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Plot thickens in Airbnb vacation rental horror story (usatoday.com)
166 points by felipemnoa on July 30, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments

> Airbnb, while pointing out that the incident was the first of its kind out of some 2 million stays booked since the company's founding in 2008

this isn't true. there was a guy in the Techcrunch comments who said that the same thing happen to him. he also makes reference to two other incidents in another comment. the comment is here:


reproducing the top part of the comment:

Something very similar happened to me about 2 months ago.

In addition to valuables stolen, the thieves/addicts did thousands of dollars of bizarre damage to my rented home and left it littered with meth pipes. They were identity thieves, too and all my personal information was strewn about. Further investigation of my own led me to evidence that the people were not just thieves but were also dangerous. I too, feared for my own safety and would not stay at my house for some time.

I had a similar problem with haphazard communication from people at AirBnB. I gave them multiple opportunities to make me a happy customer to which they did but then retracted their offer after their was miscommunication among the team. Sometimes days went by without hearing from anyone, while I was fear-stricken, totally disoriented, and angry. It was almost the most absurd customer service crisis one could ever imagine. But I am one squeaky wheel, and we eventually found an agreeable solution that I was generally pleased with.

I have since both rented my place out and stayed in others' homes from airbnb

There's also commenter on HN who rented an illegally listed home http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2820644

And the statements from Roomarama that they have encountered similar problems in the article linked from http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2823039

I'm guessing AirBnB meant "first time a story like this got press" when they said "the incident was the first of its kind"

Interesting. Has anyone been able to verify this account from Troy Dayton? I found his Twitter & LinkedIn accounts (easy to get from a web search) and, at the very least, I can confirm that someone exists by that name in San Francisco.

This topic isn't going away, and it is the weekend, which means all the tech blogs are looking for something to write about - so I wouldn't be surprised if at least one blogger isn't following this up.


EJ's incident happened a month ago. The other incident (referenced in GP) happened 2 months ago. So EJ's can not be the "first of its kind". If the quoted comment is true, then AirBnB is lying.

This is a little out of hand now, and it really isn't because of anything fundamentally wrong with AirBnB. The vast majority of the issue is that AirBnB is not reacting well to the crisis, and that the PR is being handled about as clumsily as possible.

Y-Combinator needs a PR firm. That much is clear from the AirBnB fall out over the last few days, and I'm not talking about a PR firm to cheer lead for YC, or a PR firm to respond to this or any particular incident.

Instead, they need a PR firm that will evaluate risks of the evolving start-ups, in particular focusing on ones with lots of funding and press exposure. The firm's role would be to anticipate and plan for potential fall out. In times of trouble, the firm would be poised to jump in and coach the team on the appropriate way to respond to crisis in the public eye. A good PR firm would know that saying the word "funding" to the victim was simply not a good idea, and would have advised the founders as such before any meetings with the victim.

I think public relations is like a dirty word in the valley, but PR need not be an unethical or otherwise bad practice, and in this case, the right support would have made a world of difference. The firm really could just be an observer, except in times of crisis. It may be beneficial for the firm to interact with the start-ups, but I think this would at least lead to resistance, given the culture of technical-centric organizations. Simply having an impartial observer with a nose for media problems would avert some crises.

Why is it up to YC? They only have a small chunk of Airbnb, there are many other larger shareholders. The most motivated investors to have a smooth fix here would be the ones that just sank in over $100M at a sky-high $1.3B valuation.

Yeah, the implied YC association in all of this is a bit bizarre. AirBnB raised about 0.01% of their financing from YC. They've got a strong board comprised of some very experienced, good VCs. Saying that YC should handle this would be like suggesting that Bill Gate's Harvard fraternity should clean up Microsoft's faux pas. (That's a bit hyperbolic, but I think you see what I'm getting at.)

Interestingly, perhaps, I see YC's connection to this story as more that it runs the site that broke the story: this one. I suspect pg getting involved is more because he personally likes the AirBnB founders rather than that he sees it as the responsibility of YC.

>AirBnB raised about 0.01% of their financing from YC.

That is not the relevant number. YC will tend to care about the bad publicity in direct proportion to how much of the stock they own, and they probably own a lot more than 0.01% of AirBnB.

That's silly. It implies that YC doesn't trust AirBnB's board, who all have more skin in the game, know the situation better and on top of that, are mostly personal friends of the YC partners.

"Skin in the game" is percent ownership.

YC had to invest in a lot of startups that didn't get as far as AirBnB to end up owning ~6% of an AirBnB.

For the record, Airbnb has raised 3 rounds of funding, so YC's percentage is probably closer to 2% than 6% (0.06 * 0.7^3). Other than that I don't see how your point is relevant. Sure, I get that YC's share of Airbnb is valuable. But it's dwarfed by others who have more power both formally and informally.

You said roughly "other people have more money on the line, so YC should let them do it"

This is wrong in far more than 5 ways, but we will start with 5.

1. Your model of "money on the line" doesn't seem to account for diminishing marginal utility (if a billionaire has $1 million at risk, and a millionaire has $1k at risk, the risk is greater for the millionaire even though the percentage risk is equal).

