Skift Take

Colbert is becoming the go-to place for Silicon Valley unicorn companies to explain to the masses how they are disrupting legacy businesses.

Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Thursday night to discuss the company’s origins, safety measures, and its place in the global economy.

Chesky, who said he was staying in an Airbnb rental in Soho while visiting New York, explained to Colbert that the concept for Airbnb first took shape when he was living in San Francisco in 2008 and was struggling to make rent.

“Almost 2 million homes later in 34,000 cities, you have what it is today,” Chesky says.

Though it is a strong and popular network, Airbnb doesn’t come without its mishaps, as Colbert highlighted a recent incident in which a housesitter rented out a couple’s California home on Airbnb. Chesky is quick to call it an “extremely rare experience.”

Such a situation isn’t the only negative aspect circulating around Airbnb.

Colbert brought up his conversation with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who appeared on The Late Show two weeks earlier, when the two discussed Kalanick’s role as a disruptor in the American economy, a label Kalanick said he didn’t mind having.

“Hotel people or business people would call you a ‘disruptor,’” Colbert says. “Are you okay with ‘disruptor?’”

Chesky lined his response with humor, saying he was thought of as a disruptor in school by his teachers, which often landed him in the principal’s office. With Airbnb, though, the connotation associated with being a disruptor, according to Chesky, was one that he welcomed as “a good thing.”

“I think we allow people to experience the world,” Chesky said. “New York City and Paris are cities that are very expensive. Millions of people could never afford to visit these cities, and I think we open many cities up for people who couldn’t have traveled before.”

Yet not everyone welcomes businesses like Airbnb and Uber. Kalanick’s appearance on the show was upstaged by an audience member who allegedly began shouting about Uber’s negative effect on the taxi industry, specifically in New York City.

Last month, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade held a hearing to understand both the positive and negative influences the sharing economy yields on consumers, job creation, and policy, as the government looks to determine how much regulation it should yield in such a space.

Despite the differing opinions, companies like Airbnb are not going anywhere; in fact, Airbnb has been making significant headway around the world, having just recently set up operations in Cuba, news that enticed Colbert to jokingly ask whether it was hard for Chesky to “sell a communist country on the idea of sharing.”

“We have about 2,500 homes in Cuba, and it’s actually something that has been going on in Cuba for about 20 years,” he added. “They’re a very entrepreneurial country.”

Airbnb currently does not have any hosts in North Korea, Iran, and Syria, but the company is content in focusing on Cuba for the time being, Chesky said.

Also on the show Thursday night were Australian actress Cate Blanchett and the Dartmouth Football Dummy.


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Tags: airbnb, sharing economy, tv

Photo credit: Airbnb founder Brian Chesky appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Thursday night. 159557

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