happen again. And it was clear that it'd happen at some point. And worse will happen. Shit happens, especially at scale.

> I think this problem kills the business model.

Nah. Let's do a little back-of-the-napkining:

• Let's assume that this is the first incidence of such.

• Let's assume that Brian's quoted 2 million nights of rentals is accurate.

• AirBnB's fees are 6-12%. To make things easy, let's assume an average rental of $50/night and 10% fees.

• There. AirBnB has now made about $10 million in revenue.

• Total cost of fixing this is maybe tops of $100k.

So this eats into their margins by 1% assuming the numbers are roughly correct and assuming that insuring against such would cost about the same thing as paying out of pocket (but would also cover the more catastrophic cases). Maybe it's a bit more and it's a couple percent, but it doesn't destroy the model by any means.

Also, if they offered insurance, they could do it as a default-on-with-scary-red-confirmation-text-if-you-uncheck upsell at a premium (say, cost + 20%) and make more money.

> But they have to change their company to address this problem

Going over the top on this one is the cost of waiting too long. They need to turn this story around. The next time, when they have a process in place for this, they just let the process take care of things and don't end up with a shit-storm on their hands.


> Let's assume that Brian's quoted 2 million nights of rentals is accurate.

The reason they haven't done anything is that 1 in 2 million isn't accurate. 1 in 50,000 is probably stretching it. Consider the accidental AirBnB trespassing/squatting reported by another HN reader here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2820644

It's starting to look like AirBnB's business model relies on tricking people into making a bad financial decision[1] and then ignoring and intimidating them when things go bad.

[1] 99.99% chance of gaining $100 with 0.01% chance of losing $50,000 is positive expected value, but if losing $50,000 would bankrupt you it isn't a game you should play.


Once you do this as a matter of policy, you are open to fraud. Now you have to spend a significant amount of your resources on fraud detection - perhaps most of them. That's what I mean by they become an insurance company; their day-to-day operation would be indistinguishable fromt that of an insurance company.

Both ebay and PayPay went through this, and that's what they spend most of their time doing. But ebay and PayPal don't need to support the open-ended kind of claim - "My entire apartment has been ransacked and my identity stolen" - that AirBNB does.


Insurance (and by extension dealing with insurance fraud) for this sort of thing is a solved problem. They don't need to do it in house. They just pick up a policy from one of the institutional insurers and pass on the cost with a markup.

Edit: To clarify, by "this sort of thing" I don't mean "Airbnb like businesses". There's nothing particularly novel about insuring homes, their contents or vacation rentals. An institutional insurer can crunch some numbers (with estimates on the average values of contents, caps on liability, frequency of incidents, cost of claims inspection, rate of fraud) and figure out what the risk profile on that is and then mark that up and sell it to Airbnb.

What's actually unclear to me, however, after crunching out a revenue estimate for Airbnb (which I'd assumed was higher) is if they're a big enough fish yet for an insurer to bother with them.


I doubt it is a solved problem or AirBNB would be using it.

Imagine what the negotiations would be like. They need insurance for: -An open-ended number of people worldwide (constantly changing) -Any sort of property from shitty apartments all the way to fancy houses (no estimate of value possible, requires appraisers) -Damage/theft caused by people with unverified identities (all they have is CC, stolen?) -Any and all damage (including accidental death of people staying there?), including stolen identities and fire damage (to other properties as well?) -No security requirements for properties (fire alarms? carbon monoxide detectors? checking up on the place?)

I have a feeling that would cost more than 10%.


Imagine negotiating insurance for a mobile business where people are flung around 30+ feet in the air with no safety harness, others stick their heads in the mouths of lions or are "sat" on by elephants, and still others stick flaming swords into their throats. Meanwhile, children are riding on devices assembled by people who may not have a high school diploma (at least that's the impression I get). These businesses are generally very well insured.

There are insurance companies that deal specifically with unique, high risk insurance situations that are only applicable to very few clients. You don't buy these policies from Nationwide (directly), but they likely have a subsidiary which handles policies like this. In turn, those subsidiaries take out insurance policies on the high risk policy (it's turtles all the way down).

Disclaimer, my FIL used to work for an insurance company who dealt with high risk policies.


You're missing the point. It may be that the rewards possible from renting out your house for a few nights might not be worth the risks in letting strangers into your home (at least under the current terms offered by Airbnb).

That would mean that AirBNB doesn't have a viable business model, or that it's a much smaller market than previously thought.

Saying "insurance will handle it" isn't an answer. AirBnb needs to come up with some creative and effective policies to solve the real underlying problems first. A good start would be better identity verification of renters.

Once they've turned it from a bad risk into a good risk for a large market of people, then they can outsource the details to an insurance company.


That's not exactly the point. An insurance policy for a high risk activity - let's say skydiving - is very well definited. There are statistics on accident rates. There is a pretty defined payout when someone dies. The problem is not the risk level, it's the undefined nature of the problem.

AirBnB doesn't know the value of the property they are renting. They don't have a long enough history to figure out what these kind of things could cost. What if I rent out a mansion, are they as liable there as in this case? Does AirBnB limit their pay out? These are questions they will have to come through at some point.


> Does AirBnB limit their pay out?

Yes. And make it clear that the payout is limited in the TOS. That way AirBnB/their insurer assume some well-defined amount of risk and it's not all on the renter.

The issue of insurance fraud is tougher though.


The other tricky thing is that they need to negotiate this per jurisdiction. They can't sell insurance directly in most markets without being an insurer, and there are all kinds of BS legacy laws about referring and reselling insurance too. (i.e. you'd need to go to classes and be a registered agent to offer it)

It would be a fun problem to solve for them.

I don't think the actual per-room-night price for, say, $10-20k in contents and $bignum in liability (i.e. my guest burns down the building and kills everyone) would be that high; on the order of $10. 2m nights is enough to have some data, and this is similar to the vacation market.

It could even just be a rider on top of existing homeowners/renters insurance. A nice trick might be to sell renters insurance at the same time, and make money off that (which is IMO something everyone should have anyway, even if they don't use airbnb), with free coverage for airbnb use.


At least circuses have low potential for fraud -- nobody gets eaten by a lion just for the cash. If airbnb started insuring (directly or indirectly) against damage caused by renters then there's quite a few ways for unscrupulous folks to try to rip that off.


I'm not saying it's not possible but it is expensive (high risk = high cost). What's AirBNB's margin? They charge 10% but after expenses, can they make money paying the insurer X%? That's the fundamental question and I suspect it's "No".


