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Essay 137 - Subject: Airbnb

All writing are property of © Paul Graham

137 Subject: Airbnb

March 2011

Yesterday Fred Wilson published a remarkable post about missing Airbnb. VCs miss good startups all the time, but it's extraordinarily rare for one to talk about it publicly till long afterward. So that post is further evidence what a rare bird Fred is. He's probably the nicest VC I know.

Reading Fred's post made me go back and look at the emails I exchanged with him at the time, trying to convince him to invest in Airbnb. It was quite interesting to read. You can see Fred's mind at work as he circles the deal.

Fred and the Airbnb founders have generously agreed to let me publish this email exchange (with one sentence redacted about something that's strategically important to Airbnb and not an important part of the conversation). It's an interesting illustration of an element of the startup ecosystem that few except the participants ever see: investors trying to convince one another to invest in their portfolio companies. Hundreds if not thousands of conversations of this type are happening now, but if one has ever been published, I haven't seen it. The Airbnbs themselves never even saw these emails at the time.

We do a lot of this behind the scenes stuff at YC, because we invest in such a large number of companies, and we invest so early that investors sometimes need a lot of convincing to see their merits. I don't always try as hard as this though. Fred must have found me quite annoying.


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 from: Paul Graham     to: Fred Wilson, AirBedAndBreakfast Founders     date: Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 11:42 AM     subject: meet the airbeds

 One of the startups from the batch that just started, AirbedAndBreakfast,     is in NYC right now meeting their users.  (NYC is their biggest     market.) I'd recommend meeting them if your schedule allows.

 I'd been thinking to myself that though these guys were going to     do really well, I should introduce them to angels, because VCs would     never go for it.  But then I thought maybe I should give you more     credit.  You'll certainly like meeting them.  Be sure to ask about     how they funded themselves with breakfast cereal.

 There's no reason this couldn't be as big as Ebay.  And this team     is the right one to do it.


--pg






 from: Brian Chesky     to: Paul Graham     cc: Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe Gebbia     date: Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 11:40 AM     subject: Re: meet the airbeds


PG,


 Thanks for the intro!

 Brian





 from: Paul Graham     to: Brian Chesky     cc: Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe Gebbia     date: Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 12:38 PM     subject: Re: meet the airbeds

 It's a longshot, at this stage, but if there was any VC who'd get     you guys, it would be Fred.  He is the least suburban-golf-playing     VC I know.

 He likes to observe startups for a while before acting, so don't     be bummed if he seems ambivalent.


--pg






 from: Fred Wilson     to: Paul Graham,     date: Sun, Jan 25, 2009 at 5:28 PM     subject: Re: meet the airbeds

 Thanks Paul

 We are having a bit of a debate inside our partnership about the     airbed concept. We'll finish that debate tomorrow in our weekly     meeting and get back to you with our thoughts

 Thanks


Fred






 from: Paul Graham     to: Fred Wilson     date: Sun, Jan 25, 2009 at 10:48 PM     subject: Re: meet the airbeds

 I'd recommend having the debate after meeting them instead of before.     We had big doubts about this idea, but they vanished on meeting the     guys.





 from: Fred Wilson     to: Paul Graham     date: Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 11:08 AM     subject: RE: meet the airbeds

 We are still very suspect of this idea but will take a meeting as     you suggest

 Thanks


fred






 from: Fred Wilson     to: Paul Graham, AirBedAndBreakfast Founders     date: Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 11:09 AM     subject: RE: meet the airbeds

 Airbed team -

 Are you still in NYC?

 We'd like to meet if you are

 Thanks


fred






 from: Paul Graham     to: Fred Wilson     date: Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 1:42 PM     subject: Re: meet the airbeds

 Ideas can morph.  Practically every really big startup could say,     five years later, "believe it or not, we started out doing ___."     It just seemed a very good sign to me that these guys were actually     on the ground in NYC hunting down (and understanding) their users.     On top of several previous good signs.


--pg






 from: Fred Wilson     to: Paul Graham     date: Sun, Feb 1, 2009 at 7:15 AM     subject: Re: meet the airbeds

 It's interesting

 Our two junior team members were enthusiastic

 The three "old guys" didn't get it





 from: Paul Graham     to: Fred Wilson     date: Mon, Feb 9, 2009 at 5:58 PM     subject: airbnb

 The Airbeds just won the first poll among all the YC startups in     their batch by a landslide.  In the past this has not been a 100%     indicator of success (if only anything were) but much better than     random.


--pg






 from: Fred Wilson     to: Paul Graham     date: Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 5:29 PM     subject: Re: airbnb

 I met them today

 They have an interesting business

 I'm just not sure how big it's going to be


fred






 from: Paul Graham     to: Fred Wilson     date: Sat, Feb 14, 2009 at 9:50 AM     subject: Re: airbnb

 Did they explain the long-term goal of being the market in accommodation     the way eBay is in stuff?  That seems like it would be huge.  Hotels     now are like airlines in the 1970s before they figured out how to     increase their load factors.





 from: Fred Wilson     to: Paul Graham     date: Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 2:05 PM     subject: Re: airbnb

 They did but I am not sure I buy that

 ABNB reminds me of Etsy in that it facilitates real commerce in a     marketplace model directly between two people

 So I think it can scale all the way to the bed and breakfast market

 But I am not sure they can take on the hotel market

 I could be wrong

 But even so, if you include short term room rental, second home     rental, bed and breakfast, and other similar classes of accommodations,     you get to a pretty big opportunity


fred






 from: Paul Graham     to: Fred Wilson     date: Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 12:21 AM     subject: Re: airbnb

 So invest in them!  They're very capital efficient.  They would     make an investor's money go a long way.

 It's also counter-cyclical.  They just arrived back from NYC, and     when I asked them what was the most significant thing they'd observed,     it was how many of their users actually needed to do these rentals     to pay their rents.


--pg






 from: Fred Wilson     to: Paul Graham     date: Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 2:21 AM     subject: Re: airbnb

 There's a lot to like

 I've done a few things, like intro it to my friends at Foundry who     were investors in Service Metrics and understand this model

 I am also talking to my friend Mark Pincus who had an idea like     this a few years ago.

 So we are working on it

 Thanks for the lead


Fred






 from: Paul Graham     to: Fred Wilson     date: Fri, Feb 20, 2009 at 10:00 PM     subject: airbnb already spreading to pros

 I know you're skeptical they'll ever get hotels, but there's a     continuum between private sofas and hotel rooms, and they just moved     one step further along it.

 [link to an airbnb user]

 This is after only a few months.  I bet you they will get hotels     eventually.  It will start with small ones.  Just wait till all the     10-room pensiones in Rome discover this site.  And once it spreads     to hotels, where is the point (in size of chain) at which it stops?     Once something becomes a big marketplace, you ignore it at your     peril.


--pg






 from: Fred Wilson     to: Paul Graham     date: Sat, Feb 21, 2009 at 4:26 AM     subject: Re: airbnb already spreading to pros

 That's true. It's also true that there are quite a few marketplaces     out there that serve this same market

 If you look at many of the people who list at ABNB, they list     elsewhere too

 I am not negative on this one, I am interested, but we are still     in the gathering data phase.


fred

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