2. Your model doesn't seem to account for relative portfolio size (if a billionaire risks $1 million, and a $10 millionaire also risks $1 million, the risk is greater for the $10 millionaire)

3. Your model doesn't seem to account for the opportunity cost of time (YC seems to like/have time for talking to the press about YC companies, something that many VC firms don't)

4. Your model doesn't seem to account for relative skill (YC seems better at talking to the press than most VC firms)

5. Your model doesn't seem to account for compensation options (if YC doesn't feel that time spent would be positive ROI, AirBnB or the other investors might be able to pay YC to do it)

In short, my coming on HN to read interesting business discussion, only to find thoughts like "Saying that YC should handle this would be like suggesting that Bill Gate's Harvard fraternity should clean up Microsoft's faux pas (That's a bit hyperbolic, but I think you see what I'm getting at.)" is like being invited by a friend to the symphony, and showing up to discover a five year old alternating between playing a xylophone and eating wood glue (That's a bit hyperbolic, but I think you see what I'm getting at).

I think it might have something to do with the articles about how saavy the founders are, how some who passed on it regretted doing so, etc., than purely their involvement as investors. This story does not mesh well with that message.

Just from the numbers, it is likely that even if YC wanted to take on a role in addressing this Airbnb issue, they would have no ability to do so at all. Airbnb is run by its board, not by YC.

Since I'm not sure if this is in response to me or just a general comment, I want to clarify that I don't personally think YC has much room to maneuver and I don't think they should be the ones out in front of the story.

I just think that articles like this one[1] have put them in a bind with respect to this story.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/airbnb.html

No part of this linked story has anything to do with the current drama. In fact, it's the opposite: that's Paul Graham saying that the thing he likes best about Airbnb is that they are likely to pivot away from Etsy-style small-ball with people's rooms and towards direct competition with hotels.

I'm left with the impression that you think YC is in a bind here because you want them to be in a bind here. It sure is a lot more fun to talk about, isn't it?

Of course it doesn't have anything to do with it directly, I'm talking about the perception created by that sort of story and the coverage it spawned.

If you're on record talking about someone's positive qualities, and they make a mistake, or even are accused of making a mistake, that puts others in a position of expecting you to have a position on it. But they can't really take a public position on it beyond what pg's already said on the matter, and we see what good that did. This is the bind I am talking about.

I don't want them to be in a bind. I have no feelings one way or the other about the matter, really, I am just attempting to offer my point of view on why people are clamoring for YC to be more vocal about this topic.

Being on record saying positive things about someone or something does not put you in a bind when years later something bad happens with them. I liked John Edwards in 2007.

The logic that involves YC in the Airbnb drama is juvenile. Sorry to be so blunt about it; I know nobody likes being called names.

As someone who donated to John Edwards's campaign in 2007, I can sympathize with that scenario.

I don't think it's right, and maybe I have just been in DC too long, but this is how this sort of thing works in the media. I never said they owe an explanation to anyone or anything like that, but people are _clearly_ expecting one. Something set that expectation.

Maybe this makes me juvenile, that's fine.

When you say "I don't think that way, but other people clearly will", do you realize that you yourself are perpetuating the phenomenon?

I am saying "I don't think this way, but I believe this is why others do." You can discuss an idea without supporting it.

It's just an economies of scale thing. YC has hundreds of start-ups, and a few will have issues at any given time. I don't think it's up to YC because they are obligated to, just because I think it would be worthwhile.

Even if YC did have such a thing, consider that Airbnb has raised like 20x more than YC has invested into their entire portfolio since 2005. Airbnb is worth more than YC. It's not that YC doesn't give tips on how to do some of your initial PR, but once you're at the level that Airbnb is at you're not going to be relying on YC freebies.

If it can be twisted (and someone will twist it) to sound as if YC were funding startups that result in considerate consumer risk, things could escalate rapidly to a place I can imagine they don't want it going.

That's nice. But all the Internet message board sentiment in the world doesn't change the fact that YC doesn't represent Airbnb. Even if YC wanted to help with Airbnb's crisis management, they are a tiny minority investor in the company. Unless Paul Graham is secretly on their board, they probably can't do anything at all about this.

I've often wondered this this isn't part of the "foundations" portion that is mentioned in the description of the YCombinator program. Not only a PR firm as you mentioned but a couple of training sessions in PR AND ethics before launch even happens. A core set of skills and knowledge is more than merely a founder and a great idea these days.

I count at least three YCombinator startups that have stumbled severely with PR not once but multiple times: Wakemate, Dropbox and AirBnB.

Wakemate, Dropbox and AirBnB have made poor business decisions. It's a PR problem when you explain a good decision poorly.

Good point! Dropbox has had the same kind of problem dealing with unfavorable coverage.

And Loopt recently, although they handled it pretty well.

I wouldn't be surprised if EJ doesn't have a PR person nudging her along. Her statements about being "violated" and "unsafe" means she sounds like she wants AirBnB to do the impossible and repair her, not her belongings. She sounds like she's inconsolable and nothing can be done to make it right, but boy, does blabbing about how upset she is in every possible media outlet make it feel a little better!

I think she's looking for more than just replacement, but a sizable settlement. I won't be surprised if we see legal papers in the next week.

I disagree. Of course this is all speculation but I see in EJ someone who's genuinely hurt, and genuinely private, and is not focused on financial remedies.