Lloyd's will insure it if you can think of it, basically.

AirBnB is not that far out there that they couldn't get at least three special risk companies to give them a decent quote.

I'm in the insurance field btw.


Can you even get insurance on an illegal activity. It seems clear that many people on Airbnb are either illegally subletting their rental apartment or in places like NY where Airbnb is violating laws meant to stop illegal and unlicensed hotels.


Sub-letting is more often perfectly legal, but yes, I'd imagine if you are in contradiction of either your rental agreement and/or local laws you would also be voiding your insurance contract.


I would bet dollars to doughnuts that a traditional holiday apartment will only be able to get insurance that is viable if they meet a number of criteria (removal of valuables, cheap furnishings, inspection etc) that would not be available to someone putting their primary residence up for piecemeal rental on AirBnB


Then they're an intermediary for the same kind of insurance that hotels and bed-and-breakfasts have. I don't know if that's even possible to do - how do you approach a company for a policy that covers hundreds of thousands of homes around the world?


Sure, if you install a surveillance system or have a doorman/reception area, you can get a decent insurance rate. Also, you have to buy insurance in 6/12 month chunks, even if you rent out the place for 3 days a month.

All of a sudden the rates that greedy hotel chains charge don't seem so greedy.


Why isn't acquiring this type of insurance the responsibility of the renter?


OK, so they're an insurance company, just like ebay. And Google isn't really a search company but an advertising one. So what?

Your underlying premise seems to be that a responsible business model isn't viable. Is your argument that therefore companies should be irresponsible where there is profit to be made?

I would argue they become an insurance company, or make it clear that the householder assumes all the risk and makes it possible for them to minimise that risk i.e. by removing the obstacles they provide to investigating the other party.

This incident is suggesting that instead they mislead the customer regarding the risk, deliberately reduce their ability to manage that risk, in order to maximise their profits.

Setting aside the moral and legal aspects of such a strategy, I doubt that's good for business. Who wants to trust their home to a company with a reputation for cutting corners to make money?


Your underlying premise seems to be that a responsible business model isn't viable. Is your argument that therefore companies should be irresponsible where there is profit to be made?

Geez, that's a leap. I thought I made myself clear: they either need to change their company completely to deal with this problem, or they will cease to exist. I'm not certain that they can completely deal with this problem - the risks are much more open-ended than with ebay and PayPal. So I think it's possible the business model cannot survive - which I thought I made clear when I said it was not sustainable.

I'm arguing that their company may cease to exist because of this problem. I don't know how you connected that to advocating for companies to be irresponsible.


How do they "just fix this" if her lawyer is saying "let's find the highest possible clearing price for this transaction"? In my experience, that's what a good lawyer is going to say. "This is just business."

Like in any negotiation, anything Airbnb offers is now the price floor. Her best interests are served by turning the pain dial to 11 for as long as the offer is on the table.

You don't even have to know anything about this person to wonder about this. You don't have to psychoanalyze her. You can just read between the lines. Even before 'pg said Airbnb offered to make her whole, reread her post. How does it even make sense for Airbnb to suggest she add a "happy ending" to her story unless they actually offer her something? But in the same post, she says she hasn't talked to them in a month and makes no mention of any offer. It doesn't add up.

There's nothing Airbnb can do here other than soak up the punches until they hit a number they can agree on.

Unfortunately, this problem is likely to recur until Airbnb figures out the business model tweak that mitigates it.


If she was being coached by a lawyer, said lawyer would surely not let her write another word about it. That's his payday she will burn. I doubt she has one.


Why's that? What has she written so far that would jeopardize settlement negotiations, or her ability to bring a case to court?

Companies are invariably advised to clam up in the face of litigation, but that's because they have a lot to lose and because they have to maintain message discipline across the whole company. Also, because they usually don't want to talk about it.


I'm not saying she has written something bad so far, I'm saying that an ambulance chaser lawyer seeking a settlement would not let her take that chance.

The only way that would fly is if the lawyer is vetting everything before it is posted, which is more work for the lawyer. Since lawyers in cases like this are not paid hourly, and taking a cut of the settlement, they are not going to waste their time with that unless they think it increases their payout.

I think Occam's Razor suggests that she genuinely feels ruined, and that is why she is posting. Your attitude is borderline victim-blaming, and to suggest she is faking tears for money is kind of cold.


You think her story adds up? Interesting. It didn't for me.

(I'm sure the event happened the way she said it did, by the way. I'm not one of those people that thinks this is an elaborate scam.)


It didn't for me either.

All these people self-righteously urging Airbnb to "do the right thing" are naively assuming that there's an obvious right thing and that after a month it hasn't been tried. Oh, and that they know what it is and that the Airbnb founders don't. I doubt all that. For it to be true, the founders would have to lack decency (that's why the sillier comments cry "sociopath!") and be incompetent.

We have little information about what the interactions have been. There are big gaps in both sides' public statements. The only rational response is to withhold judgment. So why have so many HN users rushed to fiery denunciation and smug advice? Because it confirms our self-flattering beliefs: "I'm smarter (than those guys)". "I'm a better person". "I would save the damsel in distress". (If there's a damsel in distress, can a moustache-twirling villain be far behind?)

It seems to me that if one starts from opposite assumptions, namely that I'm probably not that much smarter or better a person, one arrives at different conclusions. First, I don't know. Second, the obvious right things have probably been tried. Third, someone has an interest in prolonging this.

(p.s. Just to stave off obvious misunderstanding: I don't disbelieve what EJ has written about her apartment or how she's feeling.)


The only explanation I can come up with is that they're in at the deep end in a way they weren't expecting. It's happened to more grizzled operators than any of us – look at the family Murdoch right now – but as long as they give the impression of either not caring, or of flailing wildly, then confidence in their marketplace is going to keep dropping.

Marketplaces live on liquidity, and lack of confidence kills liquidity, so it's existential crisis time.


How is this their fault? Your comments make no sense, because someone did not understand the inherent risks of using a service does not make it AirBnB's fault.

"How could this happen? Why did this happen? Despite it not being in New York... I LOVED my apartment nonetheless. It was my own private retreat, my sunny, bright, cozy loft that I would melt into on those rare occasions when I wasn't traveling. The space was simply decorated, minimalist enough to reflect a home life that was all mine, a place that was peaceful, and safe.

How could this happen? She decided to rent out her place - its not like AirBnB put it up on the market.

