Airbnb is reshuffling key positions in its executive lineup as it makes good on an earlier pledge to reboot its relationships with hosts. The moves this week come as the homesharing giant rekindles plans to go public, maybe even this year.
Greg Greeley, who became head of Airbnb’s Homes division in 2018 after an 18-year run at Amazon, where he helped create Amazon Prime, is out at Airbnb, according to published reports. The Information and the Financial Times also reported that onetime Disney executive Catherine Powell will become head of hosting, whether it’s for homes or her existing Airbnb portfolio, experiences.
In other developments, according to these reports, Apple veteran Hiroki Asai becomes head of marketing after a nearly two-decade career at Apple where he was vice president of global marketing communications until 2016.
In the midst of this, Airbnb is resuming plans to go public. “When the market is ready, we’ll be ready,” CEO Brian Chesky told employees Wednesday in an email, according to the Financial Times. One factor that might be driving the renewed enthusiasm: Airbnb reported seeing bookings eclipse the 100 million mark for the first time since the onset of Covid-19.
Greeley had become unhappy with Airbnb, according to The Information’s Cory Weinberg, and took issue with Airbnb’s spending habits.
Greeley was well respected at Airbnb, hired out of Amazon in 2018 to be the "adult in the room," of sorts.
But his experience there was rocky. Over the past year, Greeley has told people he was unhappy at Airbnb, at times questioning the company’s financial discipline.
— Cory Weinberg (@coryweinberg) July 16, 2020
Even well before Greg Greeley’s departure, announced at an Airbnb employee meeting Wednesday, all of that two-year-old speculation that the company would come up with an Amazon Prime-like offering had long faded away.
After all, Airbnb is in a refocusing phase, committing several months ago to tilting away from hosting as a real estate ploy, and it paused investment in its burgeoning hotel business. It also gutted plans to debut a flights business of some sort, and a restaurant partnership never had any pickup.
Greeley’s exit brings up recollections of the 2018 departure of then-CFO Laurence Tosi, who at the time was said to have clashed with Chesky about the timing of an initial public offering and other matters.
As its new marketing guru, Asai may be charged with making Airbnb’s marketing more efficient, which would be a key priority with investors if Airbnb goes public. Airbnb’s marketing costs reportedly skyrocketed in 2019, and was a big factor in Airbnb’s financials turning red for the year.
Powell, a former Disney exec, will head Airbnb’s hosting, whether it’s for homes or experiences, and that’s a tricky move. In the past, Airbnb lost a lot of money on experiences, which is a very competitive market where the obituaries of startups that tried and failed at it are legend.
Hosting an experience and hosting a stay are both complex undertakings, and very different from one another. Focusing on one or the other is more than a full-time mission.
Perhaps combining their management is in part a consolidation and cost-cutting move because otherwise it’s hard to find the logic in the move. Other than the fact that there must be a bit of overlap between rental hosts and experiences hosts.
Powell’s appointment also comes at a time when Airbnb faces a crisis with rental hosts, who felt ripped off when the company opted to reimburse guests for cancelled reservations during parts of the coronavirus crisis, depriving hosts of cash flow.
Mending those relationships would take lots of focus.
Chesky pointed out in his communications that Airbnb isn’t committed to going public this year, but will be ready if conditions are ripe. Last year, Airbnb said it would be ready to obtain a stock market symbol in 2020, but those plans were shelved in March when the pandemic crushed Airbnb’s then $31 billion valuation.
Now plans are on again. But in this topsy-turvy Covid-19 era, prognostications can be very challenged preoccupation.