Her main complaint seems to be lack of genuine concern, not lack of financial help. Nothing about her attitude, her living situation, or blog (documenting extensive past globetrotting adventures) suggests she's hurting for money.

She's just hurting from having her home, sense of security, and sentimental possessions ransacked.

My feeling is that if she is generally vulnerable, and genuinely private, it doesn't make a lot of sense to rent out your apartment with your belongings inside it and then leave for days. I could never rent out to AirBnB, because I'm also fairly private and I don't like thinking of people being in a position to touch my things.

I'm not saying that she invited what happened, but that the risks were very clear, and only she could decide how to weight those risks. If she's the private person she's painting herself as being, I really don't understand why she used AirBnB in the first place.

I don't think she's a liar, and what happened to her was terrible, but I can't help but feel that this has gone over some threshold of "I want to get this sorted out between two amicable parties who are seeking a resolution" to using the positive press for her to see how much can be extracted from AirBnB.

> If she's the person she's the private person she's painting herself as being, I really don't understand why she used AirBnB in the first place.

I wonder if the vandal had any feedback on airbnb.

I've used airbnb once as a guest and, being a private person myself, I went out of my way to find a host with some reputation and good feedback. I even forewent some better deals because they were by new hosts that had no feedback to show.

Now, I'm not saying that this is right or wrong--after all we all have to start somewhere and, as a first-time airbnb guest, I didn't have any reputation points myself--but I reckon people who have so much at stake should screen their guests very carefully.

The personal effects (which she seemed the most upset about losing) were locked away in a closet, which the thieves/renters smashed a hole in to get to.

I don't think that's especially relevant. She put her belongings in a position where someone had days to get access to them, without any external evidence at all. Neighbors would notice a broken window/door on the outside. A smashed in lock on the inside? Who's to know?

But it's extremely hard for anyone so far to evaluate how much genuine concern Airbnb has expressed, or failed to express, especially with the press repeatedly focusing on airbnb's attempts to "censor" her.

I find it hard to believe Airbnb wouldn't have expressed genuine concern. However their request for her to take down her blog or alter it due to their funding round was probably in bad taste.

I think the missteps by Airbnb are overblown mostly by an emotionally distressed woman.

Respectfully, no. The missteps by Airbnb are almost certainly mostly overblown by the Internet message board pundits who have managed to form strong opinions about the events second-, third-, and none'th- hand about it.

Telling sign: people are forming factions and polarizing the issue. Either "EJ" is legitimately frustrated by a clumsy response by Airbnb, or she's acting out because of emotional distress; one set of fact patterns belongs to the "pro-Airbnb" side, and the other to the "pro-EJ" side.

Also telling: let's all make sure we get photos of the damage! Because how will we know how to judge what happened unless we can see it for ourselves? Because better forming opinions about other people's misfortunes is our right as Internet message board citizens.

This might have to do with thinking styles instead of malice - and it's a very common way to misunderstand people not working in the tech or science industry.

If you have some free time, go read the book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", which talks about the difference. It isn't always gender - the book is simply giving you familiar examples. But there does exist a sizable number of people who tend to think from feelings first, instead of fact and logic first. Always attributing this kind of writing or speech as malice would produce tons of misunderstandings between you and a lot of people.

I noticed a gender dynamic in the crossed communication here as well (and also in HN's mass response to it, but that's another story). But speaking generally, this kind of thing cuts both ways. A lot of the time "people not working in the tech or science industry" (if that's the euphemism we're using) perceive genuinely well-intentioned remarks as malicious too (e.g. cold, calculating, robotic). Why? Because very little is coming through their primary channel. Each party is relying on a different primary channel and feels like they're not being heard.

She has made two blog posts. The media has picked up the story, and they're contacting her. I don't think that counts as "blabbing ... in every possible media outlet."

As for the made-up PR person, I think it's ridiculous to do what-ifs like that when you have no evidence.

Finally, it's clear to me from her comments that she is suffering from PTSD. She's communicating her experience with that. I see no reason to assume guile.

According to the host of this very website, when the mainstream media (like, say, USA Today) picks up stories, it's because PR firms hit the media with stories.


I don't think you understood that essay. That essay is about when things that are not stories make it into many news outlets - things such as suits. There is no story, people are not talking about them, so PR firms conjure up an angle and sell that angle to the media.

This is a story. People are talking about it.

That's very cynical -- can't she just be articulate and feeling violated?

She certain can, but she also bears some responsibility for using the service. For instance, I wouldn't use it unless I had everything from my garlic press to my furniture and space insured to the hilt, and was sure my policy covered these tenants.

I think it's been discussed several times already. In many cases, you can't get rental insurance for services like airbnb.

Is it cynical when you see a pattern in the language she's using? She's not the first customer to complain about the outcome of a business transaction she engaged in, remember Paula Jones?, so the public at large is already well-educated in terms of what happens next.

I'm on record with my desire to see counsel retained on her behalf before passing judgement on what exactly she's angling for and I think the specialization of that particular legal counsel will spell it out for us.

To answer you, yes actually it is. Innocent until proven guilty, and all the language patterns in the world can't change that?

At this point, it did occur to me that she is angling for a much bigger settlement than just her furnishings. And if so, I imagine it's not a PR firm coaching her, but rather a lawyer.