Thats the difference between a rental property and your home. If its something precious, it should not be entrusted to others.


> because someone did not understand the inherent risks of using a service does not make it AirBnB's fault.

If these are the risks then almost no one should be an AirBnB landlord. YC companies aren't supposed to profit by tricking people into making financial mistakes.

AirBnB needs to patch their business model (perhaps adding a $x insurance fee for both renter and buyer to compensate future victims), and then add prevention features:

- verify that landlords actually own what they are putting up for rent (postcard + pin?)

- verify that renters are who they say they are (billing info + billing phone verification for first time customers?)


“By hindering my ability to research the person who will rent my home, there is an implication that Airbnb.com has already done the research for me,” she wrote. “In effect, the friendly, community-based site ... creates a reasonable expectation that some basic screening of its users has occurred, and speaks little to the risks involved.”

Translation: I'm big enough to put my apartment for rent though this great, cheap service and try and profit from it and because so if ANYTHING AT ALL HAPPENS that I don't like, even if I may have possibly know or should have thought about it or not, because I'm a big girl but not that big, you know, then I should be able to sue because its really not my fault and if this does happen its clear that I was either tricked or deceived, because I'm pretty smart.


It might not be AirBnB who did this to her apartment, but it's definitly in AirBnB's commerical interest to kill the meme that "If you're happy to accept your place being trashed, then use AirBnB. If you don't want that to happen, don't use AirBnB"


Nope, this is something that everyone who rents out their place - on any service - must understand and come to terms with. Never gamble with more than you can afford to lose.


This is ridiculously short sighted. It is AirBnB's commercial interest -- if nothing else -- to make this issue go away. Thinking like this is what keeps PR people in business.


I disagree, this is just a case of HYPER OMG!! This will not effect AirBnB business, investment, popularity or success even if it hits the front page of FT. You dont rent out your principal residence to someone you don't know and found on the net. Duh.


You know what AirBnB is right? Its entire business model hinges on people renting out their principal residence to someone they don't know. And you don't think this story will affect their business model? I'm just baffled.


You're conflating two issues. This isn't about whether or not it's sensible to rent out your living space to a stranger. (I happen to agree with you that it's reckless & irresponsible.)

The issue isn't even whether or not AirBnB is responsible for what happened or not. (I happen to agree with you here as well that AirBnB is not legally or morally responsible.)

The issue is that right now AirBnB's blood is in the water. The media sharks are starting to frenzy. They need to take immediate remedial action in a very public way that makes it clear in no uncertain terms that they share the moral high ground with the victim.

This isn't about real culpability. It's about image and brand management. But, as I've said before, that is my perspective as a former PR & marketing guy.


You're conflating two issues. This isn't about whether or not it's sensible to rent out your living space to a stranger. (I happen to agree with you that it's reckless & irresponsible.) The issue isn't even whether or not AirBnB is responsible for what happened or not. (I happen to agree with you here as well that AirBnB is not legally or morally responsible.)

Don't these two things taken together imply that no one should use AirBnB except to rent to friends/family (in which case, why would you use AirBnB)?

It seems like they really need to figure out if what happened here is something they can stop from happening or is it a new model for buglaries.


...That's kind of the entire airbnb business model right there.


1. Get a new place for EJ. Furnish it fully. Pay for everything.

They should definitely be doing better, but I think this particular advice is wrong. They can't buy a new house for everyone whose home gets vandalized. And any kind of "policy" would make this incident seem more likely to happen in the future, so no one would use the service. Irrational, but people aren't good at thinking about small odds (about 10 million to one, if Airbnb's numbers are right). Not to mention the rampant fraud that will happen when people destroy their own places to get money from Airbnb.


about 10 million to one

Well, maybe. As ry0ohki points out in another thread, maybe the reason they thought this would just blow over was that it happens fairly frequently, and most of the time no one ever hears about it other than the friends and family and local police.


I would change it to:

1. Get a temporary place for EJ. Pay for her stay for 6 months, so she can rent/sell/fix her place. When she moves to her new residence, furnish it fully.


If the odds are "about 10 million to one," then yes, indeed, Airbnb can afford to buy a new house for everyone whose home gets vandalized.

Either the numbers work, or they don't. Which is it?


Absolutely actionable advice for Airbnb.

Screw business, if this happened to my clients, I would go spend a week with her, try and help restore her life back, be on the phone for her with credit agencies, police, lawyers, anyone.

Isn't that the reason why we start companies? To make lives of others better? Do you need better examples to drop your stuff and go help others?


Well said.


The way things are right now, maybe this blows over and the AirBnB business model continues just the way it was, with its associated massive valuation. If they help everyone in the way you are suggesting, the model is _definitely_ finished, because you cannot create the expectation that AirBnB will pick up the pieces every time something goes wrong. And the more people use the service, the mores cases like this there will be. Also, AirBnB are almost certainly getting legal advice that says not to have any unnecessary communication with EJ in preparation for a law suit that looks to me like it's inevitable.

So your sentiments are admirable, but not practical. My heart goes out to that girl too, I have to say. She's clearly a sensitive soul, and this has really messed her up. I hope she can get over it and move on.


Fuck the model, it's broken.


Agreed AirBnB can't create the expectation of covering the cost of apartments being "trashed" for fear of abuse of the policy. You can be sure that their lawyers are vetting all messages too, for fear of creating a chain of liability, should they start covering the costs.

That said, what about offering a generous bounty? Say $1m in this case for the successful apprehension and prosecution of the guilty party (or parties). This figure would have to be ratcheted down after the initial PR success for fear of people committing such crimes in future with the intent of enriching their friend/relative who turns them in.


Hasn't the window already closed? Short of doing everything you listed at considerable expense, how does this get made right? is that even enough? The heirlooms are gone at this point, you had a chance a few weeks ago but that stuff is long gone now.

There should have been a plan for this before it happened. part of that would be "hey, we'll do all these things, x, y, and z, in exchange please take your blog down" or at least "please blog that you've been made whole by the company, without mentioning specifics" or if you're a real pro, you present the victim with a contract before it even occurs to them to blog about it and you put that in it. It's too late now. Not just too late, but they've added to the "wrong" done to this woman. Plus if you "fix it" the pressure will be to reveal what was done, complete with rumors and misinformation bouncing around, rumors you can't control or fix.

