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“The Dumbest Person in Your Building Is Passing Out Keys to Your Front Door!”


There were a lot of stories like that, enough that the senator formed a small coalition to figure out how to handle them. Their concern wasn’t just with noise or safety, although it was that; it was also that long-term tenants were being harassed out of their buildings by landlords who’d figured out that increasingly desirable Manhattan real estate was worth more per night than per month. “I think, individually, this group of landlords each came up with this fabulous idea, Oh, I can make some fast, bigger money this way,” says Krueger.

Back then, the industry was fairly fragmented. Other than Craigslist, with its hit-or-miss reputation, or sites like HomeAway or VRBO, which dealt only with pieds-à-terre and vacation homes, there was no real clearinghouse for short-term stays in residential buildings.

“But then Airbnb came on the scene,” says Goldston. “And that opened up the floodgates.”

In 2010, Krueger and State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried presented a bill that made it illegal for New Yorkers living in multiple-unit dwellings to sublet their abodes for less than 30 days. The new law didn’t really compromise ­Airbnb’s original vision. People in multiple-unit dwellings could still have Real World–like experiences by hosting people in their apartments, as long as they stayed present. And owners of freestanding brownstones could do as they pleased. “The effort and even most of the work toward the bill were pre-Airbnb even existing,” says Krueger. “And it was not done with any discussions with the hotel industry,” she adds, rolling her eyes, “because I’m constantly accused of ­shilling for the hotel industry.”

Not long after, Governor David Paterson signed the Illegal Hotel Law into being, rendering a huge number of ­Airbnb’s listings illegal.

The Airbnb founders were caught off guard. It wasn’t that they hadn’t ­anticipated resistance. All prophets face doubters. “We knew that any new technology, especially if it enters the real world, can be potentially misunderstood, especially by government,” says Chesky. “If you look at the history of so many technologies, starting with the automobile, there were so many rules, like that cars couldn’t be on the road because they would disturb the horses.”

They were a little hurt that the first wave of pushback came from New York, the place they’d identified as having their most dedicated users. “I’m from New York,” says Chesky. “I thought, New York’s going to love us. We thought people would be thanking us or at least there would be some gratitude for the thousands of people whose homes … We were way off, obviously.”

But did hurt feelings stop Steve Jobs? Did they stop Zuckerberg? Chesky and Gebbia resolved to fight the law. But because they didn’t know anything about law—they were art students, remember—they did what they’d done when confronting a challenging problem at RISD: They consulted experts. With their sizable budget, they soon amassed an impressive roster of politicos who were young enough to grasp their vision and experienced enough to, you know, know what to do. Among them were David Hantman, former chief of staff for Chuck Schumer; politically connected flack Risa Heller; and, in a particularly genius bit of casting, Bill Hyers, the mastermind behind the recent election of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. Hyers had never lived in New York City before the mayoral race, but it didn’t take long for him to sniff out the source of the practically pheromonal angst that emanates from most of the city’s residents. “Everybody has some sort of anxiety about money here,” says Hyers. “You got 40 billionaires; 400,000 millionaires. That means there’s eight million people who have to live and work and survive in this city that’s very expensive.” He’s betting that the economically focused ads he designed will have a similar halo-producing effect for Airbnb. “If people like something and they speak out about it, that can be very effective,” he says.

Also joining the brain trust was Douglas Atkin, a branding Svengali who worked on the launch of JetBlue in his previous life as an advertising executive. “I’m the devil, actually,” Atkin told the audience this spring at a conference called “Share,” put on by one of the “grassroots” advocacy groups he founded as a new guru of the sharing economy. Atkin, who was hired as Airbnb’s head of community last year, is the author of a book called The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers Into True Believers, which describes how companies can generate cultlike devotion using techniques gleaned from actual cults—or, as he calls them, “radical belonging organizations.” Atkin’s hand is evident in ­Airbnb’s newly conceived tagline—“Belong anywhere”—and he’s been adept at whipping up the party faithful at host meet-ups he organizes. (“Successful cults which are turning into the next world religions, like the Mormons, know that personal interaction is the fastest route to cult growth,” is one Atkin­ism.) In videos from the meet-ups, people say things like, “In my life before Airbnb, I always felt really beholden to the company I worked for. And now I just feel really free.”


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