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...]
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
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?
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.
Yes, he does dispute it. Read his post.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
"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.
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"
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
<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.
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.
Except if they offered it and EJ declined, then she could be paying herself and not be lying.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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".
- 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.
1. tell lies
2. lobby for PR
3. spam Craiglist
4. fake listing counts
5. hide robbery for 5-weeks
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 '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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sounds like legitimate grounds for pursuing a case of libel.
Paul, could you clarify how you know this? Were you told this or have you confirmed this with the victim or some other way?
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.
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 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...
 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?
(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.)
I believe that most of her story is true (in the first blog post she even states that Airbnb has been incredibly helpful; 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...
 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."
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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:
"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.
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.
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.
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.
>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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seriously. I am not trying to be stupid.
Doesn't seem to have stopped the growth of couchsurfing.
I don't think the ad hominem helps your case, at all.
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.
"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.
Any goodwill that AirBnb gained from the namesake of YC has been lost from people I've spoken to.
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.
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.
- 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.
I think option one is more likely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 they don't, they very well might become a non-company.
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.
I really hope they do the right thing.
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 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.]
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.
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.
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.
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 and then ignoring and intimidating them when things go bad.
 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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All of a sudden the rates that greedy hotel chains charge don't seem so greedy.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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.)
Marketplaces live on liquidity, and lack of confidence kills liquidity, so it's existential crisis time.
"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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Either the numbers work, or they don't. Which is it?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I highly doubt she wants to work for them, given what happened to her and Airbnb's response.
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.
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.
However I imagine they don't do so due to the obviously loss in good will such a position would cause.
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.
"You can make up a new title if you want, but if you put gratuitous editorial spin on it, the editors may rewrite it."
What emphasis if any does the YC program place on ethics?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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 ...'.
"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.
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.
“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.
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.
You've known about this for five weeks and the best you've come up with is to just stand by and wait?
"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.
Show the world your integrity and make this right.
Then stop standing by. Telling someone you will help is not the same as helping.
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?
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.
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.
I wonder how their risk analyses looked like.
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?
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.
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.
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?
"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?
Really a silly thing to make a fuss over, and fussing over trivial matters just weakens an otherwise strong case.
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.
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.
I don't think she really gives a damn in her current state what this guy would "enjoy" doing, is really the point here.
What I'm saying is that I'd bet good money she knows what quotation marks mean.
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?
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 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"
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.
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.
You must have a lot of trouble walking down the street if you find such trivial things staggering.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
A billion dollar co is a real juicy target, much more so than the actual bad guys.
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 |
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).
Well, for starters: company officers shouldn't be using weasel words to try and take credit for things they haven't actually done.
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.
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?
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."
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 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.
Did one of the founders ask this woman to take down
or limit access to her blog post?
Isn't this why you give up equity to have advisers on your team? Shouldn't they have predicted this?
1) dive in help her, pay up make it all good get good PR. BUT if they are thinking that this is going to be a common problem and going to happen a lot then they may be making rod for their own backs…
2) Ride the storm - which again you would only do if you thought this was going to be an ongoing issue
3) they are idiots and have no idea how to handle PR (just like I wouldn't hire a project manager who hadn't been on a serious failed project I wouldn't hire PR who hadn't weathered some sort of shit storm)
None of those choices speak well for Airbnb's value - either this is going to be a problem for their business model or they aren't experienced enough to run something like this…
to be fair if it's (3) I'm sure they are getting some pretty good learning in right now
1. Work on your system to help prevent something like this doesn't happen again.
2. Add a couple dollars of "insurance" to the cost. If the PR statement is accurate and there's been "2 million nights stayed" before an incident like this, having a couple bucks per renter would have more than covered the cost of this theoretically isolated incident.
3, which is far more important, figure out a way to reimburse her. This is already far overdue, and I realize there's a couple lawyers that'll say "But it opens the door for a fault-based civil suit", but that's an issue for the lawyers. It seems like human decency here, and it would be a transparent PR tactic to have waited 5 weeks to do it, but it really does seem like it's something they'll have to do to recover from this, especially if she keeps blogging about it.
Maybe it's encouraging from one perspective, because it shows that even big startups are still pretty ad-hoc affairs, run by the founders without the kind of tight PR-management that big corporations do. But past some point, especially in some businesses, it probably does make sense to copy some of the BigCorp approach of having a dedicated crisis-management team who are experts in what to do about major negative events (i.e. the mixture of the substantive angles, legal angles, and PR angles).
I mean the only thing would be that they might be concerned about setting a precedent. But honestly, the PR alone would have been worth $5k (or $100k) and they could weasel their way out of the next incident. It seems a bit incompetent.
I recently signed up for my first AirBNB experience, as a guest. And yeah, seeing the amount of screening done (zero, you just need Paypal or a fake credit card), it's really risky for hosts.
or "Don't Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste" ((C) Rahm Emanuel ?)
It is how one rides a crisis what separates winners from losers.
>And yeah, seeing the amount of screening done (zero, you just need Paypal or a fake credit card), it's really risky for hosts.
well, one can make a case of how it can be risky for guests - just for starters, how can you be sure that the "host" has any rights or any traceable connection at all to the place s/he rented to you
Well, they sure have set one now.