I think it's business 101 in some line of work. Look at the LA Dodgers, a fan was nearly beaten to death at a game earlier this year and the team had reduced the security, fired the chief of security and done some otherwise stupid things prior to this (read: the dodgers may be responsible.) They can't stop the news, it made the news, but they swooped in, made some undisclosed financial arrangements and the news is about catching the criminals now. FWIW, this fan will never make a full recovery. The Dodgers have other problems and they aren't glossing over the beating but it's clearly not the focus it could be.

I've seen a remarkable number of tech companies do the same thing regarding security, to the point of even knowing they have problems and choosing to ignore them and hope for forgiveness rather than spend the time and money to fix them. If you're going to take that risk at least be prepared for when you lose. You have to come correct and offer up enough that it doesn't make sense for people to be angry, it has to be a legitimate apology with some contrition.


I couldn't agree more.

Deal with the "if I give you a cookie, everyone else will want one too" problem if and when you actually have it. This isn't about business. It's about helping someone who needs help.


This is about business. Airbnb can't be sustained for free. It will cease to exist if it can't make money.


You're right. And if they don't fix this and find a way to deal with it in the future, they won't have any one renting their homes out. Then they'll be out of business.

It is in their best interest to fix this, call it a first-time problem, and then find a long term fix. Otherwise, their model is gone.


The girl who's house got ruined doesn't care if AirBnB falls apart, and the founders have to work for a red-tape, boring organization for the rest of the lives.


4. Hire her and pay her well (perhaps even with equity). She is obviously an excellent writer and an empathetic persona. But more importantly, she is an expert in addressing what is clearly the weakest link in your business model's chain.

I highly doubt she wants to work for them, given what happened to her and Airbnb's response.


Not sure why YC should be getting blamed here? I give them a lot of credit as it appears that hacker news broke this story. If there was anything sinister going on I think they could have just deleted the story.

Airbnb is another matter. Asking the blogger to remove the post sounds like such a bone-headed move that I have trouble believing it is true.

Airbnb has lost all credibility in my book.


It was a bit tacky that YC removed AirBnB's name from the title of the original story.


It should be noted that when they changed that story title, they were changing it to the actual title of the blog posting. That is pretty standard practice here, to prevent editorializing via the title. Although, I can see how it would come across wrong in this case.


HN could easily automatically use the title of the submitted article, it doesn't for the purpose of allowing more relevant titles to be written for the HN audience.

The submitted title accurately portrayed the story as linked to without significant editorializing.

There was a clear conflict of interest in YC modifying the title to be one more favourable to one of their portfolio companies.

This is exactly the kind of situation chinese walls are designed for, where I've worked for investment banks in the past there's no way they'd allow their investment arm to edit the output of an analyst report to be favourable to a company they invest in. That's the kind of thing that makes you subject to a regulatory investigation.


YC does not hide the fact that HN is a tool for their needs. They have made no claims to be an unbiased news source so we can't really hold them to that standard.


YC have stated they only edit titles for the good of the site and not for the good of YC. If they wish to adopt that policy they're free to do so and make a statement to that effect.

However I imagine they don't do so due to the obviously loss in good will such a position would cause.


Thank you for pointing this out.

The title was changed from "AirBnB: Crimes committed against a host" to "Violated: A traveler's lost faith, a difficult lesson learned" As you noted, this matches the title of the story on the blog.

From http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

"You can make up a new title if you want, but if you put gratuitous editorial spin on it, the editors may rewrite it."


Ironically "AirBnB: Crimes committed against a host" reads much more factually than the original title, which is much more editorial in nature. Compare: "Reggie Bush: Joins the Miami Dolphins" vs. "Signed: A football player's sincere belief, a hefty contract earned". In the context of HN I much prefer the non-original title.



Thanks for pointing that out. I didn't realize.


In amongst all the other mentoring and help that YCombinator provides its companies, does it have a press officer on hand for crises such as this? As you say, this is such a bone-headed move that it seems like something that needs to be addressed on the same level as technical, business or hiring blunders.


> YC should be getting blamed here?

What emphasis if any does the YC program place on ethics?


Ed, you put it exactly right.

Airbnb's "wrap this up, get rid of it" response is what I would categorize as a typical, immature response to a problem.

Make it go away, I don't want to look at it.

A responsible, empathetic response would be exactly what you typed up.

The co-founder that talked to her on the phone should realize that embracing his principles in times like these will catapult him (or her) to success faster than trying to slide your way past problems as best they can.

Anything they do "nice" at this point I'll perceive as damage-control, which is unfortunate.

They missed that window of opportunity to shine weeks ago. Now it is just them trying to cover their hides and avoid a lawsuit.


Couldn't agree more, and if you look at the history of horrific moments for companies and brands these incidents become turning points for the companies involved.

This is rapidly spinning from a Tylenol crisis to a Ford / Firestone crisis. This could have been a positive moment for the company as the FT had a front page article about AirBNB making the situation right. However, AirBNB failed to get infront of the story and now they are in the FT in a very negative light.


Please tell me you're not serious. What you're asking for goes well beyond taking responsibility and far into the realm of treatment given to pop stars.

Yeah, Airbnb could probably afford doing this out of PR considerations this once. But not for every single problematic hosting. And I do not believe the extent and support and compensation for crime victims should depend on their ability / luck in drumming up a social media / startup community shitstorm.

What Airbnb does need to do is find a sustainable method of dealing with incidents like this in the future.


> What Airbnb does need to do is find a sustainable method of dealing with incidents like this in the future.

What Airbnb needs to do is find a method of preventing this type of incident in the future. They have to work out how to change the economics of the relationship so that the host isn't bearing all the risk and the visitor has some disincentives that keep their behaviour within acceptable bounds. At the moment their current business model is toast, because a large proportion of their potential hosts will start hearing about this kind of incident (search Google News for 'airbnb' and see how far the story has got so far) and think that the risk of it happening to them just isn't worth it, whatever kind of support they put in place to deal with the consequences.


> What Airbnb needs to do is find a method of preventing this type of incident in the future. They have to work out how to change the economics of the relationship so that the host isn't bearing all the risk and the visitor has some disincentives that keep their behaviour within acceptable bounds.

I'm not sure that's possible, though. And the host isn't bearing all of the risk- a guest could rent out a room and have the host murder them in their sleep. It's fundamentally a risky proposition, though I'm agree that the host bears more risk than the guest.

(search Google News for 'airbnb' and see how far the story has got so far)

Eh, search Google News for 'craigslist killer'- Craigslist is still doing alright for itself. No doubt it's a giant hurdle to overcome, but this isn't the end of AirBnb.


