Thanks to the publisher, Virgin Books, for making this review copy available via NetGalley. I do like a book on business, and did even before I ran my own business. I’m very far from being the kind of dynamic start-up AirBnB was, but I am always fascinated by a good, well-written story that goes into the nitty-gritty of how a company was started and is run, and this certainly gave me that. I’m gradually chipping my way through this rather frightening Kindle to-be-read list by the way; I’ve read and reviewed one from there already, this is the second and I’m reading another one right now!
Leigh Gallagher – “The AirBnB Story”
(17 February 2017 – ebook)
The well-done and lively authorised story of the foundation and rise of this disruptive firm, taking us through the history of its growth in detail, warts and all, describing problems hit along the way, including well-documented accidents, issues with damage to houses and racial discrimination issues (on the part of hosts and guests, not the company, as such) and how the company dealt with these bumps in the road while adhering to its special and unique culture. It also looks at the reaction of city authorities and townspeople, again examining the company’s claims to want to limit multiple listings and adding pressure on difficult housing situations, and the reactions of the hotel industry, along with an excursion into a short history of other hotel industry disruptors that have been gradually absorbed into the mainstream and ways in which this is being done with the sharing-houses concept, too.
It also looks at the way the company has been scaled, including a celebration of the fact that it’s practically the only start-up which has retained the three original founders and their complementary skillsets, also examining how (on Earth!) they have developed the management skills necessary for running a huge company when they were essentially two designers and a coder with little management experience between them (it turns out they’ve done this collaboratively, too, using gurus from all sorts of industries, bringing in employees where they have gaps in knowledge, and bravely asking for assessments of the way they manage in order to do it better).
A good attempt is made at describing the company culture which has so appealed to millennials but spread out to the rest of the age groups, too, and with the author’s access to the three founders, investors and employees as well as hosts, it feels rounded and authentic. The future is examined, always hard in a very fast-moving company like this one, with talk of brand extensions and then an up-to-date epilogue (written in November 2016) once some of those had been officially announced. There is much focus on how the company has been able to scale its growth while preserving its mission and culture, largely because it has chosen its own investors and not gone public yet (I know from my small experience that being independent is the only way to retain your own culture and values unless you are very, very careful).
There are lots of notes, which is great, as it shows a commitment to proper referencing, however it suffers here from the standard problem with ebooks, in that you don’t know where the book will end and the notes start, so you don’t really know how far through the book you are. There’s also a rather annoying non-interactive index with a note at the top reminding us that it won’t work as such as it comes from the print version, so ebook readers will need to look up terms using their search function. Why include it, then?
This aside, a good read with a nice lot of detail.
I’m now reading Elizabeth Fair’s “Seaview House”, which I started during some bus journeys to buy cheese and skyr and meet my friend Meg for coffee. Absolutely CHARMING as anything so far. And probably matches my usual readers more closely than this review. Anyone else out there appreciate a good, solid business read?