I know pg isn't likely to talk about this while the situation is still ongoing, but it'd be nice to hear his thoughts on the matter. This is the kind of behaviour you expect from a major airline or telecom, not a YC startup. It certainly doesn't speak well of the character of the founders.
This is another glaring example of it. A month after such a gruesome incident, nothing at all has been done by AirBnB. But they have gone out of their way in trying to put a positive spin on this whole sordid episode in order to protect their precious funding. When will somebody from AirBnB step up and say that we take responsibility for what happened and will do whatever it takes to help the victim and fix the system so that something like this does not happen again rather than wasting their efforts in trying to put a positive twist to this story? Doing such a thing will help them much more in the longer term than trying to simply sweep this story under the carpet.
That said, from a customer support point of view, you never know which negative customer experiences are going to blow up so it's important that every customer leave with some level of satisfaction (or at least a payoff and a signed contract if you want to be shady!)
1) You MUST put down a CREDIT CARD. Not a bank card, not a debit card, not a prepaid card. No plasticky no rentee. A major credit card to make a transaction. No bitcoin, no cash, no BS. Airbnb then puts a hold equal to transaction cost + 20% for the duration of the stay. That 20% can be put toward insurance on both ends, paid out when satisfactory closeout of the transaction on both ends occurs. If renters balk at the 20% hold, they shouldn't be on vacation. If owners balk at the "hold" instead of cash in hand, they can take their business to craigslist or wherever.
2) AirBnB must then become an arbitrator, a mediator, a guarantor, and/or (unless they want to outsource this) an insurer.
1) A dedicated holiday apartment with little valuables and suitable furnishings
2) My primary residence full of my own furniture, valuables and sentimental items
Who is going to do that appraisal? AirBnB?
I really don't see people running robbery scams on Airbnb with any frequency. I mean, if they have that many stolen credit cards, why waste time robbing people's houses when they could, you know, buy stuff with those stolen cards?
I thought the whole point of being a startup is you don't need to fall in line with the dehumanizing bullshit that you find in big corporations.
That's why I'm in a startup at least and it works for me on that level.
But there's such a stench of insincerity about the Airbnb approach that I will never use their site now.
I really believed they're doing their best to help EJ. I trusted in that.
Yes, I liked AirBNB to the point of talking about it with friends and pretty much advertising it all around as a great idea and a great company - just because I liked them. They looked trustworthy and like a really nice company.
If what EJ wrote is accurate, then I find the way they handle this situation outraging. It hurts my feelings and right now completely destroyed my trust in AirBNB. If they won't fix it soon and start behaving like a real human beings, theny I'm no longer caring about them, and will advice my friends against them.
 - I try to not jump into conclusions too fast.
Is there anyone on HN who runs a hotel that can say how often you have trashed rooms when you have accurate information on the people renting the room?
Had the criminals who did this tried it in a hotel there is a very good chance they would have been arrested straight away. They also have an agreement with the guest that the guest is liable for damages.
And they have much much less to lose if you trash the room. Hotel rooms aren't filled with a person's prized possesions.
Thinking about it as a whole, I have to wonder if the proper response would be to have a host-to-guest feedback system. As a host, you can request that guests have a certain "level" of feedback, with the drawback of receiving a reduced amount of money. Then on the other side, guests can get that as discounts-- as they travel and get good feedback from the hosts, they then can bunk at with the people who are, in essence, charging less.
Or maybe the whole system is untenable and couldn't possibly work without webcams set up in every room of the host's house. I guess we'll find out where it goes in the next week or so.
Bringing amateur operators into a sector with potential massive downsides with no education is extremely risky for AirBnB and the hosts.
I am surprised that they kept their mouth shut in all their public channels. No mention in the blog, no direct message in twitter. And it looks they chose to talk about this issue in TC only because TC wrote about the original story. This is what they replied to people in twitter:
@joyandjoy EJ's blog post says, "They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD"
Yeah right. Now EJ's blog post says that they did not keep their promise.
This is what happens when you hesitate to help the victim of an incident like this and instead start plotting and planning PR activities supposed to do the damage control for your next valuation.
What a shame.
Wow. That sounds quite different from what Brian Chesky claims here: http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/27/on-safety-a-word-from-airbn...
In the context of this article, this sentence from their PR statement takes on a new and depressing overtone-- that of "Okay, we think the guy is arrested, so you're fine, right? We don't need to pay attention to you anymore, right? By the way, can you take down that blog post now?"
Is anyone here really all that surprised Chesky is a douche?
We don't know the whole story. I understand the host stance also, basically on both sides they see things they've invested a lot into (her personal life and belongings, the company) be destroyed.
I'm not saying they are on the same level here (Her personal life and stuff is not easy to fix and she can't fail with that, at least not as easy as doing another company to me).
This guy was one of us reading HN and hoping to make it a couple of years ago.
Now he's managing millions.
Nobody really prepared him for that.
I can imagine phone calls from people above him counseling to kill the story.
He may even had wanted to take a different approach but bend to pressure for what we know.
Money talks loudly.
I don't like the was he's dealing with it, I just want to say that it must be very hard to take good decisions in such a situation.
A user of your service had their life upended as a direct result of loopholes in your vetting model.
The LEAST you can do is reimburse them in full for their loss, take the monetary hit, and plug the holes in your model. If you are managing this in any other way you deserve to have your job forfeited.