As someone who has spent a lot of time trying to "make it right" for the customer, I completely agree. They must absolutely take care of this RIGHT NOW. And, in a personal, non-public way. If they try to make any more public statements about what they are doing, it will just look flat out like a publicity stunt.

This is obviously the best and only possible customer service and goodwill move at this point (to me anyway). Every single day that this conversation continues to happen they are going to become less trustworthy.

I do have one adjustment. They need to make it clear that this was an obvious hole in their model and while they take care of this user, this is a unique case and immediately going forward offer insurance as an add on option.

I'm certain there must be a third party insurance partner out there who would absolutely love this business.


I was trying to avoid commenting, but I totally agree.

One thing I'd do is rent her an apartment, not a hotel room. She really seems like someone who values the "home" aspect of it, vs. just the monetary or functional aspect.

I'd she would be willing to rent it via airbnb for $0 that would be even better for them (direct from Joe or Brian).


6) Say you're sorry. Not because you caused this, but because a bad thing happened to a customer and it wasn't prevented and you weren't prepared.

Saying that you're sorry doesn't mean it was your fault or even have legal liability (which they might), it just means that you have a heart.


Saying that you're sorry doesn't mean it was your fault or even have legal liability (which they might), it just means that you have a heart.

Saying 'I'm sorry' does legally imply it was your fault and you are liable, legally.

I am not a lawyer, but I have read my insurance documentation where it clearly says 'Don't say 'I'm sorry' if you are in an accident because ...'.


It's interesting, but it seems like as these startups grow bigger they become much like the corporations they are displacing - seemingly caring much more about profits than about doing the right thing.


we are standing by, and we just contacted her again telling her that we will do whatever we can to help.


A tip for you: I work in support, and weasel words are the substance of our being. You tell the customer "Do A, B, and C, and that should get you up and running". They don't really hear the 'should', but it needs to be there because computers are fickle and anything can go wrong. In short, I guess I'm saying I'm a bit more practised at recognising weasel words for what they are - and in this situation, it's not really an "anything bad is possible from here"; the worst has happened. This is the point in support where you start giving the client the concrete steps that will be taken to solve their issue.

"again telling her" is the weasel words I'm referring to here. You've already told her this, and she claims that after saying this, all help evaporated - it's the cornerstone of her complaint, and you're announcing Round 2 of the same thing. This is a PR disaster for your company: it is not the time to engage in weasel words. Whether or not you plan on following through, you should sound like you absolutely will. Of course, you should follow through - if something like this happened in my company, the CEO would be absolutely roasting us for not following through and taking measures into his own hands, both because he's an honourable bloke, and because it's a giant PR issue.

jcunningham above points out other weaselly things. Again, whether or not you're giving her concrete messages about what kind of help you're offering her, you should also be announcing these publicly. "We are reimbursing costs of -foo-", "We are organising temporary accommodation of her own", "We are doing this and this to help the police", "We've assigned John Doe to manage her case and will be in contact this often". Be concrete, not hand-wavy.

The guy you're replying to gave five ideas for supporting her, and the response is a wishy-washy "we'll be there for her" - which is the kind of empty promise you hear drunk 20-year-olds tell each other before they sleep with each other's best friends. I don't necessarily think all the things the GP said are right, but using weasel words in this situation is a path to PR failure in my opinion.

EDIT: the reason why I wrote all the above is that I read your comment and felt angry because it sounded like another fobbing off, more promises that are not going to be upheld (as the first round was allegedly not). I do not think I'm going to be unusual in this.


+1.

Telling you're contacting her and AirBnb doubled customer staff won't just solve everything.

Always remember you're dealing with people, not just nicknames on internet (it's more than a series of tubes). Stop buzzwords and start acting like real people in real world.


I think you may have misparsed the sentence due to some ambiguity in the phrasing. The phrase "contacted again telling her" isn't meant to be read "contacted, again telling her"; it should be "contacted again, telling her". In other words, "again" refers to the contact, not to the telling.


partly, technically, yes. Remove the "again" from the quoted bit if you prefer. It is still Round 2 of saying "we'll be there for you", and Round 1 failed once they got what they came for.


She basically called you a liar...does this outreach statement by you mean that her claims about airbnb's reaction are true?

FTA: “On June 22nd, we learned that the home of one of our San Francisco hosts was vandalized by an Airbnb guest.”

-Based on the delay in their response time, I have reason to believe that Airbnb did not learn of my situation until June 23rd.

...

“We have been in close contact with her ever since, and have worked with the authorities to help find a resolution.”

If the “her” he is referring to is me, then the first part of this statement is false (the second I cannot attest to).

...

I blogged my story, and all these kind and supportive people just ... disappeared.


No offense, but you need to stop with the Politically correct BS statements and just go ahead and do the right thing.If figuring out what the right thing is , is too hard, then maybe you guys have a much larger problem. Like it or not, this may well turn out to be an inflection point for your entire business..its up to you to make it a turn for the better , not worse.


Stop standing by and start taking action. Don't ask the victim to come to you for help, start offering help. Be proactive. Be a man about this.


Agree, but perhaps without the "be a man" part. The offer to to do "anything we can" comes across as an offer to do what is asked, so a passive stance. "We're here to help" is not the same as "we're helping by doing this."


Here's my unsolicited advice: stop talking. You aren't going to win this by talking about it here of all places. Have a meeting today - all hands - and figure out what you are going to do. Don't invite your lawyer. Two agenda items: 1)how do we fix this for her? 2) how do we fix this problem with the model (insurance, renter background check)? Privately fix #1, publicly fix #2.

Don't talk publicly about what you are doing to help her until it is all done.

Do this right and your company is set. Do this wrong, and your company is dead.

Good luck!


What happened to paying her for damages? After the initial blog post, you said you'd do it. Then this post by her makes it clear that you didn't, and are not going to. So which one is it?


The fact that it takes her calling you out in front of what amounts to the entire tech community to get you to act is appalling and speaks very poorly about how you value your customers.

You've known about this for five weeks and the best you've come up with is to just stand by and wait?


I sincerely hope this is not true:

"He then addressed his concerns about my blog post, and the potentially negative impact it could have on his company’s growth and current round of funding. During this call and in messages thereafter, he requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a “twist" of good news so as to “complete[s] the story”."

Being a startup founder, I empathize with the difficulties AirBnB is facing with this crime of one of their customers. Being a potential AirBnB host, this makes me a bit nervous.