I've done a lot of work with plaintiff's attorneys and one thing I've never seen is them encouraging people to publicly express their whoa. You don't want the other side to know what you are going to drop.

Their... woe?

ya, channeling Joey Lawrence. Thanks for the rapid grammar feedback.

I disagree with what you're saying about EJ having a PR person nudging her. But I agree with the rest of your sentiment because I got the same vibe reading her interview comments.

I'm wondering if Airbnb sensed this from their interactions with her just prior to the first blog post. It's possible the situation cannot be fixed, even with a blank check. Does she have a legal case? I don't know how she'd be able to sue Airbnb if that's what she decides to do because they have no legal obligation to compensate her. The person she needs to go after is Faith Clinton.


In my understanding of it, in outline this was handled the way conventional PR firms have handled corporate problems - fix it in private and ignore it/deny it in public. Especially, offering aid contingent on silence (which MJ's kind of indicates was done).

It seems like "The Ole' PR stonewall" just isn't a good model for startups. Instead, a better model is do the right thing, from the start, publicly and privately (obviously, you need to articulate clearly what you're doing so you still corporate communications). Google, at its best, has benefited from this approach.

The gold standard in disaster PR response is the Tylenol crisis of 1982. Somehow poison was ending up in some Tylenol capsules and a little girl had died.

Before even fully knowing what was going on the company apologized, issued a nationwide recall, and replaced product ads with announcements warning people not to consume their product.

When an internal investigation revealed it was someone tampering with products after they were on shelves and resealing them, the company announced it would relaunch the product with an innovative tamper-evident cap and offered a reward for information leading to the culprit.

But this did involve a lack of transparency, right?

The transparent response is "we don't know what happened and we are investigating".

They probably had considered the safer cap beforehand knowing that this could be an issue - and used this event as an excuse to roll it out.

The ol' PR stonewall has never been a good model for any company that's pissed off a journalist. Nowadays, it seems like it's maybe not a good model if you've pissed off anybody who can write clearly and coherently, regardless of whether or not they're employed as a journalist, because a well-written and gripping blog post like EJ's can draw a lot of attention, even without journalist assistance.

Although, as we saw, it can take a while. A month in this case.

From http://www.cluetrain.com/#manifesto:

The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy....

As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.

There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone....

Companies that don't realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.

Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance....

Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets....

Don't worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it's not the only thing on your mind....

We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

When the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto wrote the above theses in 1999, they sounded radical, utopian, even unrealistic. Now they are, or should be, common sense. Airbnb exists in large part because of the truth of these theses. So why are they reverting to 1950s-style corporate blackmail when faced with this crisis?


Some outrage is short-lived, other outrage is not. Why do you think forming via the internet rather than via personal contact bears on this?

That's just the stereotype. I worked for a small PR firm, on a portfolio of small tech companies, where I felt proud of how we operated.

The good firms realize that the most effective way to combat crisis like these is to over-deliver on your obligations to anyone hurt, and to lead the charge in providing information to the public.

I've never worked PR for tobacco or big oil companies, but I imagine that's where the stereotype comes from. It's pretty easy to do good, ethical PR for a bunch of nerds programming computers.

Under-promise, over-deliver is our mantra in my team. You nailed it.

I don't really think you need an expert to anticipate this exact sort of problem with AirBnB. It's precisely the reason that I and many others never use the service – it's wildly obvious that this risk existed from the start. Handling this eventuality should have been planned and scripted from day one.

Airbnb has settled these cases before, as another commenter noted here. I have been completely sympathetic to EJ all along, but as I read more of her interview comments, I'm starting to wonder if there's even anything Airbnb could do to help at this point (or any point, for that matter). I don't think there is. Airbnb could sign a blank check, and it wouldn't surprise me if she still continued to talk to the media. She has shown after they asked her to take down her first post that she is unwilling to work a deal out quietly, whatever happens, she wants it to be done very publicly. Who knows what will make her happy, not even she knows from her comments in the interview. Point being: Airbnb has settled these cases before and customers have walked away happy because of it.

It doesn't look like AirBnB tried to settle this case in any meaningful way. Chesky's posts on HN and in other sources are full of weasel bs like "we're doing everything possible", "we're working on it".

If, instead, they'd put out a bullet point list of what they've done to mitigate the disaster, public would have been tamed and considered the incident over.

Internet hate machine started working against airbnb, they should better begin doing something meaningful before they might very well become a non-company.

It may or may not be a fundamental problem with Airbnb that the situation happened in the first place, but their response to it has frankly revealed deeply fundamental problems in the moral character of the company. As a long time admirer of Airbnb it's hard for me to admit this, but it's true. It's not a matter of good PR or bad PR, it's a matter of simple moral decency.

I've been following this despite myself for a while. It does a pretty good job at illustrating a problem with this instant update news you get so much these days.

Too much thought and words spent on intermediate situations.

It's almost certain that not all details are known and of the ones that are known, some will probably turn out to be incorrect. And now every time a little tidbit of information turns up, everyone starts interpreting the new situation (with the added tidbit of information). New conjecture, new advice, new commentary. Then when the next bit of information comes in, it invalidates half the predictions that have been made, and the whole process starts again. Over and over. Round and round.