Incidentally, the same is true of moral character.
This is certainly making me rethink that stance, at least in this specific case.
He's actually one of the few truly good people that I've ever met. When I read the other day that he had reached out to the woman with support and money, I figured the issue was settled. I'm sure that he and the entire AirBnB team feel horrible about this and are willing to do whatever is necessary to make it go away.
You, indeed, should not have been vulgar. Particularly here on hn.
[…] and are willing to do whatever is necessary to make it go away.
It's not going to go away, and he and ABnB have massively compounded the problem by wanting to "make it go away", instead of dealing with it in a humane and sensitive manner.
I think you're right. But seriously, while it's not his job to be her counselor it's also pretty bad he tried to roll her. I'm sure he's charmed many people but good for her to call him out on this. He'd have been better off letting the CS reps handle it.
Charles Manson's friends and followers were pretty fond of him too.
Leadership of a company tends to attract rather extreme personalities in all kinds of directions. One of the tendencies that is extremely common is sociopathy. Sociopathy is usually found is charismatic, likable people, but those people don't actually care about your welfare.
I don't know if Chesky is a sociopath or not, I can't say one way or the other, but the way he spoke to EJ smacked of the single-minded self-absorption of one.
But that doesn't mean a sociopath can't be charming as hell at a party. That's how they succeed.
Actually, a sociopath with $5b at risk over $10-20k might actually do a better job managing this kind of thing than a genuinely good guy who doesn't constantly think about how to defraud of hurt people and then lie to cover it up.
It's not surprising that communication became colder after the initial blogpost. As soon as a company knows something is likely to be played out in the court of public opinion (or actual courts), there are new risks for them to consider in every interaction.
edit: I say this even if the blog author is not representing the truth 100% accurately. A check and some photos of that check would've at least given people some positive news to latch onto. Instead we've just got her out here shooting AirBnB in the face.
This is the kind of story PR people put in slideshows at conferences and use to justify their existence to their boss. Absolutely classic public relations nightmare that has been handled in exactly the wrong way.
Concerns for setting a cost-inefficient precedent? BS. Not helping her has become the real cost-inefficient precedent set in this case. I had no idea this had been going on for a month now.
This is a shame. Take care of your customers, so much more when they're in your backyard.
You're essentially asking her right now to be a beggar, and putting her into an even more degrading position. What do you expect her to do? Write you that she needs $1000 for a new laptop, $100 for a new door, $50 for new locks?
Put yourself in her shoes. Doubt you would do that.
Also, you can't have it both ways. If you state you're going to help her, then help her. Otherwise just state it's out of AirBnbs' reach, and the hosts should have insurance and pay carefull consideration to who they rent.
You're coming of as disingenuous in your remarks.
I don't want to jump to conclusions, but reading both sides of the story you guys don't come over as entirely truthful in this sordid affair.
Give her a list of specific things you can do. Or rather just do them first, and then tell her. Rent and furnish an apartment for her and bring her the keys, for example. That will go a much further way than just writing a blank cheque.
Isn't it common sense that asking someone "What can we do to help?" is about as useful as yelling "Someone call an ambulance!" to a crowd? Anyone with half a lick of sense says "Hey, YOU (Point), call an ambulance" or "Here's what we're going to do to help you..." (and then actually do it). How can you be the CEO of what is supposedly a billion+ dollar company without realizing these basic things?
From the blog postings she has written, this doesn't seem true at all
"We will continue to make ourselves available to her" &
"We have encouraged her to reach us" &
"we are standing by"
You shouldn't be just standing by, you are the ones that need to reach out and help her. The tone of language used here is extremely passive when airbnb needs to be more active about this situation. Also, did you really ask her to take down the blog post or put it in a more positive light?
Sounded more like your lawyer went out to her.
We've created a marketplace built on trust, transparency and authenticity within our community, and we hold the safety of our community members as our highest priority.
I'm really not sure how he can reconcile that comment with the actions described in this post.
Isnt your BS-detector off the charts when reading 'trust' 'transparency' 'community' and 'highest priority' all in one sentence?
Luckily we have much of the tenants information to try to collect from them. Un-luckily we can almost never collect damages from these types of people. They will quit their job to not have an income we can garnish.
You don't want to be a landlord. I don't want to be a landlord.
My AirBNB offering is near Boston, where 85% of my visitors are traveling here as tourists from far away. I keep my nightly price reasonable, but on the higher end. I ask plenty of questions about the visiting party, where they're coming from, what they do for work, what they plan to do while here, and I require a photo.
If I receive any questionable answers, they delay in providing the information, or just anything seems off, I call it off with that prospect.
I've hosted well over 100 people in the last 18 months for over 100 nights. With the exception of one of my first guests, I don't believe any of the people who have stayed with us are the kind of people that would cause damage, much less any trouble.
Let's look at your numbers... I'll guess that you charge $150/night (minus the $20 AirBNB fee = $130/night you had 100 nights in 18 months, for an average of ~$722/month.
That's a tidy sum. Is it worth the work, risk and headache? Would the value of the extra property you are keeping and renting provide a better return if you moved to a smaller place and put the value difference in another investment?