Being a concerned citizen, I don't care at all how such a crime impacts the company's profitability & image; all I care about is whether or not the company has the integrity to do the right thing.


Actions speak louder than words. Stop telling this girl you will do something and DO SOMETHING.

Show the world your integrity and make this right.


"we are standing by"

Then stop standing by. Telling someone you will help is not the same as helping.


For Pete's sake, compensate the woman for her loss already, and get a signed NDA in exchange. This is your chance to show (a) you're not evil, and (b) you can handle the situation.


I feel like it's going to be a bit late for that, but yes, please do something for this woman before the PR damage is irreparable.


What does "standing by" mean?

What does "whatever we can" mean?

Why did you say yesterday there is a suspect in custody if the victim claims the suspect was released a month ago?

Do you think it's a problem that we have to parse your words so carefully now?


I think the real problem is that too many people are all in on believing that the blogger's version of events are 100% accurate. Please note I am not saying she's lying, omitting or otherwise distorting the truth -- only providing her perspective on the relationship between herself and AirBnB. Just for the record, I also think AirBnB has utterly fumbled the ball here.

However, I don't think this type of tone is appropriate. If you review my comment history, I am firmly on the side of AirBnB sucking it up and making this right. Unfortunately, this is starting to smell like a witch hunt.


Whatever happened to "the customer is always right?"


The customer is definitely not always right. But this one is very convincing.


The best comment I heard on that slogan was from a businessman whose name I unfortunately forgot. It went along the lines of "The customer in not always right, that's nonsense. The customer does have a right to be heard."


So nicely put. I could not have said it better myself. Airbnb has the social responsibility to help restore this woman's life and make sure this doesn't happen again. Im concerned with all the attention this topic is receiving, that it will influence other bad people to leverage the missing link in their business model.


Damage control. That should have been in place for things like this. And it looks like there isn't.

I wonder how their risk analyses looked like.


Why should AirBnB offer to replace her stuff, when she made the mistake of not properly screen the person, and left everything free for the taking while away during the rental period. Sure, maybe they need better security, but no one forced her to rent out her place, and no one forced her to hand the keys over while she was gone.


Like others I have been following this and others passively as it's progressing. I'm not convinced the issue is as extreme as others are predicting.

I do agree that AirBnB should do more in this case though - from afar it looks like their reaction is based out of fear (Oh f%$k it happened, now what?! Let's get rid of it fast!) rather than compassion, it's impossible to say for sure, that's just what it looks like to me as an outsider. Compassion for the customer/victim/human being seems like a no brainer. I, too, agree with the sentiment that people are generally good and want to do the right thing. I'm hoping that the reason there has not been the level of support that seems to be expected is the result of fear. Fear for what others will expect when it happens again.

If they choose to not change their approach as a result or do anything at all here will it kill the company? At this point I doubt it. It's not good but I don't think it's a company killer, they're more at risk from being killed by regulation than bad PR I think.

As an opportunistic entrepreneur like others here my instinct is to look at it as an opportunity for good PR but that is quickly overcome by simple empathy, someone has been hurt by the product. Even if you consider it to be indirect someone still got hurt while interacting with the system. I personally choose to do business with companies and individuals who are people first and professionals second. That means businesses acting to Cover My Ass first are weak and those who act to do the right thing are atrong. I conduct my own business with the same thinking.

At this point it doesn't look like Chesky and company are the latter but rather acting with thinking from the former. The question I'm curious about is simply: why? I don't understand what circumstance would cause me in Chesky's shoes to not call her and at the very least be a compassionate human being until it was resolved to a reasonable extent. Something is amiss. edw519, some of your suggestions might be a bit extreme but surely something can be done to help her as it seems not enough has been done. Why not?


And what happens the next time?

And the time after that?

Will AirBNB be legally/financially responsible every time some guest trashes a host's place? Shouldn't the guest be responsible? Does the former line of thinking scale?

I find the whole issue a bit of comic opera because I remember the first time I learned of AirBnB's business model I realized this kind of thing could and would happen. And now it has. Shocking! Not.


It's not a woman, it's a man. He even cleared that up in this article.


"It's not a woman, it's a man. He even cleared that up in this article."

From the blog post:

"I do exist. I am a real person using a nickname my parents stuck me with long ago. I do not work for the hotel industry, though I admit I love a Four Seasons as much as the next girl. Oh and on that note, I am female."

Sounds like a woman to me.


Yeah, my mistake. I have a tendency to misread things (a lot).

Carry on.


He then addressed his concerns about my blog post, and the potentially negative impact it could have on his company’s growth and current round of funding. During this call and in messages thereafter, he requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a “twist" of good news so as to “complete[s] the story”.

If this is true it is downright appalling. Does he really think this woman that just had her life turned upside down gives a shit about his next round of funding?


It gets worse.

"Note: a second co-founder did email me for the first time around 2am yesterday, suggesting we meet for coffee as he 'would enjoy meeting' me. He made no inquiry into my current emotional state, my safety or my well being."

Speechless. The lack of compassion for another human being here is staggering. Utterly oblivious — or indifferent. How does this happen to people?


Now this part I think is overdramatic. I agree with jrockway. Criticizing a person for stating he would "enjoy meeting" a person is more than a bit pedantic imo. I'm sorry if she "doesn't care" about what anyone else may "enjoy", but seriously, I don't think it indicates any lack of sympathy. It's not like EJ is bleeding all over her keyboard while people nonchalantly schedule appointments later in the week or something, the crime is over now and it's a reasonable way to request a meeting. What do you want him to say?

Really a silly thing to make a fuss over, and fussing over trivial matters just weakens an otherwise strong case.


Not disagreeing with you, but just wanted to point out: this is why there are such things as trained spokespeople and customer service reps. I know these jobs aren't looked upon with much respect by those of us in the engineering and development community who would rather say things directly to the customer...but here, an innocent attempt to cut through the redtape and get to the bottom of things may have been misinterpreted by the customer to look much worse than it was...

I can totally see how the co-founder had the best of intentions and in his mind, was thinking "She'll be grateful to see me cutting through the layers of BS and giving her a straightforward invitation to meetup". Unfortunately, she saw the terse message and interpreted it in the worst light possible...and then reposted it to the world, with her interpretation.

When my car got wrecked by someone else's poor driving, I dreaded making the call to my insurance company to deal with it, even though all I had to do was report it to get my reimbursement.

