Disruptive online accommodation player Airbnb views Dublin City, where the company is doubling its workforce to 200 people, as its hub for future innovation, Airbnb’s founders told Siliconrepublic.com.
Airbnb has more than 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities worldwide.
Co-founder and CTO Nathan Blecharczyk confirms the company was founded by a bunch of friends who wanted to make money by providing a B&B service from their apartment but could only provide an air mattress for guests to sleep on.
“It’s true. We really didn’t think this would become a business. We had no idea at the time it would grow into this.”
A group of designers and technologists, including Blecharczyk, CEO Brian Chesky, and chief product officer Joe Gebbia, established Airbnb in San Francisco, California, in 2007. Since then, the company has grown to be valued today at an estimated US$10bn following a recent US$500m funding round.
Investors include venture-capital giants Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, DST, Y Combinator and Greylock Partners, as well as YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim and actor Ashton Kutcher.
Today, Airbnb revealed it is to double the size of its Dublin international headquarters from 100 to 200 employees.
The roles will initially be centred on two areas: customer safety and customer service.
“Eventually, we will have a lot of pan-European roles, including HR, finance, technology and legal. I would imagine every function of the company will be here,” Chesky said.
Firing on all cylinders
The operation will be headed by EMEA chief Aisling Hassell, who explained the operation was established in Dublin only last August, when a landing team arrived and started operations on Lansdowne Road. They’ve since moved to a new building, the Watermarque Building, near Ringsend, where 100 people are ensconced in uniquely designed offices that reflect actual locations advertised on Airbnb.
Hassell explained that renovation work is taking place upstairs to accommodate the doubled Dublin workforce.
“We were able to grow pretty quickly based on the core group that arrived in August and we have built up a team from all around Europe and we’re hiring gradually from graduate meet-ups.
“The purpose of Dublin is really three-fold: one is to be the centre for customer services operations, the other is to be our Hospitality and Innovation Lab, and the last is to be the crossroads between HQ in San Francisco and all of our international operations.
“So we’re firing on all of those three cylinders.”
Hassell added that up to 50 to 60 visitors from HQ could be on site at any one time and come to Dublin to get a taste of the international business and figure out new ways to serve the growing community of hosts.
“In terms of the 100 new roles, we are looking for people who are passionate about travel. We are a hospitality company and we’re looking for people who primarily want to help other people. If you like travelling and you like helping people, this is the place to come.”
Blecharczyk said Airbnb employs a core team of 90 engineers that he hopes to continue to grow.
“We have an infrastructure that we built over the last five or six years and the global scale that we are now at introduces a lot of challenges – both because we want to localise the product and other companies do this by separate websites. We are one platform globally yet we try to lean on local features and we have all that global scale riding on one codebase, one set of servers, and so over time we’ve had to architect our solution a little differently, by breaking into services.”
Blecharczyk confirmed that the rate of growth of Airbnb’s mobile side of the business is accelerating.
“Mobile is definitely the fastest-growing component of our business, it’s a big challenge for us. Mobile engineers are in high demand and in fact we’ve started to retrain engineers to teach them the skills so we can invest in our iPhone and Android apps.
“We think that in the future we will be mobile first, so there will be some features that only exist on mobile and we think that mobile will make our services better.
“For some companies it’s a challenge, because on a mobile device there’s less real estate and ad space but we don’t monetise through ads, we monetise by providing really quick connections between people and when people have mobile in their pocket they can respond more quickly to messages, get the information that they need.
“We think mobile inherently makes our service better for all of our users.”
Blecharczyk said Dublin is Airbnb’s biggest office outside San Francisco.
“We are going to continue to invest in our Dublin office and over time we will have representation from all the functions of the business.
“For the technology piece I don’t have an exact ETA – there are some unique challenges of having remote development so we haven’t crossed that chasm yet, but someday we’ll certainly have to.”