These are questions you have to ask yourself, and everyone will have different opinions. My opinion is that being a landlord means having illiquid assets that provide a low return with high risk and a lot of work.
The onus is on AirBnB to supply evidence to the contrary of what EJ has to say. They have more at stake. Their brand is now blowing in the wind along with the goodwill they have built up.
What we have so far is that you have indeed offer to help financially. What we don't have is evidence to support you did or you did and she turn down the offers. Appropriate receipts would easily discredit her. Any other response short of supplying document would only discredit AirBnB.
I think they should take credible steps as soon as possible to improve the author's situation. While they're at it, an explanation of how such incidents can be stopped from happening again would also be good.
If trust is so important for their business model, they have to demonstrate that Airbnb is trustworthy.
I think they're seriously worried that the attention to the case will highlight two big weaknesses of their product: 1. In many markets, it's illegal to do short-term rentals, 2. Homeowners/renters insurance doesn't cover damages in these situations. Many markets won't crack down on these rentals (see the NYT story about SF rentals last weekend), but if they in the name of safety or code violations, Airbnb's got a problem. And if people start getting spooked about insurance issues, they're screwed from the other end.
When I was in college, a classmate in a philosophy class found out I was a business major and turned to me and said "you guys are just so heartless." I resented the statement but brushed it off as a gross generalization. Situations like these just prove my classmates point to be more real than I was willing to admit at the time. Putting profit above the safety and well being of your customers/users is a terrible business practice that will certainly lead to the death of your business. This isn't even about PR, this is fundamental to the future of the Airbnb platform and they aren't even listening.
The hotel lobby has a huge opportunity here that I don't think they realize yet. With this being on the front page of the Financial Times today, the hotel lobby should be swooping in anytime to pick up the pieces of Airbnb's failure to act. If I were the manager of any hotel in the SF area, I'd be offering her a free stay until things got sorted out. Airbnb is going to be left in the wake wondering what the hell happened.
I saw that comment on tech crunch and felt that Chesky was begin dishonest (based solely on having ready he previous blog post from ej) and now we see that AirBnB tried to get her to shut up!
As a frequent AirBnB customer (staying in a place rented via AirBnB at the moment, in fact) I'm finding that I'm having less and less faith in the company as these incidents unfold. (I'm not just talking about this, but Kutchner, the Craigslist, the fact that they keep their customers in the dark, etc.)
Frankly, as someone who has been online for two decades now, talking to people I can get a good feeling for how trustworthy they are. AirBnB inhibits this because it inhibits communication-- it can only happen thru their service which is not conducive to having a dialog.
The sole purpose of restricting this communication and restricting customer's ability to assess the risk in any of these transactions is AirBnB's desire to prevent the possibility that a deal might happen off of their site.
Reality is, this is silly. We found an apartment on AirBnB once and then found it on the internet (wasn't hard given knowledge of the details of the apartment.) We could have booked it that way and saved the AirBnB commission... but we booked it thru AirBnB anyway because we wanted them to escrow the funds. (Little did we know how little protection AirBnB provides in that regard.) But we were able to find out more about that apartment by looking at its website compared to the info on AirBnB.
And more importantly, having the owner's email address allowed us to discuss a lot of possible issues about the situation, and assess their trustworthiness... something impossible or difficult to do thru AirBnB.
Statements like this certainly fuel the hotel industry conspiracy theories from yesterday for me. It doesn't even make sense, as she claims the hotels will be safer for the travellers. The travellers safety was never at question here was it?
I don't know if many of you have seen her Jan 2nd post titled 'New Year. New Home.'
"As 2011 sets in, I find myself curled up on a new couch in a new apartment in a not-so-new city, reading today’s (and yesterday’s) New York Times, and listening to the rain fall against the skylight overhead. A Duraflame log burns in the fireplace, a bar of dark chocolate sits half-eaten on the counter, and a lull of soft music whispers from the stereo. I am cozy, comfortable and perfectly content. I am home."
".... unpacking dusty boxes, unloading suitcases and scouring the internet for furniture. Something along the lines of a home began to take shape, and with it came that invaluable feeling of being at peace."
"....For the time being anyway, it's my home. And - surprisingly or not - a pretty great home it's turning out to be."
It is a tragedy.
Does it encourage them to remove valuables and non-replaceable items from the apartment being rented?
Does it tell them that any damages incurred will probably not be covered by their homeowners insurance? Does it provide information on how to attain extra insurance?
Does AirBnB hold the guest liable for any damages to a hosts property?
Renting one's own living space to someone sight unseen is absurdly naive. It is incumbent upon the owner of the property to protect his own. Hotels do it, B&Bs do it, but EJ did not. That is sheer stupidity. There should have been someone to meet the renter and to monitor their stay.
The relationships here are business relationships and there are certain minimal precautions one should take. EJ took none. I don't believe she is justified in insisting that Airbnb fix everything. She learned a lesson (and luckily, so did many others vicariously). A normal person would stand up, clean up and learn. A nutball would get a lawyer (and eventually lose).
Also, doesn't she have insurance? Although I would imagine that most policies would not cover renting one's dwelling to a complete stranger sight unseen without a special rider ("hotel insurance" maybe).
Finally EJ might look at her property's deed restrictions. Is she allowed to run a business at her residence? Is she allowed to rent her home? Is she required by the state or city to to pay a "hotel tax", a "business registration fee", etc.? EJ may be in violation of any number of municipal and state laws.