The very first thing the customer rep said to me after I said why I was calling was, "Are you OK? How are you doing?" I was totally fine, and though this is most likely a script that they teach to anyone qualified to answer the phones...even if I were angry, it'd be difficult for me to rip on the customer rep (at that particular point).

In the airbnb case, if the co-founder had taken the five seconds to go through the motions of expressing the empathy that he felt, at the very least, this disgruntled customer couldn't claim on her blog that he had expressed no empathy for her situation and just wanted to get to deal making...which was probably quite the opposite of how he felt.

But yeah...it is a trivial bit in the big picture. It's a shame it could taint the discussion between her and airbnb regardless.


Well, isn't that what he would probably talk about over coffee? We don't know how the conversation went. He may have said something like:

  We're very sorry about what's happened to you and seek to
  resolve it. Let's have coffee as soon as possible to see 
  what we have to do to resolve the situation for you.
Would that justify the criticism that he should have asked about how she was at that moment, when it would seem from the conversation that there was every intention to do so only moments later?


"he 'would enjoy meeting' me"

I don't think she really gives a damn in her current state what this guy would "enjoy" doing, is really the point here.


Apart from jrockway's explanation: it may also be the way she currently construes and represents the email and is not a literal quote. Given 'her current state', you can't really trust her to be an honest judge of peoples' intentions. Nor should you fault her for that, but that doesn't mean her statements can be taken at face value.


EJ has demonstrated a keen grasp of English language, punctuation and rhetoric. I think regardless of her state communication is clearly her strong suit.

What I'm saying is that I'd bet good money she knows what quotation marks mean.


True, but the rest of the point remains: you don't know the rest of the message and how well she's presenting it. That particular quoted phrase may have annoyed her so much, that it doesn't really matter anymore what the rest of the email said. Even though an objective outsider would say the email was otherwise decent and acceptable.

What I'm saying, and why I'm responding, is that I'm seeing classic lynch mob behavior: people are out with their pitchforks, making all kinds of sweepings statements about what is happening, based on very little actual information. You are making rather bold assertions about someone based on only that quote. Doesn't that strike you as perhaps a bit rash?


You're right.

But what you're missing is, it's not rash to be extremely upset in this situation. A woman's house was destroyed. Airbnb's response was to worry primarily about how she might impact their funding.

Personally, I don't want to live in that kind of world.


Writing well is extremely hard. It could be that the "second co-founder" is bad at writing rather than oblivious or indifferent. He did want to meet her in person, perhaps to lend assistance, after all. If he was oblivious, this is probably not the action he would have taken.


> Writing well is extremely hard.

Please.

Writing like Michael Chabon or Aaron Sorkin is hard. Having some basic compassion in how you interact with people is not. This email didn't need to win any awards — it just needed to have some minimum level of sensitivity. As I said in a cousin:

"he 'would enjoy meeting' me"

I don't think she really gives a damn in her current state what this guy would "enjoy" doing, is really the point here.


I have to agree with you.

If someone falls over in the street, you probably ask if they're okay. If someone worse happens to them because your website failed to make someone safe, then you don't tell them you'd "enjoy meeting" them.


I completely agree with your last sentence.

However, I at least, find writing about emotional matters to be extremely difficult. When I sit down with a goal of saying something nice, to show some compassion, to show what I'm actually feeling - what I usually end up doing is twisting the knife.

So in general I write less, and see the people face to face ASAP. Any other way is just harder for us both.

I could have easily made this mistake.


What's the problem? Co-founder wants to meet with person who was harmed by using his company's service? Or the fact that he didn't phrase his request for a meeting appropriately?

You must have a lot of trouble walking down the street if you find such trivial things staggering.


I had doubts about whether this was just a misunderstanding or that EJ was blowing it out of proportion, but after reading that in her post, that's all that needs to be said. Dreadful.


Once the mainstream press is going to pick this up (probably a WHEN, not IF the way it's going), they might not have another round of funding to give a shit about in the first place.


It's depressing, because AirBnB is a solid idea, if they can work some of the minor (ha!) kinks, like this, out of the system.

But after falling flat on their face like this, I wouldn't be surprised to see the idea of "social housing" go the same way as the Zeppelin did after the Hindenberg. It's going to be forever tied to every homeowner's worst nightmare.


It's certainly going to be interesting to see how AirBnB handles this going forward. So far, it's pretty much been a textbook version of how not to handle it, and given the HN audience, there are a lot of lessons to be drawn from this.


The problem is that this is AirBnB's 2nd to worst case scenario and it doesn't look like it is going to turn out well for them or that they gamed the possible problem scenarios out before hand and created a set of responses. No one died, so there is no "AirBnB Killer" in the headlines, but it might make the host side a little more scarce.

Hysteria and PR can both overcome facts. Heck, look at the people in the articles comments quoting the McDonald's coffee incident and believing the "common wisdom" it was a lawsuit happy lady. McDonald's PR did a heck of a job on that one given how absolutely, positively wrong they were and how bad their behavior and actions were.

I just cannot believe they didn't think this might be a consequence of the scaling of their service. It happens to every community based service as soon as it gets out of the initial, early adopter group. Startups need to take the time to figure out how to deal with "bad actors" in their business model, particularly when the potential damage is high and of a new type.


The founders should have taken advice from one of their older advisors before proceeding further.


So bad, she's traumatized and he's trying to steamroll her just like he has everything else probably in the last couple years...Ooops! It was time to be a human. Should have let the CS rep keep talking to the woman.


Edit: bring on the downvotes! That's right, downvote a difference of opinion, and forget about logical or reasoned counterargument. Next time the internet lynch mob will come for your startup; hope that someone takes your side when they do.

----

Don't you think the CEO has to worry about the people he's paying? Who knows what their burn rate is; that funding could have been a life or death event, and in the event of death then a bunch more unemployed people would be hitting the streets.

And that wouldn't help anyone, least of all this woman.

AirBnB reported this to the police. They said they had someone in custody. What more do you want them to do? Go after them like Dirty Harry?

Dollars to donuts this woman is planning a lawsuit and looking for a payday. Not against the drug addicts who trashed her apartment, but against AirBnB. She rents out a room to people she's never met in person and then acts surprised when sometimes it goes wrong.

It's depressing to see the mob mentality here on Hacker News, and the extent to which Arrington delights in playing the organ grinder.

A pedestrian is hit by a DUI driver, does he sue or blame Honda? No? So why all the hate on AirBnB when it was a bunch of drug addicts who committed the crime? Sell them into old school bondage and send the income to her, by all means, but let's be real: it was the criminals' fault first, her fault second, and AirBnB in a distant third.


