Skift Take

The next six months will be interesting for the rental upstart, and fascinating to watch from the outside. Can it find a balance with regulators and can it keep the user growth momentum going?

At yesterday’s TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin conference, TechCrunch writer Ryan Lawler interviewed Airbnb CTO and co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk about the service’s rapid growth over the last year and the challenges that it is facing in large markets like New York City and San Francisco.

But Blecharczyk first used the event to announce a change to Airbnb’s search functionality, making it easier for users to compare photos of rentals while also looking at a map of their destination. The CTO called it a solution to Airbnb’s “unique search problem” of giving the user a map and photos at the same time.

Early on, Blecharczyk also confirmed a widely circulated yet unconfirmed report that Airbnb raised a large investment from PayPal founder Peter Thiel last fall. “We did raise money a year ago from Peter Thiel’s Founder Fund,” Blecharczyk told Lawler. “$200 million.” He denied that Mark Zuckerberg was part of that round.

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Lawler pressed Blecharczyk on Airbnb’s regulation hurdles. The CTO blamed the troubles on Airbnb’s innovative powers more than anything else. “What we’re doing hadn’t been envisioned before,” he said. “Previously there were were people and there were businesses and there were rules for both. In the sharing economy those are merging.”

Blecharczyk returned often to the concept of “dialog” with states and municipalities. “We have to have a dialog,” he said more than once in reference to laws that seek to limit the types of rentals on the site. In response to Lawler’s question about the New York State Attorney General’s request for user data, Blecharczyk explained that the state was after information about just the largest users of Airbnb, likely for tax purposes.

“With the Attorney General in New York we see eye-to-eye on a lot of facts. They’re concerned about a few users that are quite large that have over 100 properties. We understand you may not want users with that many properties on our service,” he said. “He asked for data not just on those users but all users. We didn’t think that was appropriate”

Lawler pressed him on just removing the biggest offenders, which are clearly in violation of the state law, to which Blecharczyk said, “We would love to have a dialog with the city and realize where to draw the line. There are a lot of interesting side cases in there.”

Blecharczyk addressed competition in Europe, specifically Wimdu, an Airbnb clone that the original considered buying last summer. “We did not share the same values that Wimdu is about,” Blecharczyk said, referring to Wimdu as “mercenary” and Airbnb as “missionary.”

The continent is central to Airbnb’s strategy. Of the roughly 500,000 listings available on the service, approximately 300,000 are in Europe, Blecharczyk said. He explained how Airbnb was helping people hit by the economic crisis make ends meet.

“People are having trouble holding on to their homes and we’re providing a tool to help them,” he said. “We’re empowering people to take their future into their own hands.”

As for Airbnb’s future, Blecharczyk said a quick IPO isn’t the goal, nor is acquisition.

“We have a very big vision and it don’t think we could do that as a subsidiary of another company,” he said. “We are very well financed. I don’t anticipate the need to do [an IPO] any time soon.”

View the full interview here:

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Tags: airbnb, sharing

Photo credit: Airbnb CTO and co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk. TechCrunch Disrupt

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