"Since many common tasks are carried out in the senders’ homes, runners are vetted through a three-step process..
which starts with an application form and progresses to an automated phone or video interview that poses a series of questions designed to weed out deadbeats.
Finally, TaskRabbit pays the database giant Acxiom to perform a federal criminal background check on each prospective worker."
I am not saying this single incident is proof either way, but that was my initial reaction to the idea.
That's all they have to do.
No way will that happen now. It's hard to imagine how they could have handled this worse.
At least they had the foresight to take down the snarky "nobody'll steal a grand piano" comment off their FAQ.
Methinks these super-hot startups may be reaching critical mass before they develop business maturity.
Instead the come out looking like they're trying to hide the flaws in their model.
That said, I'm more shocked at "EJ's" naivety and passing of all responsibility on Airbnb. You're renting your place out to complete strangers, not only that, you're leaving all of your valuables there with them. You don't know their real (or the fake one they stole) name until you're already aboard an outbound plane?! That is insanity to me.
If a person NEEDS Craigslist-style warnings about being careful, that person should probably not rent their place out on Airbnb. This is just very poor judgement on her part.
I do wonder now whether EJ's 'DJ Pattrson' knew she would be away and planned to ransack the place whether she were home or not. If she were home, what would they have done, tied her in the closet, or worse?
And pg doesn't seem to have a clue when it comes to the "personal touch" either. "Fix it", in this case doesn't mean compensating all damages financially and maybe adding a little extra money for trouble. The victim's home and sanctuary was violated by people. If this was a natural disaster, maybe money would go a long way, but this person's trust in people was violated and she also lost "priceless" memorabilia etc. to vandals who are either social misfits and/or drug addicts that methodically deceive unknowing victims.
This situation is reminiscent of Sony's reaction to cracker attacks. The criminals attacked a glaring hole in the security model, company shifts blame to criminals. "A community built on trust" without security? What about trust and verify? The victim clearly states that Craigslist has a better security model and for all we know that couch surfing site too.
The lack of security measures in this case illustrate a glaring hole in the founder's approach to the problem. Any casual observer would conclude that the safety of users is only secondary to the company's goals of generating more revenues and obtaining more funding.
Airbnb, please come out of the state of denial and just simply admit:
A. We messed up big time
B. Any compensation will never truly fix this situation but we will do everything within reason to remedy it
C. Lessons from this disaster will be applied immediately to ramp up security and formalizing the response of such crises in the future.
...with regards to not funding airbnb I somehow feel that that might not have been the case.
I think Fred's age (49?) and experience in life basically made it hard to understand how an idea like this couldn't have potential problems such, as only one example, this situation.
Hold on a second before you say "it only happened this one time".
How do we know that? People seem to think that either your place gets trashed or it's absolutely fine.
It's not digital it's analog. There's an in between state.
Something could get stolen that you don't know even about until much later. It won't always be the obvious thing like jewelry (and why would you leave that actually) it could be one of many little things you don't realize you have until missing. Or something could be broken.
The fact is there is no way for airbnb to insure against any number of minor type things that could happen. Where minor becomes your problem and your aggravation.
Have you ever seen how big of an industry shoplifting prevention is? Do you really think that only a minor % of the population commits petty type crimes?
And there is the reverse situation.
If you stay at someones place what if they honestly think that you stole something of theirs because they can't find it? Honest mistakes like this happen all the time. And the most obvious culprit tends to be blamed.
1. Announce they are instituting a (possibly optional) insurance policy. At most, there should be a checkbox when I rent my place out that says 'insure it' and if I check it they take the cost of insurance out of what I'd get paid otherwise. If insurance is cheap enough (I don't know what 'cheap enough' is) they can simply make it mandatory.
(The decision to self-insure or use an external insurance agency is not germane to this discussion... that's something they need to figure out internally.)
2. Offer this person some sum (say, 5x what insurance would have paid) for her silence.
Now, I'm sure they are working on 2. but I think #1 is actually more important, because many of us are not going to be willing to do this negotiation in public to get compensation... so insurance is better all around. The people renting out the houses know they can get paid with minimal hassle, and AirBnB knows exactly how much it is going to cost ahead of time. If you can find an insurance company that insures hotels, they might also be able to help with risk mitigation efforts.
I really think that instituting some sort of insurance policy is a good way for AirBnB to accept responsibility for the problem, and a realistic "and this is what we are doing to mitigate the problem going forward"
I can't be sure of course, but all the anonymity around it makes it kind of suspicious.
"If something goes wrong unexpectedly, be accessible to help remedy the situation. Be a hero to your guest!"
If true, that's really sleazy.
It's a business, they're supposed to be money driven. Although it's sad to see someone abuse the system, she agreed to those terms when she put her apartment up there. The owners aren't obligated to recompense the lady.
Regarding that joke in the FAQ about guests stealing the grand piano: I think it's okay to make such a joke IF AND ONLY IF the reaction to a case like this is in the same vein: The minute they learned about this ordeal, they should have stopped working, cancel all meetings and help her. And if that means mopping her floors themselves then do it. They did the opposite, they acted greedily and stingily and thereby didn't just let down the girl, but everyone in the startup community who admired and rooted for them.