Putting aside the questions of blame, and the eventual intent of the individual. Putting aside the question of culpability, and whether anyone acted inappropriately.

Thinking about this entirely from the perspective of AirBnB. Doing what a company is supposed to do, by law, and considering only the shareholders.

Given what they've done, do you think it's the best thing to have done to give the company the best chance of long-term survival?

I don't.

Leaving out the morals and the ethics, assuming we only care about the company's survival, this issue has to be dealt with in an open, transparent, and above all seen by all to be fair manner.

Providing for the short term care of this customer is vital. Whether it's right or wrong, ethical or moral, if they don't do it, people will say "That might have been me."

Above all else, that will kill AirBnB, and they are seeming to do nothing about it.

Leaving aside the moral and ethical considerations, working only according to the game theoretic standard of doing right by the company, what they are doing is clearly not in the best interests of the company.

========

ADDED IN EDIT: From http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html :

    Please don't bait other users by
    inviting them to downmod you. 
FWIW - I didn't down-vote you. I think you're wrong, and I don't think you've thought it through enough, but I didn't down-vote you. I took the time to reply because I think your view is common enough, and you had the courage to say it out loud.

But as I say, the current actions (as we understand them to be) are not in the best interests of the company or its employees - really, they're not.


Considering the interests of the shareholders means that, if the shareholders want Airbnb to buy her a new house, they should buy her a new house. "Interests" doesn't always mean "more money."


> I think your view is common enough, and you had the courage to say it out loud.

Thanks, I guess.

Philosophical: seems to me that the tone of HN has shifted. Not in the standard way, it's not less intelligent per se. Rather, there is a greater proportion of big-co employees, academics, and college students. People without profit/loss responsibility, who don't deal directly with customers, who've never been through a media firestorm like what AirBnB is experiencing now.

While it's usually hard to pinpoint any particular change, it's safe to say the tenor of this thread would be very different if this was still Startup News.

YC alums need not say AirBnB has handled this well (i concur that the mere existence of this thread shows that they made objective errors, though in my opinion not normative ones). But they would not be so quick to trash the startup.


Well, ok. While being entirely rational, let's also think about a related angle. The woman is out quite some money. She wants it back. The most coldbloodedly rational act on her part would have been to wait till they closed the round and then sue. Which, if you read her post carefully, is almost certainly what will happen in terms of timeline.

A billion dollar co is a real juicy target, much more so than the actual bad guys.


Sure. And:

a. She's in a fit state to be cold-bloodedly rational

b. She knew AirBnB was about to close a round

c. That closing was within a few weeks, and hence worth waiting

d. In the meantime she has no home, and has to deal with

d.1. the police,

d.2. all the credit card issues,

d.3. all the banks,

d.4. AirBnB themselves

Seems unlikely to me that she planned that. <shrug> You call them as you see them. I'm saying that I think AirBnB did the wrong thing to start with, and continues to make it worse, even discounting the ethics and morals. Add those in and it's even worse still.

  | Rock | AirBnB | Hard place |
The real issue, again ignoring ethics and morals and just concentrating on optimal course of actions for the company - where is their risk assessment and contingency plan? If they don't have one, that's tantamount to negligence. And you can't claim 20:20 hindsight, because people have been expressing concerns over this issue ever since they started.

As a director of two companies, one of which is involved in safety and security issues, I watch the unfolding - and perhaps unravelling - drama with interest (in both senses of the term).


What more do you want them to do?

Well, for starters: company officers shouldn't be using weasel words to try and take credit for things they haven't actually done.


I think you're missing the point--the CEO asked the victim to take down her blog because it was bad press. If you were considering funding the company, wouldn't you want to know about potential issues?


Don't you think the CEO has to worry about the people he's paying? Who knows what their burn rate is; that funding could have been a life or death event, and in the event of death then a bunch more unemployed people would be hitting the streets.

Well, how bad is bad PR? Their service has this major flaw that your home can get royally trashed & there is no backup. If they let this stand AS-IS, all it's going to take is a couple news networks to pickup on the dangers of social housing & down the toilet a lot of their potential customers go.

And that wouldn't help anyone, least of all this woman.

AirBnB existing & doing nothing isn't any better than AirBnB not existing and being unable to do anything. Why should she really care about their livelihood if they don't seem to really care about her livelihood?

AirBnB reported this to the police. They said they had someone in custody. What more do you want them to do? Go after them like Dirty Harry?

Recoup her losses or at least make an effort to. Then instigate a plan to cover their asses the next time this happens, because if they continue as a service this probably will happen more often. If they are going to leave the homeowners wholly responsible for any damages without offering some sort of insurance or protection, then they're going to remain niche & their word is as good as dog poo. "Yeah, we provide a safe way to do this, we just won't guarantee it, because that's not really exactly true."

Dollars to donuts this woman is planning a lawsuit and looking for a payday. Not against the drug addicts who trashed her apartment, but against AirBnB. She rents out a room to people she's never met in person and then acts surprised when sometimes it goes wrong.

So AirBnB has a flawed business model. They can't vet people properly, their word is not guaranteed. Why should I ever trust AirBnB again? Let's play roulette with my housing.

A pedestrian is hit by a DUI driver, does he sue or blame Honda? No?

Terrible analogy. If Honda advertised that their cars were safe, but in some cases under normal operation their cars had catastrophic failure despite the owner not doing anything out of the ordinary, then yes, Honda would have a major issue on their hands.

You seem to be pointing at how EJ was a fool for lending her house out to strangers, which just so happens to be the business model for AirBnB. So if she is stupid, what does that make AirBnB? "Social Housing For Stupid People", could win a lot of customer's with that slogan.

I am not down entirely on AirBnB, but when I first heard of them I thought "ehh, sounds risky, what happens if someone trashes your place?" Well now I know what happens & it ain't pretty.


If Honda advertised that their cars were safe, but in some cases under normal operation their cars had catastrophic failure despite the owner not doing anything out of the ordinary, then yes, Honda would have a major issue on their hands.

If you look at the advertising for cars, it's always along the lines of safer instead of safe. A LOT of lawyer-hours went into protecting them from exactly this scenario.


But recall the Toyota "brakes not working" debacle from a year ago. Even if there are no assurances of safety in the marketing, people expect their cars to be safe under normal conditions. Breaking that implicit contract is still very expensive in both PR and money.


Yup, this does indeed deserve the downvote.

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