A couple of weeks from now when all the details are out and established, all this intermediate commentary will just be noise. A tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear. That's not to say that you shouldn't do it... hell, if you feel like it... But you might ask yourself if there isn't something else you'd rather be doing. Something useful. Something fun. I don't know.

Anyway, I'll write myself a reminder to check up on how the whole thing turned out in a month or so and ignore these threads from now on.

It does a pretty good job at illustrating a problem with this instant update news you get so much these days.

But when the technology to provide instant news updates was developed, it was hailed as an opportunity not to be behind the curve on a breaking story. And blogging was hailed (especially by Dave Winer, since way back in the year 2000 or earlier) as something that would give a voice to the forgotten common people and shake up journalism. Good ideas have unintended consequences.

Oh, when I said it's a problem I meant it's a problem I have with it. Unless it's an event that I can influence while it is happening (and I think now that the major outcry happened, none of the talk here will make much of a difference), I'd rather read a summary of what happened one week later than reading piecemeal updates every day. I get the same information in the end (all the intermediate stuff, I'd forget anyway), and it doesn't take as long, so I have more time for doing other things.

Well said. Unless you can do something about it, the daily updates are more likely noise than signal for you. It's better to resist indulging your compulsion to rubberneck the latest startup drama and get back to either being productive or at least going outside and climbing a tree or something.

I've not used Airbnb so perhaps I do not understand this correctly, but isn't the whole point of the service to hook up people with rooms or housing available for short term rental with strangers who want to rent short term housing?

I understand from their site that you can read reviews from prior hosts who rented to a given guest, but beyond that it is up to you to investigate the guest and decide if you trust them, and to purchase insurance if you want to be protected against misjudgment.

If so, I do not understand the fuss here. A bad guest ripped someone off. Presumably that guest will get a scathing review and no one else will rent to them. Why isn't that the end of the matter?

Surely no one is surprised that if you give strangers unsupervised full access to your home, without doing a very thorough background check on them, occasionally you are going to get a bad guest.

Now one might argue that Airbnb is in a better position than the average host to gather data to make a good estimate of the prevalence and impact of bad guests, and so it would be more efficient for them to buy insurance to protect hosts rather than leave it to the hosts, but until that happens hosts need to insure.

A big part of the issue is that you are limited in how much you can learn about a potential guest because Airbnb specifically attempts to hide their full identity from you until after the first transaction as a means to avoid people using them as a matching service and then doing the money transaction outside of the system.

Also, as far as getting your own insurance goes.. good luck with that. Even if you have renter's or home owner's insurance it probably specifically denies any sort of coverage once you bring subletting into the mix.

Is verification that tough though? I too have never used Airbnb, but doesn't a person provide CC info? When they get keys from you, they can just present photo ID and as long as A) photo matches person and B) name matches CC, you are most likely clear*

*Unless they've spent the money to get a fake ID in a person's name that they've stolen a CC from - which seems highly unlikely.

The issue is not figuring out whether the person who you communicated with is the same as the one turning up in your house, but rather whether the person is someone you want to rent your place to. Apparently Airbnb hides their real identity from you until you agree a deal, so there's no way for you to check on Facebook etc. whether this person is someone you want to rent your place to.

I really don't see how knowing someone's real identity would help; I still have 0 way to vet them.

What I care about is that there are repercussions (jail, lawsuit, etc) if they do vandalize my dwelling - so the probability becomes near-zero that something bad will happen.

> Presumably that guest will get a scathing review and no one else will rent to them.

That guest probably used a fake name and a fake credit card.

But yeah, I agree. We use AirBNB, both when hosting and traveling. We give our guests keys and tell them they're free to come and go as they please - but we wouldn't just mail someone a copy of our keys and go on vacation. That's something you do with a rental property - not your home.

I completely agree, I don't see how this service is much different than Craigslist. Both parties should be aware of the risk and take reasonable precautions. If you plan to renting out your home on a regular basis it's only logical that you get some insurance and not leave anything you can't replace or is personally intimate(i.e. passports or SS cards).

This article, as far as I can tell, does not contain any new information about the EJ saga. I am quite confident that, had the subject matter of the submission not been AirBnB (and thus killing it might give rise to accusations of censorship on part of YC), this submission would have been killed as a dupe, and rightly so.

What is the point of submitting the same story over and over again, albeit from different news sources? The fact that it has 98 points at the moment is proof that the angry mob PG was talking about¹ is a reality. It's sad to see this kind of behavior on HN.

¹ http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2822860

I think the significance of it is that the story has hit USA Today and AirBnB still hasn't done anything to make the victim happy.

Yes, but the same is true for Bitcoin and other topics.

It's human nature. People vent their anger by upvoting and commenting on this stuff. Give 'em a break, it's just two or three additional entries in the Top 30.

Somehow I'm reminded of a paragraph in pg's essay "How to Start a Startup":

"I was great at customer support though. Imagine talking to a customer support person who not only knew everything about the product, but would apologize abjectly if there was a bug, and then fix it immediately, while you were on the phone with them. Customers loved us. And we loved them, because when you're growing slow by word of mouth, your first batch of users are the ones who were smart enough to find you by themselves. There is nothing more valuable, in the early stages of a startup, than smart users. If you listen to them, they'll tell you exactly how to make a winning product. And not only will they give you this advice for free, they'll pay you."