Doing so might well be appropriate, but they'd probably want to downplay that fact---otherwise, they'd risk raising the bar for their response the next time something happens. Gotta try to manage expectations, difficult as that is.
Devil's advocate (not being inconsiderate): doesn't the hotel industry have an enormous interest in the demise of Airbnb? Interesting how the blog posts makes this suggestion after the heart strings have been tug.
If they go under because of this I personally hope it is not until August. So, first and foremost, fix EJ's situation, but also for all of the people who are still using the service, currently using the service, or have plans made in the next few weeks through this service, take care of this. Don't leave her hanging.
Also, it is unfortunate that Airbnb will be known by a lot of new people because of this incident.
Not saying it is .. but I do wonder. The only thing that would make it doubtful is that part where she says he told her about _the impact on Airbnb round of funding_. But then again, if your mind is twisted ...
1. Make this person whole, at least in terms of material possessions and safety, to the extent possible. And do it FAST
2. Ask them to take down the blog, and replace it with something along the lines of "my situation is resolved. Thank you AirBnB. But I can't discuss the terms".
3. Work on strengthening your internal processes to make sure the chances of a similar incident are further reduced by a couple of orders of magnitude
4. Improve your customer-service department.
But it's been almost a month, and they still haven't done any of this. They just seemed too concerned about what this will do to their valuation. This is pure bullshit on their part! It shows that they have absolutely no idea how to operate in a customer-facing industry.
In my case, the "investigation" was over in about 1.25 days. There's not much the police can do. SFPD would not spend 2 months investigating a burglary in an illegal sublet.
Furthermore, there are no photos of the damage, the victim is anonymous, and there is no description of the neighborhood or apartment complex. If someone was bent on catching the burglars, more info would be disseminated, not less. The articles are written as though the author has an axe to grind with AirBNB, not that she wants to catch the thieves.
As far as the investigation, Airbnb has claimed that a suspect has been apprehended, but apparently neither the SFPD nor Airbnb have contacted her with any further details. She's not necessarily blaming the SFPD for not having caught the suspect; but she's arguing that the spin that Airbnb has put on this story is untrue, that everything has not been resolved, and they have not been as helpful as they claim.
And why would someone who had just been victimized by someone anonymous they connected with on the internet want to publish a whole bunch of personal details all over the internet? Internet vigilantism is not some silver bullet; publishing more information may lead her to be more vulnerable, not less. Her intent is not to get "the internet" to help catch the thieves; her intent is to warn people about the risks of using Airbnb's service, and that Airbnb will basically do nothing to mitigate those risks.
And it's not like this story is completely made up. Brian Chesky wouldn't have written a response confirming many of the details and contesting none of them if the story were untrue. All he did was try to put a positive spin on it, which this second post demonstrates is just spin, with no real content.
As far as I can tell, she's not trying to get some sort of payout from Airbnb. If she were, it would be much easier to threaten to sue, and then settle out of court, than to post about it on her blog. I think that she was just trying to warn people about the risks of Airbnb; that while it's all been pretty safe and a rewarding experience for everyone involved so far, she's managed to have the inevitable first truly awful experience, and Airbnb basically offers nothing to help deal with the situation.
Of course she knows that people suck. But sometimes you can be lulled into a false sense of complacence. No one has had problems so far. You get to talk to the person beforehand. And you may believe that Airbnb has better safety procedures than they actually do; you figure that they've done their homework, do some sort of basic screening of hosts and guests, when in fact they actually do nothing and don't give you enough information to do it yourself.
Have a little sympathy for her. Even if you know people suck, it can be traumatizing when it actually happens to you. She had her apartment vandalized, many of her most personal belongings stolen, her identity stolen, her credit card stolen and used.
Guys like spolsky who suggested it might be a group of goons hired by a hotel association.
I now just think she got burglarized, and found out the hard way that SFPD can't really do much to help. She probably doesn't have renter's insurance, which does not apply in the case of an illegal sublet anyway. She's a freelance writer, so she's probably broke and therefore trying to squeeze something out of AirBNB.
But why would you assume that she's trying to squeeze something out of Airbnb, as opposed to what she said, which is to warn people about the risks and about the fact that Airbnb basically has no plan and offers no real help for how to deal with this sort of situation? I've seen nothing other than an explanation of what happened, and a clarification that their spin on the issue doesn't really match up with her experience.
I honestly don't think there's much AirBNB can do to vet people which wouldn't make the service unusable.
I don't think that any of these would make the service unusable; if they did all of them, it might be a bit cumbersome, but implementing one or two of these measures would be fine. They would add a little bit of friction, for sure, but I think that it would be worth it for avoiding these sorts of awful situations.
Is this a case of miscommunications that got blown out of proportion?
As an afterthought, I think, they sell an illusion, sack in money and let their customers alone take at
least one huge risk.
For me they have already passed the point of no return, they have shown who they are
(instead of supporting the victim full heartedly they play an evil game), I will not use their service.
Could this help: "As a gesture of goodwill and without acknowledging any legal obligation."
AirBnb is /done/.
