Airbnb Chief Financial Officer Laurence Tosi (COL ‘90, LAW ‘94, GRD ‘94) stressed the importance of innovation in entrepreneurship and discussed the upcoming launch of City Hosts, the company’s latest service, at a keynote held in the Lohrfink Auditorium on Feb. 9.
More than 300 attendees packed the event, hosted by the Center for Financial Markets and Policy as part of the Stanton Distinguished Leaders Series.
Airbnb refers to itself as a homestay network in which users can book temporary lodging at a variety of residences across the world. City Hosts, which, according to Tosi, will officially launch May 3, is a program that connects Airbnb users with local citizens who can eventually introduce and show them around their cities.
Tosi argued that the current travel industry is rife with bad technology that only creates echo chambers of tourists offering advice to other tourists, leading to inauthentic trips. According to research conducted by Airbnb, travellers look at 30 different websites and spend 15 hours planning travel activities before a trip, on average. Tosi argued that these services only steered travellers to hot beds of tourism.
When delineating the program’s objectives, Tosi invited attendees to envision a time when travel was an individual, romantic and transformative experience.
“Try to think back to the days when people aspired to travel because it changed their lives; it transformed them,” Tosi said. “There was no TripAdvisor so a tourist could tell another tourist where to go.”
Tosi also spoke about entrepreneurship and said embracing change and staying on top of current market trends was the key to success. He encouraged attendees to be flexible and open-minded at all times.
“Think like a founder in everything you do, no matter what you do,” Tosi said. “No matter what industry you go in, think like a founder. What does that mean? Embrace change. Learn and change all the time. Read. Listen.”
Tosi exemplified this by sharing how he researches every innovation in the travel industry comes across his desk. In addition, he sets aside time every week to meet with entrepreneurs and discuss ideas.
According to Tosi, thinking like a founder means thinking into the future. He urged audience members to come up with 10-year plans in addition to 12-month plans. Tosi said Airbnb does not only envision the company’s outlook within one year, but that of the travel industry as a whole in 10 years.
Tosi also brought up the issue that often young entrepreneurs mistakenly attempt to replicate successful ideas rather than creating and marketing their own.
“Be bold. Be different,” Tosi said. “Many young people entering business simply try to duplicate existing companies rather than create new concepts.”
Tosi turned to the history of Airbnb to justify his advice. Tosi pointed out how the company’s innovative proposal has made it the largest hospitality network on the planet, surpassing even large-scale hotel chains.
“We have now 3.2 million homes,” Tosi said. “The largest hotel network in the world has 750,000 rooms. We have 5 million. Today, we’re adding 60,000 homes a week, which would be the equivalent of building every single Motel 6 on the planet for $8 billion every seven days, which is pretty amazing when you see the effect.”