There is other good advice for startups in this essay.

This whole situation doesn't feel right. AirBnB definitely screwed up, how far back that was is not clear, but EJ doesn't pass the smell test either. Caveat that we likely are still a mile short of posessing full details.

I agree, something about this whole thing just seems off.

She said was "growing a very thick skin" because of accusations that she was part of a plot by the hotel industry to discredit Airbnb

Has Airbnb been looking into this possibility?

EJ blogged, And I was - but no longer am - scared of Airbnb’s reaction, the pressure and the veiled threat I have received from them since I initially blogged this story (http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011/07/airbnb-nightmare...).

But that doesn't fit with PG's description or the profile of the founders (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2822721).

Nor does it fit with EJ's original account: 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 (http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011/06/violated-travele...).

And there are these green "jcunningham" types that keep popping up on HN (http://www.hnsearch.com/search#request/all&q=jcunningham) trying to demonize Airbnb.

The fact the police were involved rules this out as a conspiracy. And it just doesn't follow that even if the hotel industry is taking advantage of the situation (they probably could care less), EJ was involved in a conspiracy.

Can we move the discussion forward please?

It doesn't have to be a "conspiracy" -- the change in story, attitude, and the selected words looks like someone is being coached and has decided to milk it.

>accusations that she was part of a plot by the hotel industry to discredit Airbnb

or like market analysts would say : tin hat market shows signs of improvement

> Has Airbnb been looking into this possibility?

ie. whether they seriously looked into the idea of blaming their own screwdup on a "plot by <> industry" ? do you seriously think that bad about them?

We are talking about billions of dollars here .. people have killed for much less. We know that there already are companies who sell upvotes for digg/reddit. selling tweets, etc. There is no evidence so far but no one can deny that there is motive.

>We know that there already are companies who sell upvotes for digg/reddit. selling tweets, etc.

and to think that i'm laboring here for free :)

Looked into why the story changed because it may be a sign that she is now being coached.

Nor does it fit with EJ's original account: 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 ...

She wrote her original account at the end of June. She wrote her update at the end of July. The customer service she refers to happened in the days prior to her first post, so it is not inconsistent with her dissatisfaction in her second post.

PG said, "I've just learned more about this situation, and it turns out Airbnb has been offering to fix it, from the very beginning. From the beginning they offered to pay to get her a new place and new stuff, and do whatever else she wanted" (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2822721).

What EJ is saying now does not match what PG is saying.

All that talk of "doubling the size of its customer service staff" sounds good, but it doesn't mention numbers. Did they go from 1 to 2? 100 to 200?

When they say they will be "creating a "Trust and Safety" department, they again don't mention actual numbers.

What are the figures?

All that talk of "doubling the size of its customer service staff" sounds good, but it doesn't mention numbers. Did they go from 1 to 2? 100 to 200?

This is one of my pet peeves about journalism--quantitative statements that aren't anchored to any numbers. The most outrageous example most of the time is talk of government budget "cuts" that are nearly always "growth in spending at a slower than originally planned rate" rather than actual reductions in spending.

I don't believe this is Airbnb's fault, BUT since it has happened and gotten big they better get their act together and fix it somehow.

Renting out short term is a good business IF someone is around the entire time to watch over guests. There should really be a host present the entire time for the guests. Otherwise there is an increased risk of bad things to happen.

Potential hosts needs to be aware of all the risks (even if small chance) and be prepared to accept it if they're not vigilant.

It's much easier than running a business, but it could really bite you on the ass if you don't run it as a real business.

My 0.02:

Buy the woman a new home, what ever she wants, furnish it as she wants and pay her a largish sum of money to compensate for those things that cannot be replaced.

Get insurance to cover the renters in future cases of theft or damage, and there will be future events.

Get a company that conducts background checks on applicants that wish to rent through their service. Anonymize the result and get the renter's approval before the transaction can proceed.

Add up insurance costs + background check costs + operating costs rising as a result of buying people new (!) homes in San Francisco (!!) + bs requirements such as entering personal information in order to run a background check, and I've got a new low-cost alternative for you.

It's called hotel industry.

Offering to give EJ a new house is like offering to buy a rape victim new clothes.

And if you think the way EJ feels is not similar to what a rape victim feels, you probably haven't talked to one before.

The bad press is already out there. This isn't going to fix the problem of things like this happening in the future and buying a house for everyone that is vandalized is just not a scalable business model.

It would also show the world that Airbnb is taking the blame for this. It isn't their fault. They are just as much a victim as this women. Victims shouldn't be paying for other victims.

"Get insurance to cover the renters in future cases of theft or damage, and there will be future events."

This will most likely increase the service fees substantially..maybe beyond what people are willing to pay.

"Get a company that conducts background checks on applicants that wish to rent through their service. Anonymize the result and get the renter's approval before the transaction can proceed."

This is probably the best suggestion.

Too many AirBnb stories, and too many comments - so it's possible my input is duplicated. But I COMPLETELY agree with you.

A month or two ago, someone was visiting SoCal (San Diego) and needed some help - I was about to offer him a place to stay at my house, for free. But I had to think about things a little. It's unfortunate. I wanted to be kind, and help someone out. The problem: I have a large family - comprise d of boys and girls - teenagers at that. Would my charitable acts backfire on me? Not sure. Maybe, maybe not. Ultimately, I didn't make the offer. It wasn't a SAFE decision for me or my family. It would have been irresponsible, even though it would have been a nice gesture.