Please. The fact is this incident happened on their watch. Trying to pretend they are the hero in this mess and spin it their way bothers me tremendously. I mean, she got robbed as a consequence of using their site. That stuff happens and honestly I don't think anyone really believes they can stop all bad things from happening. But this whole let's try to hide this under the rug deal makes them look 1000x worse I think than her getting robbed (which still sucks!)
Foxy move on his part.
Looks like he just got busted though or the victim would surely know of the existence of a suspect.
Airbnb's business will be explicitly illegal throughout much of the US by year's end, and honestly in its current incarnation I'm not convinced that it is a bad thing (for obvious reasons this is clearly a market which needs more regulation and process than they provide).
Nice experiment... too bad about all of that flushed away money though.
This is not going to be very popular, but I'm just going to go on the record and say that this whole story may be a hoax.
And I highlight "maybe". What we have here are two blog posts from someone we know nothing about who epitomizes a concentration of fears (woman, home, identity, violation) and manages, in two blog posts over the past seven months to bring about a PR nightmare for AirBnB. Is Chesky and idiot and/or sociopath? Probably not, and this could be some crappy CYA on AirBnB's behalf, but the second blog post in response to Chesky's On Safety release does nothing but reinforce and add onto the imagined fetal-curling fears the author expressed in her first post, but also systematically tries to disprove any actions mentioned by Chesky while simultaneously smearing unnamed AirBnB reps.
Two blog posts over seven months. Talented writer with no writing history able to communicate and project emotions and elicit visceral responses from complete strangers.
Am I the only one whose bullshit alarm is going off?
Disclaimer: I have no connection to YC, pg, AirBnB, Chesky, Starwood Hotels nor have I participated in AirBnB's program or any similar crashpad/couchsurfing/hosteling schemes.
Obviously AirBnB has confirmed the damage to her house. As have the police. So you are basically arguing that she trashed her own house and committed the crime of filing a false police report in an all out effort to crush AirBnB. Occam's Razor tells me the odds of that being the true angle here are slim.
As for your comments 'someone we know nothing about' and 'talented writer with no writing history'. You know nothing about her. You have never seen her writing before. But why should you know a random stranger? And most writers are not bloggers. The internet is not the universe. I've won a bunch of awards for my fiction writing, yet you probably can not find more than my HN posts online from me. Believe it or not, some things exist out there that Google can't find.
Sorry, but I've seen no proof of either and I doubt that you have. Even if AirBnB has seen the damage as reported by the host and the SFPD have a person in custody, what we have is the alleged destruction of property and alleged identity theft. Alleged, not proven.
> You know nothing about her.
Exactly, but what I do know is that there's a person who has made use of her blog three times this year: 1/22, 6/29 and 7/28. Two of those posts relate to AirBnB, drawing attention to the intense emotional trauma she's currently suffering and inattention and callousness that AirBnB is displaying towards her situation. Prior to that, we have an entry from 8/3/10. Nothing much to go by in order to assess who this person was prior to the AirBnB incident. Except we do have a blogroll link for "My year of getting published" dated one month ago. How odd.
Another thing that we have, and I'm drawing my own conclusions here, is the perfect recipe to get noticed in a sea-full of nerds: single vulnerable white female, lives alone in SF, violated by the actions of an unknown person or persons and who is crying out for help, appealing to the crowd who'll most like empathize with her: nerdy single guys who'd jump at the chance to put on their cape and save the day. It's too perfect of a recipe to ignore.
So what I'm saying is that she should get herself a lawyer, today, and have them handle her case and public relations going forward, because we all know that she's going to sue AirBnB and due to the amount of buzz she's been generating on the Twitters, my guess is that many a TV producer has been tasked with tracking her down for an interview. We'll see how that plays out.
If it took Chesky a whole month to address these issues of hers and implement changes in the organization to address them and those issues were real and valid, then shame on him, but something tells me that they may have expected this problem to go away.
I'm not trying to draw and links between this woman's complaint and those of the Groupon cafe owner, but it sees to me that, as always, people are engaging in activities whose potential consequences they know nothing about and in response they take to the web to generate outrage in support of their situation, but in those cases that I'm aware of, the stories start to unravel once they undergo any scrutiny beyond reading a blog post or two.
And if I'm still able to gauge public opinion correctly amongst the normals, most are going assume that you get what you deserve for handing the keys to your apartment to a total stranger for a whole week. It's something that is simply not done in the real world.
The apartment I live in now had $15,000 in damage done by the previous tenant when he was evicted for not paying rent. He took a sledgehammer to the toilets and walls. He spray painted the ceiling and burned the curtains. My friend's vacation house at Disney World had all of the furniture stolen by someone renting it. This stuff happens all the time.
The only thing I'm shocked by is that this is the FIRST incident on AirBnB that we've heard of. They should have had a plan to deal with it. I'm not exactly deep in the rental scene and I have two stories to tell of this happening from people I personally know. This stuff must happen every week.
Renting out your apartment to include all of your worldly belongings, not a vacation-purposed structure, or loaning your car to a complete stranger through a scaled web application is a relatively new phenomenon and the normals, who often view their vacation lodgings as part of the experience, simply do not participate in this type of activity as AirBnB wishes to scale. It's a very new and unique concept.
I'm shocked as well and I'm sure that incidents and misunderstanding have already occurred in the past and they've obviously been able to deal with them. And I'll bet that the AirBnB crew are shocked at what they're seeing right now, given the exposure that two blog posts have been able to generate.
Spats between businesses and customers rarely get this type of hype from a venerable institution like the FT this early in the story. This is the kind of exposure that you plan and pay for.
As of today, July 28, I have received no confirmation from either the San Francisco Police Department or the District Attorney that any culprit is in custody for my case.
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[sic] with me, as the investigation was ongoing.
Too much about this case remains unknown and unresolved, and according to both the District Attorneys and the police, it could be many more months before the criminal investigation moves forward.
Edit: This is clearly a problem with a thief, with society, with criminal behavior. This woman wants to throw her story and passive aggressive attitude around to destroy Airbnb, and it is blatantly obvious. Come on people.
I have been robbed. I have been a victim. I didn't flee to the internet to write a story about the gas station parking lot where it took place. Why? I would have gotten no attention for it, no sympathy, and the gas station would have not been to blame at all and everyone knows that.
Not to be insensitive, but this is reminiscent of the type of people that sue McDonalds for spilling hot coffee all over themselves. Not entirely the same, but it feels oddly familiar.
Airbnb tries to offer a good service. That doesn't mean they can keep the murderers out of Disneyland. She made a good point that craigslist makes warnings of scams more obvious on their website than Airbnb. She should have honestly just left it at that. Because at this point she is just doing more damage on the perpetrator's behalf and I think she knows it.
The knee-jerk reaction to this story is showing itself to be very far from this, so go ahead and downvote me, but nonetheless my opinion here is valid. Your next stay at Airbnb may very well be a scene out of the movie Hostel. It is just as likely however that it may happen at the next apartment you rent, the next hotel you stay at, or the next ski lodge. It doesn't matter that it was Airbnb.
I understand that she feels the reaction piece to her initial post was disingenuous, but with writing like this, it is clear she is just out to watch Airbnb burn. She should go hire a private detective and find the guy if she is so hell bent on revenge. She is after the wrong people. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This woman has no target and her anger is entirely misdirected.
This is what insurance in our society is for. Get some. Be happy for what didn't go wrong and could have. She should be happy she didn't get raped when she got back to her apartment, as she obviously crossed tracks with a very bad person. Seriously. Shit happens in life. Everyone in this world has to deal with deceit, robberies, theft, and lies. She is no different, nor are you. She is playing out the sympathy excuse far too well. Her reaction is more similar to that of the McDonald's hot coffee victim than that of a robbery victim at this point. And like I said previously, I'm pretty sure she knows it.
Good luck Airbnb.
No homeowner's insurance will cover an Airbnb rental. Hell, finding a lease which permits an Airbnb rental would be tough, let alone finding someone to insure an apartment where strangers show up and pay you for it. You must know this, because it's been discussed to death all over this issue.
> Your next stay at Airbnb may very well be a scene out of the movie Hostel. It is just as likely however that it may happen at the next apartment you rent, the next hotel you stay at, or the next ski lodge.
This logic is incredibly faulty. This is the same as saying "you might get ripped off meeting a stranger on craigslist. It is just as likely however that it may happen at a Best Buy." The structure of airbnb lends itself toward antisocial behavior far, far more than a hotel. That kind of comparison is just deceitful.
In fact, to turn your "point" around, I find it more likely you're an airbnb employee/pg fanboy shilling than EJ being out to destroy airbnb. You've demonstrated complete disregard for logic and facts to defend airbnb in this situation. She's just told a story.
Setting the record straight is one thing and she has every right to do that.
EDIT: Being the little guy is tough and I empathize with that, and I also empathize with the fact that she had something very bad happened to her apartment in by proxy herself whether or not I explicitly stated it above doesnt really freaking matter. I did not show any empathy in my original post because I was trying my best to show an objective counterpoint.
I didn't really speak anything to what she is going through other than, in so many words, offering that she toughen up a bit. I've been in a bad place or two myself and I could have used that advice at that time in my life, to focus on what is still good and move forward, rather than trying to inflict pain on another.
EDIT: downvotes for trying to explain myself diligently for you guys, thanks...
Perhaps people are just passing along the torment.
This should absolutely be AirBnB's marketing pitch.
Basically, nothing should ever bother me, because there's always something worse that could happen.
EDIT: Look at the bright side of things.
Honestly, at this point, why not just admit you're not a particularly empathic person, and other people's problems don't bother you. That would at least be better than this rather facile attempt at backing up an untenable position.
Shit happens, and it will continue to happen to someone from time to time, but one case between thousands should not damage so much a single company.
Step 2) write a blog post sharing how terrible the situation is, and to indicate you're slightly upset about this
Step 3) get cut off from Airbnb customer service, then receive call from Airbnb co-founder asking to remove the blog post because "it might impact our funding"
No. I wouldn't do the same.
If a girl meets a man on match.com who claims to be single, but after getting into a relationship with him she finds out he's married - is match.com to blame for this? Could they have done more to verify his background - perhaps, but that's also the risk we take.
It's an unfortunate incident, but trust me other than hacker news, techmeme and techcrunch (that's where the FT got it from) this is not really headline news, and it's not going to affect airbnb's performance in the long run.
On a separate note, I hope pg realizes with 423 comments on here it's hard to make heads or tails of what to read - hopefully the comments rating system will be brought back.