I would NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER offer up my primary residence to a complete stranger - NEVER! I didn't do it when I would be "present" and I definitely wouldn't do it when I was an absentee. No way. It's IRRESPONSIBLE. A secondary residence? Maybe! Of course! Maybe they vomit on my couch, or piss on the carpet. No problem - that's, sadly, somewhat expected of "renters" --- but to provide a complete stranger to your primary residence, with all your private material, documents, property and what not in place, is just NAIVE! I'm sickened by what I have read, and I think AirBnb has no "social" or "business" obligation in this matter. In fact, I'm wondering where my mental wiring has gone wrong to have such a strong feeling. WHY on EARTH is everyone siding with this person? Because of her gender? Because she's a good writer? No? No... they've handled the whole thing, publicly, wrong. This is a great lesson for them - but they are NOT AT FAULT - not in my opinion! But, that's just my opinion, and clearly not that of the masses.

"WHY on EARTH is everyone siding with this person?"

I've been wondering the same thing. I read through her initial blog post. She talks about renting out her place through Craigslist on multiple occasions (without any problems). This is extremely risky and I wonder if her place was vandalized through craigslist, would people be calling for them to pay for her house?

When the "Craiglist killer" was in the news, I would be curious to see if the responses here on HN were similar (that Craigslist is to blame for the murders).

If I hired a developer from HN and they ended up stealing my source code/IP, should I blame Paul Graham?

Emotions play a lot into it. Her entire post plays into our emotions and gets people to feel sorry for her. Politicians and marketers use this same technique, and I don't like it.

At the very end, she does admit that it is her fault. But not without a few passive-aggressive jabs about the assumption that because she had paid a service fee that somehow Airbnb had pre-screened the applicant. I'm not sure why anyone would make this assumption.

I think because the criminals are not here, and people need someone to blame, airbnb is the next best thing (having the deepest pockets in the situation helps too).

Everyone just needs to take a step back, look at the situation, and take out emotions for a second...they often cloud judgement.

"Getting insurance" isn't just a small expense to tack on. Depending on the cost - and after this incident and the public nature of the product, it won't be cheap - it may prohibitively harm the company.

Who knows.

Maybe they are not in a viable business after all. This business has existed for a long time on a very small scale but other types of business such as hotels and b&bs have always dominated.

Exactly. Insurance has to be accounted for, and it obviously isn't in the current model. It wouldn't be a complete shock if it turned out to be unsustainable. Bubbles and such...

This headline in Business Insider about pg is pretty misleading. Airbnb Investor Suggests Ransacked Airbnb User Is Lying http://www.businessinsider.com/airbnb-ransackgate-paul-graha...

How about we flag any new article related to this particular story (including this one) until an article provides some new information; rehashing the same story over and over and over is really getting tiring...

(From what I'm reading, there is absolutely nothing new going on here.)

I'm still confused by the outrage. I'm not an expert but a 1/2MM incidence rate seems pristinely low compared to the baseline risk of burglaries. If those 2MM homeowners had not used AirBNB, how many of their homes would have been robbed?

AirBnB should definitely add supplemental insurance; which should be low due to such a great record.

Plot thickens? I see no thickening of the plot here, or even any substantive new information. Just a me-too article with a slightly clever headline...

>unnamed co-founder asked her to "shut down the blog altogether or limit its access," and suggested she "update the blog with a 'twist' of good news so as to 'complete[s] the story.'"

Its as if they forgot about the 5m incentive & industrial strength NDAs. Nothing good can come of this for Airbnb, so fix it...quietly & speedily.

She is justifiably distressed and clearly willing to post what is essentially a PR _disaster_ online, so why isn't Airbnb on top of this, doing everything in their power to make her feel better? At the very least they could set her up in a hotel & meet her face to face. Clearly they are doing something very very wrong here:

>Airbnb’s reaction, the pressure and the veiled threat

I find it hard to believe, yet I have been unable to find any public search for California arrest records. Just loads of pay to search sites that are ranking too high.


Do you have some sort of personal interest in this story? Your only comments since you've created your account a day ago have been made in relation to this whole AirBnB situation.

Edit: Reply was to jcunningham.

Wow! Here today, gone tomorrow. Good call Kyro!


Yeah. Ok.

How does this mean Chesky lied? If they moved Faith Clinton to another county where she had warrants out for her arrest, then she's still in custody. That hasn't been confirmed. Brian wrote the response on Thursday, but the article doesn't say when Faith Clinton was out of custody. The response could have been referring to a conversation Brian had with police earlier, not literally the day of writing the post (unless he specified the timing otherwise).

If Airbnb worked with the police, and the police said they had someone in custody, maybe he didn't know that she might have been released. Anyway, maybe she hasn't been released but was transferred to county.

What's the point of an apology?

Homeaway.com, VRBO.com, and roomarama.com all offer similar products, and they built their businesses without dishonesty or spam.

> This is proof positive that Chesky lied in his written statements over the last few days when he said there is a suspect in custody.

I don't think a recap of the story as related to us by USA Today, not exactly an investigative outfit, sheds any new light nor does it provide proof of anything. Nor does the one posted in the Chronicle. This hide and go seek game that EJ is playing is allowing her to avoid any scrutiny while she hides behind her blog. Personally, I think Balloon Boy's father has something to do with this.

Also, last time I checked, Brian Chesky was not in the employ of the SFPD as a jailer nor does he have any legal connection, responsibility or obligation to the accused.

Have any news sources stated whether or not EJ owns the place that got ransacked? I often see it referred to as her "apartment" in various places and was curious if she actually owned it or was a renter who was subletting it herself? Perhaps part of the problem Airbnb has coming fully clean with the entire story is the whole can of worms that potentially opens up if/when it becomes common knowledge that a lot of their business is built on subletting that isn't even technically legal (according to most rental contracts) in the first place.

Her blog post here http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011/01/new-year-new-hom... mentions that its a rented apartment.

I quickly rented a place of my own and began to settle in – 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.

Airbnb should be very cautious right now and re-think their home-rental policies carefully or it could come back to bite them in the ass. Airbnb cannot put EJ up in a 5 star hotel, get her free stuff and get her house redecorated because that would result in a lot of copycats and opportunists who would rent their houses on Airbnb and then themselves trash it and blame Airbnb for it. Because there won't be any other proof other than the victim's word, and the Internet would again rally against Airbnb, they will have to repeat the same pattern again and put the victim in 5 star hotels etc etc., and before they know it they're hemorrhaging more money than they make and fighting to keep their startup alive. So don't rush to conclusions about the hard-heartedness or ham-fistedness of the Airbnb founders. This has happened to them for the first time and they're bewildered that they're getting so much hate from strangers and I believe they must be helping poor EJ in some way or the other.

Airbnb cannot put EJ up in a 5 star hotel, get her free stuff and get her house redecorated because that would result in a lot of copycats and opportunists who would rent their houses on Airbnb and then themselves trash it and blame Airbnb for it.

This problem is trivial to avoid, by the simple expedient of requiring a police report. The police don't take kindly to being used as patsies for insurance fraud.

Is anybody looking into the big hotels and any possibility they are connected here?

So what's new in the world of hacking guys?

Phew, -5 points already? Some people are edgy around here.

Genuine question: what does this article add that top HN posts haven't covered yet? Is it the simple fact that USAToday-Travel talked about it?

"Obviously, the financial damages have been significant, but it has come down to a matter of principle and how I feel they disregarded me and my situation," she said. "I still hurt, and I don't know how you make that right."

But she does know. She implicitly states that Airbnb should have reimbursed her for her financial losses, and since they didn't nudge, she will now crucify them because of her "principles". By all means i was sympathetic towards her, but this is getting tiring. Spiteful even.

My interpretation has been that EJ isn't very focused on the financial aspect; that's been emphasized by other readers and rewrites, because other people see the world in those terms.

For EJ, it's about violation and no amount of money will fix it. So the same way that in her 2nd blog post, she brushes off the idea of donations from readers, she may have been noncommittal about any initial AirBnb offers of financial help. In fact, if AirBnb concentrated too much on what they could buy for her, and not enough on whether she was emotionally well, that could have worsened her mood.

I do think some of her recounting has been colored by the psychological need to find someone to blame for the initial crime. She initially felt betrayed by AirBnb because she felt there hadn't been enough warning to be wary of guests. (She thought there was more checking than there was. EJ was so confident that the key got handed off in some manner such that she didn't even know the gender of the guest!)

For a bit, EJ then felt reassured by sympathy from AirBnb support staff. But after she blog posted – an effort to warn others, and also an appeal for more sympathy and emotional support – AirBnb went into all-business mode. I'd guess they said something to the effect of, "is there anything we can do for you that would let you take down or balance your first post, because it's just the incomplete first part of a still-evolving story we want to have a happier resolution for you."

If your real needs are financial, you're OK hearing that. If your real needs are emotional, that question may sound sinister, pressuring, as if any help was conditional on removing the post – even if that wasn't the AirBnb intent.

Yeah.. but being disappointed with how EJ and AirBnB handled the situation aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, I frankly don't care all that much how gracefully someone who's apartment gets ransacked handles things. It's not as material to me as the way a company that I might choose to do business with handles the situation.

It seems like AirBnB is now, because of this event, creating a framework to shield the company and their users from similar mishaps (details provided in the article). Which shows they are listening.

I think they should be judged on that framework, when it is finally in place, instead of this single incident.

You make a good point about judging them on how well they learn from this mistake. My concern is they may come up with a good framework, but then can't execute the solution well. In this case the solution means little. And this incident has cast doubt on their ability to execute.

Then again, it may only be one bad incident, and every small company has those.

What troubles me most is the claim they attempted to cover it up, so I'm not sure how many times an incident like this has happened.

They didn't attempt to "cover it up." That's just media spin. They attempted to resolve the matter silently, which, honestly, is a perfectly reasonable request.

But clearly the issue is beyond reconciliation as the woman is requesting something Airbnb can't fix (and technically didn't cause). Perhaps exposing the situation to the world might help her find the "problem" and thus the solution.

I can't help thinking that if my apartment had been trashed and I was receiving threatening/blackmail comments ("take your blog down or limit access") I might be more than a little upset...

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